Saturday, January 31, 2009

Janus

Janus, ever since he ceased to be an intelligible deity, has been the sport of speculators; and this happened long before the Roman religion came to an end. In the last century b.c. philosophic writers about the gods got hold of him, and Varro tells us that some made him out to be the heaven, others the universe (mundus). Ovid amused himself with this uncertainty of the philosophers, and in the first book of his Fasti "interviewed" the god, whose answers are unluckily of little value for us. At various times and in different hands Janus has been pronounced a sun-god, a heaven-god, a year-god, a wind-god; and now a Cambridge school of speculators, to whose learning I am in many ways indebted, has claimed him as an oak-god, the mate of Diana, the Jupiter of aboriginal Latium, and so on. We have fortunately long left behind us the age when it was thought necessary to resolve the Greek and Roman gods into personifications of natural phenomena, and to try to explain all their attributes on one principle; but my learned friends at Cambridge have of late been showing a tendency to return to methods not less dangerous; they hanker, for example, after etymological evidence, which in the case of deities is almost sure to be misleading unless it is absolutely certain, and supported by the history of the name. This is unluckily not the case with Janus; his etymology is matter of dispute, and he is therefore open, and always will be so, to the inquirer who is hunting a scent, and more concerned to prove a point than to discover what the early Romans really thought about a god. In this lecture I am but humbly trying to do this last, and I may therefore leave etymology, with the mythology and philosophy of a later age, and confine myself to such facts of the cult of Janus as are quite undisputed. They will admit of being put together very shortly.

The first and leading fact is that Janus was the first deity to be addressed in all prayers and invocations; of this we have abundant evidence, as also of the corresponding fact that Vesta came last. Secondly, we know that he was the object of worship on the Kalends of January, and probably of every month, and that the sacrificing priest was in this case the rex sacrorum. Thirdly, we know that he had no temple until the year 260 b.c., but that he was associated with the famous gateway at the north-east end of the Forum—not a gate in the wall, but a symbolic entrance to the heart of the city, as the round temple of Vesta at the opposite end, with its eternal fire, was symbolic of the common life of the community. Fourthly, we know a few cult-titles of Janus, among them Clusius (or Clusivius), and Patulcius, in which the connection with gates is obvious; Junonius, which may have originated in the fact that Juno also was worshipped on the Kalends; Matutinus, which seems to be a late reference to the dawn as the opening or gate of the day, and Quirinus, which last is also almost certainly of late origin. Clusius and Patulcius are genuine old titles, if the text of the Salian hymn is rightly interpreted; so too is another, Curiatius, for it was used of the god only as residing in an ancient gateway near the Subura called the tigillum sororium.249 These are all the most important facts we have to go upon; the double head of Janus on the earliest Roman as is of uncertain origin, and Wissowa seems to have conclusively shown that this representation was not admitted to the gate called Janus Geminus until towards the close of the republican period. The connection of the god with the fortress on the hill across the Tiber, which still bears his name, admits of no quite satisfactory explanation.

Now if we recall the fact that the entrance to the house and the entrance to a city were points of great moment, and the cause of constant anxiety to the early Italian mind, we may naturally infer that they would be in the care of some particular numen, and that his worship would be in the care of the head of the family or community—in the case of the city, in the care of the rex, whose duties of this kind were afterwards taken over by the priest called rex sacrorum. The fact that the word for an entrance was ianus confirms this conjecture; Janus was perhaps the spirit guarding the entrance to the real wall of the earliest city, but when the city was enlarged in the age from which the calendar dates, a symbolic gateway was set up where you entered the forum from the direction of Latium, answering to the symbolic hearth in the aedes Vestae, and this very naturally took the name of the deity associated with entrances. Two other iani probably existed in the forum, and the name was later on transferred as a substantive to similar objects in Roman colonies, while a feminine form, ianua, came to be used for ordinary house entrances.251 Whether there ever was a cult of the god at the real gateway of a city we do not know; there was none at the symbolic gateway of Rome, which was in no sense a temple. But the idea of entrance stuck to the old spirit of the doorway long after the reconstruction of the city, and the rex now sacrifices to him on the entrance-day of each month, and more particularly on the entrance-day of the month which bears his name and is the beginning of the natural year after the winter solstice. This is the best account to be had of the original Janus, a deity, let it be remembered, of a simple agricultural and warlike people, without literature or philosophy. But it is not difficult to see how, when philosophy and literature did at last come in a second-hand form to this people, they might well have overlaid with cobwebs of story and speculation a deity for whom they had no longer any real use, who was best known to them by the mysterious double-head on the as and the gateway, and for whom they could find no conclusive parallel among the gods of Greece.

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