Tarantism

collapse from sheer exhaustion. Municipalities sometimes hired musicians to play in shifts for 3—4 days at a time as victims danced themselves into frenzies, seeking relief from their affliction. Not uncommonly this led to mass hysteria among local residents and shameless exhibitionism on the part of some individuals. Some have linked this choreomania to Saint Vitus' dance, a nervous disease with involuntary jerking motions.

The bite of the European wolf spider L. tarentula} commonly called the "tarantula," traditionally has been blamed as the cause of tarantism. The reason for this connection is uncertain; in fact, this species seldom comes into contact with people. Its bite causes only mild pain and slight swelling at the bite site and causes none of the neurological effects characteristic of tarantism victims. Convincing evidence suggests that the spider involved was actually a Latrodectus species, Even as late as the 1950s, spiders of this genus were called "tarantola" in southern Italy, and cases involving their bites were noted in medical records as a "tarantola bite" or "tarantolism." Today tarantism is regarded as largely a psychosomatic response to real or imagined spider bites, rooted in legend, ignorance, or superstition linked to cases of latrodec-tism. For more details on the history and nature of tarantism, see Maretic and Lebez (1979),

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