Your RDA of Irony

May Dei

Yes, it is the first of May.

Before you start romping around a ribboned pole or while you are recovering from a Walpurgis Night binge, let me tell you about May.  The month had to be named for something.  Of course, the only May you knew was that elderly friend of your grandmother, and you still shudder at the memory of May’s arm flaps–they could have been used as semaphores.

In fact, the Romans had her in mind when they named the third month of their calendar.  Maiores is the Latin word for senior; it is also the gnarled old root for our words mayor and major.  The month of Maius was originally dedicated to seniors.  Coming in contact with the Greeks (and Southern Italy was really western Hellas) the Romans became self-conscious about their crude, prosaic culture.  A month in honor of senior citizens?  No, the Romans wanted to be as refined as the people they were slaughtering. 

It just so happened that the Greek pantheon had a minor celebrity named Maia.  She was the daughter of Atlas and had a fling with Zeus (who didn’t?) and that tryst resulted in Hermes.  To the Greeks, she was merely another cute nymph; but to the Romans, she was a homophonic gift.  The Romans now claimed that the month of Maius was named for her.  They promoted Maia to a Goddess of Spring (confiscating the attributes of their old Latin deity Bona Dea) and even arranged her marriage to their God Vulcan.  They weren’t even dating in Greek mythology. 

Now the Romans were sophisticated, having dumped the generic  maiores for the glamorous Maia.  So May is the trophy wife of months.

  1. Bob Kincaid says:

    Why am I suddenly beset by memories of the film version of “Camelot?”

    “It’s May” (or Mae) meant exactly what you suggested, Eugene. ALL females named May or Mae were old from the instant of their birth. I had a great-Aunt Mae. I should know.

  2. TonyHuf says:

    On a related topic…

    “Ne’er cast a clout till May be out” is an expression I imagine you bandying about quite a lot in Chicago. Obviously, “clout” means clothes, and the expression is generally taken to mean that you shouldn’t switch to your spring wardrobe until the end of May. But there is some doubt about this. “May” also refers to the hawthorn, which is prettily in bloom all along our hedgerows around this time of year, and some hold that the saying means that you shouldn’t unwrap until the hawthorn blossoms.

    This year it’s so cold I can’t imagine casting a clout until well into June, which reminds me of those lines of Byron:

    “The English winter – ending in July/To recommence in August”

    Keep warm


  3. Hal Gordon says:

    Speaking of”Camelot”: ttps://

  4. Eugene Finerman says:

    Bob: The film “Camelot” has one redeeming feature. “Man of La Mancha” was much worse.

    Tony: Surprisingly, in the Middle West we do not speak Middle English. However, it finally seems to be Spring in Chicago. I may even drain my snowblower.

    Hal: That is a delightful song but… Julie got the song right but not the lust. Vanessa Redgrave did not the opposite.

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