June 15, 2003
Today In History

I've been reading bits and pieces of The Oxford Companion to the Year, by Bonnie Blackburn and Leofranc Holford-Strevens (1999). It's full of wonderfully detailed information about calendars, with many obscure but fascinating facts along the way. June 15th is important three different ways:

1. In ancient Rome, it was the Vestalia, "the day for cleansing the round temple of Vesta in the Forum; the filth was removed to the Tiber" (249). I did some Spring cleaning myself today, though I did not throw the filth in the Genesee River. Perhaps if I'm still up at 2:00 or so . . . .

2. For Christians it's the feast of St. Vitus, patron saint of Bohemia, who "was said to cause, or cure, the Tanzwut or dancing mania in which wild leaps and gyrations, often to music specially requested for the purpose, led to mass fainting especially among girls and young women; the phenomenon has been compared with proceedings at modern rock concerts. Its Italian counterpart was the tarantella, which particularly affected the garishly clad young; it is recalled by the 'tarantellas' of nineteenth- and twentieth-century music. This was unjustly blamed on the bite of the tarantula; no doubt the saint was as innocent as the spider, but the name 'St Vitus' dance' has not only remained in use but annexed the nervous disease technically known as 'Sydenham's chorea'. He is patron saint of dancers and by extension actors and comedians."

3. Finally, political scientists know this as the 788th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta, which the authors assure us was quite unimportant at the time, since neither party intended to abide by it. They also quote an amusing story from Clarendon about a tax protestor who tried to claim his liberty in 1658 under the rights of habeas corpus granted by the Magna Carta: when the judges could find no legal answer to his plea, "Cromwell told them, with terms of contempt, and derision, 'their Magna Farta should not controle his Actions; which he knew were for the safety of the Common-wealth'."

Posted by Dr. Weevil at June 15, 2003 11:38 PM

Apologies for this mostly OT post, but Black Sabbath has a pretty cool song called "St. Vitus Dance" on their fourth album.

Posted by: Dan Thariz on June 17, 2003 09:27 PM