There is a famous Italian proverb and I am trying to discover its most authentic wording. It is as follows, according to a forum posting:

Quando finisce la partita, i pedoni, le torri, i cavalli, i vescovi, i due re e le due regine tutti vanno nello stesso scatolo.

(When the game is over, the pawns, rooks, knights, bishops, the two kings and two queens - all go in the same box.)

In English, the proverb I have heard is "At the end of the game, the king and the pawn are returned to the same box." which is somewhat different than the quote above.

Is there a particular wording that is known to be correct?

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    I've never heard it before and the version you quote have two mistakes: the last word needs to be scatola and not scatolo and the bishops in chess are called gli alfieri in Italian, not i vescovi (which is the literal translation of bishop as in the head of a bishopric). This does not fill me with confidence in your source.
    – Denis Nardin
    Apr 16, 2016 at 21:15
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    If your source is the following, I don't think it is a reliable one: cogweb.ucla.edu/Discourse/Proverbs/Italian.html
    – user519
    Apr 17, 2016 at 6:39
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    A third mistake: tutti vanno sounds unnatural, vanno tutti would be much more idiomatic. Apr 17, 2016 at 13:18
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    @Josh61 The first entry in that listing is definitely not an Italian proverb; a quote, but very politically inclined.
    – egreg
    Apr 18, 2016 at 8:24
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    In the Dizionario Italiano Olivetti, one finds the proverb "alla fin del gioco tanto va nel sacco il re quanto la pedina".
    – Charo
    Apr 22, 2016 at 11:20

1 Answer 1


I heard it a lot more in English than in Italian but it seems it's generally agreed that it is an old Italian proverb. It appears described as such in several books written in English, from various parts of the world (one example I found was an Indian journal). One of the oldest, "The Westminster Papers: A Monthly Journal of Chess, Whist, Games of Skill and Drama", Vol. 6, dates 1873-74 and writes "We shall all follow, cousin, that is certain, whether we be first rates, or lowly recipients of the Queen 'At the end of the game,' says the old Tuscan Chess proverb, 'the King and the Pawn both go into the bag.'"
Normally only king and pawn are mentioned as "Alla fine del gioco, re e pedone finiscono nella stessa scatola" (Once the game is over, the King and the pawn end in the same box)... once dead, rich and poor are in the same situation.
You might find tornano rather than finiscono and other small variation in wording but the meaning is always the same and the chess pieces are just the most and least valuable in the group, adding the rest just makes a mess of the meaning.
Easily enough, some variation in wording could be due to translation from the different dialects used in Italy. It seems to be a Tuscan proverb however.
As for the real origins it could be that the proverb wasn't even born in Italy, it might be that it's an Indian/Persian/Arabic proverb that simply followed the game in its history.

During an exchange in the comments, looking for references I came across a book called "Miscellanea sul giuoco degli scacchi". It appears to be a collection of texts about the game of chess by various authors. At the bottom of page 61 they show a sonnet by Francesco Bracciolini (1566 – 1645) dedicated to Lena Fornaia that reads "Un proverbio toscano dice: Alla fin del gioco tanto va nel sacco il Re quanto la pedina".

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    “it seems it[']s generally agreed”: do you have a source? I can only find several websites apparently copying each other; did you find something better?
    – DaG
    Apr 18, 2016 at 14:43
  • @DaG they think its an Italian proverb, where that belief comes from I cant say. Ngramming I find an "The Indian Journal of Social Work" dated 1989, pg 169, that mentions it and says its an Italian proverb. Another example 1982 "The Keys of Death" by George Sims "you know the old Italian proverb - that once the game of chess is over the king and the pawn go back in the same box? Well the game is over for me now and im going back in the box" Given date and source id say it cuts out much of those websites copying eachother. One book mentions that Spanish people use it if it matters... Apr 18, 2016 at 15:48
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    @ErikvanDoren Could you find an Italian source? I'm extremely skeptical of all these foreigners claiming to know these "exotic" proverbs...
    – Denis Nardin
    Apr 18, 2016 at 15:59
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    @ErikvanDoren Fair enough, but I was not worried about it being an invention of the internet. Victorian era newspapers propagated their fair share of urban legends, especially regarding such "far away places" like Italy, Spain or even France
    – Denis Nardin
    Apr 18, 2016 at 16:22
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    @DenisNardin Da "Miscellanea sul giuoco degli scacchi" a pag 61 in basso a destra (ed è pure un e-book scaricabile gratis da google books) "Un proverbio toscano dice: Alla fin del gioco tanto va nel sacco il Re quanto la pedina". Spero che sia abbastanza a sto punto. Apr 18, 2016 at 16:29

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