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In Bocca al Lupo! Posted by on Feb 14, 2020 in Culture, History

In bocca al lupo!

To us Americans, this seems like a silly way to wish someone good luck. ‘In the mouth of the wolf’? How has that evolved to mean ‘good luck’?

Similarly to how ‘break a leg’ has evolved to mean buona fortuna, good luck, in everyday conversations here- from the backstage of theater productions and the superstition that wishing someone good luck would actually bring bad luck. Break a leg on stage, of course, means that you wish just l’opposto, the opposite.

In Italy, where superstizioni, or superstitions, are even higher and more prevalent, in bocca al lupo means that you also wish to ward off the exact opposite. We see this in the risposta- crepi!” May it die! If you find yourself in the mouth of the wolf, you’re going to overcome it, and kill it. Despite the  situation, you will succeed.

This expression didn’t come from the backstage of a theater though, but between hunters in the open fields. Well, at least that’s what I have always been told. Comunque, c’è un’altra spiegazione. Una spiegazione più dolce.  However, there is another explanation. A sweeter explanation.

In Roman mythology, Romulus and Remus were twin brothers whose story leads to the founding of Rome. Romulus and Remus were born to Rhea Silvia, the daughter of a former king, and the father was the god Mars. The new king, King Amulius, feared both the twins threat to his rule and the wrath of the gods if he were to outwardly kill the twins and their mother. Instead, he imprisoned the mother and set a servant to abandon the children near the banks of the Tiber river. The twins survived in part by a she-wolf who then carried them in her mouth, away from the river, and suckled them in a cave until they were adopted by a shepherd.

Eventually, Romulus kills Remus over a dispute as to where Rome would be built. He built the city on Palatine Hill and ruled as it’s first king, naming the city after himself (Un po’ narcisista..!)

These fateful events could not have transpired if it hadn’t been for the original protection of the she-wolf. As such, some people believe ‘in bocca al lupo‘ references not the danger of the wolf, but the protection and kindness of the wolf towards Rome’s founders and first king. In this scenario, the correct response would not be ‘crepi’ but ‘grazie’ to the wolf who protects you against death and the evils of the world.

Despite whether or not you believe this myth to be true, the she-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus is a unanimous image of the city of Rome, and it was even featured in some of the earliest coins ever minted in the newly founded city.

Tocca a voi! Which version do you like better about the origins of ‘in bocca al lupo?’

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Comments:

  1. Lily:

    Grazie mille! Non possibile dimenticare questo frasi ormai :-). Preferisco il primo significato perche la vita ha molto sfide non simlicite.

  2. Yanir:

    As always- love your posts!
    Break a leg – might not necessarily mean a bad thing…
    One version I came across relates this famous saying to the structure of the old thratre curtains that had a wooden frame with two “legs” on the sides. When a play was successful and by the demand of the audience there were many curtain calls, pulling the curtain up and down many times would practically cause a leg to break… hence wishing “break a leg” before a show was wishing for a good thing, a VERY good thing…

  3. Vincent Nakovics:

    Never heard this, but will try it out on my next trip to Italy. Terrific cultural lesson. Grazie! La Bocca al Lupo!


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