The Dancing Plague of 1518

Engraving by Hendrik Hondius of Three Women Affected by the Plague

History is full of strange byways and seemingly unsolvable mysteries. Why is it that, for a period of hundreds of years during the Dark Ages, the Middle Ages, and into the Renaissance, there were outbreaks of dancing fever. During these outbreaks people started dancing and kept dancing until they dropped dead, some of them from strokes and heart attacks, others from sheer exhaustion.

The worst outbreak is recorded in Strasbourg, Alsace, during the year 1518. The city fathers even hired musicians in hopes that the dancers would dance until they got tired and just stop. But many did not stop, and these died. Although I do not have the mortality figures from the Strasbourg incident, one source indicates that up to 400 people were involved in the frenzy.

According to Edward Waller, a Professor at Michigan State University, and author of a book entitled A Time to Dance, a Time to Die: The Extraordinary Story of the Dancing Plague of 1518, has examined all the evidence and, according to Discovery.Com, concluded as follows:

A series of famines, resulting from bitter cold winters, scorching summers, sudden crop frosts and terrifying hailstorms, preceded the maniacal dancing, Waller said. Waves of deaths followed from malnutrition. People who survived were often forced to slaughter all of their farm animals, secure loans and finally, take to the streets begging.

Smallpox, syphilis, leprosy and even a new disease known as “the English sweat” swept through the area.

“Anxiety and false fears gripped the region,” Waller said.

One of these fears, originating from a Christian church legend, was that if anyone provoked the wrath of Saint Vitus, a Sicilian martyred in 303 A.D., he would send down plagues of compulsive dancing.

Waller therefore believes a phenomenon known as “mass psychogenic illness,” a form of mass hysteria usually preceded by intolerable levels of psychological distress, caused the dancing epidemic.

If there is a scientific reason, why have there been no outbreaks in Europe dating from the time that the Christian religion ceased to play such an important part in the lives of the people? The anxiety and fears are still present to some degree. (Isn’t that why some people vote Republican?) But the religious trigger is absent.

According to the Discover.Com website cited above, there have been similar outbreaks in Africa as recently as the twentieth century, and even a strange reaction in Belgium involving hysteria over soft-drink consumption.

Now I know that, if Romney is somehow elected President, the ultimate cause will be a mass psychogenic illness caused by Karl Rove, Faux News, and Republican spin doctors.

Joe Will Clean Your Clock

VP Joe Biden

I am beginning to think that we have a very good Vice President indeed! Joe Biden cleaned Paul Ryan’s clock so thoroughly that the Faux News network (the one run by Rupert Merde-Duck) is lining up fake experts to claim that, far from winning the debate, he has dementia, is drunk, or “on, like, 18 lines of cocaine.” That’s high praise from such an unscrupulous opponent.

Now I think that is quite a tribute from the Republican noise machine. If you are a Democrat and do your job particularly well, the Faux noise machine will emit a high-pitched wail of compressed and variegated slander. Joseph Goebbels would have been so proud of Roger Ailes.

At one time, I wished for a Democrat equivalent to Murdoch and Ailes’s Republican propaganda network, but now I think that would not be such a good idea. Democrats are not so united as the Republicans, because we Democrats have a wide range of opinions, such that we frequently resemble a circular firing squad. Always, the most effective propaganda comes from totalitarian sources. Over time, they will end of smearing themselves so badly that people will just turn away from them.

In the meantime, we will have more patently false news stories with blatantly slanderous accusations. How many people are there who actually think that Faux News is “fair and balanced”? Al Franken laid that old chestnut to bed with his book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them and the ensuing lawsuit which embarrassed the so-called news channel.

Photo Credit: The above photo is from Rolling Stone’s website.