29 December 2009

Past and Future: The Many Faces of the God Janus



The month of January is named for the Roman God Janus, the deity of exits and entrances, endings and beginnings. He was known as the custodian of the universe. His unique duality of having one face looking backward and the other gazing forward allowed him to see both the past and the future. The face behind was usually one of an old man as in the early Roman term whereas the face before was that of a young man or woman. Janus was associated with the sun whereas his wife Jana was a Roman moon goddess. The pagan god continued to be depicted in Christian art as in The Breviary of Renaud de Bar, an illuminated manuscript. Created in France in 1303 and 1303 the book contains calendar pages including one for January with a roundel of a feasting Janus. The influence of the god's duplicity can be seen in images from alchemy. A double headed figure is illustrated in The Rosary of Philosophers. Rather than referring to Catholic prayer beads the 16th century German woodcuts describe a garden of wisdom. The hermaphrodite combines two opposites; the king and the queen, the sun and the moon. Just as Janus marries the past with the future.

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