Extracts from diaries and writings on 29th February, chosen by Ian Irvineby Ian Irvine / February 22, 2012 / Leave a comment
Published in March 2012 issue of Prospect Magazine
Even in classical times it was known that the solar year was around six hours longer than the 365-day calendar year. On his astronomers’ advice Julius Caesar decreed that 24th February would be counted twice every four years. February 29th came to be regarded as the leap day when the Roman system was replaced by sequential numbering in the late Middle Ages.
On his fourth voyage to the new world, Christopher Columbus was stranded in Jamaica. Though initially friendly, the people of the island had turned against his crew. From an almanac Columbus noticed a lunar eclipse would occur on 29th February 1504. According to The Life of the Admiral Christopher Columbus by His Son Ferdinand, he told the natives’ leader that:
…his Christian god was angry with his people for no longer supplying Columbus and his men with food. Therefore, he was about to provide a clear sign of his displeasure: three nights hence, he would all but obliterate the rising full moon, making it appear “inflamed with wrath,” which would signify the evils that would soon be inflicted upon all of them… [When the eclipse occurred] with great howling and lamentation they came running from every direction to the ships, laden with provisions, praying the Admiral to intercede by all means with God on their behalf; that he might not visit his wrath upon them.
Traditionally, a woman can ask a man to marry her on a leap year. From the book Courtship, Love and Matrimony (1606):
Albeit, it is now become a part of the Common Law, in regard to the social relations of life, that as often as every bissectile year doth return, the Ladies have the sole privilege, during the time it continueth, of making love unto the men, which they may do either by words or looks, as unto them it seemeth proper; and moreover, no man will be entitled to the benefit of Clergy who doth refuse to accept the offers of a lady, or who doth in any wise treat her proposal with slight or contumely.