In 1932, Universal studios released a prototypical horror film called The Mummy. It starred Boris Karloff and was magnificently eerie, much better than the slew of potboiler imitations that followed. It was a film loosely generated by popular buzz of the day surrounding the curse supposedly attached to the tomb of King Tuthankhamen ('Tut', for the tongue-tied), discovered (or desecrated, depending on whether you are an archaeologist or an ancient Egyptian) in 1922 by two Englishmen, Howard Carter and George E.S.M. Herbert, fifth Earl of Carnarvon. In the antechamber of the tomb they found a plain clay tablet on which were inscribed hieroglyphics reading, "Death will slay with his wings whoever disturbs the peace of the pharaoh." Within seven years, 22 persons involved with the discovery and excavation of the tomb had died untimely deaths.
In Naples, we may have material for another film. It is not uncommon for the superintendent of the archaeological site at Pompeii to come to work and find envelopes and small packages containing bits and pieces of antiquity, items from the ruins of Pompeii, pilfered and then sent back by sticky-fingered tourists haunted by remorse.
But are they haunted by
something else? Could be, because sometimes letters
accompany the booty. Some time ago, a package arrived
full of objects stolen from Pompeii. It was from
Valencia in Spain. The penitent thief claimed to have
had nothing but terrible luck ever since he swiped the
objects. He lost his job and was then plagued by family
problems; the sender was convinced that he was the
victim of a curse put on the objects two thousand years
ago by devious citizens of Pompeii who wanted to protect
their belongings down through the ages.
has had goods returned from as near as Castellammare and as far away
as Poland.* The senders' names and addresses are
usually bogus, but a number of them contain letters with
the same general message: "Bad luck ever since I took
the stuff. Please take it back. Release me from
the curse." The good superintendent, of course, refuses
to pronounce judgment on such things as ancient curses,
but if it gets his stuff back, who is he to tell you
what you should or shouldn't believe?
*[And, quite recently --this, in late 2020-- from Canada. "Nicole" from (bogus return address) has returned a few small souvenirs she klepto'd from Pompeii in 2005. "They're cursed," she says. She has had nothing but bad luck ever since, including cancer. Some day she hopes to return and apologize in person. Please release me from the curse.]
Personally, I think that the people who sell tissues, wash your windshields and hustle cigarettes at traffic lights in Naples are missing a golden opportunity. In a city where astrologers and soothsayers openly advertise, and where everyone in my family, including me, believes in the evil-eye, why not put curses on personal property? Cars, for example. It would be a symbolic way of saying, "Death will slay with his wings whoever touches my wheels." Maybe a brief incantation at the stoplight, then a quick exchange of a euro or two for an amulet, possibly in the image of Boris Karloff, with an adhesive backing so you can slap him up there on the dashboard right next to whatever other medallions you happen to have protecting you. Sort of a double-whammy.
Added bonus: if your
car is tampered with in the middle of the night,
ancient curses don't go off with that annoying
waah-waah-waah burglar-alarm siren that keeps you
awake all night. There's just this single, long,
blood-curdling scream. It might be a pleasant change.