Angizia, the Goddess of snakes: the pagan cult of Marsica

The Goddess of snakes, Angizia, gave rise to a pagan cult handed down from literary sources such as the Aeneid and of which we have remains of in some villages of the Marsica today.

The origin of the myth

Angizia is the archaic Goddess of snakes, sister of the sorceress Circe and Medea, although among the various versions of the myth there is the one that tells us that in reality it is the name that Medea took when she arrived, fleeing from Athens, in the land of the Marrubi, an ancient Italic people who lived in the woods of the mountains of Central Italy, as Servius reports in his commentary on the Aeneid, specifying that the escape took place on the chariot of the Sun pulled by winged snakes, as he practiced magic and was able to tame them. In the Greek myth, however, we are told that she is Circe‘s sister, while the transposition of the Italic myth into the tradition that assigns aspects of Italic culture to a Hellenic origin is due to Virgil.

Literary sources, from Virgil to Gellio

Virgilio makes the belief of the time according to which the Marsica and the Sannio were the places where the magic had originated his own, on the basis of which we witness the connection between Angizia and Medea, who had decided to live near the Fucino lake, teaching them the art of knowing plants. Umbrone was devoted to her, a priest and leader of the Marsi who was sent in support of Turnus in the war against Aeneas. Virgil in Book VII of the Aeneid describes his death precisely caused by an arrow shot by the hand of Aeneas against which the magical arts taught by Angitia could do nothing.

Gellius introduces us to Angizia as one of the daughters of Eeta, son of the Sun and Perse and of the nymph Idia. In the Greek myth, it is said that he left the places of his birth, arrived in Italy, and chose the land of the Marsi as his home. From Silio Italico we have the first information on the magical abilities that derived from the knowledge of herbs: the Goddess who masterminded poisons was a lady of animals who knew how to control the forces of nature and submit them to her will.

The remains of the cult in Marsica

The sacred woods that, according to Virgil, were dedicated to the Goddess Angizia, are located near the archaeological site of Lucus Angitiae at the gates of the contemporary Luco dei Marsi. The ceremony of the Holy Spirit, which takes place right in the aforementioned town on the day of Pentecost includes a stop at the ruins of the temple of Anxa, a name connected to Angizia. A funerary stele dedicated to the Goddess is exhibited in the Antinum museum in Civita d’Antino. In Cocullo, however, the feast of San Domenico takes place on the first Thursday of May, which is however derived from the pagan cult of Angizia.