Is This a Joke?

Three early Fellini movies (Le Notti di Cabiria, La Strada, and I Vitelloni) list one of the workers as ‘Narciso Vicario’. This must be a pseudonym. According to IMDB, he is also named Vicario Narciso, Narciso Vicari, and Narcisio Vicario, and the variability of the name increases my suspicions. Of course, the most interesting point is to speculate on what exactly a ‘vicarious Narcissus’ would be: someone who falls in love with other people? Would that make it a fancy equivalent of Everyman? Or is some kind of metatheatrical joke involved?

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One Response to Is This a Joke?

  1. Alferd M. Kriman says:

    I think it’s a faux ami. In the Italian dictionaries that I checked (incl. the Devoto-Oli), vicario only has meanings like `vicar, substitute’ as a noun, and `serving in the role of, performing the duties of’ as an adjective. It is true that Italian-English dictionaries typically give `vicarious’ as a translation, but this appears to me to be a careless error (see below), or else the I-E dictionaries know something the I dictionaries don’t know about their own language.

    I notice that the OED (1989) gives `[t]hat takes or supplies the place of another thing or person; substituted instead of the proper thing or person’ as the first meaning of vicarious, without tagging it as rare or obs. I don’t think I know any fluent speaker of English who would use it in that sense today, and thinking otherwise may be the error in the I-E dicts.

    An IMDB name search on "Vicario" yields 24 hits, about half and half Spanish and Italian, plus the odd Portuguese.

    The variant Vicari yields a comparable number, mostly in Italian or American movies. The prevalence of both -i and -io forms easily explains one of the name variants. The variant with the reversal of the name order just reflects the fact (I think it used to be a fact) that formally, names are given surname first in Italy.

    (The almost equivalent English surname Vickers yields 91 hits. Considering the much larger number of English-surnamed actors in the industry and in this database, I would guess that Vicario is a more common name in Italy than Vickers is in the Anglophone.)

    In addition to the Fellini movies, Narcisio Vicario is listed as a writer on a 1959 movie by Giuseppe Vari.

    But there might be a metatheatrical joke involved after all, in
    Fellini’s 1986 Ginger e Fred. Here Vicario (credited as Narcisio Vicario) plays a television president. Many other people (crew and cast, including the fourth-listed role) are credited sloppily, with slight, reasonable deformations of their usual names, so I attach no significance to this misspelling.

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