Nicky the Fish

Last month, between churches, the painter Eric Sweet hankered to fix eyes upon a peculiar monument across from the Università degli Studi di Napoli Federico II: the bas-relief of a figure on Via Mezzocannone (a street which the poet Salvatore di Giacomo once called “the filthy intestine of Naples” – really saying something) variously described as the hunter Orion, a ‘wild man’ (in the vein of Enkidu), and/or a legendary amphibious scugnizzo named Colapesce (i.e., “(Ni)cola Pesce”, or “Fish Nick”). Nicky was a sort of mer-made (in the sense that his mother cursed him to become half-piscine) who came to the attention of Frederick II. The Holy Roman Emperor supposedly took him out by boat into the Bay of Naples, dropped a gold coin in the water and charged the boy with retrieving it. Colapesce dove down, found the coin, and brought it back to the king. Frederick then took off his golden crown and threw it into deeper water. Colapesce swam out, dove again, and again brought back the king’s treasure. Finally, Frederick hurled a golden chalice into the deepest waters.* Colapesce dove again, but never returned.

Well, not never. Not exactly. This is Naples we’re talking about. According to Eric, Colapesce became the religious focus of a divers guild that evolved into something like an aquatic mystery cult which also worshipped Poseidon and the siren Parthenope and cultivated a special alga that helped slow respiration for extremely deep dives. For all I know, it still exists.

Most of Italy’s manufacturing is in the north, but Naples is a factory for producing religious sects. Since his death in 2020 – just for one instance – images of Diego Maradona have become so pervasive throughout the city and its outskirts that I joked he might be worshipped as a local saint within five years, if he isn’t already in some quarters. The very next day we saw a large drawing of La mano de Dios with outstretched arms: ecstasy of the hat-trick, surely, but also the pose of that other sacred three-in-one. Beneath it was scrawled, “Santa Maradona”.

*NB: Maschio Angioino, the fortress Frederick II built in Naples shortly before he died, was – according to the Aragonese kings who later occupied it – supposed to house the Holy Grail. Just saying.

One Response to “Nicky the Fish”

  1. prudenceinhell Says:

    I did not know about sea bishop boy but have always been fascinated by stories of this kind.

    I’m surprised El Diego was not already worshipped before he passed!

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