Cornicello

 

The cornicello (the Italianization of the dialect word from Napoli for ‘little horn’) is a subtle but very frequent presence in the Italian popular culture. This is a good luck charm in the form of a single horn, which can take on any size and material but most often comes as a small coral pendant with a silver “crown”.

The origin of the cornicello can be traced down to the Neolithic age, when real horns would be kept around as phallic symbols of fertility. The similitudes with an erect penis are still rather obvious, especially in the more stylized forms the charm has taken in the last few centuries. In fact, very frequently the horn doesn’t even look like a horn at all – becoming a red chili pepper which furthers the sexual implications due to its supposed aphrodisiac properties. The belief in the mystical powers of “the horn” is especially rooted in the insular culture of the southern part of the country, and with the city of Napoli in particular. Whenever an actual cornicello isn’t available, superstitious people customarily make a “horny hand” gesture extending their index and little fingers – which can be confusing for non-locals, as the same gesture is used insultingly to indicate a man who was cuckolded by his partner.