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 animal is said to have come originally from Gala-tia in central Turkey, which may indicate a Celtic origin.

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.

(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.

(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 ofSaint

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.

536 TAPIR TIGER

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