Saturday, January 01, 2011

Janus



In mythology Janus was one of the most ancient of Roman gods. He is usually depicted with two faces, one on each side of his head. His two faces meant that he watched and guarded entrances and exits such as gates and doorways. Janus was also a god of change and transition from the past to the future and saw into both internal and external worlds, as well as from one condition to another.  One of the most ancient of gods and highest divinities of the Roman world, his origin is speculated to be of Indian origin. 

The  Roman King Numa (753-673 BCE) who was successor to Rome's founding King Romulus, not only ordered the construction of  a temple dedicated to Janus, but also reorganized  the Roman calendar, nominating Janus as the god for the month of January. It is from the Roman god Janus that our  present-day first month of the year January is named.

Janus is  depicted upon  Roman coins-

 
Cast bronze Republican  coin  c. 225-217 BCE

The English philosopher Sir Thomas Browne makes mention of Janus in his Discourse, 'The Garden of Cyrus' (1658) observing with subtle humour-

And in their groves of the Sunne this was a fit number, by multiplication to denote the dayes of the year; and might Hieroglyphically speak as much, as the mysticall Statua of Janus in the Language of his fingers [1]. And since they were so criticall in the number of his horses, the strings of his Harp, and rayes about his head, denoting the orbes of heaven, the Seasons and Moneths of the Yeare; witty Idolatry would hardly be flat in other appropriations.

Ever helpful to his reader, Browne adds this foot-note-

Which King Numa set up with his fingers so disposed that they numerically denoted 365.

In the 20th century the psychologist Carl Gustav Jung considered Janus,  'a perfect symbol of the human psyche, as it faces both the past and future. Anything psychic is Janus-faced: it looks both backwards and forwards. Because it is evolving it is also preparing for the future'. CW 6 : 717.
 
Like the ancient Roman god of past and future, human consciousness itself is placed between past and future. It also looks back to the past and forward to the future in order to define its identity.

Happy New Year!
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