9 03 2009


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.



2 responses

10 03 2009

In Dance History we were told the Tarantella (dance) was to dance as if one were bitten by a Tarantula – feverishly, perhaps demonically even – and with abandon.

I adore Bernini’s St. Theresa – such ecstacy is so sacred it’s almost human. Bernini’s skills, however, were far beyond mortal. He’s the genius.

Thanks for putting such varied and interesting things on your site. I’m most interested!

9 03 2009

For your consideration an excerpt from the CD album notes by Alessandra Belloni for “Tarantata–Dance of the Ancient Spider:” “…[the tarantella] is a wild, erotic trance dance of purification, performed mainly by women, to cure the mythical bite of the tarantula. The original name of the dance is ‘pizzica tarantata.’ Pizzica literally means “bite”–a reference to the “bite of love” that occurs when one’s subconscious mind is filled with repressed desires. This bite of love often begins during puberty and is caused by a repression of erotic desire or an experience of unrequited love, abuse or depression. A woman afflicted by the bite is called tarantata, she feels caught in a web, a web of societal repression.
In Greece, southern Italy, North Africa, and Spain, when this mythical “bite” or mental condition afflicted women, their only cure was to be found through music and dance. We can date the origins of the tarantella back to the ancient orgiastic Greek rites in honor of the God Dionysus. These rites were led by women who reached a state of euphoria, dancing to the rhythms of tambourines.
…In ancient times, southern Italy was part of Greece and was called Magna Graecia. Here, worship of the Mother Earth Goddess (Cybele/Demeter/Gaia) was predominant, and connected to a strong matriarchal society. There is a vestige of this tradition today in the worship of the Black Madonna…”
I don’t know about her theories but I enjoyed her music!

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