Re-claiming Sicily

the chthonic aspects of Venus Erycina and Cybele in the Aeneid

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The paper revisits the traditions associated with the fertility goddess worshipped in Sicilian Eryx at the time of Augustus’ ascent to power. I argue that Vergil, aware of these traditions and in accordance with Augustan public rhetoric, identified the goddess with Venus, Aeneas’ divine mother but, also, with Cybele whose cult, introduced in Rome in the third century bce, was greatly favoured by the princeps.
The original cult of Erycine Astarte had chthonic aspects which the Greeks had associated with Persephone, honoured exceptionally in Magna Grecia and Sicily, and which survived in the festival of Anagogia and Katagogia when the Erycine goddess was believed to disappear while visiting her sister in Carthage. Elements of this archaic cultic tradition can be also observed in Boiotia and, especially, Crete which Vergil employs creatively in the Aeneid to achieve the integration of Phrygian/Erycine Venus with Roman Cybele. Vergil’s careful transformation of the goddess corresponds to the cultural and political challenges Augustus and the Romans faced at the time.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)89-126
Number of pages38
JournalGiornale Italiano di Filologia
Publication statusPublished - 2018

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