By R. D. Flavin
Argh! Huh! Whoah, yeah. Yeah! C'mon! Yeah!
Oh, yeah, I'm a — yeah, I'm a back door man,
I'm a back door man. The men don't know,
But the little girls understand.
Robert Toussie with Bush, Two-Face in 1942 and Aaron Eckhart as Two-Face in 2008's The Dark Knight.
The face of the leader, that mighty one in charge, and where the buck is supposed to stop is always well known. Hunter-gathers who had their eyes on the prize saw a face of a leader in their dreams (passim Jaynes 1969, 1977). The progressive and somewhat modern folk who espouse and enact interpretations of the examples offered in the works of Niccolo Machiavelli, Sun Tzu, or Eric Arthur Blair see the faces of leaders whether they’re asleep or not. And, as matters are kinetic, there are the sinners and those fallen from grace who envision a face, yet quite can’t make it out. Robert and Isaac Toussie, father-and-son land-development scam-artists, found out a couple of week’s ago when son Isaac was granted a presidential pardon for mortgage and mail fraud what the face of their leader looks like when the pardon was rescinded less than twenty-four hours later – it’s two-faced. President Bush seems to be wearing more than one face as he considers pardons in the final weeks of his elected term. Well, if one is going to wear more than one face at a time, January would be as good a month as any.
In my January 2008 column, “No Joke,” I mentioned the late Heath Ledger’s role as the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s second Batman film, The Dark Knight. The word under the bridge is that he’ll probably be nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of the so-called Crown Prince of Crime. The 81st Academy Award nominations are to be announced January 22, 2009, exactly a year after Ledger’s passing, an irony which will not be lost on his fans, friends, and family. The Dark Knight also featured another of Batman’s arch-enemies, Gotham City District Attorney Harvey Dent/Two-Face, played far superior by Aaron Eckhart compared to the earlier versions turned in by the fan-favs, Billy Dee Williams (Tim Burton’s 1989 film, Batman) and Tommy Lee Jones (Joel Schumacher’s 1995 film, Batman Forever). Though Eckhart’s performance as Two-Face was solid enough, Ledger will likely get the nomination nod and Eckhart should look ahead to future roles that may bring about an Oscar consideration.
The Roman door-god, Janus, on a coin and a photograph of Janus, a moon of Saturn.
Well, all you people, they're tryin' to sleep,
I'm out to makin' with my midnight creep — yeah,
'Cause I'm a back door man. The men don't know,
But the little girls understand. All right, yeah!
Our first month of the year, January, may be thought of as “two-faced,” in that it’s named after Janus, the Roman door-god, who is often depicted as having two faces. Because of his hospitality to Cronus the Titan (Saturn), it’s said that Janus was granted the power to both peer into the past and to see the future (Foster 1905). Some extend the gratitude even further and claim that “[Saturn] taught the rude and uncivilized Italians many things, among them, to write, to coin money, and to make tools (Burchett 1918).” Reflecting the relationship of Janus to Saturn, shortly after the 1966 discovery of a new large moon (or satellite) of our sixth planet, Saturn, the name “Janus" was proposed. Oddly enough, a few days after the discovery another moon was observed in the same orbit as Janus and given the name Epimetheus, after a Titan whose name means “hindsight.” As such, January, is a time to look back and also to plan ahead.
Janus with two and three faces from early 14th century calendars (Gordon 1963).
Being two-faced usually has the meaning of someone who is deceitful and possessing two-facedness. Spinning the metaphor (“double-faced” may also refer to the now antiquated phonograph record with two sides of recordings), some weren’t satisfied with a "Jekyll and Hyde" duality and introduced a third face, perhaps attending to the moment. Such images of Janus show him eating and drinking ...while staring back at you who are watching him ...eat and drink. This Janus Trefrons (var. trefrontes < L. tre or three and frons meaning forehead or front) was a busy fellow, though for others, four was the magic number.
Drawings of Janus Quadrifrons from 1569 (Most 1996) and 1583 (Gilbert 1939) with a recent photograph.
*Geek Alert* While nearly every classicist recognizes the importance, indeed, the preeminence of Janus in ancient Roman culture, few agree on the 'what' and fewer still on the 'why'. The ‘what’ of 'Janus' is sketched by the latest OED with:
1. a. The name of an ancient Italian deity, regarded as the doorkeeper of heaven, as guardian of doors and gates, and as presiding over the entrance upon or beginning of things; represented with a face on the front and another on the back of his head; the doors of his temple in the Roman Forum were always open in time of war, and shut in time of peace. Often used allusively, and in attributive and other relations.
1508 DUNBAR Gold. Targe 120 Ianus, god of entree delytable. 1598 HAKLUYT Voy. I. 488 Certaine idoll puppets..which they fasten to the doore of their walking houses, to be as Ianusses or keepers of their house. 1667 MILTON P.L. XI. 129 Four faces each Had, like a double Janus. 1713 Lond. Gaz. No. 5118/6 Janus's Gate is now shut. 1814 CARY Dante, Paradise VI. 83 Composed the world to such a peace That of his temple Janus barr'd the door.
The ‘why’ is difficult, I’m thinking too much for this column, yet not attempting a skinny explanation would be a wasting of an opportunity. I assess ‘Janus’ as a transliteration using English grammar to represent the Latin god, Ianus, as the Roman alphabet didn’t contain the letter ‘J’ until the late Middle Ages. Janus is believed by some to be a borrowing from the Etruscans, though the evidence is tenuous and could be simply analogous rather than indicative of continuation. An early association with doors, keys, entrances, door-ways and thresholds developed into the name being applied to arches as ianus (pl. iani) and especially to arches which spanned a water-crossing, in other words, a bridge (Taylor and Holland 1952). A practice of nearly all Roman blessings and prayers was to include a brief mention of Janus at the beginning of the rituals (concluding with a mention of Vesta, goddess of the hearth and home), an indication of his pre-classical Etrusco-Italic importance before being influenced by Greek and other eastern Mediterranean and Near Eastern mythologies. Yet, with Janus being included in old tales of sons castrating fathers, regime change, and the welcoming of outside culture and technology, his presence at or near the beginning of the calendar, as January, speaks to tradition and doing the right thing. Janus was most often a popular Roman household god (var. cultic action figure) and his subsequent cosmological and chronological associations may be understood as an honorific, as when the Roman calendar was adjusted in 153 BCE from the New Year commencing in March to January, the month the Roman senate convened after Saturnalia Break. As Janus Bifrons the Two-faced his placement at the beginning of the calendar seems appropriate and, besides, without the Gregorian reform April Fool’s Day celebrations avoided all those silly pagan May Day games. Yeah, that skinny had trouble getting through the door...
You men eat your dinner, eat your pork and beans
I eat more chicken any man ever seen — yeah, yeah.
I'm a back door man — wha! The men don't know,
But the little girls understand.
Chief Justice Roberts, Obama walking away and an Oscar.
On this coming Inauguration Day, January 20, 2009, several minutes after noon, Chief Justice of the United States John Glover Roberts, Jr., whose nomination three years ago Obama opposed, will ask the president-elect to affirm the oath required by Article II, Section 1, clause 8 of the U.S. Constitution, “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
The Cheney/Bush years have left lots of trash behind and it seems appropriate that its cleanup begin in January. A good host must by necessity be a good janitor as well. I’m unsure if current presidents can revoke previous presidential pardons or should be able to. Of known messes to attend to a list would contain the policy of protracted conflicts, various degrees of criminality with our ongoing economic crisis, employment, health-care, education, and an explanation as to why gasoline prices fell so low, yet didn’t seem to inspire any of the major fast-food chain restaurants to expand their dollar menus. And, realistically, some messes take longer to clean up than others. Barack Hussein Obama II is soon to become America’s forty-fourth president. I hope he guards the front and the back doors of freedom, becomes a gracious though sensible host, and cleans up messes as they are made.
Well, I'm a back door man, I'm a back door man.Bibliography:
Whoa, baby — I'm a back door man. The men don't know,
But the little girls understand.
(From “Back Door Man.” Words and music by Willie Dixon. First recorded by Howlin’ Wolf (aka Chester Arthur Burnett). Howlin’ Wolf. 1962; Chess Records.)
Burchett, Bessie Rebecca Burchett. 1918. Janus in Roman Life and Cult: A Study in Roman Religions. Menasha, WI: George Banta. In
this reprint of her 1913 PH.D. thesis in philosophy granted from the University of Pennsylvania, Burchett writes, “Minucius Felix reverts to
the story that Saturn fled from Crete to Italy and was recieved hospitably by Janus. Out of gratitude, since he was a Greek of culture, he
taught the rude and uncivilized Italians many things, among them, to write, to coin money, and to make tools. Janus, therefore, named the
country ‘Saturnia’ and ‘Latium’ in his honor.” See: p. 33. For an online version of Minucius Felix, click here.
Foster, Herbert Baldwin. 1905. Dio’s Rome: An Historical Narrative Originally Composed in Greek During the Reigns of Septimus Severus,
Geta and Caracalla, Macrinus, Elagabalus and Alexander Severus: and Now Presented in English Form. Troy, N Y: Pafraets Book Co.
Foster writes, “8. Dio the Roman says that Janus, an ancient hero, because of his entertainment of Saturn, received the knowledge of the
future and of the past, and that on this account he was represented with two faces by the Romans. From him the month of January was
named, and the beginning of the year comes in the same month. (Cedrenus, Vol. 1, p. 295, 10, Bekker.).” Online here.
Gilbert, Allan H. 1939. “‘A Double Janus’ (Paradise Lost XI. 129).” PMLA. 54, 4: 1026-1030. See: p. 1026, “The Temple of Janus
Quadrifrons from Romanarum Antiquitatum Libri Decem . . . collecti a Ioanne Rosino (Basileae, 1583), p. 43. This picture was almost
certainly known to Ben Jonson (p. 1029, below), and may have been seen by Milton.”
Gordon, Olga Koseleff. 1963. “Two Unusual Calendar Cycles of the Fourteenth Century.” The Art Bulletin. 45, 3: 245-253.
Jaynes, Julian. 1969. “The Historical Origins of ‘Ethology’ and ‘Comparative Psychology’." Animal Behaviour. 17, 4: 601-606.
Jaynes, Julian. 1977. The Origin of Consciousness In the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.
Most, Glenn W. 1996. “Reading Raphael: ‘The School of Athens’ and Its Pre-Text.” Critical Inquiry. 23, 1: 145-182. See: p. 174, “Fig 10.
Giovanni Antonio Dosio, view of Janus Quadrifrons, 1569. From Dosio, Le antichità di Roma (1970)."
Taylor, Lily Ross and Louise Adams Holland. 1952. “Janus and the Fasti.” Classical Philology. 47, 3: 137-142. In a footnote, the authors
comment: “11. See L. A. Holland, “Janus and the bridge,” TAPA, LXVI (1935), Proceedings, p. xliv. This theory, corrected and amplified, is
the subject of a book now in preparation. The Spanish inscriptions cited above (n. 10) are still using ianus in its true meaning, since the
arch marked a bridge which carried a highway over the river boundary. However, it seems that after the time of Augustus any ianus might
be called arcus, but by no means could every arcus be correctly be called ianus. The distinction, like that between aedes and templum,
was too fine to be observed in common use, and in imperial times arcus came to be a general term for structures which in the Republican
period would, at least in official records, be distinguished as either fornices or iani.” The book mentioned is: Holland, Louise Adams.
1961. Janus and the Bridge. Papers and monographs of the American Academy in Rome; 21. Ann Arbor, MI: Univ. of Michigan Press.
Still a rider on the storm,