One of my new baby chickens has an exceptionally sweet personality, and her breed is not a dual-purpose chicken. White Faced Black Spanish are built to be egg layers with slighter bodies than is generally conducive to eating. After pretending to debate for a long period of time whether I could have another pet chicken, I decided that she would be. As a pet, she merits a name. (I can’t name chickens that I intend to eat.) When I name a new pet, I consider it a solemn duty to be as nerdy as I can. I didn’t always roll this way, but I wasn’t always a certified Latin teacher either.
The Spanish are a rare breed of chicken known for their unusual appearance: they have black feathers, a red comb, and a … white face with white earlobes. The white face typically develops after the first molt, around one year of age. Interestingly, nearly as many breed reviews describe the Spanish as flighty as they do sweet, which are mutually exclusive descriptions in my chicken world. After considering the duality of her breed and one-day appearance, I pawed through the dictionary to see whether other forms of the name Janus existed.
Janus is a Roman god who had two faces: one looks ahead and the other looks behind. He is the god of doors and beginnings. The first month of the Roman year belonged to Janus, and January still remains a period in which we straddle the boundary—the door—between two moments where we simultaneously look backward and forward in time. In essence, we all have two faces in January, and my pet chicken has two faces too. In my trusty Latin dictionary, I found the word ianigena, meaning “child of Janus” and pronounced phonetically yah-NIH-geh-nah. The use of the word is ascribed to Ovid, who is my favorite poet (sorry, Vergil).
Ovid uses ianigena in the Metamorphoses to describe Canens, a nymph who is the beloved wife of Picus and a talented singer. The story of Picus is an inset tale of lust, fidelity, and loss that explains the origin of the woodpecker. In the myth, the witch Circe desires the handsome Picus and attempts to seduce him. He refuses her many entreaties and overtures, stating that he would be faithful to his wife Canens. Angry at being spurned, Circe changed Picus into a woodpecker, and Picus pecked at oak trees to show his anger at being changed into a bird. When Picus never returned home, Canens wandered in despair looking for him and eventually vanished into air at the edge of the Tiber river due to her grief. (Read the story here in English and here in Latin beginning line 320).
The myth is an interesting one as much for its witchcraft as for the husband’s loyalty to his wife. Odysseus, after all, was one of Circe’s lovers, though she had changed his men into pigs and he had the cleverest and most faithful of wives waiting for him in Ithaca. Picus’ loyalty to his wife is touching, as he declares:
“‘Whoever you are, I am not for you.
Another has taken me; she holds me now,
And I pray she will hold me to the end of time.
I will not break my pledge by loving another,
As long as Janus’ daughter, my Canens, shall live.'”
The origins of the word ianigena suit my nerdy Latin brain perfectly, and I think Ianigena is an apt name for my Spanish chicken whose sweet disposition makes her deserving of such a namesake.
So, readers, I would like to introduce you to Ianigena who joins Fortunata in the ranks of permanent members of my backyard chicken flock.
Ovid. Metamorphoses. Trans. Stanley Lombardo. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2010. Print.
“Shrine of Janus Quirinus/Geminus.” Vroma. Vroma, n.d. Web. 5 June 2016.
“Spanish Chicken.” The Livestock Conservancy. Livestock Conservancy, n.d. Web. 5 June 2016.