A Sabatini Timeline

"As to your dates, that is the biggest mystification of all."
—Arthur Conan Doyle, "The Adventure of the Creeping Man"

Welcome to my Sabatini Timeline!  On this page you'll find background on Sabatini, a key to the Timeline, and notes on related topics.  The Timeline itself is here.

Who Was Rafael Sabatini?

The short answer is that he was a writer of novels and short stories.  He wrote (in English, though he spoke many languages) during the first half of the twentieth century.  Sabatini's works are mostly historical fiction, telling his tales of adventure and romance against the background of the events of the times. 

Lots more information on Sabatini is available here.

The Timeline

The Timeline is an attempt to place Sabatini's writings accurately in their temporal context, with respect to each other and with respect to other events of history.  This endeavor, adhering to the highest standards of scholarship, was undertaken for the purpose of advancing the study of Sabatini's historical perspective and its relationship to his compositional techniques.  Our theory is that the success of Sabatini's work derives from a underlying dialectic in which near-perfect chronological accuracy lies in vibrant tension with character and plotline development.  We advance this hypothesis by means of a new approach:  A close reading of the subtle cues through which he maintains connection with the historical and cultural context of his novels, coupled with an attempt to locate the original sources consulted by Sabatini himself where possible.  The insights gained via this technique are, we suggest, critical to a proper understanding of Sabatini's relevance to nineteenth- and twentieth-century English-language adventure storytelling, and his place in literature generally.

Please ignore the preceding paragraph; it is absolute drivel from start to finish.  The Timeline is just for fun!

The goal is simple:  Display a chronology of Sabatini's works, showing as precisely as possible the dates of the action.  The game comes from the phrase "as precisely as possible".  Although Sabatini sometimes tells us explicitly exactly when an event took place, we much more often must establish dates by inference from any clues we can find.  I'll let you look at the Timeline itself to see some examples.


How it works.  The first entry for each book contains a link to a page with information on that book (publication date, where to buy it, where to read it online, etc.) plus general comments on dating that novel, especially the opening.  Subsequent entries may or may not include a "(more)" link that pops up additional discussion.

The Real World.  Entries in red refer to events attested outside Sabatini's writings.

Citations from Sabatini.  Lacking definitive editions of Sabatini's work for canonical pagination, reference by chapter is the best we can do.  These references are given in square brackets, with chapter number in roman numerals.  For novels divided into "books", where the numbering starts over with each book, the book number is given in Arabic numerals; e.g. "Chapter 2.XI" means Chapter 11 of Book 2.

Other citations.  Linked from diverse and random locations.  I apologize for my over-reliance on Wikipedia, but it's so damned handy!

Conventions.  I'd just like to say that I've expended considerable effort to get everything consistent:  formatting, past vs. present tense, confidence level for exact dating, density of entries and external links and supporting quotations, and so forth.  I'd like to say it, but I can't, because it's not true.  The work was done over an extended period and things are all over the map.  Deal.

The Calendar

Our society now uses the Gregorian calendar, which replaced the Julian calendar when the latter's inaccuracy became intolerable.  (In the Julian calendar every fourth year is a leap year, yielding slightly too many leap years.)  The accumulated inaccuracy was rectified by dropping days at the point of switching.  In France, for example, the day after Sunday December 9 1582 was Monday December 20, dropping ten days but maintaining the day of the week.

For the Timeline, trouble arises because different countries and regions changed calendars at different times.  In England, for example, Wednesday September 2, 1752 was followed by Thursday September 14.  (An eleventh day was dropped because of the additional inaccuracy introduced since 1582).  Here's why this is a problem:  Suppose we wish to place two events on the Timeline, one that happened on January 1 1700 in France and the other on January 1 1700 in England.  It's terribly misleading to display them on these dates, since they happened a week and a half apart!  Similarly, we might have to show two events that seem far apart but actually occurred on the same day.

For the moment I'm ignoring this infelicity.  All events on the Timeline are listed on the dates used by those actually present at the time.  In no case are events from different calendars in close proximity, so no confusion arises.  In fact, if we adopt the English calendar and its date of switchover, only the events of Bardelys the Magnificent (at this writing) are recorded on the "wrong" dates; they are shown on the Gregorian dates that were then used in France, not the Julian dates that were current in England.

Yet another complication arises because January 1 has not always been the first day of the year.  In England, for example, the year began on March 25 until 1752; e.g., the day after March 24 1700 was March 25 1701, and the day after December 31 1701 was January 1 1701.  Different regions switched to January 1 at different times—and not necessarily at the same time as the switch from Julian to Gregorian.

Click any year of the Timeline to see the appropriate calendar for that year, including the phases of the moon.

The Moon

There are many places in the Timeline where the reported phase and visibility of the moon provides crucial evidence.  The key fact is this:  The phase of the moon is closely related to the time of its rising and setting.  The full moon rises at sunset and sets at sunrise; the new moon rises at sunrise and sets at sunset.

Furthermore, the moon rises about an hour later each day.  So a first quarter moon rises roughly at noon and sets at midnight, while a third quarter moon rises at midnight and sets at noon.  In fact, matters aren't so simple;  the actual times of moonrise and moonset depend on location, especially latitude.  But these general principles are good enough to understand the reasoning.

Phases of the moon mentioned in the Timeline are as calculated by Version 6 of calendar.el, part of GNU Emacs.  Lots more information about moon observation is available at any number of websites.

Easter and the Movable Feasts

Sabatini often makes references to Easter and other so-called moveable feasts, holidays that fall on different days each year, based on the date of Easter.  How do we determine the date of Easter for a given year?

The answer is laughably complicated.  The definition of the date of Easter has been changed more than once, so it's important to know which definition is in effect for a given date—and this may depend on your location, since countries adopted the various definitions at different times.  The answer also changes depending on whether the Gregorian or Julian calendar is in effect.

There's no point in detailing the complexities here; they can be found at any number of websites.  The Easter calculator used for the Timeline can be found here.

Comments, Feedback, and Future Work

The most important thing to do, of course, is to finish incorporating all of Sabatini's works.  I haven't even completed the fictional novels, let alone the nonfiction or the short stories.

If anyone else is ever interested in this project, it would be nice to have a discussion forum for new information, alternative theories, placement of undated novels and short stories, and so forth.  Indeed, maybe the whole Timeline should be a publicly-editable wiki.  I'd also like a pony.  For now, please send comments of any nature to me via email: larry at denenberg dot com.

Since I'm not much of a website designer or developer, the graphic design here is pretty awful.  And it would be nice to have cool features like the ability to select subsets of the Timeline, say single novels or centuries.  Offers of help in website construction gratefully received.

Acknowledgements and Related Links

On to the Timeline!
Copyright © 2007 Larry Denenberg