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Acerra and Pulcinella

Acerra and Pulcinella
Acerra, not far from Naples, is one of the most ancient cities of the region Campania, probably founded by the Osci with the name of Akeru (Akerrai in ancient Greek and Acerrae in Latin)
It was the first Roman city that was granted the status of civitas sine suffragio (332 BCE).
Acerra was destroyed by Hannibal in 216 BCE, but was restored in 210 BCE.
The Baronial Castle, the noble building belonged to the Earls of Acerra, was built on the ancient roman theatre.
In Acerra there is a Cathedral dedicated to Virgin Mary and there is a catholic bishop since 12th century
According to a legend Pulcinella was born in Acerra in XVI century.

But who is Pulcinella?
Pulcinella is one of the most intriguing masquers of the European culture.
Great reputation he enjoys as personage of the Commedia dell'Arte, in which he has the part of the comic servant.
Around 1600 Pulcinella appeared for the first time on the stage of a regular company of comedians, but before that time he was already sean among the buffoons at he squares. Itinerant Italian troupes of comedians have spread the Commedia dell'Arte over many European countries. As a puppet Pulcinella is yet more important. He became the favourite of the public, above other personages of the Commedia dell'Arte that had found a place in the puppet theatre. Just like the comedians Italian puppeteers strolled about Europe. In the foreign countries the audiences also highly valued Pulcinella. He acclimatized and adapted a number of traits from already existing autochthonous farcical figures.
Ultimately out of Pulcinella have developed 'descendants' in 14 European countries.
Under them well-known characters like the French Polichinelle, the Dan Jaan Klaassen, the English Punch and a lesser-known character like the Rumanian Vasilache. The repertory of the booth of Pulcinella's 'descendants' corresponds in broad outlines with that of Pulcinella: the protagonist fights with the beast (monstrous dog or crocodile), he has to combat the Death, he is confronted with the hangman and the gallows.
In Fosses-la-Ville in the Belgian Ardennes Pulcinella has a relative in the carnival. He has two bumps and is called Chinel. So Pulcinella has influenced the European culture deeply.

But who is Pulcinella?
According to a legend he is originated from a man who has really existed.
He was born just in Acerra, a village of wine-farmers in XVI century.
With his long nose and sunburned face he had a grotesque appearance, but he was witty and astute. His comical talents were observed by comedians, who took him to Naples and admitted him to their company.
Pulcinella became the masquer of 'the Napolitan', that means: a man who wishes to enjoy life, who wants to fill his hungry stomach with pasta and wine, who wants to make music, to dance and to love.
But Pulcinella is more than that, he has a number of very strange traits, of which you wonder what they may signify. His mask has a nose in the shape of a beak and beady eyes like a bird. In the booth Pulcinella's voice resembles the squeaking of a cockerel, for that purpose the puppeteer uses the pivetta (squeaker).
The name Pulcinella means cockerel. There are pictures that represent the birth of Pulcinella out of an egg. When the Pulcinelli hatch they are identical to their father: with the black half-mask and the white vest, trousers and conical cap, sometimes they even have his hunchback.
Pulcinella has as well human as gallinaceous aspects. Besides he has a masculine and a feminine aspect. And he often appears in multiple. A 18th-century picture shows a room full of Pulcinelli. One of them - wearing trousers and with the bald head of an old man - brings forth children out of his boss; at another picture Pulcinella bears children out of his posterior. It is clear that Pulcinella is an hermaphrodite. Sometimes Pulcinella unites the hermaphrodite and the gallinaceous, like in the puppet-show 'the egg'. It belongs only to the repertory of the booth of Pulcinella and not to that of his descendants. In this piece Pulcinella makes love with a chicken, then he kills her whereupon he grills her. He quits the stage to get knife and fork. Meanwhile the devil appears. He enunciates a conjuration: if Pulcinella eats the chicken, something will happen to him that never yet has happened to a man on earth. Pulcinella turns up again and guzzles the chicken. His belly swells. He is seized with cramps. He calls a doctor, who diagnoses that Pulcinella is pregnant. A midwife helps Pulcinella with the delivery. He delivers a large egg! He hatches it and there appear, one after the other, five Pulcinellini, all identical to the papa/mamma. The egg is the symbol of rebirth. The killing of the chicken leads to the pregnancy of Pulcinella and to the birth of Pulcinellini, so the idea is: out of the death new life will be born. This idea you also find in carnivals rituals.
In Campania it is always to Pulcinella or a group of Pulcinelli to play the leading part in the carnival rituals. There are several: 'la Tarantella di Montemarano', 'la Canzone di Zeza', 'la Vecchia del Carnevale'. In Naples there is a new ritual, called 'Pulcinella alla gogna' (P. in the pillory). Pulcinella is accused for the evil that has struck the town in the past year. He is indicated as the scape-goat and is locked up in a cage in which he has to pass the night in absolute silence. This is to redeem the community of evil.
To Pulcinella are attributed magical powers. In Naples are sold little Pulcinella-statues from painted terra cotta. They serve as bringers of good luck. In Christmas-time they are placed in the stable, between the shepherds and the Magi.
At discussions about the nature of Pulcinella is often brought to the fore that he resembles Christ - because he is a scape-goat and redeemer - but that he has a diabolic side as well. Pulcinella is also compared with certain gods from the Hellenistic antiquity, especially with the Greek God Hermes, because Pulcinella is, like Hermes, a companion of souls, and because he is the union of oppositions: life and death, masculine and feminine, old and young, wisdom and foolishness, etc.. Pulcinella is even called 'the modern prosecution of Hermes'.
So Pulcinella is a masquer full of signification.
He and his descendants are tricksters who tell us much about ourselves.

Visit the official web site of Museo di Pulcinella del Folklore e della civiltà contadina ad Acerra

www.pulcinellamuseo.it

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