Tarantism  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Tarantism is an alleged, possibly deadly envenomation, popularly believed to result from the bite of a kind of wolf spider called a "tarantula" (Lycosa tarentula). (These spiders are different from the broad class of spiders called "Tarantulas".) The condition was common in southern Italy during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. There were strong suggestions that there is no organic cause for the heightened excitability and restlessness that gripped the victims. The stated belief of the time was that victims needed to engage in frenzied dancing to prevent death from tarantism. Supposedly a particular kind of dance, called the Tarantella, evolved from this therapy.

Many people have suggested that the whole business was a deceit to evade religious proscriptions against dancing. The cultural history of tarantism and the tarantella dance is discussed in John Compton's introduction to the world of spiders called The Life of the Spider, pages 56-57 . He suggests that ancient Bacchanalian rites that had been suppressed by the government went underground under the guise of emergency therapy for bite victims.

The phenomenon of tarantism is consistent with mass psychogenic illness

Although the popular belief that tarantism results from a spider bite persists, it remains scientifically unsubstantiated. Donaldson, Cavanagh, and Rankin (1997) conclude that the actual cause or causes of tarantism remain unknown.

Many historical and cultural references are associated with this disease and the ensuing "cure" - the Tarantella. It is, for example, a key image in Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House.

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Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Tarantism" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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