If Salento’s Pizzica dance is Dionysian, could the Dabke be Minoan, given the Cretan religious influence in Gaza?

By: | Post date: 2016-10-09 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: Ancient Greek, History

Let me try to unpack OP’s question.

The Tarantella, known in Salento as pizzica, is a dance associated with a hysterical condition known as Tarantism (supposedly triggered by a tarantula bite). A couple of scholars have speculated that tarantism is a survival of Ancient Greek bacchanalian rites, which were driven underground by the Roman senate. Villages in Salento are Greek-speaking to this day.

The Dabke is a Levantine Arab folk circle dance. A couple of scholars have speculated that it is of Canaanite or Phoenecian origin.

OP is taking a further step: since the Philistines of antiquity are widely believed to have been Minoan Cretans, and since we know that the Minoans had circle dances, might the Dabke not be of Cretan orgin? The pizzica, after all, looks like it’s of Greek origin.

Well, I don’t know much about the history of dance. But I do know from linguistics that recent areal diffusion is more plausible than millenia-old inheritance; and that much seeming similarity in a phenomenon can be explained through the limited options available for that phenomenon.

I was tempted to say that if you want a group of people to dance as a community, it’ll be either in a line or in a circle, so the similarity of the dabke and the Cretan syrtos may be a coincidence.

But Wikipedia’s Circle dance shows that the form is found everywhere in the Middle East and South-Eastern Europe (and Brittany), but not so much elsewhere. Given that, I won’t posit an inevitability of circle dances. Instead, I’ll posit areal diffusion. The notion of dancing in a circle may well be as old as Minoa. I don’t necessarily see that the Minoans transmitted it all the way from Malta to Azerbaijan; it may well have been in use throughout the area 3000 years ago already, or it might have gradually spread from place to place.

But if we have to explain how come a continuous area from Croatia to Kurdistan dances in circles, then having the dance leapfrog from Crete to Gaza doesn’t buy us much: it explains the Syrtos and the Dabke, but it doesn’t help explain the Hora and the Kochari. If you explain those as diffusion from the Syrtos and the Dabke, then you might as well explain all the circle dances as diffusion anyway.

Oh, and the bacchanalian origins of the tarantella are just one guess, too. You don’t need Dionysus to explain Dancing mania. Many of the documented mediaeval instances of that are in Germany.


Dedicated to Pegah Esmaili, for whom there is a world of difference between circle dances east and west of the Taurus mountains…

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