Originally written on August 17, 2018 – updated 2022
Have you heard of the unlucky nature of the number 13? Especially when it falls on a Friday, and this in some parts of the world. But in Italy is especially the number 17 avoided and feared. Even familiarly irrational things like skipping the number on airplane rows, hotel rooms or street addresses are common, on cases most eccentric. Friday the 17th is a national day of bad luck…but are you sure to find an Italian who can coherently explain their motivation for avoiding travel and important events or decisions this particular day? But why the number 17? There are different reasons.
-The Pythagorean Greeks considered the number 17 an unfortunate number between two otherwise “perfect” numbers, 16 and 18.
-For the most religious, the Christian biblical flood (Genesis 7-11) started on the 17th day of the second month.
-In 9 AD the 17th Roman Legion, among others, was brutally defeated by the Germans in Teutoburg, and Some 20,000 Roman soldiers died in this unexpected attack.
-Some believe that this belief started in Ancient Rome because the number 17 was viewed as the Roman numeral XVII, and in Middle Ages associated with the Latin phrase “VIXI” (=”I lived”) seen also on ancient tombs. “I lived”, which can be understood as “My life is over”.
-For some Italians, especially in the south, superstitions around the number 17 come from the fact that the numerals mimic a hanged man: the 1 represents the man, the 7 the gallows.
So why Friday? It’s said that Friday is considered unlucky because of italian “Venerdì Santo”, known as Good Friday, which in the Catholic faith was the day of the Jesus’s death.
Furthermore, the unluckiest day of all, would be if Friday the 17th fell in November because November the 2nd is memorial day to the deceased in Italy. This recurrence is called All Souls’ Day and directly follows All Saints’ Day on November 1st. In fact, in Italy, November is called “the month of the deceased”.
Not all the italians have a problem with the number 17 and its superstitions that vary across the country and although not everyone would, but it seems that the national Airline Alitalia doesn’t have a row 17 on some of its planes, just in case. They also don’t appear to have a row 13 either so we’re all safe, also the british and americans, that are worried of the number 13!
Similarly, when Renault brought its new R17 model to the Italian market in July 1971, it changed the name to R177 to respect the superstition….
So how do the poor italians ward off the bad omens?
People have a discreet number of lucky charms, the best known of which is probably the corno, cornet or cornetto amulet. Shaped like a little horn, or red pepper, the charm protects against the evil eye and is usually made from red coral, silver, gold, or in the major part…simply plastic.
Red charms are often worn by man and woman, cornets or ladybirds, and both are seen as bringing good luck, also in love. Red is also a very auspicious colour for Italians as it signifies protection from the supernatural. When the red colour fades, however, it seems that the charm is no longer effective.
So, if you are susceptible to superstitions, I hope that you protect yourself carefully today! Good luck everyone! 😉