In 1976 the unforgettable Massimo Troisi and his mates Lello Arena and Enzo Decaro premiered their new acting company “La Smorfia” at San Carluccio’s theatre in Naples. The actor explained in an interview how this name came out: “It refers to a certain way, typically Neapolitan, to solve their own troubles: playing Lotto and hoping for a straight number… “Smorfia”, in fact, is nothing but the interpretation of dreams and various daily events that have to be translated into numbers to play Lotto”.
La Smorfia, also called Cabala, is a book used in the past to draw from dreams corresponding numbers to play lottery. According to the Jewish Kabbalistic tradition – the Qabbalah (Kabbalah in Hebrew) – every word, letter or sign in the Bible has a mysterious meaning, that’s why the Kabbalists created a kind of interpretive doctrine to reveal the hidden meanings behind the apparent reality. The origin of the term Smorfia, instead, it’s more uncertain, but the most accepted explanation is that it’s linked to the name of Morfeo, the god of dreams in the Greek mithology. Smorfia has spread to other cities in Italy, but it’s in Naples that had the greater success due to the strong tradition of lottery.
But let’s dive into history to learn more. The Neapolitan Tombola was born in 1734 out of a social battle between King Charles III of Bourbon and the Dominican Friar Gregorio Maria Rocco. The King was probably quite willing to make official the lottery in the Kingdom because it would have increased the public purse; by contrast, the Friar considered the lottery an amoral and misleading leisure for the faithful. And the winner was… no surprise, the King of course! On condition that during Christmas time the game would have been suspended to not distract people from prayers. Unwilling to give up on the game, Neapolitans turned a public game into a more intimate and familiar one: the 90 lotto’s numbers were enclosed into a wicker package and these numbers were drawn on folders.
The 90 numbers matched as many meanings, which change from region to region, but those of the Neapolitan tombola are the most allusive, smutty and sometimes raunchy: 4, ‘o puorco; 16, o’ culo; 47, ‘o muorto; 90, ‘a paura… Have you ever heard the Italian saying “la paura fa 90”?
To be continued…