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Friday, 9 March 2012

Tarasque and Medcroc

The Tarasque is a specific sort of a dragon reported in the South of France and often traditionally identified as a sort of a crocodile. Fairytale book illustration is of recent vintage but the intention of the artist to show a crocodilelike beast is fairly clear. (Crocodiles are sometimes seen to "Blow water" like a whale upon emerging from the depths, a feature which has been used in the attempt to identify the Leviathan as a crocodile: The Leviathan was supposedly the Tarasque's father)
From Wikipedia;"A carved early Gothic column capital at the Church of St. Trophime in Arles, 14th century, depicting the Tarasque; it is one of several carvings here that show legends of local folklore as well as biblical figures"
Figure has been inverted and enlarged to show detail. Original is below text following.

Tarasque is evidently based on a very large crocodile that lives in the Mediterranean: different estimates of the size of the Tarasque range from "longer than a horse" to 30 to 50 feet long. It is also sometimes said to have "Horned" ears.

Legend reported among others by the Golden Legend[2] has it that 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 Bonachus, a scaly, bison-like beast which burned everything it touched. Some speculate that the story of the Bonachus may be related to either that of the Unicorn or the Phoenix [It is not: the name means "bison" and the story about its incendiary farts laying waste to the countryside is basically only a very crude joke]. 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.

A carved early Gothic column capital at the Church of St. Trophime in Arles, 14th century, depicting the Tarasque; it is one of several carvings here that show legends of local folklore as well as biblical figures

As of the 1500s and 1600s, the Tarasco was commonly depicted as a simple large lizard-shaped creature

The image shown on the church column at Arles being one of the earliest known representations of the Tarasque, it should be taken as the most authoritative. Although the number of legs is not shown, the notion of the creature having six legs instead of four postdates this representation by a century or two: furthermore I am in possession of a crocodile illustration from a bestiary which shows six legs also.

The really identifying features on the figure are the shape of the head from the top with bulging eyes and nostrils, and the broad back with an armouring of squared scutes, common among crocodiles. Unfortunately the tail of the creature wraps around the column and cannot be seen from this view. Tarasque is a creature that is legendary in both Southern France and in adjoining Spain: one of its functions is also as a nursery bogie, and as such it is also called  Cocordrilo, Corco or Coco. Some of the more modern sightings of such French "Dragons" also say they are four legged and lizardlike. On the other hand another sighting of a "Dinosaur" seen in Italy in the 1970s could have been a MedCroc, and the press represented it as having multiple legs like the Tarasque, even though the original report did not specify the number of legs. The witness was certain it was not a crocodile but that could also mrean it was more like an Alligator.

George Eberhart, Mysterious Creatures (2002)
Tarasque DRAGON of medieval France. Etymology: From the castle of Tarascon, on the Rhône River. Alternatively, Tarascon (originally called Nerluc) is said to have taken its name from the Dragon after it was killed. Physical description: Size of an ox. Head like a lion’s. Ears like a horse’s. Hard skin, covered with spikes. Six legs. Bearlike claws. Serpentine or scorpion-like tail. Behavior: Amphibious. Sloughs its skin every seven years. Said to have caused the river to flood. Made itself a nuisance by eating people and destroying bridges. Habitat: An underwater cave near Tarascon. Distribution: The Rhône River, between Arles and Avignon, Provence, France. The ani- mal is said to have come originally from Galatia in central Turkey, which may [or may not]  indicate a Celtic origin.[Near the 'Crocodile River' in fact-DD] Significant sightings: St. Martha (a Syrian prophetess conflated with Martha, the sister of Lazarus) was said to have overcome Tarasque with holy water and the sign of the cross. There were reports of river monsters in the Rhône in 1954 and 1955. In June 1964, a long-necked SEA MONSTER was seen by Jacques Borelli at the river’s mouth. Present status:The city celebrates St. Martha’s victory over Tarasque with a festival in late June each year. Possible explanations: (1) A Nile crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus), especially since St. Martha is associated with the Middle East. (2) An Aurochs (Bos primigenius), though this wild European bull was neither amphibious nor particularly ferocious [The Aurochs suggestion actuially goes wiith the Bonnachon and not the Tarasque. The Aurochs was indeed a very dangerous beast.-DD]. (3) Creationists have suggested that Tarasque was the Late Cretaceous dinosaur Triceratops, though the legend does not mention horns on the head. Ceratopsian dinosaurs are known only from North and South America and Asia. (4) A closer match would be a glyptodont, a large armadillo-like mammal that lived in South America until the end of the Pleistocene, 10,000 years ago. One species weighed nearly 2 tons. Glyptodonts had armored horns on their heads; huge, turtlelike shells made of bony hexagons bound together by collagen; bones at the base of the tail; and stiff, bony sheaths at the tip [But did not inhabit the Old World at any time]. (5) The theropod dinosaur Tarascosaurus salluvicus, a femur of which was discovered near Tarascon at Lambeau du Beausset in 1991, was named after Tarasque. Sources: Rabanus Maurus, The Life of Saint Mary Magdalene and of Her Sister Saint Martha: A Medieval Biography, trans. David Mykoff (Kalamazoo, Mich.: Cistercian, 1989); Louis Dumont, La Tarasque: Essai de description d’un fait local d’un point de vue ethnographique (Paris: Gallimard, 1951); Eliza Gutch, “Saint Martha and the Dragon,” Folklore 63 (1952): 193–203; Bernard Heuvelmans, In the Wake of the Sea-Serpents (New York: Hill and Wang, 1968), p. 528; Felice Holman and Nanine Valen, The Drac: French Tales of Dragons and Demons (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1975), pp. 54–55; Ulrich Magin, “A Brief Survey of Lake Monsters of Continental Europe,” Fortean Times, no. 46 (Spring 1986): 52–59; Paul S. Taylor, The Great Dinosaur Mystery and the Bible (San Diego, Calif.: Master Book Publishers, 1988), p. 40.


  1. Very interesting as always. It reminds me of the dragon of Rhodes recounted here in wikipedia

    Dieudonné de Gozon was the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes (1346-1353). He was born to a noble family in Languedoc, France. He carried the nickname Extinctor Draconis which means "The Dragon Slayer" in Latin.

    [edit] The Dragon of Rhodes

    It is so told that there was a dragon in the island of Rhodes, Greece, hiding in the local swamp, and killing the cattle of the local farmers. Despite the orders of the previous Grand Master to not disturb the beast, Gozon slew the dragon, and hung the head on one of the seven gates of the medieval town of Rhodes. The head was on display until a hundred years ago, when a biologist pointed out it was the skull of a large crocodile

    If recall correctly, the knight had trained a pack of dogs to help him take the creature down. Maybe it was one of the Mediterranean crocs?

  2. Hmm, while looking up a reference to the Rhodian Crocodile, I came up with this quote that might relate from

    THE DRAKONES RHODIOI were Dragons or giant serpents which ravaged the island of Rhodes. They were slain by the hero Phorbas who along with the greatest of the serpents was placed amongst the stars as the Constellation Ophiochus.

    Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 5. 58. 4 (trans. Oldfather) (Greek historian C1st B.C.) :
    "When the land of Rhodes brought forth huge Serpents, it came to pass that the Serpents caused the death of many of the natives; consequently the survivors dispatched men to Delos to inquire of the god how they might rid themselves of the evil. And Apollon commanded them to receive Phorbas [of Thessalia] and his companions and to colonize together with them the island of Rhodes . . . and the Rhodians summoned him as the oracle had commanded and gave him a share in the land. And Phorbas destroyed the Serpents, and after he had freed the island of its fear he made his home in Rhodes."

    So, you have a definite reference to one large crocodile terrorizing cattle in the 14th century on this mediterranean island, and then in the 1st century BC there is a legend of the same island having been overrun with dangerous reptiles as well. I think there is some pretty good evidence to infer your theory is right sir.

  3. Thank you Phil; yes that was my idea, too. Several "Dragons" mentioned as being found in Turkey, Greece and Sicily in Classical times seem to have been crocodiles-but they weren't the ONLY things being called "Dragons" at the time, of course. I think there was one report of a "Dragon" that would haul out on shore at Greece and then sit there with its mouth open. I'd have to look up the source on that, though.

    Best Wishes, Dale D.


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