Dido and Anna

Dido and Anna
1st century CE. Wall painting from Pompei, house of Meleager. Photography by Marie Lan Nguyen) © ‘Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli’ (inv. 8898)

Dido and Anna

II. Magic in women’s daily lives

But who was Anna Perenna? This wall-painting may help us trace one of the many legends about the goddess, a scene of female intimacy that evokes the distant echoes of the African continent. The image portrays Dido’s last hours as her lover Aeneas’ ship leaves Carthage. The queen, at the center, holds a sword, assisted by her closest confidants, two of whom are openly racialised.

Inevitably, the memory of Virgil’s verses makes us wonder about the figure of Anna, Dido’s sister (soror)—sometimes even her puzzling alter ego—who accompanies the queen, as in this snapshot, on her epic journey of love and death.

Devastated after Dido’s suicide, Anna performs the funeral rites and flees her Carthaginian fate to reach the shores of Latium as a castaway. There she meets Aeneas—says Ovid—and is received with the honours of a guest until she arouses the suspicion of his recent wife Lavinia—this spin-off is filtered, as one might expect, by the palpable patriarchal voice of the poet. Anna is then alerted by Dido’s ghost and escapes into the forest where the waters of river Numitius flow. After being swept away by the current, she is finally transformed into the nymph of the perennial cycle.

From Africa to Rome, from the distant myth to the historical celebration of a popular deity, Anna Perenna’s poetic narrative serves us to return to her fountain and find in the sister of Dido an explanation for the magical practice in the midst of its eternal flow: Anna’s waters reset the calendar each year again for a new regeneration, but they are also an excellent channel for understanding the power of a faithful confidante with close connections with the Netherworld.


Zoa Alonso Fernández