One of the mysteries of the English language finally explained.
A psychological illness characterized by an extreme impulse to dance, prevalent in southern Italy from the 15th to the 17th century, and widely believed at the time to be caused by the bite of a tarantula.
- ‘Although the popular belief that tarantism results from a spider bite persists, it remains scientifically unsubstantiated.’
- ‘From the 17th century to the 20th there was apparently great communal tarantism, in which whole towns would suddenly give themselves over to wild dancing, and the musicians had a profitable time.’
- ‘His study of tarantism, for instance, ignored traditional academic boundaries, making use of a team of scholars - a psychologist, a musicologist, a sociologist - with himself in the guiding position as historian-ethnologist.’
- ‘In many families naming tarantism was taboo, reflecting this ambiguity between condemnation and belief.’
- ‘A variation of tarantism spread throughout much of Europe between the thirteenth and seventeenth centuries, where it was known as the dancing mania or St. Vitus's dance, on account of participants often ending their processions in the vicinity of chapels and shrines dedicated to this saint.’
Mid 17th century: from Italian tarantismo, from the name of the seaport Taranto, after which the tarantula is also named. Compare with tarantella.
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