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SECT. 1--TARANTISM

It was of the utmost advantage to the St. Vitus's dancers that they made choice of a favourite patron saint; for, not to mention that people were inclined to compare them to the possessed with evil spirits described in the Bible, and thence to consider them as innocent victims to the power of Satan, the name of their great intercessor recommended them to general commiseration, and a magic boundary was thus set to every harsh feeling, which might otherwise have proved hostile to their safety. Other fanatics were not so fortunate, being often treated with the most relentless cruelty, whenever the notions of the middle ages either excused or commanded it as a religious duty. Thus, passing over the innumerable instances of the burning of witches, who were, after all, only labouring under a delusion, the Teutonic knights in Prussia not unfrequently condemned those maniacs to the stake who imagined themselves to be metamorphosed into wolves--an extraordinary species of insanity, which, having existed in Greece before our era, spread, in process of time over Europe, so that it was communicated not only to the Romaic, but also to the German and Sarmatian nations, and descended from the ancients as a legacy of affliction to posterity. In modern times Lycanthropy--such was the name given to this infatuation--has vanished from the earth, but it is nevertheless well worthy the consideration of the observer of human aberrations, and a history of it by some writer who is equally well acquainted with the middle ages as with antiquity is still a desideratum. We leave it for the present without further notice, and turn to a malady most extraordinary in all its phenomena, having a close connection with the St. Vitus's dance, and, by a comparison of facts which are altogether similar, affording us an instructive subject for contemplation. We allude to the disease called Tarantism, which made its first appearance in Apulia, and thence spread over the other provinces of Italy, where, during some centuries, it prevailed as a great epidemic. In the present times, it has vanished, or at least has lost altogether its original importance, like the St. Vitus's dance, lycanthropy, and witchcraft.


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