the coming of Janus (from Ovid’s Fasti)

See Janus comes, Germanicus, the herald of a lucky year to thee, and in my song takes precedence.

Two-headed Janus, opener of the softly gliding year, thou who alone of the celestials dost behold thy back, O come propitious to the chiefs whose toil ensures peace to the fruitful earth, peace to the sea. And come propitious to thy senators and to the people of Quirinus, and by thy nod unbar the temples white.

A happy morning dawns. Fair speech, fair thoughts I crave! Now must good words be spoken on a good day. Let ears be rid of suits, and banish mad disputes forthwith! Thou rancorous tongue, adjourn thy wagging! Dost mark how the sky sparkles with fragrant fires, and how Cilician saffron crackles on the kindled hearths? The flame with its own splendour beats upon the temples’ gold roof. In spotless garments the procession wends to the Tarpeian towers; the people wear the colour of festal day; and now new rods of office lead the way, new purple gleams, and a new weight is felt by the far-sewn ivory chair.

Heifers, unbroken to the yoke, offer their necks to the axe, heifers that cropped the sward on the true Faliscan plains. When from his citadel Jupiter looks abroad on the whole globe, naught but the Roman empire meets his eye.

Hail, happy day! and evermore return still happier, day worthy to be kept holy by a people the masters of the world.

But what god am I to say thou art, Janus of double-shape? for Greece hath no divinity like thee. The reason, too, unfold why alone of all the heavenly one thou doest see both back and front.

While thus I mused, the tablets in my hand, methought the house grew brighter than it was before. Then of a sudden sacred Janus, in his two-headed shape, offered his double visage to my wondering eyes. A terror seized me, I felt my hair stiffen with fear, and with a sudden chill my bosom froze.

He, holding in his right hand his staff and in his left the key, to me these accents uttered from his front mouth: “Dismiss thy fear, thy answer take, laborious singer of the days, and mark my words. The ancients called me Chaos, for a being from of old am I; observe the long, long ages of which my song shall tell. Yon lucid air and the three others bodies, fire, water, earth, were huddled all in one. When once, through the discord of its elements, the mass parted, dissolved, and went in diverse ways to seek new homes, flame sought the height, air filled the nearer space, while earth and sea sank in the middle deep. ‘Twas then that I, till that time a mere ball, a shapeless lump, assumed the face and members of a god.

“And even now, small index of my erst chaotic state, my front and back look just the same. Now hear the other reason for the shape you ask about, that you may know it and my office too. Whate’er you see anywhere – sky, sea, clouds, earth – all things are closed and opened by my hand. The guardianship of this vast universe is in my hands alone, and none but me may rule the wheeling pole.”

“When I choose to send forth peace from tranquil halls, she freely walks the ways unhindered. But with blood and slaughter the whole world would welter, did not the bars unbending hold the barricadoed wars. I sit at heaven’s gate with the gentle Hours; my office regulates the goings and the comings of Jupiter himself. Hence Janus is my name; but when the priest offers me a barley cake and spelt mingled with salt, you would laugh to hear the names he gives me, for on his sacrificial lips I’m now Patulcius and now Clusius called.   Thus rude antiquity made shift to work my changing functions with the change of name. ”

“My business I have told. Now learn the reason for my shape, though already you perceive it in part. Every door has two fronts, this way and that, whereof one faces the people and the other the house-god; and just as your human porter, seated at the threshold of the house-door, sees who goes out and in, so I, the porter of the heavenly court, behold at once both East and West. Thou seest Hecate’s faces turned in three directions that she may guard the crossroads where they branch three several ways; and lest I should lose time by twisting my neck, I am free to look both ways without budging.”

 

(emphasis mine) excerpt from Ovid, Fasti, 63-144, tr. James Frasier, 1931 (Kindle version)

(Ovid’s Fasti is also available to read online at theoi.com)

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About thalassa

Occasionally doting wife, damn proud momma of two adorable children, veteran of the United States Navy, semi-steampunk bohemian beach addict from middle America, Civil War reenactor and Victorian natural history aficionado, canoeing and kayaking and paddleboarding fanatic, Unitarian Universalist and pantheistic Pagan, devotee of various aquatic deities, and practitioner of bioregional witchery View all posts by thalassa

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