Tarantismo

9 03 2009

taranta

I found a real gem on YouTube on the southern Italian phenomenon of la taranta. (You can view it by clicking here since it cannot be embedded into the blog). Although its origins remain obscure, it is said to be a folk ailment that is a mixture of hysteria, seizures, and other medical symptoms of madness. It is called la taranta since it is allegedly caused by a bite of a wolf spider, though modern science continues to be baffled as to its origins. The cure, as you see in the video, is wild dancing like a spider and the invoking of St. Paul (the illness usually takes place around the end of June around the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul.)

The illness is not unique in southern Italy. In many places, saints were seen as sending diseases not to chastise people, but rather to remind people that they existed and that devotion to them needed to be maintained (sort of like a mafia boss shaking them down). Il male di San Donato was seen as an illness sent by Saint Donatus, according to Michael P. Carroll in Madonnas that Maim. Like la taranta, it was characterized by convulsions and seizures. It was cured by prayers to the same saint.