If you love your enemies, you will have no enemies. — Tolstoy, from his Calendar of Wisdom for 15 March
The Ides of March & Anna Perenna
Today marks 2067 years since Julius Caesar was deposed and murdered by about 60 members of the Roman Senate. Shakespearean drama notwithstanding, this was not just a few disillusioned subjects. The plot was broadly supported and intricately planned. The ruler was stabbed 23 times.
We still associate this day with bad luck — ‘Beware the Ides of March!’ I am not certain that this was ill fortune. That many people who were so angry they risked regicide — during the holy New Year celebration! — seems to indicate that old Julius might have had it coming. Or at least he deserved to be removed from his post. But his personality and the rules he’d created — including quasi-deification — made it rather difficult, if not impossible, to dislodge him while he still lived.
However, the plotters utterly failed in their attempt to restore the Republic and the democratic freedoms once enjoyed by Roman citizens. Years of civil war followed the assassination only to conclude with the formation of the Empire. Citizens still elected some officials and there were referendums on some issues, but they held sovereignty no longer. The deified Emperor reigned with almost no checks and balances — except power-hungry challengers. From Caesar’s assassination on, very few Roman rulers passed the spear peacefully. Or alive.
So perhaps it was not Caesar’s murder that we are cautioned against but the act of regicide itself — the act that led to hundreds of years of violent rule. Kill the king and create a monster.
I’m not a fan of kings or monsters. I despise hierarchy in all its forms. I don’t believe there are any reasons to accept the rule of others. All the reasons given in the millennia since this insanity began are merely the self-absolution of those who have claimed power. When analyzed, all these reasons for rulers melt away into nothing but lazy hubris.
So today, I do not remember Caesar, nor even the ill-advised and unsuccessful plot for his removal. There is an older celebration on the Ides of March. Today is the final day of the Roman New Year festival, a day dedicated to Anna Perenna.
Ovid tells us that Anna was the sister of both Dido and Pygmalion. She spent many years fleeing the violence that followed the fall of Troy. She sought refuge with Aeneas in Lavinium, but this irritated Lavinia, Aeneas’ wife. Fearing Lavinia’s jealousy, Anna finally cast herself into the Numicus River where the tutelary river god turned her into a nymph hidden in the ‘perennial stream’, the amnis perennis, which later became Anna Perenna.
Ovid was a fine story-teller. But this makes no sense at all. For one thing, she was named Anna before dying. Maybe Ovid believed her original name was lost? Still…
He also tells us about an old woman named Anna, possibly an Etruscan or foreign in some fashion, who brought loaves of bread to the plebeian rebels during a secessio plebis, a sort of unOccupy Rome, a general strike in which all the plebs abandoned the city, leaving the patricians to fend for themselves. Which was not a notable patrician skill. These secessios were powerful protests that normally achieved the aims of the plebeian class. No shops were open. No trade or transport were possible. A few days of this brought Rome to its knees — many times.
In gratitude for her support, the plebs deified Anna. Without her help and cut off from their own ovens and shops, they would have starved just like the patricians. So Anna became the face of resistance to autocracy. Ovid describes the picnics and feasts held in her honor, in which the lower classes would take hampers of food and wine out into the countryside, making merry all day long. This version of Anna’s origin is supported by the fact that though there was undoubtedly a popular celebration on this day, there was no official celebration of Anna, no ritual or pomp or flamens doing really bizarre things in her name. There are no contemporary images of Anna. Very few of the upper classes seem to have recognized her at all.
I like this story better — I’d like to organize my own secessio plebis and bake bread for all the rebels — but it’s still sort of fails Occam’s razor. The simplest story of Anna Perenna is plainly told right there in her name, which means something like ‘continuing time’ or ‘the cyclical year’. Her name is a combination of words that gave us our annual and perennial. I like the modern Pagan translation: ‘the ring of the year’, The Year Round. Anna is the embodiment of continuance. Her feast day fell on the last day of the New Year festivals in the Roman Republic. This day would have been set to the first full moon of the year, not necessarily 15 March, and from that some people associate Anna with the moon as well. But she is older than the moon.
She is time. Perpetual time. The promise that there will always be tomorrow.
©Elizabeth Anker 2023
1 thought on “The Daily: 15 March 2023”
I enjoy the reminder of Occam’s Razor. The story of Anna Perenna is new to me, so thank you for that 🙂
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