Wednesday, October 17, 2007


Lucky number

André Vingt-Trois is archbishop of Paris, one of twenty-three archbishops in France. He is also now one of twenty-three new cardinals named by the Pope.

Wonder if he'd have known the answer to this:

Q. Pagliacci is one of my favorite operas, and I plan to see it at the Met this season. One thing about it confuses me, though: Tonio bangs his drum and invites the villagers to the show “a ventitre ore.” He even repeats this a few times, and on high notes, so I know it’s important. Now, I know that translates as “23 hours.” I also know that 23 hours means 11 P.M. Wasn’t that a little late for a clown show to begin? Shouldn’t the kids have been in bed by then?

A. If that’s the most perplexing question you have about Italian opera, you’re in pretty good shape. A show might well start at 11 P.M. in Madrid, but in rural Calabria? Before electricity? As it turns out, many places in Italy marked time the old-fashioned way until clocks were standardized in the 20th century. And by “old-fashioned,” I mean biblically old-fashioned, as in starting the clock at sunset. “Ventitre ore,” therefore, meant an hour before sunset – a perfectly respectable time for the kids to come to the show and witness a double murder

In French, kings and popes are identified by cardinal not ordinal numbers. Thus Pope John XXIII (John the Twenty-Third) - is Jean Vingt-Trois.

These cardinal numbers are not of course used for archbishops (or even for cardinals!), but this doesn't stop the International Herald Tribune - and many others - referring to the Archbishop of Paris as André XXIII, implying 22 predecessors of the same name.

According to this website, the most likely source of the new cardinal's curious surname is an ancestor's order of arrival at an orphanage:
Enfin, au début du XXe siècle, l'Assistance publique recommandait d'identifier les enfants en fonction de leur ordre d'arrivée à l'orphelinat, ce chiffre devenant leur nom de famille. C'est cette dernière hypothèse qui prévaut pour Mgr Vingt-trois, l'actuel archevêque de Paris
Numeric French surnames appear to go up to twenty-four.

Earlier post on surname patterns.

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