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Tarantism is, allegedly, a deadly envenomation resulting from the bite of a kind of wolf spider called a "tarantula" (Lycosa tarentula). (These spiders are different from the broad class of spiders called "bird eating spiders" or "Tarantulas".) The condition was common in southern Italy during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. There were strong suggestions that there is no organic cause for the heightened excitability and restlessness that gripped the victims. The stated belief of the time was that victims needed to engage in frenzied dancing to prevent death from tarantism. Supposedly a particular kind of dance, called the Tarantella, evolved from this therapy. Many people have suggested that the whole business was a deceit to evade religious proscriptions against dancing.
The cultural history of tarantism and the tarantella dance is discussed in John Compton's introduction to the world of spiders called The Life of the Spider, pages 56-57. He suggests that ancient Bacchanalian rites that had been suppressed by the government went underground under the guise of emergency therapy for bite victims.
Modern research has shown the envenomations to potentially be a result of the bite of the Latrodectus tredecimguttatus.
The word 'tarantism' was used to name the second movement of the song Cassandra Gemini by The Mars Volta from their second studio album "Frances the Mute".
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