The Classical Quarterly (New Series)

Research Article

A Roman Hecale: Ovid Fasti 3.661–741

S. J. Harrisona1

a1 Corpus Christi College, Oxford

This is one of the identities offered by Ovid for the goddess Anna Perenna, whose festival falls on the Ides of March. Ovid's lines give us the following information about this version of Anna: she was a poor but industrious old woman living in the suburbs of Rome, her benevolent baking and distribution of cakes provided much-needed sustenance for the plebs during their secessio on the Mons Sacer, and the plebs repaid this service when peace was restored by dedicating a cult-statue to her, so founding the cult of Anna Perenna. This Anna is thus a minor character, otherwise unknown, associated with a cult of obscure origin and with a major historical event, the first secessio plebis to the Mons Sacer usually dated to 494 B.C. This alone would make it likely that Ovid is inventing her here as circumstantial detail. When we consider that wo are told that she lived at Bovillae, some twelve miles south-east of Rome (orta… Bovillis surely indicates residence as well as place of birth), and that the Mons Sacer was located three miles north-east of the city, any probability of Ovid's story being a fully historical report vanishes; Anna of Bovillae was simply in the wrong place to purvey cakes to the plebs on this occasion, unless she ran a modern-style delivery service over a thirty-mile circuit. The possibility remains that there was an otherwise unknown cult of Anna Perenna at Bovillae to which Ovid refers, since the association of Anna with Bovillae must have come from somewhere, especially as it here seems to introduce an unwanted inconsistency.


1 I am most grateful to Adrian Hollis for help and encouragement, and for drawing my attention to the passage quoted in n. 2.