The word ‘hysteria’ comes from the Greek word ‘hystera’ meaning ‘uterus’; the ancient Egyptian Kahun Papyrus (1900 B.C.) identified the cause of hysterical disorders as being the spontaneous movement of the uterus to various locations within the female body.
Poor men have had to suffer through all those uterine movements and resulting hysterics ever since.
And just like apple eating, gonorrhea and syphilis, women transmitted hysteria onto men.
One of the most famous episodes of hysteria in history was the Dancing Plague or the Dance of St. Vitus.
Between the 13th and 17th centuries, St Vitus Dance occurred numerous times throughout medieval Europe, with outbreaks occurring in Italy, Luxembourg, France, Germany, Holland, and Switzerland. During this occurrence, afflicted individuals would dance hysterically through the streets for hours, days, and apparently even months, until they collapsed due to exhaustion or died from heart attack or stroke. The number of participants at any one outbreak could reach into the thousands.
It was initially considered that the dancing mania was a curse sent by a saint, commonly thought to be St. John the Baptist or St. Vitus, hence the alternative names for the condition. People suffering from this condition would therefore proceed to places dedicated to the said saint in order to pray for deliverance from the affliction, a ‘remedy’ that apparently restored many to full health.
Saint Vitus is the patron of Prague, dogs, domestic animals, young people, dancers, coppersmiths, actors, comedians, and mummers. He is invoked against epilepsy, lightning, poisoning by dog or snake bite, sleeplessness, snakebite, storm, and Saint Vitus Dance.
Legends tell of legendary saint, whose saintly skills were the stuff of legends. His name – Vitus. His Christian tutor, Modestus, and his nurse, Crescentia (wife of Modestus), accompanied him on his journeys throughout Sicily. When his conversions and miracles became widely known to the administrator of Sicily, Valerian, he had Vitus brought before him to shake his faith. (Another version says that his incensed father gave him up to Valerian.) He was unsuccessful, but Vitus with his tutor and nurse fled to Lucania and then to Rome, where he exorcised Emperor Diocletian’s son of an evil spirit.
When Vitus would not sacrifice to the gods his cure was attributed to sorcery. He, Modestus, and Crescentia were subjected to various tortures, including a cauldron of molten lead, from which they emerged unscathed. For example, when throw into the den of a hungry lion, the beast merely licked Vitus affectionately. One version says that the tormentors gave up and freed the trio when during a storm temples were destroyed and an angel guided them back to Lucania, where they eventually died.
St Vitus is celebrated in the Gelasian Sacramentary and an early South Italian Book of the Gospels, which assigns to his feast a cure from demonic possession and sickness. The Martyrology of Bede and the Old English Martyrology also list Vitus by himself. There is an ancient church dedicated to him on the Esquiline Hill of Rome. Vitus’s relics were moved to Saint-Denis in Paris. A great devotion to Vitus developed in Germany when his relics were translated to Corvey Abbey in Saxony in 836. Most of the medieval abbeys in England celebrated Vitus and Modestus without Crescentia, but five who followed the Sarum Rite added her name.
Saint Vitus is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, who, as a group, are especially venerated in France and Germany. The Holy Helpers were believed to possess especially efficacious intercessory power. The relics of Vitus are said to possess many healing properties, especially when epileptics prayed before them.
One of the most well-known major outbreaks took place in Aachen, Germany, on June 24, 1374. In a few months the disease had spread from Aix-la-Chapelle/Aachen over the neighboring Netherlands. In Liege, Utrecht, Tongres, and many other towns of Belgium the dancers
appeared with garlands in their hair.
Further incidents occurred in 1418 in Strasbourg, where people fasted for days and the outbreak was possibly caused by exhaustion. In another outbreak, in 1428 in Schaffhausen, a monk danced to death and, in the same year, a group of women in Zurich were reportedly in a dancing frenzy.
Another famous incident happened in Strasbourg in July 1518. Frau Troffea was the first person afflicted by the disease. She began to dance maniacally in the street one hot day in Strasbourg. Within a week, 34 others had joined, and within a month, there were around 400 dancers, predominantly female. Some of these people eventually died from heart attacks, strokes, or exhaustion. Historian John Waller stated that a marathon runner could not have lasted the intense workout that these men and women did hundreds of years ago.
Sounds really interesting, doesn’t it?
Wish you could have seen such dedicated dancers?