Anna Perenna is most likely a goddess you haven’t heard of, though you most likely know the names of her brother, Pygmalion and her sister, Dido. Anna Perenna would have remained a side character in both their stories, despite her own interesting experience. Thankfully Anna Perenna also became part of the history of the Plebeian rebellion in Ancient Rome. Their story tells of a woman who would arrive each day to feed the protesters, helping them to maintain their campaign until they won their rights, and in turn being worshipped afterwards. Her role as a deity was considered myth until in 1999 the ruins of a fountain were excavated in Rome and it was found to be dedicated to her. What made it even more delightful was that beside the fountain were found boxes that belonged to sorcerers. So Anna Perenna’s fountain was also a place to conjure and practice magic.
Her story begins upon the shores of the Mediterranean sea.
Anna was born into the royal family of Tyre, along with her brother Pygmalion and sister Dido. Life had been simple for Anna.
She grew up in a beautiful home, cared for by loving parents who watched over Anna and her siblings. The siblings played in harmony within their garden, sharing toys and indulging in make believe as a peaceful joy wrapped around them.
As they grew older though all this would change.
Pygmalion who had always been kind and loving started to show traits that were far from caring. His playfulness became boisterous and then plainly rough. The sisters could not imagine their brother felt any differently about them, however his lack of care with them physically made them withdraw their affections and desire to be in his company.
Pygmalion did not care. He had male friends to now spend time with. Besides he needed to prepare to be King of Tyre, and the girls needed to make ready for marriage. The days of playing were over.
When Pygmalion finally had the crown upon his head, part of him sighed with relief. At the same time another part of him tightened with fear that this power could be taken from him at any moment. He looked to Dido and Anna, then smiled. His beloved sisters were here to support him, and their presence gave him much assurance that all would be fine.
They were no longer naïve children. Here they stood as adults with their education and training now complete. They would all work together to continue what their parents had begun. That fear within Pygmalion though would reach into his innards and twist his guts whenever he looked upon Dido’s husband.
Sychaeus had been the perfect choice to become the spouse of a princess. He was a High Priest as well as being the wealthiest man in Tyre, after the king of course. Each time Pygmalion looked at Sychaeus though he saw not just wealth but a power that could stretch out and rip the crown from his head. His sister Dido might stop her husband from acting so, but then if she aided Sychaeus she would be Queen. That surely was enough motivation to support such a coup. Pygmalion could break into a sweat just thinking about it.
There was another scenario that the king also pictured, however this one would make him smile and feel soothed. Pygmalion would imagine his brother-in-law was dead.
Sychaeus’ fortune would become Dido’s, or rather, his. For a widow’s fortune became that of her family. With Sychaeus’ money and property now his, Pygmalion’s wealth and power would be beyond any man of Tyre. Then he could finally relax.
So the king began to plot just how to make this come to be.
Pygmalion waited before the temple altar. He had sent word summoning Sychaeus to meet with him there so they could pray together. Both men were yet to sire their heirs and that was the perfect motive to lure the man.
Sychaeus walked to the altar smiling as Pygmalion raised his hands to welcome him. He called out a greeting to the king and the words had barely left his lips when two of the king’s guards drew their swords and plunged them into Sychaeus. He fell upon the ground before the altar, a pool of blood growing around him and it was there that he took his last breath.
Pygmalion looked upon the body of Sychaeus and inhaled deeply. Sychaeus’ death had not only cemented his power by inheritance but would also serve as a sacrifice. Now the Gods knew what he was willing to do to maintain his crown.
Sychaeus’ spirit lifted from his body and he saw Pygmalion all but celebrating his demise. He wondered what else the King might be willing to do for his self-glory? Immediately he thought of Dido. Was she at risk too? He must warn her before the Gods came to take him into the Underworld.
Just thinking of her allowed his sprit to appear before Dido.
Dido had been brushing her hair when her husband was suddenly standing in the room with her. Though she was startled, she smiled, so happy to see Sychaeus there with her. Something felt wrong though. His face was pale and his shoulders hung as though his body was too heavy to hold up.
“Leave Tyre, my love. You are in danger. It was your brother….”
Then before she could ask anything of him, Sychaeus was gone.
Dido’s breath caught within her. She knew immediately this had been a vision of her husband and that he was dead by her brother’s hand. She would be next.
Dido then cried out in agony and fell upon the floor in tears.
This was how Anna found her. When her sister shared her vision Anna snapped into action. She called out to their maids and ordered them to start packing the sisters’ belongings. Anna sent for their most trusted ministers and aids explaining what had occurred. Imploring their discretion, Anna asked they organise safe passage to the port and to have a ship waiting for the princesses and those who would accompany them.
The sisters then dined with Pygmalion as though all was normal. He excused Sychaeus’ absence as him being away on a royal errand. This made Dido and Anna silently seethe at how their brother could sit and act as though he was innocent. Then he had a guard announce Sychaeus’ murder as though this was new information being relayed to him. Pygmalion then watched as Dido’s grief was released, barely offering his condolences.
Anna wanted to spit at him, to tell him how contemptuous he was, to curse him, to shout how he had ruined everything. Instead she held her tongue to ensure she could see Dido and herself to safety.
They made way to the ship in the dead of night. Anna stood upon the deck to watch the dark shadowed shapes of Tyre disappear as the vessel pushed out into the ocean.
Pygmalion might now have his riches but he had lost his greatest allies and the only people who had loved him with any depth. Anna turned and looked upon Dido sitting upon a bench nearby, her cloak pulled tight around her.
Though what lay ahead was unknown, Anna knew the Gods would care for them.
Their ship headed east, sailing along the northern coast of the great continent of Africa. Though the shores of Tyre were long gone, Dido and Anna agreed they should go even further. When they saw a grand cove with mountains rising not far from its shore they both knew they had found their new home.
The local king was a short, round man named Iarbus who warmly welcomed the sisters and their entourage. Dido, as the eldest, explained their flight from Tyre and how they wished to start anew here within his kingdom.
Though Iarbus had received the women in warmth upon their arrival, he was like all other kings when it came to his lands. He was not going to relinquish any part of them so easily. Iarbus nodded and agreed to allow them a settlement. However, he declared, the size of that land would equal that of an ox’s hide.
Anna gasped when she heard this and her anger rose. She looked to Dido and was surprised to see her sister smiling and agreeing to the condition.
Iarbus called for one of his men to bring such a skin to him and he threw it upon the ground before the sisters.
“When you have found the land measured thus let me know,” the king stated and returned to his palace.
“The rogue!” declared Anna.
Dido continued to smile and asked her maid to bring her the sharpest shears she could find. Anna watched in amazement as Dido shredded the hide into the thinnest of strips that she could. When she was done Dido looked up at Anna and around to all those who left Tyre to support them.
“Let us choose the grandest mountain to be ours,” she said.
At a simple glance all the mountains looked as majestic as each other. It was only when they explored them more closely that they were given a sign as to which should be theirs. It was upon the side of one mountain that a scout found the skull of a horse; the symbol of power and strength was enough of sign that this was a blessed site and the one to claim.
Anna and Dido then lay the strips of hide end to end, creating a border around the mountain, encircling enough land for all the Tyrians to live within. Iarbus had no choice but to agree. Thus the city of Carthage was born.
Dido reigned as Queen of the new city with Anna always by her side. Carthage became a crossroad for Mediterranean trade. Traders and travellers from many lands made way to the new metropolis. So it was that Aeneas arrived with his fleet.
Aeneas was one of the few soldiers that had survived the Trojan wars, with thanks to the protection of his mother, Venus. Escaping with his own band of supporters, Aeneas had been bestowed by Jupiter and Juno the duty of finding land to establish a new empire that would be known as Rome.
It had been four years of searching for this site when Aeneas landed at Carthage and was welcomed into the palace. Standing before Dido as she sat upon her throne, he knelt and placed at her feet a small sword, not just as a gift to honour her hospitality to also show that he and his men were no threat to the Queen and her domain.
Over the next few days he regaled Dido and Anna with stories of his travels, entertaining them both… and enamouring Dido. Each story he told pulled Dido deeper into his charm and beauty. The days of his visit grew into weeks as the Queen implored Aeneas and his men to remain in Carthage so they could rest and recuperate after such an arduous pursuit.
Anna watched as her sister fell in love. She could not deny Dido this joy as her life had been robbed of so much. Dido unimpeded continued to extend her invitation so that it was now months that Aeneas remained in Carthage. It was now apparent that he felt for Dido as she did him and their affections grew into intimacies.
It was only natural to Dido that this union of their hearts should extend to the union of their rule. Aeneas was looking for his land while Carthage needed an army. Aeneas agreed without hesitation; how perfect to have finally found not only his home but a queen to love. Together they would be unstoppable.
Jupiter and Juno though were not pleased. This was not what had been asked of Aeneas. They sent Mercury, the divine messenger, to remind Aeneas of his sworn duty. He must leave Carthage at once and find these new lands to establish the empire as promised.
Aeneas’ heart was heavy. He knew he must obey the Gods yet his very being ached to be with Dido. How would he ever tell her.
So he simply didn’t. During the darkest hours of the night he gathered his men and made way to their ships. After a year of bliss and certainty in Carthage he once more sailed into the unknown.
When Dido realised Aeneas was gone she began to weep in a way that she thought would never stop. Anna held Dido as she cried, praying to the Gods to heal her sister’s heart once again. Dido eventually looked at Anna and asked her to prepare a pyre. Anna’s eyes grew wide in fear for what Dido might be planning, but the queen assured her younger sister that she merely wanted to burn the clothes and belongings Aeneas had left behind in his haste to leave her.
Anna, diligent and dutiful a sister as ever, did just as she was asked. She stood and watched as Dido threw each piece upon the flames hoping that as each object disintegrated in the heat that it would release Dido’s heart from its pain.
Dido threw the last piece upon the pyre and stood still and silent, though tears fell upon her cheeks. She looked to Anna and thanked her for her help. Then she pulled from her robes one last object that she had hidden upon her; it was the small sword that Aeneas had gifted her at their first meeting.
Before Anna could realise what it was, Dido plunged it into her belly and fell upon the pyre. Anna grabbed her sister from the flames, burning her own hands to put out those that had taken hold of her sister.
It was too late. Even with the flames upon her extinguished, the wound from the sword had done just as Dido intended. Within Anna’s embrace she took her last breath and left to join Sychaeus in the Underworld.
Anna, though bereft at the loss of her sister, looked upon Carthage and was committed to continuing Dido’s rule and upholding all they had done together in establishing this amazing city. Dido’s legacy must live on.
This is what should have happened, and it did for almost a year. Then a message arrived all the way from Tyre.
Addressed to the royal princess, it told Anna quite simply that Pygmalion, now a most feared tyrant had knowledge of where his sisters had resettled, as well as how grand a city they had established. As their familial patriarch he had decided it was now all his.
Pygmalion’s ships would arrive within weeks. Anna had no desire to battle her brother, as well as not having the military might to do so. Instead, she surrendered the lands back to Iarbus who could. Then she was once again upon a boat seeking a new home to escape the murderous, greedy wrath of her brother.
Anna landed upon the island of Malta, a small peaceful place where she imagined Pygmalion would never find or look for her. The king of Malta, Battius, was delighted to receive Anna.
“This land however small is yours,” he said
Anna now had a new home.
However, she had underestimated Pygmalion’s rage with her. Furious at learning his younger sister had alluded him a second time he sent scouts all over the lands of the Mediterranean to find her. This was how word reached him that Anna was now upon Malta.
Pygmalion immediately sent a decree to Battius; if he continued to harbour Anna then Tyre would wage war upon him and his island kingdom. Battius showed the decree to Anna, then with tears he asked Anna to leave Malta.
Battius would never turn Anna over to her brother. He would also not risk warfare, for his lands had never known battle, not even a skirmish. It would break his heart to see death and destruction from war upon his land.
Anna understood. Escape truly was her only option and once more she set sail.
It was as though the sea had aligned with Pygmalion. Its waves crashed upon the ship, lifting it up and letting it drop with ferocity. Eventually it would spit it against the rocks of a shoreline, splintering its wood and the dumping the passengers out upon the land.
Anna was found lying on the ground, wet and dazed. The man called her name and she furrowed her brow. Where could she be that she was known? Was she back at Carthage? Or, Gods forbid, Tyre?
She looked up at the man and his face was oddly familiar. Then she realised he was one of Aeneas’ men. Anna was upon Latium, the lands upon which the new empire of Rome was beginning.
Anna was taken to the palace of Aeneas where she was greeted by the general himself. By his side was his wife, Lavinia. While Aeneas grinned widely and seemed genuinely happy to see Anna alive and whole, by his side Lavinia’s face showed little emotion with no measure of any pleasure at Anna’s arrival.
Lavinia’s countenance held firm and seemed to harden as Anna’s stay became permanent. Lavinia knew the story of Aeneas’ romance with Dido. For Lavinia it was as though a piece of her husband’s heart had always stayed with his lost love. Now here was the sister of this old flame. What if she would set alight his heart as her sister had? Might Anna take Aeneas away from her?
Anna felt no desire for Aeneas. She never had, so it was unimaginable that Lavinia should feel any jealousy for the past that they shared together, nor their renewed friendship now.
So when Dido’s spirit appeared to her in a dream she believed it was to simply console her, and even assure her that her sister’s spirit was well in her new life in the underworld.
Instead, Dido came to warn her of Lavinia. She told Anna that Lavinia’s jealousy was growing darker by the day. That there were plans being made that involved potions and accidents.
“What should I do?” asked Anna.
Dido gave her one word; “Flee!”
After all that Anna had endured this final challenge proved too much. She had lost her beloved sister and fled from three homes. Anna could not imagine where she could go, and if she did for how long she would be safe. Her mind churned upon these thoughts, burying her heart in a dark and heavy cloud.
Anna called to Dido, her long gone parents and to all the Goddesses. However, her sadness was so thick she could not hear their voices. Her being ached to be with her sister once more, playing as they did in childhood with no worries or cares beyond a scraped knee or the prick of a needle as they learned to sew.
It was only when she thought of Dido that the pain of her circumstance lifted. Her sister could not return to her, but Anna could go to her. When Anna ran away from the palace she was soon upon the banks of a nearby river. As she looked into the rushing waters she contemplated this very option.
She was sure the waters would carry her to the underworld. It would be by her doing and not through the darkness of Lavinia’s hatred. So grasping her destiny within the clarity of her decision, Anna threw herself into the river.
The river embraced Anna just as she had hoped. It wrapped around her body and pulled her along its path. As each pulse of the stream dragged her deeper, so too it began to claim her life force.
It was then that the river chose a different destiny for Anna. For in choosing the river to end her life, she had also given it permission as to how her energy would cross over the veil between the mortal world and beyond. The rushing waters felt Anna’s purity, as well as her strength and wisdom. The river now wanted these energies to remain within its water and not merely use the river as a passageway to the underworld.
So instead of letting Anna simply die the river took her energy and transformed it. When it was done the waters released Anna from their embrace, lifting her to its surface and placing her upon the shore.
Here Anna now stood as a River Nymph- a fae energy connected eternally to the rushing waters. She took a deep breath and felt her new powers flow through her just as the waters before her coursed along their path.
She felt something else that was wonderful; gone were all her human concerns. She no longer had to worry about a home nor fear a jealous queen or a wrathful brother. She was of the world but beyond the limits of the humans who were caught in the cycle of mortality.
Anna smiled and declared to herself-
“I am no longer the Anna of before, I am now Anna Perenna, I am Anna the Eternal One.”
The search party Aeneas sent looking for Anna followed her footprints from the palace to the river’s edge. There were none to show she had walked away.
Returning to Aeneas they reported what they saw and he, like the men had, assumed Anna to have drowned within the water. There would be no more search and now Anna Perenna was truly free.
Anna Perenna danced along the river looking out to all those who the water served and nourished. She heard their prayers for the river to care for them and their crops and delighted in answering them by surging the water to their lands.
One day as she made her way Anna Perenna saw groups of people leaving the main city of Rome. They were headed for a nearby mountain and she floated close by to listen to their conversations.
Anna Perenna heard them speak of succession from the state of Rome. As she looked at them she could tell they were the workers, tradespeople and craftspeople; the bloodlines of production that kept societies functioning.
Their withdrawal would end when they had their voices heard amongst the nobility and ruling classes. They demanded not just recognition of their importance but a say in how the world they contributed to should function.
Anna Perenna’s heart swelled to see these people value their own worth and decided to use her powers to support their cause. Each day she would appear carrying a large basket of breads and cakes which she would hand out to those taking their stance upon the mountain.
There was always enough for everyone, no matter if the numbers gathered grew each day. They did not question where she came from. Instead they expressed their gratitude; for her simple act each day sustained their protest and gave them strength to continue until their demands that a tribunal representing them was created.
Such was the impact Anna Perenna’s actions had that when the protest was over, they erected a statue in her honour so they could continue to show their gratitude by worshipping her image. The triumphant protestors retold stories of interacting with her and the food that, despite its simplicity, had been not just life sustaining but had kept their morale and convictions pulsing.
Anna Perenna was now more than fae energy. She was made a Goddess by those she served.
Her legend would be celebrated each year upon the Ides of March, then the beginning of the Roman new year. People would gather upon Via Flaminia, upon the banks of the Tiber River. They would settle in for a very long night of feasting, drinking, singing and dancing, as they farewelled the old and welcomed in the new.
They would tell ribald stories to make each other laugh. Such as the time Anna Perenna when asked by Mars to help him win the heart of Minerva, instead she disguised herself as his love to jokingly steal a kiss from the god.
It was also believed that for every glass of wine that you drank at her celebration, the drinker would be gifted an extra year of life. Which I am sure led to some very, very drunk revellers.
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