Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The door

Most months have dumb names, honoring egotistical emperors and long-dead gods, or saying they are the 10th when they are the 12th. But at least January makes a statement.

Centuries before the Christian era, a king named Numa Pompilius decided the Roman world needed more months than the 10 it had. So he added two and, unlike Julius Caesar and Augustus, was modest enough to keep his name off both. The first, placed at the beginning of the year, was named for Janus, the god of doors. Yes, back then, even doors had a god.

But to old Numa, this was appropriate. January opened the door to the new year, so why not have Janus there to make sure we didn’t trip over the threshold.

And it sure beats the old Saxon name for the month. They called it Wolf-monat because that’s when wolves were the hungriest and most apt to gobble up a Saxon foolish enough to be wandering out of doors in January.

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