On the Ides of March, the Romans celebrated the festival of Anna Perenna, which involves drinking and fraternizing between the sexes on the banks of the Tiber River (Fast 3. 523-542). In the Fasti, Ovid gives three aitia regarding the true identity of the goddess and the origins of the festival. One of these origins connects the deity to Anna, Dido’s sister, who became a nymph by drowning in the Numicus River in Italy after her flight from Carthage (Fast. 3.543-656). Ovid’s is the first extant text to make a connection explicitly between Anna Perenna and Dido’s sister, though Giancotti (1970: 63-4) has suggested that the plot of Decimus Laberius’ mime, Anna Peranna, may have involved a love triangle between Anna, Aeneas, and Lavinia. Panayotakis (2009:117-123) counters Giancotti and provides a plausible argument for associating the mime instead with the tradition in which Anna acts as a “go-between” for Mars in his love for Minerva, a tradition also recounted by Ovid in Fasti 3.676-94. Regardless of the plot of Laberius’ mime, however, I argue that Ovid is not the first to connect Dido’s sister Anna with Anna Perenna and that Vergil alludes to this tradition in the Aeneid by associating Anna with water (lympha).
The Latin word lympha most basically means “water”, but the Romans connected it with the Greek nympha by popular etymology as evidenced by Varro (L.L. 7.87). The Augustan poets frequently engaged in wordplay exploiting this etymology (Hor. Carm. 2.3.15-16, Prop. 1.2.12 et al.). I maintain that Vergil makes similar puns in Book 4 of the Aeneid. The word lympha only appears twice in the entire book. Both times, the word is in connection with Anna. Once Dido decides that she wants to die, she enjoins her maidservant to instruct Anna to sprinkle her body with water (lympha) from a river (fluviale) to prepare herself for Dido’s ritual (4.634-6). It seems striking that Dido here specifies that water must come from a river given that Anna Perenna was associated with the Numicus River. When Anna realizes that Dido has stabbed herself, she asks for water (lymphis) so that she can wash (abluam) Dido’s wounds (4.683-4). Once again, lympha is used of Anna. Also, the verb abluere has a special significance. Every other time this verb appears in the Aeneid, it describes a cleansing with river water (2.720, 9.818). The verb elsewhere has a connection to a divine or ritualistic lavatio in a natural body of water (Ov. Met. 14. 601, Tac. Germ. 40, V. Fl. 9.208 et al.). This punning of nympha and lympha would be in line with wordplay Vergil employs throughout his poetry as evidenced by O’Hara (1996). It also seems fitting that Anna’s lympha is needed for sacrificial and funerary occasions since Servius tell us that the water used in libations to Vesta had to come from the Numicus (ad A. 7.150), and this is the body of water in which Anna drowned in Ovid’s version of the story (Fast. 3.647-654). Furthermore, the remains of a fountain with dedications to Anna Perenna were discovered in 1999 which shows evidence of cult activity dating back to the 4th or 3rd century BCE (Piranomonte 2010: 191-196). From these finds, we can gather that the connection between Anna Perenna and water goes back long before Ovid.
In light of these observations, I argue that Vergil was aware of this assimilation of Anna Perenna and Anna of Carthage.
Women and Water