Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Augustus' solar timekeeper

The University of Oregon is recreating a famous Roman sundial from 10 B.C. which doubled as a clock and calendar. A few decades earlier the Roman comic writer Plautus put into the mouth of an idle character a complaint against shared standards of time and scheduling:

“The gods confound the man who first found out

How to distinguish the hours. Confound him too,

Who in this place set up a sundial,

To cut and hack my days so wretchedly

Into small pieces! When I was a boy,

My belly was my sundial – only surer,

Truer, and more exact than any of them.

This dial told me when ‘twas the proper time

To go to dinner, when I ought to eat;

But nowadays, why even when I have,

I can’t fall to unless the sun gives leave.

The town’s so full of these confounded dials!”


As I described my article "A Measure of Sacrifice," the Romans recognized astronomical time as a measure of sacrifice, but it was the medieval bell and clock makers who gave us our modern sense of precise shared time. Precise and objectively measured time used as measure of sacrifice is one of the patterns of integrity basic to modern civilization. I describe some of the latest research in securely sharing time and determining the order of events on the Internet in "Advances in Distributed Security."

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