Friday, April 1, 2016

Aprille

It is the first of April, and while you might expect something about pulling pranks and acting the fool, instead we are going to talk about...April. Chaucer's most famous poem starts with a mention of April and its sweet showers, but did he know what "April" meant?

April lovers from the Margaret de Foix Book of Hours
We are not sure why it is called April, from the Latin Aprilis. The Greeks call this month άνοιξη [ánoixé], which means "opening." This is because April is traditionally when the earth starts to renew itself and flowers and buds begin to open. Based on this, April might come from Latin aperture, "to open," from which we get words like aperture.

On the other hand, since the Romans liked to name their months for practical reasons, either after gods (January) or Caesars (July and August) or simply numerically (September, October, etc.), maybe we should see if April fits the pattern. Perhaps Aprilis was actually Aphrilis, as in Aphrodite, the Greek name of Venus. After all, Venus had a festival, the Veneralia, held on 1 April, in honor of Venus Verticordia ["Venus the Changer of Hearts"].

Maybe the Middle Ages knew of this origin, since illustrated calendars and books of hours often had pairs of lovers to represent April, as we see above. (To be honest, this was a later medieval trend; earlier, April just had someone holding a green branch to show life coming back to Nature.)

The Anglo-Saxons called it ēastre-monaþ; we don't know why. Bede tells us that it was named for a goddess, Eostre, and that this is why the Anglo-Saxons called the Resurrection "Easter." Einhard says the same, but he probably got it from Bede.

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