Despite its comforting familiarity to many in the modern Western sphere, many of the figures of the Roman religion are somewhat mysterious to us. Particularly when we seek to link them up to what ought be their correlate co-expressions elsewhere within the Indo-European religious world. This invites much speculation – some of it well-founded, and supported by good correlations … others, not so much.
The whole matter is rendered additionally complex due to the fact that there are two dimensions to be considered with these efforts:
First and foremost, tracing ‘back’ a given deific to Their plausible occurrence (and correspondent ur-expression) on the Proto-Indo-European Urheimat, thus allowing us to see how They link up to the same Deific in other IE pantheonic expressions when we can trace a similar ‘chain of derivation’ in those other spheres.
But second – a less ‘archaically’ rooted perspective which instead takes things ‘in media res’ : that is to say, looking at deifics ‘as They are’ (or, rather, in many cases, as They were – and at varying points in the civilization in question, often), and seeing how these should appear to correlate with other expressions in other IE cultures.
Each approach has its merits, and we have never thought it necessary to prioritize the one over the other. However, it is also necessary to acknowledge the essential shortcoming which stands between both:
Namely, that there are various cases wherein something has ‘shifted’ interior to a given IE pantheonic expression … and therefore, that second approach can place us upon difficult ground, precisely because simply looking at what’s similar at a given moment in time doesn’t therefore account for similar identity.
Whilst also the first approach can be severely frustrated if incomplete information means that we are not really all that sure whether something has shifted or not.
And, while this all might sound terribly academic (doesn’t it always?) all of this has rather important bearing for the serious matter of Western Indo-European religious revival and reconstruction-ism.
After all – if we do not know which Vedic / Hindu deific that a given Roman (or Nordic, etc.) figure correlates with … how can we be sure that we are employing the correct elements from the Hindusphere in the course of the ‘reincarnation’ of the Roman deific’s worship?
On the other hand, however, hitherto under-acknowledged (or simply under-observed) features and coterminities may be drawn out through such an approach in a manner that could prove quite vital for more properly attesting both the likely characteristics of the archaic Proto-Indo-European sphere’s perception of things … and, for that matter, less-well-known yet nevertheless still there features to more recent IE pantheonic expressions and their devotees active engagement with same.
All of this handily brings us to the figure of Janus. A figure that has invited much speculation as to His likely Indo-European correlations, yet little in the way of conclusive determination. We are unsure that we can add much to the latter, but we can certainly try.
This piece does not intend to look in-depth at the theology and ritualine occurrences for Janus in the Roman religion – but rather take a look at some of the iconographic and linguistic elements to ‘set the stage’ for more weighty consideration at a subsequent time.
So, to start with – let us look at the linguistics.
Now there are two major proposals to explicate the etymological origins of ‘Janus’. It may even be a case of ‘both’ rather than ‘either’ in terms of how the ultimate theonym has been arrived at – certainly, as we shall see, there are fairly good grounds to support each on a ‘functional’ rather than purely ‘linguistic’ basis.
The first of these concerns Latin ‘Ianus’ – often rather simplified to mean ‘Door’. From there, people make the perhaps understandable induction that Janus should, therefore, be a God of Thresholds, Doorways, Gates and the like.
And, to be sure, there are other bases that are more than just linguistic to support this. We shall address some of these in due course. Our point for the moment is that the ‘door’ associations are likely to have developed from what underlies Janus – and not Janus being termed such due to being a God named, say, ‘Door’. Some might seek to object to this upon the plain and obvious grounds aforementioned – that Ianua does, in fact, mean ‘Door’, and that this term hails from ‘Ianus’: ‘Gate’.
Except the issue with this is that the more archaic employments for ‘Ianus’ … don’t seem to entail a Door. More a covered pathway or route (which, yes, terminates in an aperture). This would fit with the Proto-Indo-European it’s derived from – PIE *yeh₂ – which refers to being in motion, travelling, riding, etc. We see it also in Sanskrit यान (‘Yana’) – which, likewise, entails ‘motion’ , ‘journey’, ‘travel’, and ‘path’ or ‘way’ or ‘road’. And which can also entail the thing which is *doing* the moving, doing the travelling, etc.
So, in order for Janus to refer to a Doorway – it would have to be the case that the theonym was a rather late development, and occurrent in the era wherein the relevant underpinning Latin word had come more simply to mean ‘Door’, having de-emphasized its more archaic and underlying senses around motion and travelling. Indeed, I would perhaps go so far as to suggest that ‘Wandering’ might be an appropriate sense to bring in here.
Now, of course, there is a most prominent ‘Gateway’ associated with the figure of Janus – the Aeneid phrases it thus:
“The terrible iron-constricted Gates of War shall shut; and safe within them shall stay the godless and ghastly Lust of Blood, propped on his pitiless piled armory, and still roaring from gory mouth, but held fast by a hundred chains of bronze knotted behind his back.”
And, of course, we also find it mentioned in Roman histories speaking in a likely less metaphorical fashion about the Gates of the Temple of Janus – closed in situations of peace (something about as rare for Ancient Rome as it is for Modern America).
But this does not – to my mind – indicate Janus to be a God of Gateways. But rather, a God with a rather prominent ‘War’ understanding … that is, in times when this is not called for, safely held at a distance through the closure thereof.
More upon this in due time.
The other potential etymology we shall consider is the one which should trace us back through to Proto-Indo-European *Dyew. This is an immensely prominent particle in a lot of our work for obvious reasons. It informs, of course, the “Dyaus” of “Dyaus Pitar”, the “Ju-” of “Jupiter”, the “Zeus” of “Zeus Pater”, and so forth. It is the Bright, Shining Sky – the Heaven and Heaven’s Radiancy. Now, there are two *other* spheres it shows up – the first, and quite directly relevant to Janus for reasons that shall also become apparent, is in Latin ‘Dies’ : ‘Day’. This, contrary to occasional misapprehension, isn’t a linguistic cognate with ‘Day’, but nevertheless we can see the parallel sense of meaning.
Day derives from PIE *dʰegʷʰ- – a term for ‘Burning’, ‘Heat’. Because, of course, the Sun is up and blessing us with warmth during the Day-time. It is, indeed, the salient characteristic which, both physically and linguistically, *renders* it the ‘Day’ time.
(As a point of brief comparative interest, Proto-Germanic appears to have archaically had both forms – *Dagaz from the aforementioned ‘Burning’ PIE root; and *Tinaz from the aforementioned ‘Radiant Sky’ one. The latter should seem to have fallen from common use and therefore left us with only the former’s descendants, for the most part. At least, here in the Germanic linguistic sphere.)
We should likewise observe the parallel occurrence viz. Dies in Latin – wherein even though, again, ‘Dies’ and ‘Day’ are not linguistically cognate, they are nevertheless quite functionally coterminous in their ultimate construction of meaning.
‘Dies’ – it is when the Bright, Shining Sky is in evidence. The Sun is up, and therefore the Sky is Radiant. And we can similarly see that the ‘Bright’ – literally ‘Burning’ – element to the Heavens is prominent within the Proto-Indo-European understanding by considering the archaic Sanskrit derivatives, as these are immediately close in terms of both language and world-view to the most archaic sphere. द्यु (‘Dyu’), for instance, which also incorporates ‘Fire’ in its ambit of meaning, as well as ‘Day’, of course, the illuminating radiancy and the Celestial Heavens, Sky Itself.
But let us briefly go back towards ‘Dies’. What we see there is a bit of a linguistic curiosity. Because in Italic the pattern we should see is for the ‘Dy-‘ style sound in ‘*Dyew’ etc. turning into first a ‘Dj-‘ [so, ‘Djous’, for example] in Proto-Italic, before finally the ‘D’ sound drops away leaving us with a term starting with ‘J’. PIE *Dyews => Proto-Italic *Djous => Latin Ju[piter]. However, the fact that this has *not* occurred for “Dies’, does not mean that it has not occurred for other words of closely connected meaning – as we have just seem viz. Jupiter, and to my mind, Juno. Who shall become quite directly salient for us in a moment.
We must also consider ‘Diana’ – that well-known Goddess – as this may be from the same PIE root; formed as, in effect, a ‘parallel derivation’ to a masculine deific. Something which we have often seen across the Indo-European theology – viz. not only Jupiter & Juno, but also with other theonymic stems such as Rudra & Rudrani, Dyaus & Diva, etc. [The Greek figure of ‘Dione’ relative to Zeus is also salient – although perhaps in a slightly different manner; or perhaps the exactly the same one] This would presumably be *Dianus, although there is no primary attestation for such a theonym in Roman usage. What we *do* have, however, is that aforementioned pattern: of ‘Di-‘ and ‘J-‘ sounds coming from shared roots.
Now, curiously enough, this pattern appears to have been acknowledged by the Romans themselves. To quote Macrobius’ Saturnalia upon the subject:
“Nigidius declared that Apollo is Janus and Diana is Iana, with a “d,” as usual, put before the “i” for the sake of euphony”
Except they’ve got things around in a peculiar order, as it would seem to suggest that the ‘D-‘ was a later addition rather than being integral to the original sound. Nevertheless, the important thing here is that Janus as being ‘Dianus’ should seem prima facie plausible.
And as for what that means … well, for that it is necessary to very briefly summarize some of our other relatively recent findings upon relevant matters.
In short – the mythology around Apollo & Artemis maps quite strongly onto that of Rudra and His Wife. We have demonstrated this in a series of articles upon the subject written in late 2021. We shall not repeat the analysis here.
This has also lead us to summarize that the situation of Apollo & Artemis as ‘siblings’, Diana as ‘sister’ to Apollo – is a rendering that is incomplete. Rather, ‘Female Counterpart’ can go in a number of ways. One is, indeed, ‘Sister’. Another would be ‘Wife’. Often, in the Classical side of things, the two understandings appear to co-occur – you will frequently find the relationship of Zeus & Hera referred to as being one wherein Zeus has a ‘Sister-Wife’. There is a rare rendering where the term has been translated as ‘sister’ for Rudra & Ambika found in the Shatapatha Brahmana, but more usually the Vedic frowning upon incest (even – sometimes especially – in divine cases) means that what we encounter there is the ‘wife’ / ‘female counterpart’ typology. As is inferentially the case viz. Rudra & Diva [the term Dyaus in female linguistic form] in these aforementioned Vedic forms of myths occurrent also in the Classical sphere.
We have also explored to a certain degree elsewhere the prospect that Apollo, at least in part, represents a ‘Sky Father’ deific expression. Something which at first seems and sounds rather odd – up until we consider the array of demonstrably and obviously ‘Sky Father’ expressions already prominent in the Greek and Roman mythologies. Dionysus, for example, or Hades, Dis Pater, Poseidon, etc. etc.
So, as applies this scenario we find briefly mentioned in the work of Macrobius – the situation of Apollo & Diana being mentioned should point us toward the notion of Janus in fact being a Sky Father deific expression. And what is that PIE root pertaining to the Sky Father? Dyews [Dyew being the Heaven / Bright, Shining Sky; rendered into the Sky Father via the -s]. Or, in other words … that ‘Dianus’ reconstructive supposition should appear to be pretty much on the money. Both in linguistic terms, yet also in mythic ones. Mytholinguistics, we may say.
We can similarly ‘anchor’ this situation due to the relationship of the Diva Triformis (Diana being one prominent ‘part’ thereof) to Jupiter; especially given other figures in said divine coterie – as we have again detailed at greater length elsewhere. (Persephone / Proserpina, for instance, that well-known Wife of Liber (Dionysus) and/or Dis Pater and/or Pluto (Hades) … but, then, I repeat myself thrice over there, don’t I).
Yet are there any ‘primary’ association elements for Janus which might lead us to surmising a support for my presently-being-espoused position of Janus being a Sky Father deific expression?
Well, let us turn once more to Macrobius:
“Some claim that Janus is shown to be the sun and has his two-fold nature because both heavenly doorways are in his power, as he opens the day by rising and closes it by setting; and further that when some god’s rite is being celebrated, he is called upon first so that he might open the way to the god to whom the sacrifice is being made, as though sending suppliants’ prayers on to the gods through his own gateways.”
“Others have claimed that he is the universe – that is, the heavens – and that he is called Janus from the verb “to go” [ire], because the universe is always in motion as it revolves, starting from itself and returning to the same point”
“In his book On The Gods, Gavius Bassus says that Janus is represented with two faces as the doorkeeper of both heaven and the underworld, and as a compound of four figures because his majesty embraces the cardinal points of the world. The Salii, too, sing of him as the “god of gods” in their very ancient hymn. Marcus Messala, Gnaius Domitius colleague as consul [53 BCE] and fifty-five years an augur, begins his account of Janus as follows:
He who fashions all and rules all has joined together, beneath the surrounding heavens, the nature and essence of water and earth, heavily falling headlong into the depths, and of fire and spirit, lightly escaping into the immeasurable spaces above: the vast power of heaven has bound together these two opposing forces”
“We call him “Father” as the god of gods, “Junonian” because he controls the entry-way not just of January but of all the months, and all the Kalends are under Juno’s authority; that is why Varro, in book 5 of his Divine Antiquities, writes that twelve altars are dedicated to Janus, to equal the number of months.”
“We call him “Consivius” from the verb meaning to “sow” [conserere] – that is to say, from the sowing of humankind’s progeny under Janus’ authority – and “Quirinus” as a god of war, from curis, the Sabine word for “spear”
Gosh, a ‘Spear’ associated figure, that is also the Sun (the Brightness / Radiance of the Daylight Sky), a ‘God of Gods’, a ‘Ruler of All’ Who ‘Makes All’, sows all (mortal) life (an ‘All-Father’, if you will), strongly associated with Heaven, and so forth.
And that point around the presiding over the seeming organization of Time is also most intriguing to us.
Within the Gobhila Grhya sutras attached to the SamaVeda, we find mention for the figure of Virupaksha (a form of Rudra) having Twelve Sons carrying out annual sacrifices unto Him. These Twelve Sons are said to be the Twelve Months in the commentary.
It is not hard to see how the mention we find in Macrobius for Janus as a Father presiding over the Twelve Months and Twelve Altars for Sacrifice is coterminous with this. Even before we consider the mentions in the same verses of the relevant Sanskrit text for the God in question as being at the Heart of the Gods and having a Golden housing are taken into account.
This strong association with ‘Time’ we also find in the more well-known ‘facings’ of Rudra – ‘Kaal’, for instance, as the sort of ‘negative’ equivalent; meaning ‘Time’, referring also to ‘Darkness’ and ‘Death’ – rather than the “Light” and “Life” of the Day-lit hours. Although, of course, vitally necessary to demarcate time as the junctures between Days [c.f my earlier voluminous work pertaining to Kaal in relation to PIE *Kel, etc.].
However, there are some other points which we ought consider in order to more fully sketch out both the Vedic – and therefore more broadly (pan-)Indo-European comparanda.
What we have also observed in those aforementioned passages of Macrobius is a strong association for Janus with ‘motion’ – going back and forth, we might say; and also with the essential metaphysical ‘conduit’ between us down here upon this Earth and the Divine Realm. Especially in the ritualine context.
Now Who does THAT remind you of?
We should have to say, of course, Lord Agni. Agni Who Is, as repeatedly directly attested in the Vedas and demonstrated over the course of our own works, Rudra. And therefore, again, also Dyaus.
Now to briefly pick up an interesting point here – Janus is well-known as the ‘Two-Faced’; and so, too, do we find Agni regarded in such terms. One ‘Head’ or ‘Facing’ being there for the ‘Destructive’ sense of Flame; the other there for its more ‘Positive’ and illuminating one.
While it is not phrased in such terms of multi-cephaly in direct application to Rudra (Who is, nevertheless, yes, polycephalous in various other tellings – as, of course, is Janus amongst the Romans with other iterations having four heads, etc.), I think we may safely surmise that the duality between the ‘Rudra’ and ‘Shiva’ ‘facings’ to Him are drawn from similar conceptual underpinnings. The ‘Terrifying’ / ‘Destructive’ / ‘Warlike’ ‘face’ and the ‘Reassuring’ / ‘Life-Giving’ / ‘Peaceful’ ‘face’, respectively.
Something which we also find but briefly mentioned in that underacknowledged compendium of archaic Indo-European ‘trace elements’, the Ynglinga Saga:
“When sitting among his friends his countenance was so beautiful and dignified, that the spirits of all were exhilarated by it, but when he was in war he appeared dreadful to his foes.”
The ‘His’ in question, of course, being Odin. Who is, as we all know, Rudra, and also the Nordic expression of the Sky Father Deific.
So, as we had asserted earlier – the notion of the Temple of Janus having a Gate which is Open in times of War , and yet Closed when Peace (rarely) prevails … is a rather intriguing active-expression via masonry and wrought-iron of what is otherwise expressed more frequently in literary terms: that of the God in question having ‘Two Facings’, and being callable upon for the one, yet also having another which renders the bellicose and death-linked side to be ‘contained’ and the world consequentially ‘at peace’ in Its passing.
Of course, another view is possible – and Macrobius also makes mention that, to quote him (at least via way of translation):
“But the physical scientists marshal substantial proofs of his divinity: for some say that Janus is the same as Apollo and Diana and assert that he represents the divine essence of both all by himself.”
We mention this because it comports with what we find in the Hindusphere for Rudra as being Ardhanarishvara – well, that is to say, Rudra as ‘one Half’ of Ardhanarishvara. Ardha – ‘Half’, Nari – ‘Woman’, ‘Ishvara’ – ‘God-Emperor’ / ‘Controller [of the Universe]’.
There is a further vital point yet to be made pertaining to the epithet ‘Thyraios’ (which, of course, we find for Apollo .. but also Hermes), but we shall address that – and its related conceptry – at some other point, I feel.
This is necessary, as it rather further sketches out the ‘Wandering’, ‘Roaming’ sense to this Sky Father expression; and would point toward an identification as a figure not only of the ‘Threshold’ – but of the Border, and what lies beyond said ‘Border’ out in the ‘Barbarian’ hinterlands. A suite of conceptry most eminently associatable with Rudra, as we see via the voluminous elocutions of such in the Vedas. Something which has been somewhat ‘flattened’ in a way via reducing things down to ‘just’ the Door, the Gate, the Entryway – and not all that lies beyond it also, whether that be ‘Journey’ or entire ‘Wilds’, ‘Outlands’ and ‘Outlanders’ alike. At least, in the trenchant ‘defending’ also against same. Something which, funnily enough, also may entail Wolves – but, as I say, more upon all of that at some other juncture.
For now, I think, it is enough. We should appear to have demonstrated that, at the very least, the linguistic and mythic / theological spheres can support with reasonable plausibility the notion that Janus is an expression, a Masque of the Indo-European Sky Father.