Friday the 17th – Origins of the Unlucky

spilled-wineYou might have heard of the unlucky nature of the number 13, especially when it falls on a Friday in some parts of the world, but in Italy the number 13 is actually a good one!  Except in one very particular situation:  13 people sitting at a table…take a look at DaVinci’s Last Supper and you may understand why…lastsupp

In Italy the number 17 is avoided and feared, even to familiarly irrational lengths like skipping the number on airplane rows or street addresses.  Friday the 17th is a national day of sfortuna, or bad luck…and you’ll be hard-pressed 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 a handful of potential reasons:

  • The Pythagorean Greeks considered the number 17 a disgraceful number between two otherwise “perfect” numbers, 16 and 18.
  • The Christian biblical flood (Genesis 7-11) started on the 17th day.
  • In 9 AD the 17th Roman Legion, among others, was brutally defeated by the Germans in Teutoburg.  Some 20,000 Roman soldiers died in this unexpected attack.
  • Confusion in the Middle Ages led to the Roman Numeral for 17, XVII, being associated with the Latin phrase “VIXI” (=”I lived”) seen on ancient tombs.

So why is Friday the 17th especially bad?
Likely because of Friday’s already tainted reputation due to Good Friday, which in the Catholic faith is the day that Jesus was crucified.

So on this Friday the 17th, if you find yourself superstitious, I suggest you grab a bottle of Italian wine and relax safely somewhere inside.  After all, wine helps calm the nerves!

Aubrie Talarico



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