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MICA´RE DI´GITIS a favourite game in ancient Italy, as the precisely similar morra is 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 ἐπάλλαξις τῶν δακτύλων (de Insomn. 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 καρπῷ
χειρὸς ἐπεσφήκωτο συνήορα σύζυργ δεσμῷ.

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 (cp. also Cic. de Div. 2.4. 1, 85); and Suetonius (Suet. Aug. 13) mentions 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, 836; Becker-Göll, Gallus, 2.479; Charikles, 3.377.)


hide References (4 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (4):
    • Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 13
    • Cicero, De Divinatione, 2.4
    • Cicero, De Officiis, 3.1
    • Cicero, De Officiis, 3.2
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