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Janus

It is common knowledge that Roman Mythology and Greek Mythology are the same. The Romans took the stories of Greek myth and copied them wholesale, with name changes serving as the bare minimum effort required to qualify their beliefs as their own.

Common knowledge is a fickle thing.

Before the Romans met the Greeks, back when they were just a small tribe on the Italian Peninsula, they had a religion of their own. Jupiter and Mars and Venus and Saturn and Neptune, as well as other deities that have not had planets named after them, were beings in their own right that were worshipped by the Romans. Upon interaction with the Greeks, the Romans saw their myths and adapted them to what they already knew.

The Greeks have this story about a paternal sky deity? Jupiter is a paternal sky deity. This “Zeus” character must actually be Jupiter, and the Greeks are just calling him the wrong name! Classic Greeks!

The Romans had a habit of doing this with many cultures they encountered. The Germanic Odin was actually Mercury. The Celtic Sullis was actually Minerva. The Egyptian Bastet was actually Diana. But the Greeks came first and were the most thoroughly incorporated, so it has been often said that the Roman pantheon was simply imported from Greece despite this, in most cases, being untrue.

Because Greek Mythology was added and incorporated into a preexisting Roman religion, many figures who are identified with one another are not entirely identical. Mars has agricultural associations that Ares lacks. Venus is more maternal – and more politically influential – than Aphrodite. And some gods and goddesses are entirely Roman, never being connected to a Greek equivalent. One such god was Janus. Remember him, he’ll come up later.

There is another piece of common knowledge that Gaius Julius Cesar and his adopted son, Imperator Caesar Augustus, broke the Roman calendar. They added months named after themselves – July and August – and for that reason the months of September, October, November, and December do not occupy the place in the calendar that their numerically derived names would suggest. Here, again, common knowledge is wrong.

The original Roman calendar – according to Roman tradition, which is basically the same thing as Roman common knowledge, so take it with a grain of salt – had ten months, beginning in the spring and ending near the start of winter.

  • Martius
  • Aprilis
  • Maius
  • Iunius
  • Quintilis
  • Sextilis
  • September
  • October
  • November
  • December

The remainder of the year, the depths of winter, is said to have not had any months at all, just being a continuum of undifferentiated days, a concept that we in the modern day probably would have found strange to comprehend prior to the monotony that is the early 2020s.

When the Romans decided they were done with monarchy for the time being and formed the Roman Republic, the calendar changed. No more ambiguously defined winter, two new months were added to the beginning of the year, which had the unfortunate effect of making all number-based month names inaccurate. Julius Caesar and Caesar Augustus did not, in fact, break the calendar by adding months; the early Republic did. Julius Caesar arguably fixed the calendar, standardizing the corrections that were necessary to keep it aligned with the solar year after taking inspiration from Cleopatra – an astute scholar and skilled politician who is most often remembered for the men with whom she had sex – and the calendar of her native Egypt. When the months of July and August were created, they weren’t new months. They were just new names for the months of Quintilis and Sextilis.

So, if the new months weren’t named after Caesar and Caesar, what were they named after? The second month was named after the festival of Lupercalia, also known as Februa, which occurred during that month. The first, the new beginning of the year, was named after Janus – remember him from earlier? Janus was a god with two faces, looking in both directions. A god of liminal spaces. A god of doorways and choices. A god of new beginnings.

Perfect to start a new year full of infinite possibility.

Recommended2 Simily SnapsPublished in All Stories, Humor, Non-Fiction

Responses

  1. I agree with Emily. Great article. I knew the distinction between the Roman and Greek gods but the part about the calendar is new to me. Poor Cleopatra, being known mainly for the men in her life!