Tradition has brought to our knowledge many ancient legends. One of these is that of Colapesce. He was a mythological creature half man and half fish. Italian Traditions leads you to the discovery of this incredible story and presents the main versions that have reached the present day. We will also talk about references to this story present on the national territory. This story was also remebered by Italo Calvino, one of the most important and well-known among Italian writers. This story is contained in the book Italian fairy tales.
The first news dates back to the twelfth century. The French Provencal poet Raimon Jordan sang the adventures of a Nichola de bar who lived like a fish. The other testimonies are all of a religious nature. The first is that of Walter Map, an English canon who reports of a certain Nicolaus nicknamed Pipe who lived in the sea, without breathing. His life was spent on the seabed in search of precious objects. One day the king of Sicily William II wanted to meet him. But when he was lured out of the water he died in the arms of the guards.
But that’s not all, in fact in the following centuries two other religious figures refer to this legendary character who lived in the sea. According to the story of Gervasio di Tilbury he was a skilled sailor of Apulian origin. One day Ruggero II the king of Sicily forced him to explore the abysses. Here the young man discovered a marine world. Salimbene de Adam from Parma narrates the legend of the king of Sicily, Frederick II of Svevia, who ordered Nicola to recover a golden cup in the depths of the abyss. Here the young man disappeared and was never seen again.
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The Sicilian legend
The best known version of the legend of Colapesce is that of Palermo. It tells of a certain Nicola di Messina son of a fisherman. Because of his swimming ability he was called Colapesce. His fame reached the king of Sicily Federico II of Svevia who decided to throw a cup into the sea and challenged the boy to recover it. The young man succeeded in the feat. But the last time he did not re-emerge. According to the most widespread version, he decided to remain underwater to support the three columns holding up Sicily.
The Neapolitan legend
Conversely, in the Neapolitan cultural tradition, Nicola Pesce is a boy who is continually cursed by his mother for his frequent dives. The young boy eventually becomes a fish. The story is also presented in the long story written by Raffaele La Capria and published by Mondadori in 1974. Also Benedetto Croce talks about it in his writing Neapolitan stories and legends and attributes to it a late pagan origin linked to the cult of the god Neptune.
Present day references
Today it is possible to find references to this ancient legend in the fountain of the 99 candles located in Aquila. This is characterized by the presence of 99 masks, one of which has a fish head. This is a probable reference to the ancient legend. Today it is still an important cultural reference to the local tradition.
After all, Italy is a country where many ancient legends have been handed down through time that have also been remembered by the most important Italian writers. The legend of Colapesce is fully part of the local tradition and shows its wealth. If you want to deepen your knowledge on Italo Calvino we suggest you read this article too.