a favourite game in
ancient Italy, as the precisely similar morra
among Italians of the present day. Though not so common in Greece, it was
known to the Greeks, and Aristotle seems to speak of it as ἡ ἐπάλλαξις τῶν δακτύλων
2). The game was played by two persons, who simultaneously
held up their right hands, of which some fingers, or all or none, were
extended. At the same moment each calls out a number which he guesses to be
the sum of the fingers extended by himself and his opponent. If he is right,
he wins; or, according to one form of the game now played, he opens one
finger of the left hand for each correct guess, and the winner is he who
first guesses right five times and so opens all the fingers of the left
hand. We get a fairly clear description in Nonnus, 33.77: λαχνὸς ἔην μεθέτων ἑτερότροπα δάκτυλα χειρῶν:
καὶ τὰ μὲν ὸρθώσαντες ἀνέσχεθον ἄλλα δὲ
χειρὸς ἐπεσφήκωτο συνήορα σύζυργ
It was sometimes the custom to play holding each one end of a staff with the
left hand, as a security against that hand being used dishonestly, or in the
excitement of the game. (See woodcut below.) The modern Italians often play
with the left hand behind the back for the same reason.
Game of Morra, from a vase-painting. (Baumeister,
The cut shows two women playing the game as described, and Victory hovering
above them. As a proverbial expression for honesty, they spoke of a man with
whom it would be safe to play morra in the dark (quicum
in tenebris mices,
Cic. de Off. 3.1. 9
, 77; cf.
Petron. 44). It was used also instead of casting lots for a chance decision.
So in Calpurnius, Ecl.
2.20, it is decided which singer shall
begin by three turns of morra. Probably in such a case the nearest
guess won, since it was possible that no
correct guess might be made. Similarly in Cic.
de Off. 3.2. 3
, 90, we find micando
joined with sorte
also Cic. de Div. 2.4. 1
85); and Suetonius (Suet. Aug. 13
to the discredit of Octavianus, that after the battle of Philippi he made a
father and son decide in this way which should be spared. Modern Italians
use it to decide which shall pay the wine-bill. It was even used by
tradesmen to decide a bargain; a practice which was condemned by an edict of
the praefectus urbi, A.D. 372, “consuetudine micandi summota sub
exagio [i. e. by scales] potius pecora vendere quam digitis
concludentibus tradere” (C. I. L.
6.1770). It is
clear that this form of barter was not merely the habit which modern
Italians have of holding up so many fingers. when they bargain for anything,
and was at best gambling, at worst sheer dishonesty. (See also Varro, ap.
Non. 347, 30; Marquardt, Privatleben,