tar·​an·​tism | \ ˈter-ən-ˌti-zəm How to pronounce tarantism (audio) , ˈta-rən-ˌti-zəm \

Definition of tarantism

: 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 example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'tarantism.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of tarantism

circa 1656, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for tarantism

New Latin tarantismus, from Taranto, Italy

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The first known use of tarantism was circa 1656

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Cite this Entry

“Tarantism.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tarantism. Accessed 13 Aug. 2022.

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More Definitions for tarantism


tar·​an·​tism | \ ˈtar-ən-ˌtiz-əm How to pronounce tarantism (audio) \

Medical Definition of tarantism

: a dancing mania or malady of late medieval Europe popularly regarded as being caused by the bite of the European tarantula (Lycosa tarentula)

More from Merriam-Webster on tarantism

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about tarantism


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