Monday, March 2, 2009
The cult of Janus is one of the most ancient known from Italic peoples.
The Greeks associated Janus with the Etruscan deity Ani. However, he was one of the few Greek gods who had no ready-made counterpart, or analogous mythology. Several scholars suggest that he was likely the most important god in the Roman archaic pantheon: this is reflected in the appellation Ianus Pater, still used in Classical times. He was often invoked together with Iuppiter (Jupiter).
Janus-like heads of gods related to Hermes have been found in Greece, perhaps suggesting a compound god: Hermathena (a herm of Athena), Hermares, Hermaphroditus, Hermanubis, Hermalcibiades, and so on. In the case of these compounds it is disputed whether they indicated a herm with the head of Athena, or with a Janus-like head of both Hermes and Athena, or a figure compounded from both deities.
Janus was usually depicted with two heads looking in opposite directions. According to a legend, he had received from the God Saturn, in reward for the hospitality received, the gift to see both future and past.
In general, Janus was the patron of concrete and abstract beginnings, such the religion and the Gods themselves, of the world and the human life, of new historical ages, economical enterprises. He was also the God of the home entrance (ianua), gates, bridges and covered and arcaded passages (iani).
He was frequently used to symbolize change and transitions such as the progression of past to future, of one condition to another, of one vision to another, the growing up of young people, and of one universe to another. He was also known as the figure representing time because he could see into the past with one face and into the future with the other. Hence, Janus was worshipped at the beginnings of the harvest and planting times, as well as marriages, births and other beginnings. He was representative of the middle ground between barbarity and civilization, rural country and urban cities, and youth and adulthood.
In Rome, Janus was worshipped in the Ianus geminus, a walled enclosure with gates at each end, situated in the Roman Forum which had been consecrated by Numa Pompilius. In the course of wars, the gates of the Janus were opened, and in its interior sacrifices and vaticinia were held to forecast the outcome of military deeds. The doors were closed only during peacetime, an extremely rare event (Christians later claimed that this had occurred at the moment of the birth of Jesus). A temple of Janus is said to have been consecrated by the consul Gaius Duilius in 260 BCE after the Battle of Mylae in the Forum Holitorium. The four-side structure known as the Arch of Janus in the Forum Boarium dates to the 4th century CE.
In the Middle Ages, Janus was also taken as the symbol of Genoa, whose Latin name was Ianua, as well as of other Italian communes.
His ability to see both forwards and backwards at the same time aided him in his pursuit of the nymph Carna to whom he gave power over door hinges as a reward for her favours.
Janus was supposed to have come from Thessaly in Greece and he shared a kingdom with Camese in Latium. They had many children, including Tiberinus.
When Romulus and his men kidnapped the Sabine women, Janus caused a volcanic hot spring to erupt, resulting in the would-be attackers being buried alive. In honor of this, the doors to his temples were kept open during war so that Janus himself might easily watch this happen. The doors and gates were closed in ceremony when peace was concluded