Most people think of a sundial from a merely sentimental point of view. They associate it with an old-fashioned garden where roses and honeysuckle bloom and spill their fragrance upon the still, soft air---a peaceful, sunny flower-spot ideal in which to dream away a summer's afternoon watching the progress of time from the dial's silent face. Few, however, know anything about its practical side or of its evolution through centuries of time.
The first known reference to a sundial is found in Isaiah, 38:8: "Behold, I will bring again the shadow of the degree which is gone down in the Sundial of Ahad, ten degrees backward." This is supposed to have been written 700 years B.C. Cicero in one of his letters mentions sending a sundial to his villa in Tusculum, and it is believed that one discovered in 1746 is the identical dial to which he referred.
The important feature of a sundial is the gnomon. This is the piece that projects from the face of the dial. It is always set pointing due north and its shadow as it falls across the face of the dial marks the hour. Herodotus, say the Greeks, derived the use of the gnomon from the Babylonians. The word has the same root as gnostic and signifies one who knows. It gives knowledge of the hour.
The time at first was not exact. The hours were not of the same length, and were called temporary hours, but in the thirteenth century much study was given to the science of measuring time, and the sundial became approximately correct.
Sundial inscriptions add to their charm, and have an interesting place in literature.
Images: Courtesy of Margie Whitnah (a WNP member)Read more about the Sundial and Ingleside Terraces!
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