The Mirror Has (at least) Two Faces: Richard Armitage and Janus

One of my very favorite things about Richard Armitage as an actor, is his ability to subtly manipulate the expression on his face.  I’m not talking about the kind of exaggerated contortions that are a trademark of Jim Carrey, but rather the combination of several small, but potent elements that allow him to convey emotion, mood or temperament through expression alone.

Need I say more? Source

Need I say more?

Case in point:  The promotional image for Old Vic production of The Crucible.  The sum of subtle individual expressions produces a kind of subdued ferocity. While reminiscent of characters like Guy of Gisborne and Thorin Oakenshield, this expression is a far cry from the genial and friendly expression that Richard Armitage has sported in all kinds of promotional and fan photos recently. For example:

At CinemaCon Source

At CinemaCon


At WonderCon Source

Richard Armitage, WonderCon, April 19, 2014. Photographed by Gage Skidmore. Source

The contrast is striking.  It’s almost as if he has two different faces – rather like the Roman god Janus.

Janus coin from early Republican Rome Source

Janus coin from early Republican Rome

Janus was one of the most ancient gods in the Roman Pantheon…so ancient that by the first century AD, the Romans themselves had lost track of his earliest origins and functions.  What is known is that as a deity, Janus was primarily associated with doors (januae), beginnings and transitions.  The two faced images of Janus are well suited to the duality of the concept of beginnings and changes…a face for each part of the equation.

Students always find Janus’ protection of doors kind of curious.  Why would doors require a dedicated deity they wonder?  Doors held tremendous importance to the Romans…they were the barrier that separated the sacred space inside the house from the dangers that were rampant outside.  By the tail end Roman Republic (late 1st century BC) this was a largely figurative concept.  In the early days of Roman culture though, when Rome was an isolated cluster of villages populated by farmers and shepherds and surrounded by wilderness, the dangers of the outdoors were very real.  Janus was only one of the protectors of the door.

doors janus

At its earliest, Roman religion was most likely an animistic tradition.  That is, they believed that everything, either animate or inanimate was imbued with spirit…with anima.  Eventually, many of these anima were personified as deities:  Cardea watched over the hinges, Limentius the threshold.   Janus was not only associated with the door, but was vital because he watched over the trip through the door.  One face guarded the inside space, the other was a Roman’s eyes to the outside..protecting the transition from sacred to profane.

I'm not sure I'll ever tire of watching for new "faces" to emerge...but I'm positive that I'll take the guy on the left to guard my door!

I’m not sure I’ll ever tire of watching for new “faces” to emerge…but I’m positive that I’ll take the guy on the left to guard my door!


10 comments on “The Mirror Has (at least) Two Faces: Richard Armitage and Janus

  1. katie70 says:

    I remember taking about Janus in high school or middle school, not sure where. It was at that time I started to like Greek and Roman myths.

    • obscura says:

      He comes up quite a bit in non myth contexts too…there used to be a local summer/winter sports shop local to me called…you guessed it: Janus…hade the two face logo and all 🙂

  2. Barsine says:

    Temple of Janus’ gates were only closed on peacetime, I was wondering why. I’m sure I’ve read it somewhere but I can’t remember.
    Curious that, in a tiny role I’ve given to RA the fanfic I’m writing he is described as a Janus because he has two faces (half Briton half Roman).

    • obscura says:

      It’s a really difficult concept to get a bead on because several of the ancient sources contradict each other. Some say the gates were closed to keep war inside the temple, otherness say it was peace that was protected inside the closed gates…there’s a nice synopsis of the sources at

      Very interesting…is your fic published anywhere online?

      • Barsine says:

        Thank you for the link, it’s very interesting, and I should say almost inevitable that there are two different versions of the motive why the doors were kept open or closed, given that we are talking of Janus. 🙂

        I have the fan-fic as a page in my blog, but it’s in Spanish. 😉 A friend translated in English the scene with the second “apparition” of RA (he has just a secondary role… I started writing the fan fic long before RA “invaded” my life 🙂 )

  3. Leigh says:

    Excellent! (and a god with a nose BTW). Janus truly is the guardian and master of transitions, between the inner world and the outer world. It is this aspect that informs his status as the god of war. Richard Armitage is clearly a master at conveying the conflict between these worlds, letting us see and experience this through his art.

    • obscura says:

      The Romans were extremely concerned with transitions, so Janus is one of a handful of purely Latin deities that refute the notion that Roman religion was just Greek mythology translated into Latin.

      And the nose? Richard Armitage would blend in quite well among the ancient Romans…apart from standing head and shoulders above most 😉

  4. guylty says:

    I love how you always find an angle to connect RA with an insight in to the classics. Well, as an actor he is obviously good at being multi-faced 😉
    I found it interesting that the Romans had specific Gods even for hinges and thresholds. That’s attention to detail. But oh, how did they have time for worshipping them all? No wonder the Roman empire fell – they were worshipping full-time (I know, I know – the polytheistic stuff was at the beginning, not the end of the empire).

    • obscura says:

      It’s funny how readily the connections appear! I think the thing to note about Roman religion is that a lot of the rituals had become largely instinctive after centuries of practice. For gods like Cardea and Limentius there weren’t elaborate cults, but rather small things…kind of similar to people crossing themselves, or perhaps throwing a pinch of salt over ones shoulder to avoid bad luck.

      Of course, at least one of these rituals has continued in use…imagine what a bad omen it would be if a new bride tripped and face planted as she stepped over the threshold into her new home (this was probably a common problem for ancient Roman brides who were heavily veiled.). To avoid this, it became ritual for the groom to carry the bride over the threshold…

  5. Barsine says:

    By the way, I was just thinking… have you ever written a post comparing Richard’s head-tilting with Alexander the Great’s head tilt? You will surely write a superb post about it!

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