Thursday, September 13, 2018

Strasbourg Dancing Plague

Epidemics of uncontrollable dancing that took place for days and involved scores if not hundreds of people broke out in northwestern Europe in 1374, in 1483 in western Germany and Strasbourg during summer 1518.

In July 1518, scores of people in Strasbourg took to the streets to dance. There was no festival or special occasion that inspires them to do so; they were inexplicably compelled.

Around 400 people were afflicted with dancing mania and danced constantly for weeks, most of them eventually dying from heart-attack, stroke or exhaustion.

An unknown force drove some to their death, and this feverish plaque suddenly and swiftly, engulfing the town and surrounding areas in terror. Fifteen victims died daily, according to a chronicler of the Strasbourg epidemic.

The Strasbourgeois responded predictably by corralling dancers and seeking to control the usual sources of heavenly anger, including drunkenness, prostitution, gambling, and blaspheming. Lasting several weeks the mania subsidized only after pilgrimage by the stricken to a local shrine to St. Vitus and much contrition for civic sinfulness.

The Dancing Plague of 1518 was not the first of such pandemics to strike Europe in the Middle Ages, but it one of the most notable and well-studied. The term Dancing Mania or ‘Choreomania’ was first used by Paracelsus (Theophrastus von Hohenheim), the renowned physician, alchemist and astrologer.

He was the first to attribute the mania to medical causes as opposed to the supernatural. He visited Strasbourg seven years after the Dancing Plague took place.
Strasbourg Dancing Plague

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