22

In A Song of Ice and Fire many of the POV characters refer to the different times in relation to some symbolic animal, including:

  • The hour of the bat
  • The hour of the eel
  • The hour of ghosts
  • The hour of the owl
  • The hour of the wolf
  • The hour of the nightingale

There is some discussion here, and some explanations here and here, including:

My guess: dusk = 22:00; bat = 0:00; eel = 1:00; ghost = 2:00; owl = 3:00; wolf = 4:00; nightingale = 5:00; dawn/first light = 6:00; sunrise = 7:00.

But none seem exactly definitive to me.

What are the corresponding (earth) times for these?

e.g.

  • The hour of the bat --> Midnight?
  • Hmmm. I can't seem to find any information on this at all. I wonder if GRRM has fleshed it out somewhere. – System Down Jul 9 '14 at 2:05
  • 1
    If @SystemDown can't find the answer, then there's not much hope. Next you'll tell me Shevliaskovic doesn't know either! – Möoz Jul 9 '14 at 2:18
  • 1
    The "hour of the wolf" is a term in our world too, not just in Westeros. – user24620 Jul 9 '14 at 4:48
  • 8
    It's been mentioned elsewhere that GRRM has stated that he likes to leave some things (like time and distance) vague so he doesn't have to worry as much about continuity errors. – Joe L. Jul 9 '14 at 13:04
11

Pre-industrial people don't think like this*. I would say that, for PI people, these people have an incredibly complex time-keeping system. That's not to say that calendars aren't incredibly important, but PI, there are three important events during the day that you keep track of - sunrise, the hottest part of the day (to avoid, if possible), and sunset. Everything else is essentially poetry, which is not to downplay it, but that's not going to have the kind of precision you're looking for.

This a very interesting subject - there's an episode of a great old documentary series called Connections that talks about this.

Apropos of this, and Game of Thrones in particular: Telling Time Without a Clock: Scandinavian Daymarks.

TL;DR - the meanings of those hours shouldn't have terribly specific times, even if the author said that they did.

*careful timekeeping arises first from religious practices, which were pre-industrial, but not widespread enough to have vernacular names.

  • Where's your evidence for that? In a pre-industrial culture I spent some time in they did talk about the time of animals. – curiousdannii Jul 28 '14 at 10:56
  • 1
    Personal study and primitive living experience. Let me also throw out that I've simplified this significantly, and my description above generally refers to an agrarian mindset. If you're hunter-gatherer, you'll know what time the animals are going to water, and what time the nocturnals wake up - but still - this level of precision is an entirely different thing than the modern conception. The modern conception is essentially the conception of the Roman civil authorities, which is where we get the word "hour", and where we get the twenty-four hour system. See my edit above for a link. – Chris B. Behrens Jul 28 '14 at 16:38
  • @ChrisB.Behrens As you point out, monks and priests in pre-industrial Europe were interested in accurate timekeeping. Westeros is not Europe, and GRRM has created a fictional society in which timekeeping with named hours extends to (at least) the maesters and highborn. – Royal Canadian Bandit Jul 28 '14 at 17:03
  • Yeah...I think that the asker's hours are about as accurate as anything that would exist in that world. I can imagine two peasants arguing over whether it's still the bat or the eel. – Chris B. Behrens Jul 28 '14 at 19:04
9

The "hours" used in Westeros resemble the Liturgy of the Hours developed by the Roman Catholic Church:

  • Matins (during the night, at midnight with some); also called Vigils or Nocturns or, in monastic usage, the Night Office
  • Lauds or Dawn Prayer (at Dawn, or 3 a.m.)
  • Prime or Early Morning Prayer (First Hour = approximately 6 a.m.)
  • Terce or Mid-Morning Prayer (Third Hour = approximately 9 a.m.)
  • Sext or Midday Prayer (Sixth Hour = approximately 12 noon)
  • None or Mid-Afternoon Prayer (Ninth Hour = approximately 3 p.m.)
  • Vespers or Evening Prayer ("at the lighting of the lamps", generally at 6 p.m.)
  • Compline or Night Prayer (before retiring, generally at 9 p.m.)

This system has existed since at least the 6th century AD and was used throughout the Church in the medieval period. Accurate clocks didn't exist at the time so timekeeping would have been based on observation of the sun and stars, burning time of candles, and the like. The length of the hours would also vary according to the time of year -- obviously "dawn" and "dusk" are different times in summer and winter, so in winter the "night" hours would be longer.

I'm not aware of any canonical statements that GRRM was inspired by the liturgical hours, but he knows his medieval history so he very likely had them in mind.

As noted by Chris B. Behrens, people outside of religious institutions did not particularly care about accurate timekeeping in this era. Extending the hours to wider use is a bit of artistic licence on GRRM's part. (Also, it's not clear how much the smallfolk are interested in keeping the hours, it may be mostly a preoccupation of the highborn, maesters, and septons.)

  • 3
    The old nursery song "Frère Jacques" references the Matins with 'Sonnez les matines', usually translated as 'morning bells are ringing', but which would more properly be (a command to) 'sound the Matins'. "Matins" comes from matutinae, which is Latin for "of the morning." – Chris B. Behrens Jul 31 '14 at 22:22
  • I read once too that "noon" came from "nones", and priests had to fast until "nones". The author speculated that's why the time slipped from 3 to 12... Hungry monks. – Paul Mar 14 '18 at 11:53
7

As per the wiki entry on Named Hours in A Song of Ice and Fire, the Westerosi often refer to periods in the day/night using "traditional names", some of these names include:

  • Hour of the Bat: some time during deep night to early morning
  • Hour of the Eel: just after the hour of the bat
  • Hour of Ghosts: just after the hour of the eel
  • Hour of the Owl: a few hours after the hour of the bat, yet till before dawn
  • Hour of the Wolf1: "the blackest part of night"2, coming after the hour of the owl and preceding the dawn3.
  • Hour of the Nightingale: the period coming directly after the hour of the Wolf. Most likely dawn.


1. Not to be confused with the historical period known as the Hour of the Wolf, where Lord Cregan Stark governed King's Landing at the end of the Dance of the Dragons. See What is the 'Dance of the Dragons'? for more info.

2. Ser Barristan refers to this hour as the "blackest part of night":

...His queen was the Mother of Dragons; he would not allow her children to come to harm. “The hour of the wolf. The blackest part of night, when all the world’s asleep.” ...
-A Song of Ice and Fire: Book Five - A Dance With Dragons, Chapter Sixty-Seven (The Kingbreaker I).

3. Amateur astronomer, William Frederik Denning, determines the "darkest time of the night" as the time just before the dawn in his paper The darkest hour precedes the dawn.


# Hat tip to A Wiki of Ice and Fire users LuisDantas and Rhaenys Targaryen for putting the information together.

7

The hour of the bat, hour of the eel and hour of the ghosts are all sometime in the night and come after each other in the order mentioned previously.

The night crept past on slow black feet. The hour of the bat gave way to the hour of the eel, the hour of the eel to the hour of ghosts.
A Dance with Dragons, The Dragontamer

It is likely that the hour of the bat is either around 22:00 or sometime early morning as that is when the King drank his hippocras though as the meeting of the Small Council after the king's death took place later in the same night it's likely this hour is early on in the night.

Long simmering, the conflict burst into the open on the third day of third moon of 129 AC, when the ailing, bedridden King Viserys I Targaryen closed his eyes for a nap in the Red Keep of King’s Landing, and died without waking. His body was discovered by a serving man at the hour of the bat, when it was the king’s custom to take a cup of hippocras. The servant ran to inform Queen Alicent, whose apartments were on the floor below the king’s.
...
Ser Criston returned to White Sword Tower and sent his brothers of the Kingsguard to summon the members of the king’s small council. It was the hour of the owl.
...
Only five of the white cloaks were in King’s Landing at the time of Viserys’s death; Ser Criston himself, Ser Arryk Cargyll, Ser Rickard Thorne, Ser Steffon Darklyn, and Ser Willis Fell. Ser Erryk Cargyll (twin to Ser Arryk) and Ser Lorent Marbrand, with Princess Rhaenyra on Dragonstone, remained unaware and uninvolved as their brothers-in-arms went forth into the night to rouse the members of the small council from their beds.
The Princess and the Queen

From the above information we also see that the hour of the owl is sometime in the night but most likely sometime early morning.

The hour of the ghosts is also said to be in the night and it must still be quite late at night as people have been known to use the cover of darkness for sneaking into places during the hour.

When it came, the fall of Dragonstone took less than an hour. Men traduced by Broome opened a postern gate during the hour of ghosts to allow Ser Marston Waters, Tom Tangletongue, and their men to slip into the castle unobserved.
ibid

The hour of the wolf is too in the night at some time, likely around 02:00-04:00 as Cersei uses it to visit Jaime in the night. This makes sense because it is more likely more people are asleep so less chance of them getting caught.

"Cersei." He spoke slowly, like a man waking from a dream, still wondering where he was. "What hour is it?"
"The hour of the wolf." His sister lowered her hood, and made a face. "The drowned wolf, perhaps." She smiled for him, so sweetly. "Do you remember the first time I came to you like this? It was some dismal inn off Weasel Alley, and I put on servant's garb to get past Father's guards."
A Feast for Crows, Jaime I

Though it is likely closer to 04:00 as it isn't long before sunrise.

The day had come. It was the hour of the wolf. Soon enough the sun would rise
A Dance with Dragons, Jon XII

It's also known to be the blackest part of the night which according to @Mooz's answer is just before the dawn.

It was the hour of the wolf. The longest, darkest hour of the night.
The Winds of Winter, Barristan I

Lastly, we know of the hour of the nightingale which is sometime after the hour of the wolf so probably around dawn sometime.

The hour of the owl, the hour of the wolf, the hour of the nightingale, moonrise and moonset, dusk and dawn, they staggered past like drunkards.
A Dance with Dragons, Cersei I


It's worth pointing out that George R. R. Martin has said he doesn't really care about being accurate with things like the size of things so this can be taken into context for times as well. As such it's likely that he's vague with the times and not terribly accurate with them because he doesn't really care about that; he wants you to focus on the story instead.

[How big is Westeros? Is it the size of Europe, or even larger?]
I have deliberately tried to be vague about such things, so I don't have obsessive fans with rulers measuring distances on the map and telling me Ned couldn't get from X to Y in the time I say he did.
However, if you really must know, you can figure out the distances for yourself. The Wall is a hundred leagues long. A league is three miles. Go from there.
But if you turn up any mistakes in travel times by using that measure, let it be your secret.
So Spake Martin, Size of Westeros

4

I'm not 100% sure how Martin uses these terms, but here is what I could find from real life (on Wikipedia):

  • The hour of the wolf is between 3 and 5 AM (Wikipedia), which is time the wolf is said to lurk outside people's doors.

  • The hour of the ghosts is midnight. (Witching hour on Wikipedia)

  • The hour of the owl could refer to the twilight hours of dawn and dusk (Owls), which are the hours that owls are active.
  • The hour of the nightingale could be dawn, the hour before sunrise.

Singing at dawn, during the hour before sunrise, is assumed to be important in defending the nightingale's territory.

  • The hour of the bat is probably twilight, which is when bats are active.

    I couldn't find anything specific about eels.

Just like @Joe L. said in the comments, Martin is being kind of vague in these kind of things, so that his fans won't be really obsessive.

You can take a look at @Gilles' answer to the leagues question here to see exactly what Martin has said.

  • 2
    "Eel-spearing of this kind takes place chiefly in winter, but there is another form of the sport called "sun-spearing,"... In the early sunny mornings at that time of the year...the sunspearer sallies forth...Presently he sees the gleam of the " silver" eel as he lies quietly at length on the sandy bottom. The spearer takes aim; there is a sudden "splitting of the atmosphere," as Mark Twain would say, a splash, and either Anguilla comes up writhing...or the spearer has taken a header into ten feet of water." from A Book of the Running Brook,Lady Colin Campbell. Hour of the Eel=Mid-morning? – Joe L. Jul 28 '14 at 21:17

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.