Saint Martin – A celebration of cuckolds

A celebration of cuckolds

Somehow, in Italy St. Martin’s Day ended up becoming also the festival of betrayed husbands; many jokingly wish their friends a “happy San Martin”. The origin of this custom is actually not clear. Perhaps because on this day cattle fairs took place in many locations, and cattle included mostly animals “equipped with horns.” Or possibly because in ancient times in November a dozen days of unbridled pagan festival, almost a Carnival, were celebrated, during which adulterous liaisons often occurred. 

During this pagan festival betrayed husbands were made the object of ridicule and a simulated hunting was organized, in which they had to play the role of deer, an animal with rich, branched horns. 

This tradition may also derive from an archaic Roman legend of the adulterous loves of Mars (of which the name Martin is a diminutive form), the war god, with Venus, goddess of love and beauty; the couple was surprised by the ugly, crippled Vulcan, the god of fire and husband to Venus. Vulcan locked up the adulterers in an iron cage to show them to the gods and obtain their sympathy for the wrongs he had suffered. 

But the Olympians laughed and mocked him, so Vulcan’s disappointment was even more bitter, and perhaps from this episode comes a colourful expression of the Italian language “cornuto e mazziato” (=horned, and beaten”), and the common insult of “cornuto” addressed to the hateful (male) figures, as referees in soccer matches. In Southern Italy it is a serious personal offence, and is often accompanied by the sign of the horns made with a hand. The Italian expression “portare le corna” or “essere cornuti”, indicates implicitly that the betrayed husband is often unaware, or the last to learn about the adultery, since the horns are seen by others but not by the one who has them on his head. A common saying is also “sbatterci le corna” (crush one’s horns against something) which means that only when one is hurt he realizes his mistake.


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