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Charles Lepec, La Tarrasque


Private collection

Date: 1874
Technique: Oil on canvas, 119.4 x 75.6 cm

The Tarasque is a fearsome legendary dragon from Provence, in southern France, tamed in a story about Saint Martha.
The creature inhabited the area of Nerluc in Provence, France, and devastated the landscape far and wide. The Tarasque was a sort of dragon with six short legs like a bear's, an ox-like body covered with a turtle shell, and a scaly tail that ended in a scorpion's sting. It had a lion's head.

The Tarasque was said to have come from Galatia which was the home of the legendary Onachus, a scaly, bison-like beast which burned everything it touched. Some speculate that the story of the Onachus may be related to either that of the Unicorn or the Phoenix. The Tarasque was the offspring of the Onachus and the Leviathan of biblical account; disputably a giant sea serpent.

The king of Nerluc had attacked the Tarasque with knights and catapults to no avail. But Saint Martha found the beast and charmed it with hymns and prayers, and led back the tamed Tarasque to the city. The people, terrified by the monster, attacked it when it drew nigh. The monster offered no resistance and died there. Martha then preached to the people and converted many of them to Christianity. Sorry for what they had done to the tamed monster, the newly-Christianized townspeople changed the town's name to Tarascon.

The story of the Tarasque is also very similar to the story of Beauty and the Beast and King Kong. The monster is charmed and weakened by a woman and then killed when brought back to civilization. A similar idea is found in the myths of Enkidu and the unicorn: both are calmed by sending them a woman. The description and legend of this creature is curiously similar to other dragons of French folklore such as Gargouille and Peluda.

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