Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Carpe Diem #1487 Dance of the Spider (Tarantella)

Dear Haijin, visitors and travelers,

Welcome a the first episode of our new month of Carpe Diem Haiku Kai. July was about Imagination Without Limits and that month was a joy, but this month, August 2018, will be an adventure I think. I will take you on a journey around the world on a quest for folkmusic.

Folk music includes both traditional music and the genre that evolved from it during the 20th century folk revival. The term originated in the 19th century, but is often applied to music older than that. Some types of folk music are also called world music. Traditional folk music has been defined in several ways: as music transmitted orally, music with unknown composers, or music performed by custom over a long period of time. It has been contrasted with commercial and classical styles.

Women dancing the Tarantella (By Apollon Mokritsky - Old Picture, Public Domain)

So this month will be a joyful one, because we will discover wonderful music. In every episode I will try to give you some background on the music and a musical video to inspire you. Let us start with this virtual journey around the world in search of folkmusic in Southern Italy with the Tarantella.

Let me tell you a little bit of the background of the Tarantella:

Tarantella is a group of various folk dances characterized by a fast upbeat tempo, usually in 6
8 time (sometimes 18
or 4
), accompanied by tambourines. It is among the most recognized forms of traditional southern Italian music.

In the Italian province of Taranto, Apulia, the bite of a locally common type of wolf spider, named "tarantula" after the region, was popularly believed to be highly venomous and to lead to a hysterical condition known as tarantism. This became known as the Tarantella.

Tarantism, as a ritual, has roots in the ancient Greek myths. Reportedly, victims who had collapsed or were convulsing would begin to dance with appropriate music and be revived as if a tarantula had bitten them. The music used to treat dancing mania appears to be similar to that used in the case of tarantism though little is known about either. Justus Hecker (1795–1850), describes in his work Epidemics of the Middle Ages:
[...] "A convulsion infuriated the human frame [...]. Entire communities of people would join hands, dance, leap, scream, and shake for hours [...]. Music appeared to be the only means of combating the strange epidemic [...] lively, shrill tunes, played on trumpets and fifes, excited the dancers; soft, calm harmonies, graduated from fast to slow, high to low, prove efficacious for the cure." [...]
The music used against spider bites featured drums and clarinets, was matched to the pace of the victim, and is only weakly connected to its later depiction in the tarantellas of Chopin, Liszt, Rossini, and Heller.

While most serious proponents speculated as to the direct physical benefits of the dancing rather than the power of the music a mid-18th century medical textbook gets the prevailing story backwards describing that tarantulas will be compelled to dance by violin music. It was thought that the Lycosa tarantula wolf spider had lent the name "tarantula" to an unrelated family of spiders, having been the species associated with Taranto, but since L. tarantula is not inherently deadly, the highly venomous Mediterranean black widow, Latrodectus tredecimguttatus, may have been the species originally associated with Taranto's manual grain harvest.

The above video shows you the Tarantella as it is performed in Apulia Italy as a kind of healing dance after a woman is bitten by a wolfspider (as legends tell us). It sounds awesome and I can imagine that this up tempo music makes the woman sweat a lot. Legend tells that through sweating the venomous poison of the Wolfspider is leaving the body and makes the woman healthy again. That's why the Tarantella is also called "Dance of the Spider".

cobweb trembles
a spider crawls to its prey
nimble dancer

© Chèvrefeuille

I hope you did like this episode and that it will inspire you to create Japanese poetry.

This episode is open for your submissions tonight at 7:00 PM (CEST) and will remain open until August 7th at noon (CEST). I will try to publish our next episode, Fado, later on. For now ... have fun!

PS.: I hope to publish our August prompt-list later this week.


  1. Thanks for the video I loved it! I could see dancing like that after a spider bit me! :D Deborah

  2. This promises to be an interesting month Kristjaan!

    I admit my doubts about writing Japanese style poetry to International Folk Music, but am looking forward to the music, the stories, and of course, challenging myself to expand my ideas and be inspired.

    What curious and fascinating journeys you offer us Chèvrefeuille ~ thank you :)