Jad Adams

Time Out Of Mind

Empires of Time – Calendars, Clocks and Cultures

By

I B Tauris 371pp £16.95 order from our bookshop

 

The Nuer compute time according to male maturity rites, whether events happen before or after the last incision ceremony.The Mayan calendar started at the time the rains came, then ran for 260 days – a human gestation period. The Trobriand islanders set their clocks by the palolo worm. When it comes to the surface of the water and gyrates, thereby loosing its genital products into the Pacific, that is the time the planting month starts. They have measured out their lives in worm ejaculate.

Anthony Aveni’s book is full of such information about the way cultures mould concepts of time and the concepts maintain the integrity of the cultures. The moral of the tale is that when humans talk of time they are relating to social values rather than to an eternal verity about man’s relationship with the infinite. This may be somewhat predictable from a Professor of Astronomy and Anthropology, but the proof of it is so rich and varied that it compensates for any lack of novelty.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'The 19th-century German sage is not my idea of a pleasant travel companion' goes hiking with Friedr… ,
    • If you want ideas about what to read next, sign up to our free email newsletter, and get book reviews, archive mate… ,
    • 'The heroic male nude could not, I think, be used today to signify civic pride and glory', as Michelangelo’s 'David… ,
    • 'Munch’s later works show us a man liberated from the torments that gave rise to some of the best-known early works… ,
    • 'We read from left to right and from start to finish. Or do we?' Stuart Hannabus considers the merits of reading i… ,
    • Domestic scandal, sexual abuse and serial killers are on the menu in April's crime round-up. revie… ,
    • What did Samuel Johnson, Joshua Reynolds, James Boswell and Edmund Burke all have in common? Clare Bucknell reveal… ,