JANUS Happy New Year: Janus Was a deity'unknown to the Greeks, but from the earliest times held in high estimation by the Romans, who placed him on almost an equal footing with Jupiter, even giving his name precedence in their prayers, and invoking the aid of both deities previous to every undertaking. To him they ascribed the origin of all things, the introduction of the system of years, the change of season, the ups and downs of fortune, and the civilization of the human race by means of agriculture, industry, arts, and religion.
According to the popular belief, Janus was an ancient king who had come in remote early times from Greece to Latium, there instituted the worship of the gods, and the erection of temples, and himself deserved high honours like a god, for this reason, that he had conferred the greatest boon upon mankind by his instructions in many important ways. In some of the stories he is confounded with Saturn. In others it is said that Saturn, driven out of Greece, took refuge with Janus in Latium, and shared the government with him.
It is easy to explain the great honour paid to Janus by a people like the Romans, who, as a rule, had this peculiarity of pondering well the prospects of an undertaking before entering upon it. The beginning of everything was a matter of great importance to them, and Janus was the god of a "good beginning." It is in this spirit that the Roman poet, Ovid, makes Janus say, "Everything depends on the beginning." Even when Jupiter had consented to an enterprise, prosperity in carrying it out was believed to be under the control of Janus, and, accordingly, great stress was laid on the circumstances attending the commencement of any project. Janus opened and closed all things. He sat, not only on the confines of the earth, but also at the gates of heaven. Air, sea, and land were in the hollow of his hands. The world moved on its hinges at his command.
"In accordance with this belief, he was represented, as in "Plate XVII., seated, with two heads, one being that of "a youth, to indicate 'beginning,' the other that of an "old man, to indicate the 'end,' whence he was styled "Bifrons (two-headed). In his left hand is a key to show "that he opens at the beginning, and shuts at the end; "the sceptre in his right is a sign that he controls the pro"gress of every undertaking."
The first day of January, a month named after him, being the first day of a new year, was the occasion of a celebration in his honour'. At the beginning of every month the priests offered sacrifice to him at twelve altars. He was invoked every morning as the beginner of a new day. Even at the sacrifices to other gods he was remembered, and received offerings of wine and cakes, incense, and other things. The husbandman prayed to him at the beginning of seed-time. When war was declared, he was invoked.
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TEXT and IMAGE CREDIT: Manual of mythology. Author: Alexander Stuart Murray. Published: 1873 Original from: Oxford University. Digitized: Jun 30, 2006
FOUNDED ON THE WORKS OF PETISCUS, PRELLER, AND WEl.CKER. BY ALEXANDER S. MURRAY, DEPARTMENT OF GKEEK AND ROMAN ANTIQUITIES, BRITISH MU6EUM. LONDON ASHER AND CO., 13, BEDFORD STREET, COVENT GARDEN, W.C. I873.