Stephanie Pope essay, Janus Series: Commentary from readers regarding "the coin with two faces",
myth and poetry



Email From Readers

*emails are edited to reflect only commentary regarding the essay series.

From: Dave Alber
Re: Coin With Two Faces
Date: 12-12-06
Time: 6:12pm

Hi Stephanie,

I am enjoying your thread!

Reflections on the coin with two faces:

1.) In your last paragraph, I'd like to see the quotes to compare them with Hesiod: (Ovid, Fasti 1.281; Horace, Epist. 2.1.255).

2.) When I think of the 'cowboy' image and how it has shaped popular American imagination, I can't help but reflect that the 'cowboy' is really an image that comes from 1. sensationalized "reporting" around the turn of last century (which promoted the genocide of the native population no less), 2. pulp fiction, and 3. cinema. The 'cowboy' as we know it doesn't really exist (and has never existed). The image of the 'cowboy', however, is a shaky and shady phantom propped up by valorizing PR serving a murderous agenda. Popularly, the 'cowboy' symbolizes the (again popular) infantile notion that "freedom" = taking the property of others without the fear of adverse consequences.

3.) Madonna (as image) is a manufactured personality designed to conform and serve the tastes of this same media network. Whereas, the 'cowboy', it seems to me, comes from within. It is an image serving the ambitions of the power system. (It also assuages any guilt for mass-murder in the name of "freedom".) Madonna, at first light, appears to come from without: a feisty entrepreneur (and student of Martha Graham) latching onto the ready signifying images of American entertainment and neurosis. Yet, as a hungry representative of American youth, young Madonna is an expression (to some degree) of the unrelenting waking-dream of pop-cultural signifiers. To what extent, we may wonder, is Madonna a conscious player surfing a wave of bizarre fantasies, taboos, fads, and popular crazes? To what extent is she a mirror, reflecting back the outpourings of our own semi-consciousness. I suppose most popular media personalities are exactly this. If they were not then in our voracious “free market” they would never be seen as “significant”!

So, those are my rambling thoughts in relation to what you’ve been mythopoetically turning and reshaping in your hands, modeling, as was the clay that made those early Roman coins.


To: Dave Alber
Re: Comments On One Coin, Two Faces
Date: 12-12-06
Time: 8:54pm

Hi, Dave,

Your thoughts are well received. I'd love to publish them over the holiday.

Regarding Ovid, Fasti. I looked at a number of translations.

Here is one translation by A. S. Kline ©2004. You can download his translation and I will go back and provide that link within the body of the essay. Kline, however, does not provide the line approximation. I had to go back to other sources for it. 1.281 is a very controversial line well argued by scholars. My essay is not concerned with the argument but rather, wishes to note the contradiction among ancients regarding the gates of Janus-Divom Deus. (chaos)

And the land was Latium, from the god’s hiding (latente) there.

But a pious posterity stamped a ship on the coin,

To commemorate the new god’s arrival.

I myself inhabited the ground on the left

Passed by sandy Tiber’s gentle waves.

Here, where Rome is now, uncut forest thrived,

And all this was pasture for scattered cattle.

My citadel was the hill the people of this age

Call by my name, dubbing it the Janiculum.

I reigned then, when earth could bear the gods,

And divinities mingled in mortal places.

Justice had not yet fled from human sin,

(She was the last deity to leave the earth),

Shame without force, instead of fear, ruled the people,

And it was no effort to expound the law to the lawful.

I’d nothing to do with war: I guarded peace and doorways,

And this,’ he said, showing his key, ‘was my weapon.’

The god closed his lips. Then I opened mine,

Eliciting with my voice the voice of the god:

‘Since there are so many archways, why do you stand

Sacredly in one, here where your temple adjoins two fora?

Stroking the beard falling on his chest with his hand,

He at once retold the warlike acts of Oebalian Tatius,

And how the treacherous keeper, Tarpeia, bribed with bracelets,

Led the silent Sabines to the heights of the citadel.

‘Then,’ he said, ‘a steep slope, the one by which you

Now descend, led to the valleys and the fora.

Even now the enemy had reached the gate, from which

Saturn’s envious daughter, Juno, had removed the bars.

Fearing to engage in battle with so powerful a goddess,

I cunningly employed an example of my own art,

And by my power I opened the mouths of the springs,

And suddenly let loose the pent-up waters:

But first I threw sulphur intro the watery channels,

So boiling liquid would close off that path to Tatius.

This action performed and the Sabines repulsed,

The place took on its secure aspect as before.

An altar to me was raised, linked to a little shrine:

Here the grain and cake is burnt in its flames’

‘But why hide in peace, and open your gates in war?’

He swiftly gave me the answer that I sought:

‘My unbarred gate stands open wide, so that when

The people go to war the return path’s open too.’

I bar it in peacetime so peace cannot depart:…

I looked at Horace in a book I borrowed from ASU. I don’t have it now. I’ll try to find it and then an equivalent source on-line where I can link into the internal dynamic of the piece. Thanks for mentioning it.

Your other points are well-taken. Much of the research shows a similar correspondence within & without the cowboy image. Much of that I tried to unfold in part two and part three. Part two has excellent resource links added within the body of the essay concerning your points in view.

In part three I went back and traced the image in pop lit, music, post cards, memorabilia etc. I let a voice of fiction distinguish the shape of the atypical cowboy… Jeff Bransford, a character in the story, Good Men and True by Eugene Manlove Rhodes explains, a cowboy is atypical.

…take the typical cowboy. There positively ain't no sich person! Maybe so half of 'em's from Texas and the other half from anywhere and everywhere else. But they're all alike in just one thing - and that is that every last one of them is entirely different from all the others. Each one talks as he pleases, acts as he pleases and - when not at work - dresses as he pleases.

Interestingly, this ‘doing as one pleases’ is exactly the image of the artist-as-doer Madonna. I keep thinking about that along with the real and the synthetic or imaginal capacity the cowboy image permits. The doer on both sides of the one coin is a fiction. The deed (war) is not. What seems lacking here is an identity in Dionysos (knowing the mask/two faces is an image) but, it is also you. One wears the mask and plays the role but it is not an identity and so they do not feel they are responsible to what happens in the action. There is something about saying I, Athene and I, Dionysos etc in those days Ginette taught us to write it like that in the presence of reenacting the myth. There is something about recognizing your own participation in the event and being responsible for the deed because the deed is everything.

Giving a brief glimpse of that, I may see something other or deeper at work in the ways and how the Madonna side, the side in correspondence linking materialisms and maternalisms to the interchange in two sides of the one face in cowboy resolve, acts to de/reconstruct itself. One important thing is the correspondence insists “the one good in the cowboy action” is at work. But, that one is nobody, divom deus.


From: Dave Alber
Re: re: Coin With Two Faces
Date: 12-12-06
Time: 10:51pm

Hi Steph,

First, thanks for your beautiful reply. I really loved the translation of Ovid. I'll have to look for that.

In contrasting our styles of writing and thinking, I really admire your ability to keep structures open, really never concretizing around an image, thereby giving a fixed and irreversible gravitational pull to it. It’s so admirable, necessary, and real. It is the most honest praxis of the written word.

Also, I am really struck by your comments here:

What seems lacking here is an identity in Dionysos (knowing the mask/two faces is an image) but, it is also you. One wears the mask and plays the role but it is not an identity and so they do not feel they are responsible to what happens in the action. There is something about saying I, Athene and I, Dionysos etc in those days Ginette taught us to write it like that in the presence of reenacting the myth. There is something about recognizing your own participation in the event and being responsible for the deed because the deed is everything.

. . . and wish to provide some thoughts from India’s perspective on mythology. First, the Indian polytheistic relationship to the deities must be understood in relation to ‘deity yoga’ (union with the deity), which really is the primary way that the deities are experienced. Our hearts become one with the heart of the deity and we commune sympathetically.

The repetition of these experiences is how relationships are built and a mandala of Hariharacoherent forces become visible all around us. Everything becomes divinized symbols (transmissions/projections) expressing the consciousness and flavor of the gods.
Odysseus has a special relationship with Athena because he has a developed ‘deity yoga’ practice (implemented with external rituals and sacrifices as well, no doubt). I offer this in comparison with Ginette’s sympathetic process.

Also, Zimmer offers an image of a living duad that arose spontaneously to defeat a demon named Guha (“Hiding, Concealing”) Bharata-Guhawho begged of Brahma the boon as to not be able to be defeated by either Vishnu or Shiva. Hari-Hara, the combination of Vishnu (on the left) and Shiva (on the right), emerges to defeat the polarized compression of forces that Guha represents.* -Touching the feet of Guha
(see end note)
--Harihara, Hoysaleshvara Temple, Halebid

Zimmer writes,

Furthermore, such combinations are bound to come to pass in the course of world history, to restore the cosmic equilibrium, whenever the normal balance of compensating principles has been upset by some self-centered, one-sided, demonic urge.

He continues:

Hari-Hara, this coincidence of opposites mutually supporting each other and forming the two vital halves of one living being, is life; is every one of us. Yet who is capable of facing its manifestation with unflinching gaze? An inscrutable mask, flashing forth an ambivilant meaning, it supports an extreme inner tension of antagonistic forces—destruction and growth at the same time. It cannot be faced by anyone who, like the demon Guha, clings one-sidedly to something particular, to life, to duration without end. Not by anyone who clings to the particularized form of life constituting his own cherished ego! Not by the individualist.for whom the stubborn maintenance of his own particle of existence means everything, avid to prohibit and to block change and the relentless course of the transformations that constitute the life-process! And certainly not by that rugged fellow who insists on his own power and enjoyment regardless of the sufferings that he inflicts on others through a reckless pursuit of selfish aims! Only perfect equanimity, familiar with both sides, and a sublime indifference to the fate of one’s own person—the ability to encompass the two aspects of life, which are delight and suffering, growth and destruction, the expanding and the shrinking, the bright and the dark, in the knowledge that they are intrinsically one and the same, complementing each other like day and night, founded upon, and asking for, each other—can command that divine superiority and aloofness which is necessary if one is life and truth itself. Hari-Hara is a living duad, symbolic of the reality that is manifest through and contained within all living beings (149).

Zimmer, Heinrich. The Art of Indian Asia. Ed. Joseph Campbell. Pantheon B., 1964.

Thought this went well with the Janus image.


* Notes: The word guha (hidden cavity) bears various interpretations in the sastras. In some portions the nonmanifestive pastimes of the Lord is called guha and elsewhere the resting place of the indwelling spirit of all individual souls, is named guha. In many places the inmost recesses of the heart of each individual is termed guha. The main point is that the place which is hidden from the view of men in general, is designated guha. Those jivas that were merged in Hari at the end of the life of Brahma in the great cataclysm during the preceding great age of the universe, reappeared in this world in accordance with their former fruitive desires.

sources: Bhaktivedanta VedaBase Network
............ Shri Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham

To: Dave Alber
Re: re: re: One Coin, Two Faces: Comments
Date: 12-13-06
Time: 11:19am

Hi- Lovely! I have been re reading David Miller's turning this morning in Three Faces regarding the doctrine of the Trikaya, three bodies from Southeast Asia & his Jewish & Zen turning of things so your additional comment is in good company! Thank you for them and for your reflection back to me on my own style in thinking/writing about images. I have a thought that I come to the door without wishing to find anything. No meaning. No purpose. No intent. I come to the door to visit the image and be with what is there. Campbell said the image does the initiating. But, in this there is a coming to presence. Something takes over and you are this and you have a choice in how you are be-ing in it as well. What I am trying to do in writing is experience just this and leave the story open. It can always be told another way.


Resources: David L Miller, Three Faces of God, Doctrine of Trikaya pp 16-17 Spring Publications
............... Kheper Website


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