The ancient Neapolitan games through the Guaglione poem by Raffaele Viviani

by Claudia Colella

Poetry can sometimes describe some aspects of reality, in this case it tells us about the ancient Neapolitan games. Raffale Viviani, who had already given us a lesson in Neapolitanism through poetry Parochialism, it is now useful to investigate some of the ancient Neapolitan games most popular in the early twentieth century among the young urchins of the city.

Let's read the together poetry Guaglione by Raffaele Viviani and let's proceed to a short and interesting analysis of the text!

antichi giochi napoletani
Raffaele Viviani, the street urchin poet

Guaglione, the poetry of the ancient Neapolitan games

Quanno pazziavo ‘o strummolo,
‘o liscio, 'e ffiurelle,
‘a ciaccia, ‘a mazza e pìvezo,
‘o juoco d''e ffurmelle,
stevo 'int 'a capa retena
'e figlie 'e bona mamma,
e me scurdavo 'o ssolito,
ca me murevo 'e famma.
E comme ce sfrenàvemo:
sempe chine 'e sudore!
'E mamme ce lavaveno
minute e quarte d'ore!
Giunchee fatte cu 'a canapa
'ntrezzata, pe' fa' ‘a pprete;
sagliute 'ncopp'a ll'asteche,
p'annaria' cumete;
po' a mare ce menavemo
spisso cu tutte 'e panne;
e 'ncuollo ce 'asciuttavemo,
senza piglià malanne.
'E gguardie? sempe a sfotterle,
pe' fa' secutatune;
ma 'e vvote ce afferravano
cu schiaffe e scuzzettune
e a casa ce purtavano:
Tu, pate, ll' ea 'mparà!
E manco 'e figlie lloro
sapevano educà.
A dudece anne, a tridece,
tanta piezz' 'e stucchiune:
ca niente maie capevamo
pecché sempe guagliune!
'A scola ce 'a salavamo
p' 'arteteca e p' 'a foia:
'o cchiù 'struvito, 'o massimo,
faceva 'a firma soia.
Po' gruosse, senza studie,
senz'arte e senza parte,
fernevano pe' perderse:
femmene, vino, carte,
dichiaramente, appicceche;
e sciure 'e giuventù
scurdate 'int'a nu carcere,
senza puté ascì cchiù.
Pur'io pazziavo ‘o strummolo,
‘o liscio, ‘e ffiurelle,
a ciaccia, a mazza e pìvezo,
‘o juoco d''e ffurmelle:
ma, a dudece anne, a tridece,
cu 'a famma e cu 'o ccapì,
dicette: - Nun pò essere:
sta vita ha da fernì.
Pigliaie nu sillabario:
Rafele mio, fa' tu!
E me mettette a correre
cu A, E, I, O, U.

The ancient Neapolitan games described in the poem

The first verse of the poem is a casket of obsolete words, which define the ancient Neapolitan games typical of urchins, Raffaele Viviani's playmates. Let's see them together!

  • Strummolo: it is the spinning top, made up of a wooden spindle and a string that was used to cast it; the aim was to hit the opponent's strummolo for scummarlo, that is, chipping it. A common expression in which this word is used is 'o strummolo has a tiriteppola and a short rope!, literally: the top swerves in all directions and the rope is short, said to mean a ccombination of bad events, irreparable situation of things that don't work.
  • Smooth: perhaps best known in the variant 'to smooth. It was played with coins or other small objects thrown on a smooth surface: whoever came closest to a goal won. Forerunner of bowls?
  • Ffiurelle: is the game of trading cards. All the children of all times have played with it. At the beginning of the 20th century, however, they were not the ones we are used to now, which portray TV characters or footballers; were the images of the saints, votive figurines that found a new life in the hands of the urchins.
  • Ciaccia: this name is likely to be of onomatopoeic origin. It comes from the sound ciacia that came out of the slap, the absolute protagonist of the game. The one who "went under" had to understand who it was of friends to hit him from the teaocco or the sound of the slap.
  • Mazza and pivezo: and the Neapolitan baseball. Through three strokes of the "club" the player must try to remove the "pivezo" (stick, piece of wood) to put the opponent in difficulty.
  • Juoco de furmelle: le furmelle are the buttons, with a flick of the thumb or index finger the player must throw the button in a groove drawn on the ground or on a chalk line, the one who comes closest to an obstacle or to the established goal wins.

Among other games we find later also 'and junks made with hemp' ntrezzata, which are hand-woven slings and Comets, the kites that must be annarriati, therefore carried in the air.

Gli antichi giochi napoletani attraverso la poesia Guaglione di Raffaele Viviani
The Strummolo, a typical ancient game of the Neapolitan urchins

Beyond the ancient Neapolitan games, the lesson that Viviani leaves us

The magnificent glimpse of Neapolitan youthful life that Viviani presents in the poem Guaglione closes with an important reflection. Even for the last of the social ladder, the boys who lived in the lowlands, the populace of the fondaci, there is the possibility of emancipation through study. There is a time for games and a time to settle down. When you really understand it, you can start from the bottom to get to the top, without forgetting your roots!

Claudia Colella

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