February 21, 2012

Janus Bifrons and beginnings. ~ Sophie Rochefort-Guillouet

In 326, after his victory over Persia, Alexander the Great reached the borders of India. On the banks of the  river Indus, he met a gymnosophist, a wise man who was almost naked, still and meditating. The conversation they shared takes on a mythical tone:


Alexander the Great, a student of Aristotle, asked the yogi, “What are you doing? “

 “And you? “Inquired the sage.

 “I’m trying to conquer the world.” replied Alexander.

 “Well I,” the yogi replied, “I contemplate a vacuum.”


The realization made both men laugh.


This story seems to illustrate perfectly the contrast between the trepidation of the West, and the infinite and boundless serenity of the East: the action against the meditation, the conquest of space against the conquest of self, the story line against philosophy graduate, possession and glory against the renunciation or detachment … the lesson is brilliant even if the line is a little forced.

The concept of limitation is one of the most distressing of our lives: infinite desires and shortness of time generate feelings of non-fulfillment and excitement that often characterize our lives. Not only the dilemma to have more or to feel more deeply, but our attachment to the past and apprehension about the future poison the present.

Early in the year, it is common to make a few good resolutions that one knows they cannot achieve or really want to make. These resolutions give us confidence in the idea – strong existentialist – that you can always start from scratch and control everything with our simple will.

It is probably prudent to consider sometimes the pragmatic Romans and their borrowing from the month of January a great mythological image, that of Janus bifrons. It is a two-headed god, that of beginnings and endings, renewal as well. One of his faces looks to the past, the other to the future. He gave his name to the month that inaugurates the year: January, the month of Janus. It can remind us that we live with memories and anticipation, inheritance and projects in this fragile and fertile intersection is called the present.

(Prepared by Jill Barth)


Sophie Rochefort – Guillouet

Sophie is a brain. Funny brain. But brain..ENS, Sorbonne Paris IV , SciencesPo Paris. When she is not teaching, writing, or learning with passion something new, she takes care about her castle, kids, and butterflies!

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