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"From chaos to chaos: Janus’ Speech in Fasti 1 and the Gates of War"

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March 26, 2019

Speaker & Affiliation

Francesca Romana Berno, Sapienza University of Rome


4:30 pm - 6:00 pm
010 East Pyne


In this paper, starting from the identity between Janus and Chaos that Ovid postulates, I shall analyze the god’s dialogue with the poet in the first book of the Fasti. I intend to prove that the world’s primeval tendency to entropy increase does not vanish with the transition from chaos to cosmos, but remains active on multiple levels in the Fasti, where it plays an even greater role than in the Metamorphoses. First of all, the entropic tendency is embedded in the very appearance of the two-faced god, recalling monstrous, disturbing figures. Secondly, I shall highlight the god’s affinity with Propertius’ Vertumnus (Prop. 4.2), a god who takes all possible shapes without holding on to any one in particular. This affinity shows that, far from emphasizing Janus’ ‘static’ and reassuring role as a god of beginnings, Ovid underscores the god’s unsteady, dynamic features (Janus is the protector of gates and transitions). Finally, various passages in the god’s speech point to the difficult, laborious nature of Janus’ role as guarantor of peace.In my view, this must be explained in terms of the Romans’ fear of a new civil war, a fear which even the text’s propaganda tone cannot soothe. In this regard, an Ovidian image plays a crucial role: the gates of the temple of Janus in Rome, famously closed in times of peace (as in 27 BCE under Augustus). Ovid’s text seems to offer two contrasting explanations of the gates’ function. While they initially appear to defend Peace, they are then said to trap War inside the building, preventing conflict from spreading. I shall argue that the god himself seems to transition from a rather optimistic view, based on his experience as a peaceful king, to a pessimistic one, connected with Rome’s recent history.