The lot and the grimace in Naples, from Matilde Serao to Charles Dickens

by Stefano De Crescenzo
Il lotto e la smorfia a Napoli, da Matilde Serao a Charles Dickens

In the mystery city of life where good and evil are confused, the game of the lottery, as he wrote Matilde Serao << è il largo sogno che consola la fantasia napoletana; è l’idea fissa di quei cervelli infuocati, è la grande visione felice che appaga la gente oppressa, è la vasta allucinazione che si prende le anime.>>

On the lotto game, Matilde Serao at the end of the nineteenth century he wrote very intense pages << the Neapolitan people redo their great dream of happiness every week, they live for six days in a growing intrusive hope that expands beyond real borders; for six days the Neapolitan people dream their big dream, where are all the things they are deprived of such as a clean house with healthy and fresh air, a nice warm ray of sunshine on the floor, a nice tall white bed, a dresser shiny, macaroni and meat every day, the cradle for the baby, linen for the wife and a new hat for the husband. He has all these things in his imagination from Sunday to the following Saturday and he talks about them, he is sure of them and the projects develop, they almost become a reality >>

Il lotto e la smorfia a Napoli, da Matilde Serao a Charles Dickens

The "philosophy" of the lotto had its presuppositions in some popular beliefs, which attributed to the numbers a magical value and used them in the divination of dreams. The application of these beliefs has helped to broaden their reach, encouraging the development of an applied discipline, capable of nurturing hopes of extremely attractive empirical results. For this reason, in spite of any statistical science and probabilistic theory, Naples dreams.

She dreams because she was born from a dream like that of the mermaid Partenope and will die with a dream like the breaking of the magical egg of Virgilio Mago in the Castel dell'Ovo.

So images and events of the most varied types are translated into numbers from one to ninety and entrusted to a universal bible book for all Neapolitans: The grimace (corruption of the name of the god of sleep Morpheus). Each event and each "figure" corresponds to a number. However, since new events and characters succeed one another to the ancients, the grimace adapts itself not by adding numbers to ninety, but by contemplating more facts and figures in the same number. For example, if you have the nightmare of smartphones or dream of the latest generation iPhone, the number Forty-four which indicates " and clears"(The prison) for some years has been associated with the mobile phone or the number forty-three which for the classical conception indicates the figure of woman at the balcony , since 2000 as they say in Naples "ago" Maradona.

Per ricevere ” i numeri vincenti” il giocatore ha diverse strade: Pregare i parenti defunti o le anime del purgatorio che con un patto, in cambio di preghiere e messe in suffragio, rivelerebbero,apparendo in sogno i numeri vincenti; altra via potrebbe essere, invece quella di chiedere udienza agli “assistiti” cioè coloro che hanno i contatti col mondo esoterico degli spiriti.

There are many theatrical comedies and films that enlighten the layman, on the ancient art of the interpretation of dreams; to remember "I don't pay you" by Eduardo De Filippo in cui viene raccontata una disputa tra parenti sorta a causa di un equivoco scambio di persona ,in cui il parente defunto “procurava” un sogno vincente ad un giocatore anzichè ad un altro; oppure “Cdared speak Bellavista ”by Luciano De Crescenzo in which we see the famous scene of the assisted Don Gaetano, who in telling a dream reveals the precise indications to be interpreted in order to win; still in the movie Totò and Peppino divided in Berlin, even the interpretation of dreams will save Totò from the Russians in the middle of the Cold War.

But let's go in order.

Molti credono che il gioco del lotto sia nato a Napoli ma in realtà esso fu inventato a Genova nel 1576 poichè ogni anno si dovevano eleggere otto senatori. Fu stabilito che i nomi dei candidati fossero sorteggiati da centoventi nobili della città e che ad ogni nominativo degli aspiranti senatori venisse fatto corrispondere un numero . Le scommesse sui numeri estratti diede fondo alla nascita del giuoco.

In Naples the lot that was renamed among the people Bancolotto, arrived only in 1672 in order to feed the coffers of the crown without introducing new taxes in the kingdom.

Over the centuries there were various attempts to eliminate this game considered immoral by the church and despised by many intellectuals as it was considered a scourge of the Neapolitan people, who sought in good luck the only way to redeem themselves from misery; that expectation "ciorta" that Pino Daniele sang in Napul'è.

A curiosity about the Bancolotto concerns a great English writer who arrived in Naples in the middle of the nineteenth century, Charles Dickens. In his "Impressions of Naples" he noted <<The ignorant populace believes that everything every event is a kind of vision both for those who attend it and for those who take part in it. They tell me the story of a runaway horse that had knocked a man down and left him dying. A man found himself on the scene of the tragedy immediately after he threw himself on his knees near the unfortunate knight and grabbed his hand asking if he was still alive, then exclaimed: "if you are still breathless for God's sake tell me how old are you so that I can play this lottery number. >>

Il lotto e la smorfia a Napoli, da Matilde Serao a Charles Dickens

And so anecdotes are told by Dumas, Monnier, Rea and many others.

The Serao ancora racconta di un episodio per sottolineare l’importanza che nella vita napoletana rivestivano i numeri al lotto, ovvero una popolana fu chiamata in giudizio per aver dato un pugno sulla faccia a una rivale ,discolpandosi verso il magistrato ed esclamando: “m’ ha chiamata sittanotto”( settantotto) costringendo il magistrato a provvedersi di smorfia e scoprire che il settantotto è il numero che indica la figura della prostituta.

Stefano De Crescenzo


Matilde Serao, "The belly of Naples"

Charles Dickens "Impressions of Naples"

Domenico Scafoglio "The lottery game in Naples"

Marcello D'orta "Neapolitan Black"

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