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Romans, though you’re guiltless, you’ll still expiate
your fathers’ sins, till you’ve restored the temples,
and the tumbling shrines of all the gods,
and their images, soiled with black smoke.
~Horace, Odes, III, 6; A. S. Kline trans.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Kalendae Ianuariae Invocation to Janus

Each kalends is sacred to Juno, and the January kalends is also sacred to Janus.

Two-headed Janus, source of the silently gliding year,
The only god who is able to see behind him,
Be favourable to the leaders, whose labours win
Peace for the fertile earth, peace for the seas:
Be favourable to the senate and Roman people,
And with a nod unbar the shining temples.
A prosperous day dawns: favour our thoughts and speech!
Let auspicious words be said on this auspicious day.

Let our ears be free of lawsuits then, and banish
Mad disputes now: you, malicious tongues, cease wagging!
See how the air shines with fragrant fire,
And Cilician grains crackle on lit hearths!
The flame beats brightly on the temple’s gold,
And spreads a flickering light on the shrine’s roof.
Spotless garments make their way to Tarpeian Heights,
And the crowd wear the colours of the festival:
Now the new rods and axes lead, new purple glows,
And the distinctive ivory chair feels fresh weight.

Then I asked why the first day wasn’t free
Of litigation. ‘Know the cause,’ said Janus,
‘I assigned the nascent time to business affairs,
Lest by its omen the whole year should be idle.
For that reason everyone merely toys with their skills,
And does no more than give witness to their work.’

‘But, why are joyful words spoken on the Kalends,
And why do we give and receive good wishes?’
Then leaning on the staff he gripped in his right hand,
He answered: ‘Omens attend upon beginnings.’
Anxious, your ears are alert at the first word,
And the augur interprets the first bird that he sees.
When the temples and ears of the gods are open,
The tongue speaks no idle prayer, words have weight.’
Janus ended. Maintaining only a short silence
I followed his final words with my own:
‘What do the gifts of dates and dried figs mean’,
I said, ‘And the honey glistening in a snow-white jar?’
‘For the omen,’ he said, ‘so that events match the savour,
So the course of the year might be sweet as its start.’

Ovid, Fasti, translated by A.S. Kline.

Di te incolumem custodiant!

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