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Anna Perenna was an ancient Roman goddess who presided over the course of the year or, more properly, the perpetual renewal of the year.
The celebration of Anna Perenna took place at the goddess’ grove at the first Via Flaminia milepost on the Ides of March (March 15), which would have been the first full moon of the year in the old lunar Roman calendar when March was considered the first month of the year. According to a tradition recorded by Ovid, Dido, the creator of the Carthaginians in Virgil’s Aeneid, had a sister named Anna Perenna.
Following Dido’s terrible death, Anna seeks safety from her brother Pygmalion with Battus, the island’s ruler and a rich host, in Malta. After three years of defending Anna, Battus advised her to leave for her protection and seek out a new exile location because her brother was pursuing conflict. Anna Perenna, who was once more forced to flee over the waters, was shipwrecked on the shore of Latium and taken in by Aeneas’ town of Lavinium.
Lavinia grew envious of Anna’s being there. In her dream, Dido advised Anna to leave her most recent hiding place, from which she had been carried off by the river-god Numicus, changed into a river nymph concealed in the “perennial stream” (amnis perennis), and given the new name Anna Perenna.
Roman religion expert Franz Altheim proposed that Anna Perenna was originally an Etruscan mother goddess and that her link with Aeneas was created to promote her identification with Rome in the 1930s.
Featured image: Death of Dido, detail depicting Dido committing suicide rescued by her sister Anna, later identified as the Roman deity Anna Perenna, oil on canvas by Guercino, 1625, Rome, Galleria Spada.
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