17 August 2011

17 August - Cat Nights; Portunalia

Cat Nights begin today (which is only fair after the Dog Days).  The Old Farmer's Almanac derives it from a belief in witches, and from the yowling of the felines; nineteenth century sources make jokes about their musical abilities, without mentioning witches.  A modern source claims that it is actually another name for the thirty auspicious days known as "Our Lady's Thirty Days" commencing from Assumption and being a time of refreshment for man and beast (and plants) after the miserably hot Dog Days with their threat of pestilence.

Today, or possibly yesterday, is the ancient Roman festival of Portumnalia or Portunalia, honoring Portunus, a god of doors, which, if they are going to be useful, should have locks, so he also became the god of locks and keys.  Lockable doors keep things safe, so he became the god of places of safekeeping, such as storehouses and warehouses, and eventually ports, the safe places for ships, where they can unload their cargoes and store them in the warehouses lining the docks.

Some sources says that it took place on XVI Kalends September (August 17), while others claim that it was celebrated on XVII Kalends September (August 16).  Either day seems like a good day to find a comfortable place on the wharf (near an ice cream shop) and watch the boats plying the waters of your local port.