From the late Latin Tirus, probably deriving from
the Greek Therion with the meaning of wild animal, beast, poisonous
The Tir - as recited by Pulci - having spotted the sorcerer/ he
ensured he would not listen to his words/ by putting one ear on the ground/
and corking the other with his tail. (Loosely based translation).
In Asia Major it was known as one palm snake from which it was produced Tiriaca
or Triaca, better known as Teriaca, Utriaca, Otriaca.
In the province around Enna (in Sicily) a cute green lizard is locally known
as Lacerta Virdis.
Teriaca, from the Greek Theriake, meaning antidote, is the primary
rescue remedy that in very ancient times was used to fight venom especially
the one injected by poisonous beasts. Giordano from Pisa must have been
terrorised by this kind of monster although he would praise the beneficial
effects of Traica: ‘The fine Utriaca, infallible towards all
poisons of snakes, is made by a revolting snake called Tiro that is
abundant in Holy Land and especially in Jericho. According to the legend
Mitriade King of Ponto invented this famous antidote called originally Mitridato
and was later perfected by Andromacus the Elder, doctor of Nero, who added
to the recipe of Mitriade the flesh of viper as he was convinced it
would have increased all virtues and strength. In time, the concoction
underwent several adaptations: from the philosopher Avicenna who died
in 1073 to Gio Battista Capello, pharmacist in Venice
in 1751, the antidote was used for some eighteen centuries throughout most
of the 1800s.
In Sant’Andrea nothing has ever been known of all these
potions, scariduli and murgiulati (diuretics and murky
mixtures) but the dread of the Tiru has remained: the invisible,
terrifying monster, who would suddenly appear and gobble up children before
disappearing into the darkest and deepest blackness.
‘ I am frightened by
these imaginary monsters’ - wrote D’Annunzio - that live in the dark and
are ghosts impossible to capture’. We also were afraid; petrified by the
continuous presence of the Tiru that would follow us everywhere
especially when we would stray away from the village.
creature modelled on classic tales was the deterrent, albeit not always
capable, to persuade us not to go too far from the inhabited centre,
especially to the countryside to pilfer tangerines, lattughi, favi,
ficazzani (lettuce, broad beans and figs) and whatever edible stuff we
could find according to the seasons. At the end of the 1950s, children
between the ages of six and twelve were in the hundreds, so many that was
necessary to have double shifts at primary school. We would spend afternoons
at the oratory between catechisms, football (soccer) pitch, recreation rooms
During school vacations and with catechistic activities temporarily
suspended, we would come together in small groups and wonder around with no
specific purpose ‘e matina a sira (from morning to night). That
year Ciccio (nickname for Francesco), with tears in his eyes, had
regretfully deserted us to go to work in the Marchesato with his
mother and sister to pick up sugar beet: although only twelve he was already
working hard to earn his crust.
In the summer we were mostly barefooted,
some for choice while some simply because did not possess shoes. At night,
the calcagni (heels) were so ‘ntajati (encrusted with filth)
that no homemade soap (‘e casa) or lissia (laundry water)
could be any use in revitalizing them. Because of the continuous attroppicara
(tripping up) and hitting our bare toes against stones in the streets,
our big toes were permanently scoppulati (peeled, pulped) and the
underneath always infected with puss. When the toe became yellow and abbuttatu
(swollen) with the substance, we would perciare (pierce) with a sciolessi
thorn (a very pointed thorn from a locally grown bush) or with some very
pointed aggeggiu (tool), we would press with our finger so to extract
‘a materia (puss) and then we would disinfect it by urinating on
the injured toe.
“If you cut yourself or get hurt, pisciatilu (piss
on it) so ‘on ti chumpa!” (it won’t get infected). This was the
suggestion given by our own mothers.
Some of us had so many patches and
colourful rinacci (mending stitches) that our carzi curti (shorts)
had lost their original feature and some other of us, almost always without
knickers, would wear shorts with a slit aru culu (on the backside)
ready to cacara (shit) without bothering undressing. After emptying
our tummy from the residues of our digestion we would clean our behind with
whatever was at hand: grass, leaves, stones, small branches; on the outside
loo of the houses sometimes you could find hanged on a nail few strips of
newspaper cut in rectangles.
Always in the outdoor, entertaining ourselves playing a Fole’, a
Carozza, aru Mastru, a Uno al Monte, ara Lepra, a Uassu Mastruazzu, a
Zurru-Zurru, a Ppa’-Ppa’, ara Sgrozza, ara Mmuccia, aru Ligniaddhu, aru
Strumbu, a Tagghjuali, ara Ndindula, ari Cciappi, ara Merca, a d’Animiaddhi,
a Landjuddhi, a Figuriaddhi, ari Carti, ara Murra, aru Palloni, aru Ruaddhu.
(All boys’ favourite games). The girls, always in separate groups,
would play instead aru Permessu, ari Vici, a Cummari.
In the evenings we would listen to the sombre tales do’
Papalutu, do Lupuminariu, do’ Zinnapotamu, da Magara, do’ Lupupampinu, do’ Turruviu
(all imaginary animals meant to scare children) with the intent of
discouraging us to wander too much during the day.
‘U Tiru was described as a terrifying, horrible animal that
popular superstition, would liken to a vicious beast similar to a huge sized
snake with enormous fire red eyes and pointed, sharp teeth capable of
crashing the hardest stones. The scary and dark tales the elders used to
tell about this terrible animal were frightening. They used to say that its
best trick was to suck a child from the ground from quite a distance within
its enormous jaws before swallowing him without hope of escaping.
Tiru do Ferraru (a local neighbourhood) had selected as its den an old
stone caseddha (rural country house) balanced on the trempa (precipice)
do’ Vaddhuniaddhu (another local district); it was a small rural
house with an arched low entrance, half buried in the ground and hidden
behind enormous puddhicari undergrowth (local wild bushes).
Occasionally a big stone would become detached from the main building and
would roll down a track below that went to Macca (a local area). Tiresa
‘e Laguni (a local woman) would say that if you found big stones in
the middle of the vijaulu (lane) it meant that the starving Tiru,
had leaned out to check if there were any children to eat and when he could
not stand hunger any longer he would roar alarmingly and would wonder
frantically around the house as if it were crazy producing an acute hissing
noise that would make “’ntanassara u sangu” (your blood curdle).
In the month of June, the pumiceddha (tiny apples that ripen in
June) were at the vaju (ideal) of their crunchiness and flavour and Palulu
(Paolo, Paul) da’ Surdiddha (nickname), who had a strip of land
close to the monster’s den with several trees carrichi (loaded) of
exquisite little apples made golden by the sun, when he spotted groups of
young lads wandering around the area he would hide and would produce
piercing, terrifying howls so to discourage them from bad thoughts as he was
convinced that sooner or later those rascals would end up in his property to
stuff their belly. Catharini (Caterina) ‘e Verza (nickname), who was ferruzzijandu
(pottering) in her catuaiu (warehouse) and had heard the
frightening shrieks, went out of the door in a haste and after having
mentioned an enculu (list, inventory) of saints and souls together
with merciful and beseeching prayers, said to the furracchijuni (scoundrels)
waiting like cane da gucceria (dog waiting for the
distraction of the butcher around the abattoirs) the disappearance of the
master in order to flee with stolen goods: ‘Jativinda (go away, get
lost), didn’t you hear the screaming of u Tiru? Do not venture in
that lane ca vi tira (will suck you up) and vi mangia (will
Of course, for that day no one dared crossing the security line,
but the appointment with the pumiceddha (little apple) was