Patmos. Two-faced Janus and the Apocalypse

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Encouraged by the mood of his interlocutor, David went directly to the subject of St. John.

“In orthodox iconography, St. John the Baptist appears with wings, like the archangels. What meaning does that have?”

“Simply because he is a messenger, sent by God.”

“Like Hermes?” David asked somewhat ironically.

“The angels were represented with wings many centuries before the Greek civilisation appeared.”

“Why is St. John the Baptist represented with his head on a platter on the floor in all Orthodox icons? If he still has his head sitting on his shoulders, we can perhaps think that the other one isn’t his. Whose is the head that he is so interested in showing to everyone then?”

The conversation was interesting for both of them, while Father Stavros, whose English was somewhat rudimentary, just listened closely. David tried to bring the other man into his field and the theologian accepted the invitation.

“I’m fascinated by the world of your predecessors because we will never be able to be sure that what they told us was true. When you read all those poetic men, you always wonder what truth is, where reality resides, where life begins and where dreaming ends.”

“We will never know this and, believe me, it’s not that important to me. The subject interests me as a myth more than as a dogma. Let’s get back to St. John, it’s interesting. Tell me, or, if you’d prefer, ask me.”

“How come in the gospel according to St. John, we find at least three different literary styles? It seems clear that we are dealing with a series of documents by various authors which were compiled under a single title. Today we know that this is what really happened to all of the Gospels. Centuries later, the Church chose four of them and condemned the others to be burnt.”

“As he lived more than one hundred years it’s feasible that the Apostle’s way of writing would evolve, don’t you think?” said Father Stavros. Now, it was Zouveloc’s turn to remain silent.

“It’s possible” David admitted “but in view of everything we have been talking about, I think that St. John is nothing more than a substitution for the Roman god Janus Bifrons who, with his two profiles, symbolised eternity as he was able to look into the future and into the past. John the Baptist would then be the messenger, the oracle, the one who anticipated the future, while John the Evangelist would be the one who witnessed the great story of Christ and was able to explain it. It all fits in perfectly. Although the Christians gained in power with Constantine, they dedicated themselves to demolishing temples and persecuting philosophers, it was practically impossible to eliminate practices and beliefs that had been deeply rooted for centuries. Then the destruction was completed with replacement.”

“And what is the reason for your interest in the author of the Apocalypse?” Father Stavros asked.

“In the days after the death of my wife, I sometimes thought that a spark of her spirit had entered a sculpture of St. John that we were repairing. On caressing it, I started to think that he is the only apostle with no hair on his face, which was perhaps the way of accentuating the dimorphism with the other John, who had a long, unkempt beard, is the same way as they tried to separate them by assigning their festivities to the respective solstices, marking the beginning and the end of the cycle, like the two profiles of Janus. So, it’s as if one transformed into two. This is the reason for my interest; to seek the light of knowledge to play with it from the darkness.”

When he finished explaining his theory with crystal clarity, he waited for the reaction of his interlocutors and was surprised when Zouveloc replied:

“Although I don’t share it, I admit that your hypothesis makes sense, and there is a story that reinforces your theory: the story of Salome as told by Mathew. From an iconographic point of view, the two-faced Janus was just that: a head with two profiles, seated on a column. If they wanted to finish him off, there was no better way than decapitating him as the princess asked Herod to do in return for her dance, and for a process of name replacing, to create a place for him in the Christian pantheon”.

“Yes, we are creatures that like constructing stories.” Zouveloc continued, “But we know they are only stories. You artists are mystical rather than rational and reach conclusions that logics cannot arrive at. I have seen how you have been drawing these days and I have observed the expression on your face. You are the kind of person who listens to the register of the source and reinvents what is sacred from your own ability to astonish.”

On hearing the theologian’s words, David summoned that being which, by revealing to him the deep structures of what is human, had shown him the way to construct the music of his own life and wanted to talk to them about her.

“On one occasion”, he explained “I loved a woman who, varying between unpredictable behaviour and infinite goodness, showed me the paradoxical light of darkness. She made clothes, sang while she sewed and in any everyday activity, she was at one with the present, the present in which there is never death.”

“One day, however, for a few moments she forgot the wisdom of knowing how to live in the present. On rushing to greet me, she unwittingly activated the garage door with the remote control that was hanging at her waist. On what might have been the happiest day of her life, she met her death in the most tragic, unexpected way.” She was 42 years old.

Father Stavros and Costas A. Zouveloc listened to him in silence, a silence that was as deep as the blue of the Aegean Sea that washed around the island.

© JC Roca Sans 2009

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Patmos. Two-faced Janus and the Apocalypse


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