Tarantism

tarantella two by octonomoes

Tarantism [tar-uhn-tiz-uhm] is an alleged, possibly deadly syndrome, popularly believed to result from the bite of a kind of a tarantula. It was originally described in the eleventh century and was supposedly 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, and a particular kind of dance, called the tarantella, evolved from this therapy.

Arachnologist John Compton proposed that ancient Bacchanalian rites that had been suppressed by the Roman Senate in 186 BCE went underground, reappearing under the guise of emergency therapy for bite victims. The phenomenon of tarantism is consistent with mass psychogenic illness (the rapid spread of illness symptoms affecting members of a cohesive group, originating from a nervous system disturbance involving excitation, loss or alteration of function, whereby physical complaints that are exhibited unconsciously have no corresponding organic etiology). Although the popular belief persists that tarantism results from a spider bite, it remains scientifically unsubstantiated. The actual cause or causes of tarantism remain unknown.

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