IO PBP 2013!
I’m kind of excited to start this round of the Pagan Blog Project, which will, for me, be starting along with the actual schedule. I’m not going to re-use or re-post anything that I used for 2012’s sporadic PBP; instead, you guys can expect a completely new set of alphabetic entries. WOO.
So this post is…a little different from the first post that I had planned. I was planning on writing about agricultural deities, but then I remembered the goddess Anna Perenna, and I thought, “Oh, a goddess concerned with the start of a new year…how fitting!”
Thus, the agricultural-centered post will be next week.
…Unless I think of another topic in the meantime.
Anyway, moving on. Anna Perenna is, as I somewhat said before, a deity entirely concerned with the start of a new year and making sure that that new year is a healthy, productive one. People would, according to the ancient author Macrobius, give her offerings and pray “ut annare perennareque commode liceat“, which, roughly translated, means “so that it is possible that the circle of the year be happily completed.” Sounds like a nice way to start the year.
Her festival on which people would ask this, however, was not on January 1st. Hell, it wasn’t even in the month of January. Instead, it took place on March 15. Which is an odd date for this sort of thing if you aren’t familiar with the archaic Roman calendar.
For the early, early Romans, January was not the first month of the new year: that title fell instead to the month of, you guessed it, March. Or, rather, what we call March today. The reason for this is that the Romans, a warmongering bunch of agriculturalists, put warring and farming together: March was the month in which the first war campaigning and crop planting would have taken place, so they put great importance on it and made it the first month of the year.
Furthermore, the festival was held on the first full moon, or the Ides, of March – an important date in any month.
So, with all that down, who exactly is Anna Perenna?
The answer to that is, like with so many things Roman, “We don’t know.”
There are three myths ascribed to this goddess that come to us from Ovid, all of which can be found in book 3 of his Fasti:
First, he says that Anna Perenna is the same Anna who appears in the Aeneid: Anna, the sister of Dido queen of Carthage. After Dido’s death, Carthage was attacked by the Numidians, and Anna escaped the city and fled away by ship. In a cruel twist of fate, the ship was driven by the winds right to Lavinium, the settlement which Aeneas had founded in Italy. Aeneas, ever a stranger to common sense, invited Anna to stay with him: Lavinia, Aeneas’ wife, didn’t like that too much.
Anna had a dream in which she was visited by her sister Dido and warned that Lavinia was planning to get rid of Anna – and not in a good way. Anna took heed of her sister’s warning and, for the second time in this story, fled: but, unfortunately, she fell into the river Numicus and drowned.
Aeneas and some of his men tracked Anna’s trail to the Numicus, where her ghostly form appeared to them and told them that she was now a river nymph dwelling in the “perennial stream” of the Numicus, and that her name was now Anna Perenna.
The second story that Ovid gives is his own belief that during the first secession of the plebeians (in which the plebs went on strike and left the city of Rome en masse), those plebeians who had left the city ended up on the Mons Sacer (Sacred Mountain). There they ran short of food: but Anna Perenna, an old woman from the suburb of Bovillae, baked cakes and brought them to the plebeians every morning.
When the strike ended, they set up an image and instituted a cult for the woman who had helped them.
The third and final story is also my favorite of the three.
Ovid writes that not long after Anna Perenna became a goddess, Mars Gradivus attempted to get her to persuade Minerva to become his consort. The wily old woman agrees, and goes off to do so.
However. She didn’t really try to persuade Minerva. Nope.
Instead, she pretended to be Minerva, all the way up to the wedding and into bed with Mars. When it came time for Mars to lift her wedding veil, SURPRISE-
it was not the face of Minerva that he saw, but the old, wrinkled face of Anna Perenna. Mars was pretty pissed off, and Anna laughed at him with crude jokes and songs.
And that, Ovid says, is why, on Anna Perenna’s festival day, people sang coarse and rowdy songs and told crude jokes.