tar·​an·​tism ˈter-ən-ˌti-zəm How to pronounce tarantism (audio)
: a dancing mania or malady of late medieval Europe

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Between the 15th and 17th centuries, Taranto, Italy, was hit by a dance craze unlike any other. The town was afflicted by a malady that would come to be known as tarantism and was characterized by a hysterical impulse to dance. Some people claimed tarantism was caused by the bite of the European wolf spider, which is also known as the tarantula (and is also named after Taranto); such folks declared that dancing off the venom was the only cure. Musicians supposedly traveled to the region to help cure the epidemic, and some believe that the Italian folk dance called the tarantella resulted from the craze (though it is also possible that the name of that dance derived independently from Taranto and has no connection with tarantism).

Examples of tarantism in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Tarantella, the name of an Italian folk dance, derives from tarantism, a form of hysteria marked by compulsive movement that swept the country’s southern region starting in the 15th century. Brian Schaefer, New York Times, 26 Apr. 2018

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'tarantism.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


New Latin tarantismus, from Taranto, Italy

First Known Use

circa 1656, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of tarantism was circa 1656


Dictionary Entries Near tarantism

Cite this Entry

“Tarantism.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tarantism. Accessed 25 Feb. 2024.

Medical Definition


tar·​an·​tism ˈtar-ən-ˌtiz-əm How to pronounce tarantism (audio)
: a dancing mania or malady of late medieval Europe popularly regarded as being caused by the bite of the European tarantula (Lycosa tarantula)

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