Sunday, January 1, 2017

January and Janus in Mythology, 1896 Article

January and Janus in Mythology, 1896 Article

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This name of the first month of the year has come down to us from our Roman grandfathers. Our Saxon ancestors gave us the names of the days of the week, but the Romans named for us the months of the year. Janus was as great a deity among the Romans as was Odin among the Norsemen. Janus was the deity who presided over the beginnings of all undertakings. But not only did he begin them, he directed their course and brought them to a close. A good beginning was considered of the greatest importance by the Romans. They used to say, “Everything depends on the beginning.” We have the same proverb now in “What is well begun is half done.” So the first month in the year was called January. Janus not only looked forward, directing the beginning and progress of all undertakings, but he looked backward also and brought all undertakings to a close. So it came about that our Roman grandfathers believed him to have two faces; one of these was like the face of a youth, for the beginnings of things are always young, the other was the face of an old man, who looked upon events after they had become old and brought them to an end. In their temple the Romans erected a statue of Janus with his youthful face looking toward the east, the beginning of the day, and his old face looking toward the west. When the Romans were carrying on any great enterprise, especially a great war, they kept both the east and the west doors of this temple open night and day, so that the god might be able to see both ways, to the beginning and to the close of it, and know better how to direct it. As he sat there he held a key in one hand, with which he opened the door of a new enterprise and closed the door of one that he had brought to an end. He held a scepter in the other hand, which was an emblem of his power to begin, to conduct, and to close all the undertakings of both the gods and men. There was only one deity who was superior to him. This was Jupiter, who must first give his consent before Janus could undertake anything.

There is a great deal of significance, therefore, in the name by which we call this, the first month of the year. It is the closing up of the old and the beginning of the new, and many people, old and young, make it the time for new resolves, and the breaking away from that which was bad in their former life. All of us rejoice on New Year's day, and wish each other well, because of our hope that the coming year will be fuller of blessings than was the last.

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