In my research for the last post, I came across a curiosity that made me laugh. The ovi odoriferi, or scented eggs, a curiosity of the Carnival of Venice. So I decided to write a post about them because it felt so familiar…I was quite a terrible child and one of my amusements was throwing rotten eggs out the window at random people passing by on the street below. Yes, I was a bad kid.
For my great surprise, I’ve learned that it was Marco Polo who introduced the Chinese custom of offering scented eggs in Italy, in the early 14th century, where it was named ovi odoriferi! (Which is controversial since Marco Polo’s travels are a subject of interminable discussion and many scholars say he has never been to China and all those faraway kingdoms and empires…) but this is another story, let’s go back to our
The Chinese filled the eggs with perfumed powder to avoid leaking, runny eggs.
However, in Italy, the young Venetian gentlemen would take the amusing game to the next level. They filled decorated empty eggshells with rosewater, perfume, cologne or any other sweet-scented substance. And, as a token of love, they would throw these eggs in front of the houses of the girls they liked most.
Time passed and they started to throw the eggs at the ladies, instead!
I imagine a number of tragic stories of pretty girls screaming in terror, attacked by flying eggs getting straight into their eyes!
But in Medieval Venice, it was quite a craze! The ovi became really popular as a means of flirting, and soon one could find them everywhere, there were even stores specialized in these eggs. It was like sending an emoji if you were a shy boy. You could just wear a mask to hide your figure and find the girl you were interested, hoping she wasn’t wearing a mask, too.
But then things began to degenerate. Some ludicrous young men started to throw these eggs from balconies using slingshots. The victims were random now. Not that girl, but a married woman. Her husband. A dog. Anything that could move. And they would fill the eggs with unknown substances, too. Hehehehe…
They were spreading fear through the alleys, they became known by the name of “egg throwing masks” and they were also known as Mattaccino or Frombolatore (from frombola, meaning sling). They were one step away from full-blown delinquency.
Mental post-it: The Mattasin (Mattaccino in Italian – also called “frombolatore”, due to the sling they would carry around) is among the most misbehaving impersonations of the Venitian Carnival (as we already know at this point). The title stems from the Italian term mattinate (mornings), referring to those who would have fun from dawn to dusk. The mattaccini (plural for mattaccino) wore practical and simple garments in neutral colors like beige and white and a feathered hat. They were euphemistically described as fun, loving, irreverent. They hunted people in packs, like Alex’s Droogs in Anthony Burgess’ novel and homonymous movie A Clockwork Orange. Their slings prepared to project eggs in space. Unsurprisingly, they were disapproved by most.