AKA Angita, Anguita, and Anaceta

Angitia was a Marsi goddess who became best known after being sucked into the ever-expanding Roman pantheon. She was wedged into the family tree of Aeëtes, where she resided as one of his daughters, along with Medea and Circe. But before she hit the big time...

Before she joined the exciting world of Roman deities Angitia lorded it over the Marsi people of central Italy. Her chief temple and grove stood near Lake Fucinus, near the modern village of Luco. The temple/grove complex was known as the Lucus Angitiae; the temple now lies in ruins, although the nearby woods still bear the name Lucus Angitiae.

She appeared in that area at some point prior to 400 BC, and wowed the natives with her ability to charm snakes and heal snake bites. She was not, apparently, a personification of a snake spirit, as she had (and used) the power to kill snakes with a touch. She also gained a reputation as being particularly knowledgeable in healing with local herbs. She was very popular in the central highlands of Italy, and gained enough fame and wealth that her temple also contained a treasury. There is at least one Roman inscription referring to the Angitiae, although whether this is a cult, a priesthood, or a split personality is unclear.

Her name probably comes from the word anguis, meaning 'serpent'; snakes were her true forté, and her ability to control and kill snakes was what first brought her to the public eye. Snake charmers in the area and surrounding lands have long claimed to be descended from her. Her later abilities in the realm of healing and herbs were probably built around a core of snake and snakebite lore. This combination of serpents and herbal healing may have contributed to the Roman belief that Marsi and the surrounding areas were the birthplace of witchcraft.

Not satified with this, she jumped into Roman Mythology in the 2nd century BC. The Romans, however, were a bit divided on who exactly she was. Roman historian Gnaeus Gellius put her as one of the three daughters of Aeëtes, feeling that she belonged in a family of sorceresses. Her proposed sister Medea also spent time in Italy, where her son Medus ruled over the Marsi for a time, making it a good fit. Poet Silius Italicus and grammarian Maurus Servius Honoratus, on the other hand, identified her as being one with Medea herself.

The area of Italy that once housed the Marsi is now known as Abruzzo, and it still has a cultural attachment to snakes. The Feast of the Serpari is celebrated on the first Thursday in May, and the festivities include performances by the Serpari, a hereditary brotherhood of snake charmers. In early spring the Serpari start gathering local snakes (mostly the four-lined rat snake, a large but non-venomous snake), and remove their fangs. These snakes are paraded through town, held by the fearless descendants of Angitia. The event is now intermingled with Catholic mythology, and some towns even integrate it with a mass. However the main event is the feast; in times past the snakes were cooked up as part of the feast, but these days the snakes usually escape alive and are released into the wild. Their place is taken at the table by bread formed in the shape of twined snakes.

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