The origins of the tarantula


The book “Gioconda miseria – il Tarantismo a Taranto XVI-XX secolo” by Antonio Basile, professor of Cultural Anthropology at the Academy of Fine Arts in Lecce, published by Progedit, takes us on a journey through time and geography in that area of Puglia that it called Great Salento which includes the areas of Brindisi, Taranto and Lecce.

Ariadne’s thread, tarantism, a phenomenon that over time has attracted the interest of many scholars but also to a wide audience fascinated by dance of tarantolati, ie those who were bitten or pinched by the tarantula, extraordinary creature on which flourished thousands of legends and beliefs, so much so that in the definition of what is actually often not found agreement. In the past, both in the various treaties in which the phenomenon was studied among which the most significant is “La terra del rimorso” written in 1961 by the ethnologist Ernesto de Martino, who in popular definitions, the tarantula has been recognized as a kind of big spider but also defined insect or worm. But it is not so much on the animal, but about what causes that focuses the author’s attention: that state of severe malaise that affects mostly women who go to work in the fields and that is alleviated only through a sustained and complex ritual choral-music at the end of which the victim is free, though often only temporarily, of the sad state that the bite or pinch the tarantula causes.

This ritual traces remain, now declined especially in tourist-spectacular way, in Galatina and in Melpignano in Lecce territory. In the first it is said that the city stopped the apostles Peter and Paul, during their journey of evangelization, and that St. Paul, appreciative of the warm hospitality received by a pious of Galatina in his own palace, where is located the chapel dedicated to him, gave to him and his descendants the power to heal those who were bitten by poisonous spiders through the local well water inside the house. Hence the annual event, on June 29, an exorcism ritual that, for women and men pinched by the tarantula, beginning in their own homes, and ended with the “Liturgy” in the Holy House, where they were accompanied by musicians provided with tambourines, violins, harmonicas and accordions, to thank him for favors received or to invoke it. Only after drinking the miraculous water and vomited into the well, grace could be considered achieved.
In addition to music and dance, the third magical element of the rite were the colors and even today during the patron saint’s day of June of few stalls there are the so-called zagareddhre, colored ribbons, tied also to the tambourines, which were agitated around tarantata for identify the color hated, and then tear it and throw it away to make it heal.

A Melpignano , takes place The night of Taranta, festival that annually brings in the second half of August, in the square dominated by the former Augustinian convent hundreds of thousands of people. But in fact, as the author points out drawing from ancient sources and from an unpublished work by three students of the High School Archita of Taranto them by the literature professor Emilio Lovarini, it was the Ionian city the home of tarantismo. And from Taranto derive the names tarantella and tarantula, music and dance used to induce healing in victims of the bite or pinch it, as he had already successfully stigmatized de Martino, were rather of misery and suffering victims.

There are several testimonies that tell what the tarantula was widespread in Old Taranto alleys until the thirties of the last century with sporadic cases in the sixties and seventies prior to the advent of the great shipbuilding industry. About this “legacy” remain the engaging folk songs transcribed at the end of ‘800 by students Vincenzo Tursi, Francesco De Lorenzo and Giuseppe Cassano and reported in the appendix by the author.

Antonio Basile
Gioconda miseria – Il Tarantismo a Taranto XVI-XX secolo
€ 20


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