Guest Author - Michelle Roberti
Janus- the god of January
The Romans named the month January (Januarius) after Janus, keeper of doors, thresholds, and gateways. He was also the god of beginnings and ends, future and past, departure and return. Despite claims that Janus is exclusive to Roman mythology; his actual origins are quite perplexing. Although he is acclaimed to be “exclusive” to the ancient “Roman pantheon,” there is the possibility that he has ties with Grecian gods through etymology.
No matter where is origins may lie, his identity as “keeper of the doors” remains.
It is unlikely that Janus achieved his status just by his being an unassuming door keeper, as it appears that Janus came from higher stock then that. It is believed that Janus is exclusively an Italic god, or more so a Roman god, however, there are disputes as to this belief. The possibility that he is much older than that lay in the claim that Janus has Middle Eastern roots, stemming from the Chaldeans, and was possibly known as Ball-ianus. The god first introduced by Romulus, the founder of Rome, is believed to have already a minority cult following. As an ancient Latin god, Janus was linked to the Etruscan god, Ani, who also had two faces. Others place him as a son of Apollo.
It is difficult to find a true “mythological background” specific to Janus since the Romans were not inclined to subscribe a mythology to their gods. Unlike the Greeks, the Romans were uninterested in creating stories and epics, as they did not adhere to the belief that gods were “humanlike.” Unlike the Greeks, the Roman’s believed more so in invoking the numen or “presence” of a god, some of whom were nameless, or merely reflected on as the genus loci or “spirit of the place.” (The Roman’s, instead, prescribed to the readings of entrails of sacrificial animals, or interpretation of natural occurrences; and it is through these signs they were shown the will of the gods.)
There are many theories as to Janus’ origins. Etymologically he is attached to Diana, Jupiter, Juno and Juturna through the Aryan root “Di” which means “bright.” He is also closely linked to Zeus and his consort Dione, by this method. Sir Walter Frazer in his book “The Golden Bough” gives more detail to his theory.
Under the pen of Ovid, Janus is presented as “chaos” a seemingly primordial god, duly honored as both “creator” and “father.” In his story, once the elements fire, air, water and earth emerge from chaos, Janus is bewildered. As evidence of this confusion to his original state, he is thereafter identified with two faces, and sometimes four. Thus Janus becomes “Janus Pater;” creator of the world, the god of gods, and “Father.” Due to this status prayers were regularly invoked in his name, for Janus was a mediator between the gods and humanity, the young and old, primitive and modern.
Other legends place him as a native of Thessaly married to the goddess Camese where together they rule the kingdom Latiunium. Although they have many children together, the most notable is the river god Tiberinus, from which the Tiber River gets its name. Janus also had Fontus (god of spring) with Jaturna, the goddess of spring.
Numa Pompilius, the emperor who added the month of Januarius and Februarius to the calendar year, also constructed the Roman Gates of Janus, in the gods honor. The doors to this sanctuary were left closed only in times of peace, when Janus’ name became that of Janus Clusivius. However, when the doors to his temple were opened, Janus became known as Janus Patilius, who fought alongside the Roman armies in aid to overthrown the gods of Roman foes.
Janus was also involved in the war against the Sabines. When the goddess Juno lent her assistance to the Sabine’s who were advancing on Rome; Janus stopped them in their tracks with a geyser of sulfurous water, thereby forcing them back. It is in this very place that the Temple of Janus was erected.
Images of this god may be seen on ancient Roman coins, and a sculpture of him is housed in the Vatican.