The Mnemosyne Foundation

Janus, the Roman god of gates and doorways, and of good beginnings and endings was depicted with two heads facing in opposite directions and thus often associated with good judgement and the connection between the past and the future. (Roman Republican Janus coin, c. 225-212 B.C., didrachm or quadrigatus, silver, private collection, courtesy of the collector.)

Historical Backdrop

There is a very important notion relating to the development of societies that has its roots in ancient literature. It centers on the concept of the polarities between the active and the contemplative life, and highlights the fact that not only warriors, but poets as well are equally necessary for societies to develop. In fact, we can find in the literature of most cultures many of the greatest heroes configured in an Arthurian-like combination of those two natures, held in perfect balance.

Embedded in such notions is a profound realization of the factors that made possible the essential shift in the human condition from the Paleolithic nomadic, hunter-gatherer stage of existence to agrarian societies - beginning around 8,000 B.C. - that allowed domestication to take hold and, along with it, the seeds of culture to take root.

By the Renaissance period, the concept of culture was highly revered. It was symbolized, for one, by the garden and signified a noble relationship between man and nature, and man to his own nature. The imagery of the garden was a perfect metaphor and most appropriate illustration of much of human enterprise - of the taming and artful ordering by man of the natural world, of his environment and, ultimately, of his inner as well as his outer self. Arrived at through a process of honing of intellect and creativity, and guided by knowledge, the ultimate goal of this process of edification was access to the soul light and to a profound understanding of our true place in the greater order of things.

The question in a nutshell is this. If the very first settlements that took root, so many millennia ago, had been involved only in the walling-in and protection of some choice piece of terrain, and had not recognized the importance of the tending of the earth, of planting and cultivation (to reap the best offerings of Mother Earth) and of the progressive creation of a culture (the gift of inspired thought) what would that settlement have been worth?

As our world continues to shrink before our very eyes, through growing international economic dependencies and the ever farther-reaching connective tissue of communications and technology, and as the real boundaries of states, countries, nations and traditions continues to blur, may we not lose sight of the ever increasing responsibility we have to the continued mindful cultivation of our new, complex millennial societies.

Greek coin with Female Janiform Heads wearing the Circular Crown, the Polos, 215 -150 B.C., Bruttium [Chalkidian colony, S. Italy], pontonkion, private collection, courtesy of the collector.

Virginia Anne Bonito, Ph.D.
Founder, The Mnemosyne Foundation
Bronx, NY
August 2002

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