I’m back in Florence studying Italian and my courses seems to be going better this time. I’m not confusing Italian and French anymore (at least during the first week). We rented a beautiful little apartment in a 15th century palazzo which has painted ceilings, huge windows, and terracotta floors. Florence is full of these wonderful old buildings and it’s such a pleasure to stay in one of them.
While I’m in Florence, I thought I’d take a break from writing about France and write about some of the curiosities of this city. Hope you enjoy the story of the Bronze Pig.
The bronze pig
Il Porcellino, as the Italians call him, means “the little pig”. However the bronze porker fountain sitting at the side of the New Market, or Mercato Nuovo, is really a wild boar, or a cinghiale in Italian. He supposedly brings good luck when visitors rub his snout and put a coin in his mouth. If the water washes the coin from the pig’s mouth and it falls into the grate below, you will have good luck and you will be sure to return to Florence. If not, try again. The coins are used to support an orphanage.
A copy of a copy of a copy
The first bronze boar fountain was made in 1634 and rubbing the snout for good luck was mentioned as far back as the 1700s. The bronze statue was a copy of a Roman marble statue which was a gift from the Pope to the Medici in the 1560s. And that statue was a copy of a Greek statue from antiquity. The one we see today is a 20th century copy installed when the 1634 bronze was moved into a museum because his nose was wearing thin. The current one will also probably need to be replaced soon because his snout too is already wearing through.
And the copying of the pig continues
Today there are copies of this little piggy to be found around the world. Here are some of the places you can find him: Australia, Denmark, Canada, Italy, France, Germany, Norway, Monaco, Spain, and Sweden. There are 4 in Great Britain, and 12 in the United States.
The legend of the bronze boar of the Mercato Nuovo
In 1895 Charles Godfrey Leland, an American author with a keen interest in folklore, went around Florence collecting legends from the people and in his book we find one about the bronze boar fountain. It goes something like this:
Be careful what you wish for
It seems that there was a couple who could not have children and the husband blamed his wife and made her life miserable. One day a herd of wild pigs passed by her house and she saw that there were many babies in their group. She lamented to herself that even pigs could have babies but she couldn’t. She said aloud that she wished she could have a baby like those pigs. There happened to be a fairy nearby who decided to grant her wish. The couple was so excited when they found out they were going to be parents but were in shock when the wife gave birth to a creature who looked more pig than human. But the couple was so delighted to have a son that they raised him as their own beloved pet/son.
Love can tame the beast
As the young pig/boy matured, his human traits developed. He spoke with eloquence and was quite clever. The time came when he decided he wanted to marry, but the local girls were afraid of him. However, one young and very poor girl recognised that he was intelligent and not just an ordinary pig so she took a chance and went the whole hog – she married him.
On their wedding night she was pleasantly surprised when he shed his boar skin and revealed himself as a handsome young man. The love of a good woman had changed him from a beast into a man. However, in the daytime, he would be changed back into a boar.
Shhh… it’s a secret
The man made his wife promise never to tell anyone. If she did, he would be forever trapped in the skin of a pig and she would be turned into a frog for not being able to control her tongue.
Well, she tried to keep her secret but the story was just too incredible and she told her mother who in turn told her friends and by nightfall everyone knew the pig/man’s secret. So the wife turned into a frog and her husband stayed forever a boar. The wife/frog lived in the pool where the boar went to drink every day and chat with her. A fountain in the form of a boar now stands in this spot as a memorial to this doomed couple. And as a lesson that one must learn to control one’s tongue.
Another pig story
In 1846, Hans Christian Anderson wrote a story inspired by this fountain called, The Bronze Hog. In it a poor young boy falls asleep on the back of the bronze boar and during the night, the boar comes to life and takes him through the streets of Florence. There is a plaque near the fountain commemorating the 200th anniversary of the birth of the author.
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