Aiuto, oggi è venerdì 17! (Help, today is Friday the 17!) Here in Italy the unlucky day is not Friday the 13th, as it is in many countries around the world, but Friday the 17th. Why is this day particularly unlucky? Is it because us Italians always like to be different from the rest of the world? Venerdì (Friday) is commonly considered unlucky because it is supposedly the day on which Jesus died and, according to the Genesis, the devils were created. An old proverb says: “Né di Venere né di Marte non si sposa, non si parte, non si da principio all’arte” (Neither on Friday nor on Tuesday should one get married, start a journey or begin a work of art).
More complicated and less definitive is the choice of the number 17. One theory has it that il Diluvio Universale (the Great Flood) started on the 17th of February, another one says that in the Battle of Teutoburgo, which took place in the 9 AD, three Roman legions, the 17th, 18th and 19th, were completely destroyed, and since then these numbers were believed to be nefasti (ill-omened) and therefore were no longer allocated to legions.
OK, so why is 17 the only unlucky number out of the three? Well, the most accredited explanation is that 17 in Roman numerals is written XVII, which can become the anagram of VIXI, a Latin word which was inscribed on Roman tombs, meaning “vissi”, (“I lived”), and implying that “I’m now dead”. For this reason XVII, (17) was considered inauspicious.
Finally, according to la Smorfia Napoletana, a system devised in Napoli which links the numbers 1 to 90 to images, and it’s used to interpret dreams and events so that those numbers can be used to play the lottery, 17 represents disgrazia (misfortune).
To make things worst, this year è un anno bisestile (is a leap year), which in itself is considered unlucky. According to a common saying: anno bisesto, anno funesto (leap year, deadly year).
Interestingly, Venerdì 13 (Friday the 13th) is not unlucky here in Italy. The only case in which the number 13 is considered unlucky is when there are thirteen people eating at the table, this being the number present when Jesus was betrayed during the Last Supper. Some people take this superstition very seriously, and I remember one Christmas many years ago when we discovered, whilst setting the table for dinner, that there were 13 of us! After a moment of panic my mother suggested that we separate the tables, and have the children eating at one table and the adults at the other. But my grandfather refused to do this, and invited himself round instead to eat with some relatives that lived in another village.