суббота, декабря 25, 2010

St Vitus' dance

‘There were different names for it – the dancing mania, St. Vitus’ dance, St. John’s dance, or the dancing plague; it came to be associated with the saints because many believed it had been sent as a curse from them, and it often ended at one of their shrines. It was most wide spread in Europe between the 14th and 17th centuries, at a time when plague was killing a lot of people, and times were generally tough. Someone would just start dancing in the streets and others would become infected and join in. They would dance for days, weeks, even months. Sometimes people would drop down dead from heart attacks or exhaustion. Can you believe that? Groups of travelling musicians would travel the countryside playing music to try and cure the attacks, though sometimes they would just make it worse. This is historically documented fact, dad, it absolutely happened, and no one knows exactly why. Some people think it was stress, because life was so stressful, people would just become hysterical and dance until they dropped. Sometimes when a group of dancers would move through a village they would become violent if people from that village didn’t join in. That seems like a pretty big hint. Mass hysteria. Almost like a mob attacking Frankenstein. That’s why I don’t like to go to hockey games. I know it sounds silly, but when people get carried away scary things happen. And it says they would get particularly furious if they saw the color red. I don’t know why. But there’s more. In southern Europe, mostly Italy, something similar would happen if someone was bitten by a tarantula – it was called tarantism. It was also associated with a saint – Paul, and would often recur annually in those who had been bitten around his feast day. It would come back every year around the same time! Often someone didn’t even have to be bitten by a spider, it was enough just to suspect they had been bitten, or had touched a spider, or had touched someone who had been bitten at some point in time by a spider. They would start dancing wildly, apparently so that venom would spread through the body and dissipate. Groups of travelling musicians would also travel the country for the purpose of healing those who had been bitten and who needed to dance. After dancing for a long time, the infected ones would end in a chapel dedicated to saint Paul, screaming and dancing until they were released for another year. The dancers would even dress up and call themselves brides of saint Paul. They would get particularly angry at the sight of the colour black. In 1959 a scientist went to Italy to study the phenomenon and found that the spider that most claiming to suffer from the illness had been bitten by was actually a fairly scary looking venomless and so harmless type of tarantula. He suggested people were just using it as an excuse for acting a little wildly and letting loose in a region normally strictly controlled by the Church. Isn’t that crazy!? It sounds a lot like people just getting themselves really incredibly worked up!’

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