Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Tarasque

It's always wise to chew your food.

This terrifying creature devouring a hapless knight or peasant is called the Tarasque. Though originally believed to hale from Galatia, a part of central Anatolia in modern Turkey, it became famous in the French city of Nerlic (Provence), where it persistently ruined the countryside and refused to be killed. Not a prepossessing beast, this semi-dragon scorched retinas with its six short legs, turtle shell, scaly tail with nasty scorpion sting, and the face of a miserable old man. Worst of all, its breath was like flames. Obviously, Scope had not yet been invented. 


The Taraque came by its beauty and charm naturally, as its parents were a scaly, incineratory, bison-like creature named Onachus, and the biblical sea serpent Leviathan. The apple didn't fall very far from the tree.

He was in such a hurry he forgot his pants!

You can't say the King of Nerluc didn't try having the Tarasque removed from his territory. Tired of chaos, death and destruction, he relentlessly assaulted the beast with brave knights and loaded catapults. To his great dismay, nothing seemed to work. Finally, along came Martha.

Martha was a charmer.

One day, St. Martha (48 AD) heard of Nerlic's troubles. Promising certain success, she confronted the Tarasque armed with only a cross, holy water, and demure white dress. I don't know why she's not wearing white in the above picture. Maybe the white dress got dirty, so she changed. Standing barefoot before the Taraque, she charmed the beast with hymns and prayers until it became gentle as a kitten. Then, using her severed braids, she lead the now tame Tarasque back to the city of Nerlic. Unfortunately, the story did not end happily.

Kill the beast!

Nerlic's peasants, terrified to the point of loosing their retinas completely, attacked the cowering Tarasque and killed it. The poor tame Tarasque offered no resistance and died in Martha's arms. The weeping Martha, being a good Christian girl, forgave the peasants and set to work converting them. Successfully converted, the now contrite peasants (and King) changed the town's name to Tarascon in honor of Martha's fallen friend.

 Tarascon's coat of arms.

The story of St. Martha and the Tarasque contains many similarities to Beauty and the Beast. Both feature a frightening monster tamed by a gentle maiden, and horrified townspeople bent on its slaughter. King Kong is another example much like the Tarasque's tale.

This Beast looks a bit like the Tarasque. He has the air of an old man.

The Beast isn't the only creature who resembles the Tarasque. Here's a dinosaur called the Ankylosaurus, sporting the distinct look of the Medieval monster. As it became extinct 65 million years ago, it had no knights or peasants to snack on when hungry. 

Hoover those peasants!

Lastly, here's a vase by Pablo Picasso based on the Tarasque. This type of animal-like art is called zoomorphic. It can be found at the National Museum of Wales. I think it looks like a vacuum myself.


  1. I really like your blog, these stories of fantastic animals I love it!. Greetings and congratulations

  2. A very enjoyable and funny tale today. I wonder how Martha shrunk the Tarasque down to doggie size? He doesn't capable of gobbling men whole when he is with her.

    The coat of arms cracked me up.

  3. Personally, I think he shrunk in the holy water wash. If it wasn't the holy water, maybe Martha was a giant among women!