Ælfric, Abbot of Eynsham

On the Seasons of the Year

Ælfric wrote his De temporibus anni (On the seasons of the year) as light reading for those who wanted to learn something about time and nature without having to master the complexities of the subject. Every priest and monk was required to learn a good bit more detail than is presented here: he had to be able to calculate the dates of Easter and the other movable feasts for himself. That, and the care Ælfric takes to refute some erroneous popular beliefs, suggests that he was writing for laymen. The tract was edited by Heinrich Henel, Aelfric's De Temporibus Anni, Early English Text Society 213 (1942). This translation by P. Baker.


Hereafter follows a little tract on the seasons of the year, which is not intended as a sermon, but rather is to be read by those whom it pleases.

On the seasons of the year

If I dared, I would also wish to gather some little knowledge from the book that Bede, the wise teacher, composed and gathered from the books of many wise teachers on the course of the year from the beginning of the earth.[1]

Truly, when the almighty Creator created this world, he said, let there be light, and immediately light came to be. Then God saw that the light was good, and he divided the light from the darkness and called the light day and the darkness night, and then evening and morning were accounted as one day.

On the second day God created heaven, which is called the firmament; it is visible and material, but nevertheless we can never see it because of its great altitude, the thickness of the clouds, and the infirmity of our eyes. Heaven encloses in its bosom the entire earth, and it is always turning about us more swiftly than any mill-wheel, just as far beneath the earth as it is above. It is entirely round and perfect and adorned with stars. Truly, the other heavens that are above and beneath it are invisible and inscrutable to men. Nevertheless, there are more heavens, as the prophet says: celi celorum, that is, "heavens of the heavens."[2] In addition, the apostle Paul wrote that he was led up to the third heaven, and there he heard the secret words that no man may speak.

On the third day almighty God created the sea and the earth and all things that grow in the earth. Those three days were without the sun, the moon, the stars and all the hours, stretched out with light and darkness in equal balance.[3]

On the fourth day God created two great lights, the sun and the moon, and assigned the greater light, the sun, to the day, and the lesser light, the moon, to the night. On the same day he created all the stars and established the hours.

On the fifth day he created all species of serpents and the great whales and all species of fish, in various and manifold shapes.

On the sixth day he created all species of animals and all beasts that go upon four feet, and the two human beings, Adam and Eve.

On the seventh day he ended his work, and the week was then gone.

Now each day upon this earth is lighted by the sun. Truly, the sun goes by God's ordinance between heaven and earth, above the earth during the day and under this earth during the night, just as far down under the earth at nighttime as it climbs above during the day. It is always turning about the earth, and it shines just as brightly under the earth at night as it does above our heads during the day. On the side where it shines there is day, and on the side where it does not shine there is night. It is always day on one side of the earth and night on one side.

The light that we call dawn comes from the sun when it is rising, and it then drives away the nocturnal darkness through its great light. The heaven is just as thickly filled with stars during the day as during the night, but because of the sun's presence they have no radiance.

We call one day the time from the sun's rising until evening, but nevertheless in books one day is considered to be from the sun's rising until it comes around again to where it rose before. In that period are reckoned to be twenty-four hours.

The sun is very large; as books say, it is as broad as the whole circumference of the earth, but it seems to us quite the opposite of broad because it is very far from our sight. Everything seems smaller the farther away it is. Nevertheless, we can tell by its light that it is not at all small. As soon as it rises it shines equally over all the earth and covers the broadness of the entire earth all at once.[4]

Likewise, the stars, which seem small to us, are very broad, but they seem very small to our sight because of the great distance that is between us. Nevertheless, they could not send any light to earth from the lofty heaven if they were as small as they seem to our eyes.

Truly, the moon and all the stars receive light from the great sun, and none of them has any light except from the light of the sun. And although the sun shines beneath the earth at nighttime, its light ascends to the other side of the earth, illuminating the stars above us; and when it rises, it overpowers the light of all the stars and the moon with its immense light.

The sun betokens our savior Christ, who is the Sun of righteousness, as the prophet said: Timentibus autem nomen domini orietur sol iustitiae et sanitas in pennis eius. "For those men who dread the name of God the sun of righteousness shall arise, and healing will be on its wings."[5]

The moon, which waxes and wanes, betokens the present Church which we are in. It is waxing in that children are being conceived and waning in that people are passing away. The bright stars betoken the faithful in God's Church, who shine in good conduct. Truly, Christ illuminates them all through his grace, as John the evangelist said: Erat lux uera quae illuminat omnem hominem uenientem in hunc mundum. "The true light has come, which illuminates every man coming to this earth."[6] None of us has the light of any goodness except by the grace of Christ, who is called the Sun of true righteousness.

On the first day of the world, or on the spring equinox

We can find the first day of this world through the day of the spring equinox, because the day of the equinox is the fourth day of this world's creation.

Before that day there were three days without the sun and the moon and all the stars, and on the fourth day of the creation of this world the almighty Creator created the sun and in the early morning set it in the middle of the east where the equinoctial circle is reckoned to be, so that, in the course of the year, it would always adjust the day and the night there in an equal balance.

On the same day in the evening he set the full moon in the east together with the shining stars in the course of the autumnal equinox, and established the time of Easter through the origin of the moon.

We will speak more fully about the equinox in a suitable place, and now we will briefly say that the first day of this world is reckoned to be the day that we call the fifteenth kalends of April [18 March], and the date of the equinox occurs, as Bede teaches, on the fourth day, that is, the twelfth kalends of April [21 March].

We will say more about this later, as we promised before.

On the night

Night was established so that men could rest upon this earth. Indeed, there is no night in the heavenly kingdom, but there is perpetual light without any darkness.

Our earthly night is due to the earth's shadow. When the sun goes under this earth in the evening, the earth's broadness is between us and the sun so that we do not have its light until it rises again on the other side. Indeed, though it seems remarkable, this earthly night is nothing other than the earth's shadow between the sun and mankind.

Worldly scholars have said that the shadow rises up until it arrives in the upper sky; and then sometimes the moon, when it is full, comes into the upper part of the shadow and darkens or becomes entirely black, because while it is moving over the shadow's point it has no light until the sun's light illuminates it again. The moon has no light except from the sun's illumination, and it is the lowest of all the stars and therefore moves into the earth's shadow when it is full--not always, though, because of the broad circle that is called the zodiac, under which run the sun, the moon, and the twelve signs of the stars.[7]

Indeed, the moon's orb is always whole and entire, even though all of it does not always shine at the same time.

The moon's light daily waxes or wanes through the sun's illumination, and daily it moves just as many points closer to or farther from the sun--not so that it arrives at the sun, since the sun is much higher than the moon is, but rather it moves directly in front of the sun when it is kindled[8] by it. It always turns its back to the sun--that is, the round side that is illuminated. We say "the new moon" according to our human custom, but the moon is always the same even though its light often changes.

The empty space above the sky is always illuminated by the heavenly stars.

It sometimes happens, when the moon enters the same course that the sun follows, that its orbit intersects the sun's orbit so exactly that it darkens completely, and the stars appear as if it were night. This happens seldom, and never except at the new moon. By this it may be understood that the moon is very broad, when it may darken the sun by its passage.

The night has seven divisions from the sun's setting until its rising. The first of these divisions is called crepusculum, that is twilight. The second is vesperum, when the evening star[9] appears in the evening. The third is conticinium, when all things are silent in their beds. The fourth is intempestum, that is midnight. The fifth is gallicinium, that is cock-crow. The sixth is matutinum or aurora, that is dawn. The seventh is diluculum, that is early morning, between dawn and the sun's rising.

Weeks and months are known to men according to their understanding, and though we wrote according to a scholarly understanding it would seem too difficult and unusual to unlearned men. We say, nevertheless, concerning the holy Easter festival that wherever the moon is fourteen nights old from the twelfth kalends of April [21 March], on that day is the Easter boundary that we call the terminus. And if the terminus, that is, the fourteen-day-old moon, occurs on the Sunday, then that day is Palm Sunday. If the terminus occurs on any particular day of the week, then the Sunday after that is Easter Day.

On the year

The solar year is when the sun runs through the great circle of the zodiac and comes under each of the twelve signs. Each month it runs under one of the signs.

The first of the signs is called Aries, that is the Ram. The second Taurus, that is the Bull. The third Gemini, that is the Twins. The fourth Cancer, that is the Crab. The fifth Leo.[10] The sixth Virgo, that is Virgin. The seventh Libra, that is Pound or Scale. The eighth is Scorpius, that is Scorpion.[11] The ninth is Sagittarius, that is Archer. The tenth is Capricornus, that is Goat's horn or Goat. The eleventh is Aquarius, that is Water-pourer, or one who pours water. The twelfth is Pisces, that is Fishes. These twelve signs are so formed in the heavens, and so broad, that they take two hours in their rising or setting. Each of the twelve signs contains its month, and when the sun has run under them all, then a year has gone.

There are reckoned to be twelve months in the year, and fifty-two weeks, three hundred and sixty-five days and in addition six hours, which every fourth year make up the day and the night that we call the bissextile day.

The Roman people begin their year in the wintertime, in accordance with the custom of the heathens. The Hebrews keep the beginning of their year at the spring equinox. The Greeks begin their year at the solstice, and the Egyptians in the autumn. But the Hebrew people who obeyed God's law began their year most correctly, that is, at the spring equinox on the twelfth kalends of April [21 March], on which day the sun, the moon, all the stars and the seasons of the year were created.

Now the moon's year has twenty-seven days and eight hours. During that time the moon runs under all of the twelve signs that the sun runs under in twelve months. The moon is to some extent swifter than the sun, but even with that swiftness it could not run under all of the twelve signs in twenty-seven days and eight hours if it were as high as the sun. The sun's orbit is very wide because it is very high, and the moon's orbit is narrow because it runs lowest of all the stars and nearest to the earth. Now you may understand that a man who walks around a house makes a shorter circuit than a man who walks around the town; so also the moon has run its course more quickly in the smaller orbit than the sun has in the greater one.

This is the moon's year; but its month is longer--that is, from the time it moves away from the sun, being new, until it comes directly in front of it again, being old and weary, and is again kindled by it. In that month there are reckoned twenty-nine days and twelve hours. This is the lunar month, and its year is when it runs under all of the twelve signs.

In one year the moon is renewed twelve times from the holy Easter festival until the next Easter, and in another year it is renewed thirteen times. The year that we call "common" has twelve new moons, and the year that we call "embolismic" has thirteen new moons.

The lunar month always has thirty nights in one month and twenty-nine in the next. In whatever solar month the moon ends, that is its month. To say that more accurately, if the old month ends two days or three within the month of Hlyda [March], then it is allotted to that month and tried by its rules, and so on with the others.[12]

There are reckoned to be four seasons in a year, that is, ver, aestas, autumnus, hiems. Ver is spring, and it has an equinox. Aestas is summer, and it has a solstice. Autumnus is autumn, and it has the other equinox. Hiems is winter, and it has the other solstice. In these four seasons the sun runs through various regions about this globe and makes the earth temperate; truly it is through God's providence that the sun does not always stay in the same place and with its heat burn up the fruits of the earth; but it goes through different places and makes temperate the fruits of the earth, both in growing and in ripening.

When the day lengthens, the sun goes northwards until it comes to the sign that is called Cancer: the summer solstice is there, because there it turns southwards again, and then the day becomes shorter until the sun again comes south to the winter solstice and stops there. When it is moving north, it makes the spring equinox in the middle of its course. And then when it is moving south, it makes the autumnal equinox. The farther south it goes, the more wintry it becomes, and the winter chill follows it. But when it turns around again, then it drives away the winter chill with its hot rays.

The lengthening day is cold because the earth is penetrated by the winter's chill, and it takes a while before it is warmed up again. The day as it becomes shorter has milder weather than the lengthening day because the earth is quite warm from the summer's heat and is not so quickly cooled again.

Now the winter moon goes farther north than the sun goes in the summer, and therefore it has a shorter shadow than the sun. Then, as the days are lengthening, it overtakes the more southern solstice and therefore is seen lower than the sun in the winter. Nevertheless, neither of them goes a single point farther than is appointed for it, and the days now are neither longer nor shorter than they were at the beginning.

In Egypt winter never comes, and there are no showers of rain; but in the middle of our winter their fields are blooming with crops and their orchards are filled with apples. After their harvest the river Nile rises and floods the entire land of Egypt, and it remains flooded sometimes for a month and sometimes longer, and afterwards for twelve months there comes no other shower until the river breaks out again as its custom is, once every year; and by that means they have as much grain as they want.

On the earth

Everything that is within the firmament is called the world.[13] The firmament is this celestial heaven adorned with many stars. The heaven, the sea and the earth are called the world. The firmament is always revolving about us under this earth and above, but there is an unfathomable distance between it and the earth. Twenty-four hours--one day and one night--are gone by the time it has revolved once, and all the stars that are firmly fixed in it revolve with it. The earth stands exactly in the middle, fixed there by God's might so that it never moves either higher or lower than where the almighty Creator, who holds all things without difficulty, fixed it.

Every sea, however deep it is, has its bottom in the earth, and the earth bears all the seas and the great ocean, and all wellsprings and rivers flow through it. Just as veins lie in a man's body, so these veins of water lie throughout this earth. Neither sea nor river has any place but on the earth.

On the equinoxes

Many men say that the spring equinox belongs rightly to the eighth kalends of April [25 March], that is on the festival of Saint Mary. But all the easterners and the Egyptians, who know most about computus,[14] reckoned that the spring equinox is truly on the twelfth kalends of April [21 March], that is on the festival of Saint Benedict.

Moreover, it is commanded in the rule that instructs us concerning the holy Easter festival that the holy Easter Day may never be celebrated before the spring equinox has gone and the length of the day exceeds that of the night. Know, therefore, that if it were really the equinox on the festival of Saint Mary, that day would never fall after Easter Day, as it often does. It is necessary for us to hold the holy Easter festival according to the true rule, never before the equinox when the darkness is overcome. Therefore we say truly that the equinox is as we said before, on the twelfth kalends of April as the faithful fathers established it and also the accurate sundial shows us. In addition, the other three times--the summer and winter solstices and the autumnal equinox--must be adjusted by this equinox so that they are held some days before the eighth kalends.[15]

Now the day of the equinox is the same all over the world, and equally long, and all the other days in the twelve months have various lengths. In some lands they are longer and in some shorter because of the earth's shadow and the sun's orbit. The earth can be compared to a pine cone, and the sun glides around it by God's decree, and on the end where it shines it is day through the sun's light, and the end that it has left behind is covered in darkness until it approaches that end again.

Now the earth's roundness and the sun's orbit constitute the obstacle to the day's being equally long in every land. In the land of India their shadows go south in the summer and north in the winter. In Alexandria, on the other hand, the sun goes straight up at midday on the day of the summer solstice, and there is no shadow on either side.[16] This same thing happens in some other places. The island that is the land of the Ethiopians is called Meroe. On that island the longest day of the year has twelve hours and a little more than a half hour. In the land called Alexandria the longest day has fourteen hours. In Italy, which is the kingdom of the Romans, the longest day has fifteen hours. In England the longest day has seventeen hours. In the northern part of that same land the nights in the summer are as bright as if it were dawning all the night, as we ourselves have very often seen.

Thule[17] is the name of an island six days' journey by sea to the north of this island; on that island there is no night for six days at the summer solstice because the sun has gone so far north that it just barely goes under the earth's end--as if it were twilight--and then immediately goes up again. Afterwards at the winter solstice there is no day on that same island because the sun has gone so far south that its light does not reach that land because of the earth's roundness.

It ought nevertheless to be known that there are always twenty-four hours in the day and night; and on the day of the equinox, that is, when the day and the night are equally long, then they both have twelve hours, as Christ himself said in his gospel: Nonne .xii. horae sunt diei? "Does not the day have twelve hours?"[18]

Truly, the sun's immense heat creates five divisions in the world, which we call in Latin quinque zonas, that is, five zones. One of those zones is right in the middle, boiling and uninhabitable because of the sun's proximity; no earthly man dwells there because of the unbearable burning. Then there are on the two sides of that heat two temperate zones, neither too hot nor too cold. In the northern zone dwells all of mankind under the broad circle that is called the zodiac. There are still two zones on the two sides, to the south of the temperate zone and in the northern part of this globe, cold and uninhabitable because the sun does not ever visit them, but stands still on either side at the solstices.[19]

On the leap year

Some priests say that the leap year came about because Joshua asked from God that the sun should stand still for the length of one day when he eradicated the heathens from the land that God had given him.[20] It is true that the sun stood still for the length of one day above the city of Gibeon through the prayer of that thane,[21] but the day went forth just like other days, and leap year did not come about through that, though the unlearned think it is so.

Bis means "twice" and sextus means "the sixth"; bissextus,[22] then, means twice six; and so in that year we say now today "sixth kalends of March" [24 February], and again tomorrow "sixth kalends of March," because there is always one day and one night more in the fourth year than there were in the other three.[23] That day and night grow out of the six hours that are left over each year in addition to the three hundred and sixty-five days.

The sun runs through the twelve signs in three hundred and sixty-five days and six hours: as if this year it traversed the equinoctial circle in early morning, next year at midday, the third year in the evening, and the fourth year at midnight, and in the fifth year in early morning again. Indeed, each of the four years yields six hours, that is twenty-four hours, one day and one night.

Roman scholars placed that day in the month we call February because that month is shortest of all the months and also last. Concerning that day the wise Augustine said that the almighty Creator made it at the beginning of the world as a great mystery, and if it was left uncounted, then the whole course of the year would right away go wrong. And it pertains both to the sun and to the moon because there is one day and one night. If you will not count it for the moon as well as for the sun, then you will throw off the Easter rule and the number of the new moon for the whole year.[24]

On the moon's leap

Just as the sun's slowness engenders one day and one night every four years, so also the moon's swiftness throws away one day and one night from the count of its course every nineteen years, and that day is called the saltus lunae, that is "the moon's leap," because it leaps over one day. And the nearer you come to the nineteenth year, the broader the moon appears to be.[25]

In the beginning the moon was created in the evening, and ever since its age has been changed in the evening. If the moon is renewed by the sun before evening, then it is counted as new immediately after sundown. If it is kindled after sundown or at midnight or at cock-crow, it is never counted as new, even if there are twenty-three hours before it comes to the evening on which it was created. There is often a good bit of debate about this, when the ignorant wish to have the moon the way they see it and the learned hold it according to this aforementioned rule. Sometimes the moon is kindled by the sun during the day and sometimes during the night, sometimes in early morning and sometimes in the evening, and so on, variously, but it is nevertheless not new until it sees the evening.

No Christian man must divine anything by the moon; if he does so, his belief is nothing.[26]

The longer the day is, the higher the moon appears to be; and the shorter the day, the lower the moon appears. If the sun illuminates it from above, it bends down; if it illuminates it from a horizontal position, it is equally horned; if it illuminates it from beneath, it looks upward because the moon always turns its back to the sun. It is always turned just as the sun illuminates it.

Now some men who know nothing about this say that the moon turns according to what the weather will be in that month, but whether the weather is good or bad, the moon never turns away from what its nature is. Those men who are curious, though, can tell from its color and that of the sun or of the sky what kind of weather is coming.

It is natural that all earthly bodies are fuller when the moon is waxing than when it is waning. Also, the trees that are cut when the moon is full are more resistant to being eaten by worms and longer lasting than those that are cut when the moon is new.

The sea and the moon agree between them: they are always companions in waxing and waning, and just as the moon rises four points later every day than it did the previous day, so also the sea flows four points later.[27]

On the various stars

Some men say that stars fall from the heavens, but it is not stars that fall there, but rather fire from the sky that springs from the stars as sparks spring from the fire. Indeed, there are as many stars in the heavens as there were in the beginning, when God made them. Almost all of them are fixed in the firmament and will not fall from there for as long as this world lasts.

The sun, the moon, the evening star, the day-star[28] and the three other stars are not fixed in the firmament, but they have their own separate course. These seven are called septem planete, and I know that it will seem unfaithful to unlearned men if we speak truly about those stars and about their course.[29]

Arcton is the name of a constellation in the north;[30] it has seven stars and is therefore called Septembrio by another name.[31] Lay folk call it Carl's Wain. It never goes down under this earth as the other stars do, but it turns about, sometimes up and sometimes down, during the day and the night. Another constellation in the south is like this one, but we can never see it. Also, two stars stand still, one in the south and one in the north; these are called axis in Latin. We can never see the southern star; we do see the northern one, which men call the ship-star.[32] These stars are called axis, that is "axle," because the firmament turns on these stars as a wheel turns on an axle, and therefore they always stand still.

The seven stars that rise in the autumn and shine all winter, moving from east to west, are called the Pleiades. Throughout the summer they go under this earth at night and above it during the day. In the winter they are up at night and down during the day.

Comets are what we call the stars that appear suddenly and rarely and are illuminated in such a way that the light comes from them like another sunbeam. They are not visible for very long, but as often as they appear they betoken that some new thing is coming to the people over which they are shining.

Even if we were to speak more about the heavenly stars, nevertheless the unlearned could not learn their brilliant course.

On the twelve winds

This air in which we live is one of the four elements, which are contained within every material thing. There are four elements, which are contained within every earthly body; they are aer, ignis, terra, aqua. Aer is air; ignis fire; terra earth; aqua water. Air is a very thin material element which covers the entire earth and ascends almost as far as the moon. In it birds fly just as fish swim in the water; none of them could fly if it weren't for the air which carries them. And no man or beast has breath except by means of the air. The breath that we blow out and draw in is not our soul, but rather the air in which we dwell in this mortal life. Just as fish die if they are taken out of the water, so also every earthly body would die if it were deprived of air.

There is no material thing that does not have the four elements within it, namely air, fire, earth and water. These four things are in every body. Take a stick and rub it against something, and it will heat up immediately from the fire that lies hidden within it. Burn one end of it, and the water will go out the other end with the smoke. So also our bodies have both heat and moisture, earth and air. The air that we are speaking of extends up almost to the moon and bears all clouds and storms.

The air, when it is stirred up, is wind. The wind has various names in books. The name is determined by where it blows from. There are four principal winds: the first is the eastern wind, called Subsolanus because it blows from the place where the sun rises and is very temperate. The second principal wind is southern and is called Auster; it stirs up clouds and flashes of lightning and blows various kinds of pestilence throughout the earth. The third principal wind is called Zephyrus in the Greek language and Favonius in Latin; it blows from the west and through its blowing all earthly plants revive and bloom, and that wind dissipates and thaws every winter. The fourth principal wind is called Septemtrio; it blows from the north, cold and snowy, and it makes dry clouds.

These four principal winds have eight other winds among them in the orb of the earth, always two winds between two principal winds. We could tell their names and the way they blow if it did not seem wearisome to write it. Nevertheless, one of those eight winds is called Aquilo; it blows from the north and east, and it is high and cold and very dry. It is called Boreas by another name, and it entirely drives off and puts to flight the pestilence that Auster, the southern wind, engenders.

It seems to us too complicated to speak further about this.

On rain

Rains come from the air through God's might. The air licks and draws the moisture from the whole earth and from the sea and gathers it into showers, and when it can hold no more then it falls down, released and dispersed as rain, sometimes through the blowing of the wind and sometimes through the heat of the sun.

We read in the book that is called the Book of Kings that the prophet Elijah asked of God, because of the depravity of the people, that no rain would come upon the earth for two years. Then after that the prophet prayed to God that he would have mercy on his people and grant them rains and the fruits of the earth. Then he climbed a mountain and on bended knees prayed for the people and commanded his servant in the meantime to see if he could spot anything out at sea. Then at last the servant said that he saw a little cloud arising from the sea, and right then the heaven grew dark, and clouds rose up, and the wind blew, and there was a great rain.[33] It is just as we said before, that the air draws up from the earth and from the sea all the moisture that is turned to rain.

The nature of air is that it sucks all moisture up into itself. Whoever wishes may observe how the moisture goes up as if with smoke or with mist; and if it is salt water from the sea, it is turned into fresh water by the sun's heat and the air's broadness.

Truly, the might of God, who disposes everything without labor, arranges all the weather. He would not be almighty if any arrangement were difficult for him; his name is omnipotens, that is almighty, because he can do anything he wants and his might does not toil anywhere.

On hail

Hail comes from the raindrops, when they are frozen up in the air and afterwards fall in that form.

On snow

Snow comes from the vaporous moisture that is drawn up by the air and is frozen before it turns into drops, and so immediately falls.

On thunder

Thunder comes from heat and from moisture. The air draws the moisture to itself beneath, and the heat above, and when the heat and the moisture are together in the air they contend between themselves with terrifying noise, and the fire bursts out in lightning and harms crops if it is greater than the moisture. If the moisture is greater than the fire, then it is beneficial. The hotter the summer is, the more thunder and lightning there is that year.

Truly the thunders that John could not write in Apocalypse[34] should be understood spiritually, and they have nothing to do with the thunder that often roars horribly in this air and is loud because of the broadness of the air and dangerous because of the shooting of the fire.

Let this composition be ended thus here.

Here ends the short tract on the seasons.


1 Bede's great textbook De temporum ratione, "On the calculation of time," was the standard work on the subject until the Gregorian calendar reform in the sixteenth century. Bede also wrote two shorter textbooks, De temporibus, "On the seasons," and De natura rerum, "On the nature of things." Ælfric knew and drew upon all of these works in writing this tract. return

2 Psalm 148:4. return

3 Ælfric points out that without heavenly bodies time would not be measurable, and day and night could not be differentiated. Here and in the next paragraph tida "hours" is used metonymically for all divisions of time. return

4 As other parts of this tract show, Ælfric was well aware that the earth was a globe; but here he seems to have missed an important implication of that fact, namely that the areas of day and night are moving continuously, so it does not suddenly become day everywhere, as it would if the earth were a disk. return

5 Malachi 4:2. return

6 John 1:9. return

7 Ælfric is saying that the moon is not always in eclipse when it is aligned with the earth's shadow, because the band of the zodiac, in which the moon moves, is broad enough that the moon does not always move through the shadow. return

8 The moon is "kindled" by the sun when it is new. return

9 That is, Venus. return

10 Ælfric did not translate Leo because the Old English word for "lion" was the same as the Latin word, being borrowed from Latin. return

11 The ðrowend "scorpion" was described in Old English texts as a kind of serpent. Most Anglo-Saxons, of course, would never have seen one. return

12 To put it yet another way, the moon that ends in a month is named after that month and considered as belonging to it: so the moon that ends in the "solar month" of March is called the March moon. return

13 Ælfric's word for the world is middangeard, literally "middle dwelling." return

14 Computus (Old English gerimcræft) is the science of computation, especially as it applies to the calendar. return

15 The equinoxes and solstices had once been placed on the eighth kalends of April, July, October and January: that is, 25 March, 24 June, 24 September and 25 December. The newer style advocated by Ælfric places them all four days earlier: that is, 21 March, 20 June, 20 September and 21 December. return

16 Ælfric is mistaken here, as Henel points out in his edition of this tract: Alexandria is about eight degrees too far north for the sun to be at its zenith at noon on the equinox. The other statements in this paragraph are at least approximately correct. return

17 Iceland. return

18 John 11:9. return

19 That is, the sun stops its northern and southern movement before it ever reaches the northern and southern zones. return

20 Joshua 10:12-13. return

21 Old English þegn, meaning, perhaps, both "nobleman" and "servant" (of God). return

22 Bissextus is Latin for both the leap year and the bissextile day inserted in the calendar each leap year. return

23 In the medieval calendar the bissextile day was inserted after 24 February. That day, like the day before, was called the sixth kalends of March, so that date actually came twice in the calendar every four years. return

24 When an extra day is added to the solar year, a day is also added to the current lunar month. The lunar intercalation is part of a system of adjustments in the lunar year that actually has little to do with the leap year. return

25 A complex system of adjustments in the moon's age was necessary to reconcile the lunar and solar calendars. One of these adjustments was the saltus lunae, or the dropping of one day from a lunar month every nineteen years. Others were the insertion of a day to match the solar leap year and the insertion of embolismic lunar months seven times over the nineteen-year period. Ælfric's last sentence gives the impression that the saltus lunae slowly "grew" over a nineteen-year period. But Ælfric (and, to be fair to him) almost every other writer of the period, including even Bede, misunderstood the nature of the saltus lunae, which, being just one of a number of adjustments to the calendar, cannot be said to have "grown" the way the bissextile day does. return

26 A popular Latin tract, preserved in several manuscripts from Winchester, where Ælfric was educated, predicted good and bad days for letting blood according to the moon's age. return

27 By "the sea flows" Ælfric means that the tide comes in. A "point" is a quarter of an hour. return

28 The evening star is generally Venus; the day-star or morning star can be applied to Venus or any other planet that appears in the morning. return

29 Ælfric is concerned that a discussion of the courses of the planets will encourage a believe in astrology, which he deplores. return

30 Now generally called the Greater and Lesser Bear, Ursa Major and Ursa Minor. return

31 Septem being a Latin word meaning "seven." return

32 This northern star is now called the Pole-Star, the Polar Star, or Polaris. Ælfric calls it scipsteorra, the ship-star, because mariners use it to navigate. return

33 I Kings 17:1-18:45. return

34 Apocalypse (or Revelation) 10:3-4. return