Who Is Your Janus and What Does He Do?

Ovid, Fasti 1.63-132

Behold, Germanicus, Janus is the first in my song, and he announces that the year will be favorable to you. Two-headed Janus, silent origin of the fleeting year, you alone of the gods see your own back. Favor our leaders, by whose labor both the fertile earth and the sea are at leisure. Favor, too, the senators and the people of Quirinus, and with your nod open the white temples. A prosperous light arises – favor our tongues and minds! Now good words are to be spoken on a good day.

Let all ears be free of strife, and let mad quarrels be gone straightaway. Angry tongue, hold off your work! You see how the ether shones with its odoriferous light, and hpw the Cilician saffron sounds on the illuminated altars? The flame strikes the gold of the temples with its own light and sprinkls its shaking radiance at the top of the building. It goes with untouched dress to the Tarpeian citadel, and the people shares its festive color. Now new fasces go forth, now new purple shines, and the notable ivory perceives its new burden. Young heiffers offer their necks, unskilled in burdens, to be struck; heiffers which the Faliscan grass nourished in its fields. When Jupiter looks out upon the whole world, he can see nothing which is not Roman.

Greetings, happy day! Come back better every time, worthy to be cultivated by a people powerful over the world.

“What god should I call you, twofold Janus? For Greece has no god equal to you. Tell me, too, the cause why you alone of the gods see what is behind and in front.” While I was working these things out in my mind on the tablets I had taken up, my house appeared brighter than before. Then holy Janus, marvelous in his twofold image, brought his two faces before my eyes. I felt afraid, and I sensed that my hair stood on end with fear, and my heart was chilled with sudden cold. He, holding his staff in his right hand and a key in the left, spoke first and said these things:

“Put aside your fear and learn, laboring poet of the days, what you seek, and mark my words in your mind. The ancients called me Chaos (for I was the first thing). Behold the deeds of a long age which I sing.

This clear air and the other three bodies – fire, water, and earth – were all one mass. As soon as this mass of things was separated by its strife and went to its new separate homes, the flame sought the heavens, and the next spot took the air, while the earth and sea sank onto the middle of the ground. Then I, who had been an orb, a mass without form, returned to my appearance and my body worthy of a god. Now too, the small notes of my once unformed figure, what is before me and behind me, are seen at the same tome.

Learn now what is the other cause of the form you ask about. Once you know this, you will understand my duty as well. Whatever you see anywhere – the sky, the sea, the clouds, the earth – are all closed and opened by my hand. The guardianship of the vast world is in my hands, and all the power of the turning pole is mine. When I’m in the mood to send Peace to placid homes, she walks freely about the streets without interruption; but the whole world will be mixed up with deadly gore, if my rigid bars do not hold back the wars ready to break out. I sit at the gates of heaven with the Hours: Jupiter comes and goes at the pleasure of my office. For that reason I am called Janus. When the priest offers me grain cake and spelt mixed with salt, you would laugh to hear my names; for I have been called now Patulcius and now Clusius by the priest’s mouth. Clearly, uncultured antiquity wished to signify the various changes by that name.

My power has already been narrated. Now learn the cause of my form, even though you already know it in part.

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1. A K : IAN : F

Ecce tibi faustum, Germanice, nuntiat annum
inque meo primum carmine Ianus adest.
Iane biceps, anni tacite labentis origo,               65
solus de superis qui tua terga vides,
dexter ades ducibus, quorum secura labore
otia terra ferax, otia pontus habet:
dexter ades patribusque tuis populoque Quirini,
et resera nutu candida templa tuo.               70
prospera lux oritur: linguis animisque favete;
nunc dicenda bona sunt bona verba die.
lite vacent aures, insanaque protinus absint
iurgia: differ opus, livida turba, tuum.
cernis odoratis ut luceat ignibus aether,               75
et sonet accensis spica Cilissa focis?
flamma nitore suo templorum verberat aurum,
et tremulum summa spargit in aede iubar.
vestibus intactis Tarpeias itur in arces,
et populus festo concolor ipse suo est,               80
iamque novi praeeunt fasces, nova purpura fulget,
et nova conspicuum pondera sentit ebur.
colla rudes operum praebent ferienda iuvenci,
quos aluit campis herba Falisca suis.
Iuppiter arce sua totum cum spectet in orbem,               85
nil nisi Romanum quod tueatur habet.
salve, laeta dies, meliorque revertere semper,
a populo rerum digna potente coli.
Quem tamen esse deum te dicam, Iane biformis?
nam tibi par nullum Graecia numen habet.               90
ede simul causam, cur de caelestibus unus
sitque quod a tergo sitque quod ante vides.
haec ego cum sumptis agitarem mente tabellis,
lucidior visa est quam fuit ante domus.
tum sacer ancipiti mirandus imagine Ianus               95
bina repens oculis obtulit ora meis.
extimui sensique metu riguisse capillos,
et gelidum subito frigore pectus erat.
ille tenens baculum dextra clavemque sinistra
edidit hos nobis ore priore sonos:               100
‘disce metu posito, vates operose dierum,
quod petis, et voces percipe mente meas.
me Chaos antiqui (nam sum res prisca) vocabant:
aspice quam longi temporis acta canam.
lucidus hic aer et quae tria corpora restant,               105
ignis, aquae, tellus, unus acervus erat.
ut semel haec rerum secessit lite suarum
inque novas abiit massa soluta domos,
flamma petit altum, propior locus aera cepit,
sederunt medio terra fretumque solo.               110
tunc ego, qui fueram globus et sine imagine moles,
in faciem redii dignaque membra deo.
nunc quoque, confusae quondam nota parva figurae,
ante quod est in me postque videtur idem.
accipe quaesitae quae causa sit altera formae,               115
hanc simul ut noris officiumque meum.
quicquid ubique vides, caelum, mare, nubila, terras,
omnia sunt nostra clausa patentque manu.
me penes est unum vasti custodia mundi,
et ius vertendi cardinis omne meum est.               120
cum libuit Pacem placidis emittere tectis,
libera perpetuas ambulat illa vias:
sanguine letifero totus miscebitur orbis,
ni teneant rigidae condita Bella serae.
praesideo foribus caeli cum mitibus Horis               125
(it, redit officio Iuppiter ipse meo):
inde vocor Ianus; cui cum Ceriale sacerdos
imponit libum farraque mixta sale,
nomina ridebis: modo namque Patulcius idem
et modo sacrifico Clusius ore vocor.               130
scilicet alterno voluit rudis illa vetustas
nomine diversas significare vices.

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