Source: Hunting truffles with Norcia   Leave a comment

The following passage comes from the work of the folklorist Charles Leland (obit 1903). Leland was sometimes rather too ready to find ancient Etruscan gods in Tuscan and Romagnan sprites: still he does record here a charming nineteenth-century truffle-hunting rhyme.

There is a Tuscan rural sprite of whom I could learn little, save that she is disposed to be troublesome. One of her specialities is to distract and disturb dogs when hunting for truffles. It may be that she has more dignified work at other times. Her name is Norcia, or Nortia. Nortia was of yore a very great Etruscan goddess – a Fortuna, according to Muller. Her temple was known to Roman antiquaries by the calendar nails driven in it. An inscription in hexameters from Volscinium begins with ‘Nortia te veneror lare cretus Volsiniensi’. But I find no truffles in all this, only the reflection that the peasantry everywhere bring down great gods to small uses. True, we have two goddesses of the same name in the same country, and that is something. Since writing the foregoing, I learn that when a truffle-hunter has no fortune in discovering the precious tartiifi, he addresses his dog thus:

O cane, cane chi da me siei tanto amato,

La fortuna tu mi ai levato,

Non trovandomi piu i tartufi,

Dunque cane, o mio bel cane,

A folletta di Norcia va ti à raccomodare

Che i tartufi ti faccia ritrovare,

E cosi io lo potro tanto ringraziare,

Che la fortuna mi voglia ridare!

Oh dog, my dog, so dear to me;

We’re out of luck I plainly see!

No truffles hast thou found today,

So then to Norcia go and pray;

For if her favour we implore,

She’ll grant us trufdes in such store.

Fortune will smile for evermore.

By an extraordinary coincidence truffles are also called nails, as their heads are round and small. And Norcia was identified with nails. ‘And, after all, it is altogether possible—or even probable—that this Norcia of the Truffles has nothing whatever to do with Nortia, but takes her name from the town of Norcia, or Norchia, famous for its pigs and its truffles.’ So a very learned friend suggests. However, all the principal Etruscan gods gave names to towns. Of which I find in Dennis’s Etruria that ‘Orioli suggests that the town of ‘Norchia’ may be identical with Nyrtia, mentioned by the ancient scholiast on Juvenal (x. 74) as a town, the birthplace of Sejanus, giving its name to, or deriving it from, the goddess Nortia, or Fortuna.’ As I said, this goddess was identified with nails, because in her temple at Vulsinii every year the priest drove a nail into the door, to serve as a kind of register. It may seem ridiculous to connect this with the slang name for mushrooms and truffles; but such similes are common among the people, and they never perish. It may be remarked here that Saint Antony is invoked when seeking truffles by peasants of a Roman Catholic turn of mind. But Norcia, as a goddess of the earth, may be supposed to know better where they are to be found; for she was unquestionably of the under-world, and a form of Persephone. Norcia is still very generally known in La Romagna, as peasants certified. Of one thing there can be no doubt – her specialty is to make ‘midnight mushrooms’.



Posted December 19, 2010 by zachmon in Uncategorized

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