Have you ever wondered where the meaning of the term "atarantado" comes from, when it means "stunned, scared, confused"? ... Well, yes, it has to do with tarantulas, but to understand a little more I will tell you a strange story that occurred in the year of 1518 and that even to this day constitutes an unsolved mystery. At the end of this article, the reader will be able to understand the origin of the term and also unravel the mystery of the unique title of this writing.
It was July 14, 1518 in the French city of Strasbourg. Troffea, a woman in her 30s, was walking lost in thought down a narrow, cobbled street near the town square, when she suddenly began to contort in violent movements. Those who saw her testified that the aforementioned lady was in a kind of trance, executing a frenzied dance. At first they thought that it was possessed by spirits, because at that time it was a common explanation for many inexplicable behaviors; but she was soon diagnosed as one more case of the dreaded Tarantism or Dance Disease. Supposed disorder caused by the bite of a tarantula, whose main symptom is the irrepressible need to dance, sometimes until the death of the dancer.
Troffea kept dancing for hours, only to fall exhausted long enough to recover and continue dancing. It is said that he danced for four days in a row, at the end of which he had cramps and his legs ended up bleeding. The most curious thing of all is that after a few days there were already more than 30 people in the square of Strasbourg with the same symptoms, in a kind of phenomenon of mass hysteria and the worst of all was that the number would continue to grow rapidly in the following days, as we will see later.
Strasbourg was not the first case. Others had already appeared in Europe, it was a dreaded epidemic. In the 10th century a similar outbreak affected several villages along the Rhine River and in 1374 an outbreak of considerable magnitude affected the town of Aachen in Germany. Another massive dance in Germany is the apparent culprit of the fall of a bridge over the Meuse River in the 13th century, which collapsed under the weight of hundreds of dancers..
A region very affected by this "disease" was Apulia, in the southeast of Italy, where it seems that it became an endemic issue, which worsened year after year. The episodes in Italy were so alarming that many scholars of the time began to investigate them. In 1612, an Italian doctor named Epifanio Ferdinando carefully studied the case of a boy named Pietro Simone di Messapia, who had been bitten by a tarantula during the night. The boy could no longer get up from his bed and was sweating excessively alarmingly. He was suffocating and having seizures. Ferdinando says in his book that the only thing that revived him was music and finally with a well-prescribed treatment of melodies, the boy was able to recover in less than a week.
Music had become the undisputed treatment for Tarantism. That is, instead of preventing the sick from continuing to dance, they were encouraged to do so.
Now let's go back to our dancing in the square in Strasbourg.
The number of atarantado or atarantulados grew to the incredible number of 400 people, this, together with the curious and relatives of the sick, crowded the square. The Strasbourg case became one of the most serious cases of tarantism ever recorded, as many died of exhaustion, dehydration and heart attacks. Those who had a bit more luck ended up with injuries and fractures. It is said that the city authorities, alarmed by what was happening, called the most renowned doctors of the time. In the end, the doctors' unanimous recommendation was to hire a marching band and put together a dance floor where the dancers would do as little damage as possible.
Although the above sounds like something out of a movie, it happened in real life and is well documented in various literary works. To understand what happened we have to go back to that time, where medicine was incipient and the functioning of the human body was taboo. Many of the cures were related to the magical or the esoteric. The remedies were those suggested through popular culture, based on legends or fantastic conjectures.
The cure with music became so popular that a new type of musical composition was created, called tarantella and there were bands of musicians who were dedicated to playing tarantella from town to town with the aim of curing the sick.
In a work published in 1835 it is told:
It was common in the early seventeenth century for entire bands of musicians to travel through Italy, during the summer months, and… the cure for tarantism was undertaken on a grand scale. These sessions of music and dance were called \ ”the little carnival of women \” because the ladies saved money to reward the musicians who came to the villages, putting aside their household chores, to participate in these sick festivals . It is worth mentioning the case of a benevolent lady named Mita Lupa, who spent her entire fortune for this purpose.
Tarantella became so popular that this genre became part of Italian folklore and continues to be so to this day. The tarantella accelerates its rhythm \ "in crescendo\ ”, Making you have to dance faster and faster. For those music fans I have preferred to copy here some old scores found in an old work called El Tarantismo Observed in Spain, 1787, by El Cid Francisco Javier. QWho knows and some of the readers can relive the sound of this tarantula dance.
I will only tell one more case that is particularly curious.
A famous outbreak of Tarantism in 1237 particularly affected children. To "vary", some musicians came to their aid, with the peculiarity that the children danced and ran in such a way that they came to travel the 20 kilometers that separated the towns of Erfurt and Arnstadt (in central Germany). This event occurred at the same time as the legend of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. Many believe that the two stories are related and that the famous flute player was actually leading a multitude of children on their healing journey.
Outbreaks of tarantism suddenly disappeared in Europe, shrouded in the same mystery with which they arrived. The \ ”disease \” took different names through the centuries, such as Baile de San Vito or Baile de San Johns. Many speculate about the real causes, ranging from mushroom poisoning, social psychological phenomena such as mass hysteria, to its relationship with neurological disorders such as Huntington's disease. The truth is that their presence was impregnated to this day in the form of art, stories, music and traditions.