Temple and time

    … where land’s semicircle lies, fenced by the azur vault.

Varro’s quotation from the poet Nevio

When talking of a temple people generally imagine a building for the worship of God, but the original meaning of the term is another.

From earliest times temples have been built as scale models of the universe. The first known mention of the latin word templum is by Varro (116-27 B.C.) for whom it designated  a sort of cosmic observatory.

The latin word for templum was linked to the observation of the sky: ancient templa were scientific natural observatories. The Universe was considered to be a temple : a compendium of the macrocosmus but localized in the tiny limits of a microcosmus. Templum in terra corrisponded to a templum in aere, that is to say the mundaine temple was a model of something greater. According to Varro there are three temples, one in heaven, one on earth and one beneath the earth. That is the knot that ties earth and heaven together, the Gordian knot, the seat of cosmic dominion.

Virgil gives an iteresting picture of  Apollo’s temple in the sixth book of Aeneid, calling Dedalus to the mind of the reader as well as Icarus, the Labirinth , the Minotaur and much more. It could be interesting to examine  the symbolic meaning of this description, but here is not the time to start this sort of deep analysis in the Greek mythology.

As already said, the latin word for templum was connected to the observation of the sky. At the beginning the word was meant to denote the celestial sector that the latin augur  fixed within ideal lines  in order to observe the movements of the celestial bodies.  In the course of time it started to indicate the place where these observations where made, a place to search a contact with the divine. The basic corner stone where temples were set was charged with  a cosmic value as a representation of the centre of the world.

Now let’s give some ethimologies.

  1.  About templum:

It was the space of sky which the augur marked off with his lituus, by imaginery lines, the cardo from north to south and the decumanus from east to west, thus dividing the space observed into four regions. Templum has the same root of the greek temenos, a word deriving from the verb temno, to cut. It represented a piece of land reserved to the cult.

There’s a common indoeuropean root TEM  that indicates a separation, a cutting, an enclosure also meaning a sacred place.

2. About augur

This is a fusion of two different roots: AUG and UR.  AUG is linked to augmentation, Augustus, increase, expansion but UR  is connected to the sacred fire, the divine energy, to burning, Uranous, Mercurious, Saturnus. Augur was the one who, having the  knowledge of the divine  energy, was able to expand  and increase  it for some benefit of people..

Templum usually denoted the demarcation and limits of space but templum was sometimes also used to denote a “cut of portion” of time. According to roman law “the sunlit day is the equivalent in time to the space of the Templum”.

So temple and time are intimately connected, they have a common root: temple, time, tense, terminus, temperature, tempest, temporary, temporize, contemplate, exteem , extimate are all linked by the core meaning of “section cut off” that is measure.

Many other things could be said about this fascinating subject, but for a start it will be enough to say that the temple of Solomonn itself presented, in its essentials, similar cosmic symbolisms, its measurements were all sacred and prescribed with strict rules about its orientation and architectural dispositions. From the temple at Jerusalem went forth ideas and traditions that are found all over the Jewish, Christian and Muslin worlds. It was in conscious continuity with these models that the Muslim conceived of the Ka’ba  in Mecca.

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