January according to Ovid

Ovid begins his Fasti with January, and celebrates the god Janus, who, he says, appeared to him in a vision, and explained how he, claiming to be the oldest of the gods, has the guardianship of all things.

He invites Ovid’s questions: he explains why his temple is really a passageway (between the Forum Romanorum and Forum Julium), with an arch at each end and doors that were closed only when the Romans were at peace.

Ovid asks him why his month begins the new year:

“dic, age, frigoribus quare novus incipit annus,
qui melius per ver incipiendus erat?
omnia tunc florent, tunc est nova temporis aetas,
et nova de gravido palmite gemma tumet,
et modo formatis operitur frondibus arbor,
prodit et in summum seminis herba solum,
et tepidum volucres concentibus aera mulcent,
ludit et in pratis luxuriatque pecus.
tum blandi soles, ignotaque prodit hirundo
et luteum celsa sub trabe figit opus:
tum patitur cultus ager et renovatur aratro.
haec anni novitas iure vocanda fuit.”

 “Please tell me why the New Year begins with frosts,
when it should better have begun with spring?
then everything blossoms, then is a new phase of time:
the new bud swells on the growing vine shoot,
the tree is clothed with leaves just formed,
and the greenery from seeds comes to the surface.
Birds sweeten the warm air with their chorus,
and the flock plays and frisks in the meadows.
Then the sunlight is sweet, and the stranger swallow comes forth
and fixes her structure of clay under a lofty beam;
then the land submits to tillage and is renewed with the plough.
This by rights should have been called the New Year.”

These are the words of a poet. The god’s reply is cosmological:

quaesieram multis; non multis ille moratus
contulit in versus sic sua verba duos:
“bruma novi prima est veterisque novissima solis:
principium capiunt Phoebus et annus idem.”

  I had asked at length; in brief, without a pause
He kept his words to these two lines:
“Midwinter is the first of the new Sun and the last of the old:
Phoebus and the year take the same beginning.”