Today’s PBP post is about Ianus. I thought it was fitting to write about him, as he is the god of new beginnings – among other things.
Out of all the Roman gods, Ianus is perhaps one of the more interesting – and the most recognizable.
And Ianus is a very major deity in the Roman pantheon. It is to him that one prays before praying to any of the other deities, and he himself explains this in Ovid’s Fasti: “It is through I, who guards the thresholds, that you may have access to whatever gods you please… whatever 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 I may rule the wheeling pole.”
Related to this, the month of January and the first day of January are sacred to this god. It is the first day of the first month of the new year and, traditionally, the ancient Romans gave each other gifts of figs and dates and honey, in order that – to quote Ianus again – “the whole course of the year may be sweet, like its beginning.”
Ianus is usually depicted holding a staff in his right hand and a key in his left hand. He also is said to have two faces, one looking forwards and one looking backwards. Sometimes he is depicted as bearded, sometimes clean-shaven, sometimes with one head as each. Again according to him, “the ancients called me Chaos, for I am an ancient being. Long ago lucid air and the three other bodies – fire, water, and earth – were huddled together 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. It was then that I, until that time a mere ball, a shapeless lump, assumed the face and characteristics of a god. And even now, as a small memento of my former chaotic state, my front and back look just the same.”
He is a very patient deity, though I also perceive him as being quite solemn. This isn’t to say that he is very serious; I get the feeling that he likes a good laugh as much as the next (as a disclaimer, this is all my own UPG; you might have had different experiences). He was the first deity that I had any contact with when I first began looking into the Roman pantheon, which is fitting considering that he is the god of beginnings.
Ianus’ epithets include Bifrons (Two-Faced), Geminus (Two-Faced), Belliger (Bringer of War), Pacificus (Bringer of Peace) , Quirinus (Of the People), Patulcius (The Opener), Clusivius (The Closer), Ianeus (The Gatekeeper), Duonus Cerus (The Good Creator), Rex (King), Ianitor (Caretaker or Gatekeeper), Divum Pater (Father of the Gods), Divum Deus (God of Gods), and Matutinus (Of the Dawn). Another epithet is Iunonius, which means “Of Iuno”: he is usually called this on the Kalends, which he is seen to help bring in with the help of the goddess Iuno. He is the god of gates, doors, bridges, beginnings, endings, and time.
There are few myths about Ianus, and they are rather short. One has him as an ancient king of Italy, who welcomed Saturnius (Saturn), another king, as a guest, in return for being taught the art of agriculture. Another myth, one of a much darker tone, has him rape the nymph Carna, and, in a sort of repentance, he makes her the goddess of door hinges (her name changes at this point to Cardea). He is also said to be the father of the minor deity Fontus (the god of springs and wells) with the nymph Iuturna, and the father of Venilia by the nymph Canens.