Goliardia: fun facts and traditions

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The term Goliardia refers to Italian students associations promoting the pleasure of irony, pranks, togetherness and a bit of transgression. The etymology of Goliardia is uncertain, perhaps the term comes from gluttonous canto or it refers to the giant Goliath (meaning enemy of God). Originally the word referred to the priests and monks who during the Middle Ages abandoned religion for worldly ambitions. They usually came from University centres. Often penniless, to earn something they used their voices singing Latin songs. They also wrote poems, focusing on themes like the happiness of their exuberant life.

When the University of Bologna had to organize the celebration for its 800th anniversary in 1888, the poet Giosué Carducci, who taught Italian and Latin literature, suggested to organize a feast like that he had attended two years before in Germany for the 600th anniversary of the University of Heidelberg. The term Goliardia was brought back to life in that occasion. During the celebration the sentiment of brotherhood between European students was heart-felt. Students of Turin brought as a gift a giant bottle of Barbera wine on a chariot drawn by four oxen, with a student dressed as Bacchus astride. The students of Pavia brought a 70 kg cheese wheel with playful verses all over it. The Padua students brought an ox (the emblem of the University of Padova building is an ox).

The students affiliated to the Goliardia often gathered in a literary café (Café Florian in Venice or Café Pedrocchi in Padua) where many professors and students embraced the cause of the Risorgimento fighting for the unification of Italy.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century the tradition of freshmen and papyrus began. Older students made fun of the new University members, who had to offer them a drink or a coin. In return (to certify the payment) the older students gave them a parchment full of ironic phrases and obscene drawings. These parchments were the papiri (papyrus). Since they were really funny, people started to commission to the illustrators other papiri for graduating students in order to mock them. This tradition is still common in Padua and also Venice and Verona.

Songs

The two Goliardia official songs are

  • Gaudeamus Igitur (international anthem). You can see the video at www.youtube.com

Gaudeamus igitur
Iuvenes dum sumus.
Post iucundam iuventutem
Post molestam senectutem
Nos habebit humus.
(Let us rejoice, Therefore,
While we are young.
After a pleasant youth
After a troubling old age
The earth will have us).

  • Di canti di gioia (Italian anthem). You can see the video at www.youtube.com

February 8

  • The day of the new Tribuno election is February 8th, freshmen and goliardi feast. The goliardi burst into College classrooms and invite final year students to follow them to the University Palace to commemorate the 1848 insurrection. The date was chosen in memory of 8 February 1848, when the students attacked the Austrian soldiers to free some prisoners: 73 students and 4 teachers were expelled, others where killed in the courtyard of the University and in the Pedrocchi Café and the University was closed by the Austrian authorities. On a wall in the white room of the Pedrocchi Café there is still the hole of a bullet.

Specific traditions of the Goliardia in Padua

  • During the academic year inaugural speech in the lecture hall the students sing the Gaudeamus Igitur anthem and donate to the dean a Padovana chicken.
  • In Padua we call the chief of the Goliardia Tribuno (every Univesity uses a different name)
  • Until 1951 the Tribuno was chosen from among the 3rd year Medicine students who had a beard and had not yet taken the Anatomy exam. All the candidates held a competition in the Anatomy classrom. The goal was to reach the teaching post and sit on the chair. Since the competition was not very… ehm…fair, the dean decided to hold elections starting from 1952.
  • Once, when a professor passed away, the students paid homage raising his coffin three times and then carrying it.
  • The Tribune, chief of the goliardi, has red coat and red cap. Below him are two Vicetribunes, four Dukes, a Police Commissioner (Questore), a Sultan (with yellow robe and cap, is the head of the students born south of the Gothic Line, Florence-Rimini).
  • In the bar of the University Mario prepares two unique drinks, the Morandini and the Polyphonic (the recipe is a secret). The bar is full of photos and memories. The newly graduated students come here to take a phot with Mario.

Investiture

  • The Investiture is the ceremony in which a freshman enters the Goliardia and it is carried out by candle-light. The elders elect a pontiff by acclamation. The freshman has to kneel before the pontiff who cuts a lock of his hair and put some salt in his mouth pronouncing the phrase “Accipe salis sapientiae” (Receive the salt of wisdom). Then the pontiff pours some wine on his head saying “… et vinum veritatis …” (and the wine of the truth). Finally the pontiff puts on the freshman head the Goliardia hat and pronounce the investiture formula.

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