Mary Beth Writes

1/5/2022

I can still hear my mom saying, “I don’t know whether I’m coming or going today.” I thought of this, one of her favorite sayings, when I wrote this letter to the Third Graders yesterday.

Dear Kids!

I hope you had a fine winter holiday. Now it is January 2022. Do you know where the word January comes from?

In ancient Roman culture, Jānus was a god of doorways, beginnings, and of the rising and setting of the sun. The Latin word jānus, means doorway. Janus is where you enter or leave a space.

Janus is where we get the word Janitor. In ancient Roman times a Janitor was the person at the door of important buildings who guarded the door and also the people inside. Kind of like a bouncer at a bar now! Eventually that doorman word Janus turned into janitor, meaning the person who takes care of the building.

The Romans were a world power about 2000 years ago. (Like the US or China are now.) The center of Roman power was the city of Rome. Rome is still a big and important city in modern Italy. We call ancient Rome and all the countries they invaded and then ruled over in those old times - the Roman Empire. It is all the red countries. Many of them are modern day countries like Great Britain and France and nations of North Africa.

I don’t know why, but the language they spoke is not called Roman. It was called Latin and it’s still the official language of the Catholic church! Priests and the Pope know Latin!

Back to Janus. People in Roman times believed there were many gods and goddesses. One of their gods was Janus, a god who watched over armies leaving to go to wars and then watched when they came back.

Janus was the deity to help people safely and bravely start and end things.

This is why we have the month of January. It’s when we leave the old year and start a new one. We are still using names and words that came to people thousands of years ago.

This is a picture of an ancient statue of the god Janus. See how he is looking backwards and forwards at the same time?

If someone asks you if you are coming and going – tell them you are Janus and you are doing both! Have a good week. Be careful when you come and go!

That was the letter to the 8-year-olds. Let’s add a bit more to the Janus story. Janus, like I told the kids, is the Roman deity of beginnings, gates, transitions, time, duality, doorways, passages, frames, and endings – and he is usually depicted as having two faces.

Janus also - and this was super important to the Romans - Janus presided over the beginning and ending of military conflicts. The gates of an open enclosure in ancient Rome were opened when soldiers were about to leave town to go to war. Those gates were closed when the soldiers come home and battles were over for a while.

Here is an interesting thing: Most Roman gods and goddesses were carried over from Greek myths because that’s how Romans built their system of how the world and afterlife works. They stole the Greek system and just gave everyone new, Roman names.

But curiously, Greeks didn’t have a Janus. Janus was invented by Romans.

What’s going on when your culture invents a new way of talking about the past as it leads into the future?

Was this about understanding past failures so that the future could be arranged in ways that were smarter and stronger?

Or was this retelling old stories in such a way that soldiers felt empowered and emboldened to go out of the gates to fight and kill people they didn’t know in order to win wars for the rulers of their nation?

Yes, we need to understand where we have been before we can begin a new adventure. We also, i think, need to be honest, deep, and very careful with what we think about who we used to be.

Tomorrow is Jan 6th.  A Janus moment. What happened in our past and how will it affect our future?

Comments

Those last few paragraphs really got me… how people, especially young men, are motivated. Plus I learned all about Janus! Thank you!
Mary Beth's picture

Me, too. Took a while to think about it - but how we tell the story of the past is how we can manipulate some people to do what we want them to. This is where Critical Race theory (and lot of other critical thinking skills) help clarify the difference between what we want to say happened - and what happened.

Interesting!!!!

We woke up this morning the 5th looking forward to getting to the airport so that Roger could return home after being here with me for the past two holidays… I was looking forward to some alone time and at the same time regretting that he would miss my Puerto Rican Xmas on the 6th of January (Three Kings Day or The Epiphany for those in the know)… well his plane like so many others lately never got off the ground (long story) so after many hours at my sisters I went back the airport and brought him back, so he’ll be with me to share my holiday with me after all…
Mary Beth's picture

Funny how life happens - and in the winter and in a pandemic, it "happens" even more... Glad you could keep him around a bit more.

I found this very thought-provoking, especially the last paragraph. You're good at that.
Mary Beth's picture

Thank you very much.

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