The original Roman year had ten named months, beginning with Martius, named for Mars, god of war. This was the month when the mighty Roman legions resumed their battles to conquer and rule the known world. It was also the time when farmers began working the fields and preparing for planting.
The other months were:
*Aprilis (April), dedicated to the goddess of love Aphrodite (Venus)
*Maius (May), for Maia, the goddess of new plantings (who also gave her name to il maiale, Italian for pig)
*Junius (June), the month of Juno, the king of gods
*Quintilis (July), the fifth month, renamed luglio in honor of Julius Caesar in 44 B.C.
*Sextilis (August), the sixth month, which Augustus claimed as his own in 8 B.C.
*Septem (September), the seventh month
*Octo (October), the eighth month
*Novem (November), the ninth month
*Decem (December), the tenth month
There were two unnamed months in the dead of winter when not much happened. Numa Pompilius, the second king of Rome circa 700 BC, added the two months Januarius (January), dedicated to Janus, the two-faced god of beginnings and endings, and Februarius (February), named after Februalia, a time of sacrifices to atone for sins. He also moved the beginning of the year from Martius to Januarius.
After Februarius there was occasionally an additional month of Intercalaris (intercalendar). In 46 BC, Julius Caesar reformed the Roman calendar (replacing it with the Julian calendar), changed the number of days in many months, and eliminated Intercalaris. In its stead February gets an extra day during an anno bisestile (leap year).
You can learn the months of the year the way Italian school children do: by memorizing this “filastrocca dei mesi dell’anno” (nursery rhyme of the months of the year):
Gennaio freddoloso (January cold)
Febbraio spiritoso (February funny or hilarious–a reference to Carnevale)
Marzo pazzerello (March crazy)
Aprile mite e bello (April mild and beautiful)
Maggio sognatore (May the dreamer)
Giugno cantatore (June the singer)
Luglio nuotatore (July the swimmer)
Agosto gran signore (August the great signore)
Settembre grappolaio (September brings the grapes)
Ottobre castagnaio (October brings the chestnuts)
Novembre triste e stanco (November sad and tired)
Dicembre tutto bianco (December all white)
Words and Expressions
Arrivare a fine mese — make it to the end of the month
Quanti ne abbiamo del mese? -– literally, how much of the month do we have? What day of the month is it?
Il mese scorso –last month
Il mese prossimo — next month
“30 giorni ha novembre con april, giugno e settembre
di 28 ce n’è uno, tutti gli altri fan trentuno” –-
“30 days has November, April, June and September
One has 28 of them; all the others 31.”
Dianne Hales is the author of LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language, MONA LISA: A Life Discovered and the upcoming LA PASSIONE: How Italy Seduced the World. For more information, visit her new website: www.diannehales.com.