The Tarasque is a fearsome legendary dragon-like mythological hybrid from Provence, in southern France, tamed in a story about Saint Martha. On 25 November 2005 the UNESCO included the Tarasque on the list of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
The legend of the Tarasque is reported in several sources, but especially in the story of St. Martha in the Golden Legend. 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 a lion's head, 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. Other legends report it as living on the modern site of the Chateau Tarascon; i.e. on a rock in the midst of the Rhône. According to the Golden Legend "There was, at that time, on the banks of the Rhône, in a marsh between Arles and Avignon, a dragon, half animal, half fish, thicker than an ox, longer than an horse, with teeth like swords and big as horns, he hid in the river where he took the life of all passers-by and submerged vessels."
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 (this creature is similar to the Bonnacon). 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. There is also a similarly named dragon in the folklore of Spain, the Tarasca, which was said to prey on children and likely originated from the French Tarasque legend. At the Corpus Christi feast in Redondela, an effigy of the Tarasca is paraded with children riding in its stomach and is "slain".
The Tarasque is featured on the coat of arms of the city of Tarascon. A festival is held every year there on the last Sunday of June to tell the tale of the Tarasque, as well as Tartarin, the main character of Alphonse Daudet's Tartarin de Tarascon. Originating in 1469, the festival was created by René of Anjou. It took place on the second Sunday after Pentecost, and was meant to exorcise the evil that caused the flooding of the Camargue, for which the Tarasque was blamed, for breaking dykes and dams. In the festival, a huge effigy of the Tarasque is carried through the streets, to traditional cries of:
- "Lagadigadèu, la Tarasco, la Tarasco
- Lagadigadèu, la Tarasco dóu castèu
- Leissas-la passa la vièio masco,
- Leissas-la passa que vai dansa."
While these festivals previously varied according to river conditions, happening in 1846, 1861, 1891 and 1946, they have since become a yearly event and tourist attraction, usually on July 29, the day of Saint Martha.
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- United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization | Culture
- "The Life of Saint Martha" Archived 2010-03-30 at the Wayback Machine, text from the Golden Legend.
- For a detailed analysis of the Tarasque legend, see: 'The Dragon and the Holy Cross', in: Ingersoll, Ernest, et al., (2013). The Illustrated Book of Dragons and Dragon Lore. Chiang Mai: Cognoscenti Books. ASIN B00D959PJ0
- "Sainte Marthe". L'Abbaye Sainte Benoit. Retrieved 28 Jan 2013.
- Les Fêtes de la Tarasque à Tarascon Archived 2012-06-04 at Archive.today
- "Ha Long Bay." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 28 February 2007 Ha Long Bay
- Ingersoll, Ernest, et al., (2013). The Illustrated Book of Dragons and Dragon Lore. Chiang Mai: Cognoscenti Books. ASIN B00D959PJ0
- Shuker, Karl (1995). Dragons: A Natural History. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 9780684814438. OCLC 32236086.
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