Janus (mythology)

Janus (mythology)

In Roman mythology, Janus (or Ianus) was the god of gates, doors, doorways, beginnings and endings. His most prominent remnants in modern culture are his namesakes: the month of January, which begins the new year, and the janitor, who is a caretaker of doors and halls.


The ancients connected the origins of Janus to movement: Macrobius and Cicero derived his name from the verb "ire" ("to go") [Macrobius, "Saturnalia", I, 9, 11] . Modern scholars confirmed this relationship, establishing a derivation from the term "ianua" ("gate") [Herbert Jennigs Rose", "Primitive Culture in Italy"] .

Other theories have put forward a possible relationship with an ancient form "*Dianus", then to be connected with the goddess Diana, and thus also stemming from the Latin term "dies" ("day") [ cite book|first=Anna |last=Ferrari|title=Dizionario di mitologia greca e latina|location=Milan|publisher=Rizzoli|isbn=8817866377|year=2001| pages=p. 291] .

Origins and nature

The cult of Janus is one of the most ancient known from Italic peoples.

The Romans associated Janus with the Etruscan deity Ani. However, he was one of the few Roman 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 [According to Varro, in the "carmen saliaris" Janus is called "creator", as the initiator of the world itself. "De lingua latina", VII, 26-27.] and the human life [Macrobius defines him "Consivium", i.e. propagator of the human genre. "Saturnalia", I, 9, 16.] , of new historical ages, economical enterprises. He was also the God of home entrances ("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 covered passage which, according to tradition, had been consecrated by Numa Pompilius in the Roman Forum. In the course of wars, the gates of the Janus' temple in Rome were opened, and its interior sacrifices and "vaticinia" were held to forecast the outcome of military deeds [Livy, "History of Rome", I, 19, 2] . He had another temple in the Forum Holitorium, consecrated by consul Gaius Duilius in 260 BCE after the Battle of Mylae; 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.

Other myths

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 may easily watch this happen. The doors and gates were closed in ceremony when peace was concluded.

Modern culture

Like many mythological deities, Janus has remained popular in modern culture. There are many references to Janus in pop culture, and he appears on coins such as the recent 100 euro The Sculpture Gold coin. He also inspired the name of the Janus kinase family of enzymes which have two nearly identical sub-regions.

*In the 1995 James Bond film "GoldenEye", Janus was a code-name for its main villain Alec Trevelyan aka 006, a former colleague of Bond's whose face was scarred after a mission in which Bond caused the explosion of weaponized gas. The two face reference being because he was a double agent working also leading the Janus Crime Syndicate.

*"Janus" was the name of the Illuminati leader in the book "Angels & Demons".

*Janus was used promimently in the "Look and read" BBC series "The Legend of the Lost Keys".

*Janus is the name of a character that is forced through time in the videogame "Chrono Trigger", turning him into Magus.

*In the Fourth book of Percy Jackson & The Olympians series, "The Battle of the Labyrinth" by Rick Riordan, Janus is the "God of Doorways. Beginnings. Endings. Choices".

*Janus is depicted on the coin possessed by the little girl in the Pixar short film "One Man Band", allegorically foreshadowing the contest between the two opposing musicians.

*Janus is invoked directly in the "Halloween" episode (season 2, episode 6) of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" TV series.

*In the " "video game, when playing as a Malkavian, Therese and Jeanette are known as the daughters of Janus.



*cite book|first=Georges|last=Dumézil|year=2001|title=La religione romana arcaica|pages=p. 291|publisher=Rizzoli|isbn=8817866377|location=Milan

External links

* [http://www.livius.org/ja-jn/janus/janus.html Livius.org: Janus]
* [http://www.tkline.freeserve.co.uk/OvidFastiBkOne.htm#_Toc69367257 Translation of Ovid's Fasti, a section on January, and Janus]

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