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See Naples and Die

Many people have heard of this phrase but its origins are obscure. I used to believe that it used to refer to syphylis, for which "Naples" was the common name. Here are ten references from the internet to "See Naples and die" in approximately chronological order. It is likely that the films and books in the earlier references have adopted the phrase, rather than being its origin. I think that Vergil (No. 10) has to be the oldest and therefore probably the original and best source, but the syphylis connection is there (No. 9).

1. See Naples and then Die! Oscar de Masi 1956-
2. Vedi Napoli e poi muori (See Naples and Die). The title of a movie (1950) starring Renato Baldini.
A woman struggles to protect her marriage from blackmailers who know of damaging letters she sent to an old flame.

3. See Naples and Die: A World War II Memoir of a United States Army Ski Trooper in the Mountains of Italy by Robert B. Ellis.

4. Another movie: Vedi Napoli e poi muori (See Naples and Die). (1924, 54 min.) Dir. Eugenio Perego, starring Leda Gys.
In this classic tragicomedy, Pupatella, a fisherman's daughter from the Santa Lucia quarter of Naples, is cast in the lead in an American film shot in that city. Having fallen in love with the director she follows him to America, but a misunderstanding leads to their separation. Leda Gys's spirited performance is reminiscent of the work of Clara Bow, alternately hilarious and moving. Viewers are advised to bring a plentiful supply of handkerchiefs.

5. Where did the phrase come from? Everyone seems to know it, but nobody knows its origin. It means that before you die you must experience the beauty and magnificence of Naples.
A few websites state that it was Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe of Faust fame who coined the phrase! In 1786-88 he made a journey to Italy, which inspired his play IPHIGENIE AUF TAURIS, and RÖMISHE ELEGIEN, sensuous poems relating partly to Christiane Vulpius, who became Goethe's mistress in 1789.
The phrase can be found in Italian Journey {1786-1788} (Penguin Classics)

6. It has been this way ever since the Roman emperors escaped overheated Rome by building pleasure palaces around the Bay of Naples -- and, in the process, inventing the very idea of the vacation. Back then, some Roman travel agent urged his countrymen to "See Naples and Die." Ever since, up to today, this pithy phrase has been interpreted in contrasting, equally viable ways. Lovers of Naples, asking what there is on earth that you can't find here, get the slogan's true meaning. The hard-liners, noting the murderous traffic, Mafia doings, ever-present threat of Vesuvius erupting, and the region's earthquakey history, say, "See Naples and die." As it turns out, the saying originally advised travelers to visit the city on the bay, then check out the nearby town of Mori (Latin for "to die").

7. The old saying "See Naples, then die" means only this: once you've known Naples, (you) can say having known life. There is also a double play on words: muori = to die and Muori = the name of a local town.

8. This refers to the well-known Dutch expression:
"Napels zien en dan sterven" ("to see Naples, then to die")

9. 1495. A syphilis epidemic spreads outward from Naples to all of Europe. "Naples" became a common euphanism for this dreaded disease.

10. Now we are getting nearer to the origin !
Virgil, referring to the natural beauty of Naples said 2,000 years ago, "See Naples and die." A visit of Naples today will show you what Virgil meant!