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The tragic story of the “most gluttonous man”

Illustration for the novel “Gargantua and Pantagruel”, Gustave Dore


During his short life, a Frenchman from the 18th century, nicknamed Tarrar, had time to visit a wandering artist and military spy. He also suffered from pathological hunger and ate everything he could: rocks, cats, snakes, human corpses, and possibly even children.

DISCLAIMER. The text contains medical details that may seem unpleasant. You are forewarned. True portraits of Tarrar, most likely not, so the pictures in the article are symbolic in nature.


Tarrar was born in the vicinity of Lyon presumably in 1772. The first slap from the fate he received, while still a teenager. At this age, his appetite has already exceeded a reasonable limit – and the parents put up a son who could not feed, for the doors.

Contrary to everything, the guy has adapted and survived. He wandered in a society of prostitutes and rogues, begging and stealing food. Over time, Tarrar even managed to benefit from his illness and began to perform in a wandering circus, surprising the curious audience with supernatural gluttony.

He eagerly absorbed huge portions of food, which brought the audience, as well as stones and other inedible objects. At the age of 17, this man could swallow as much beef as he weighed himself – in just one day.

“Meat shop with a holy family giving alms”, Peter Artsen, 1551 year


Tarrar was of medium height and for all gluttony was very thin: weighed no more than 45 kg. After a hearty meal, his stomach swelled like a huge ball. When Tarrar was starving, the skin on his stomach hung around the folds.

His blond hair was sparse and soft. Barely noticeable lips edged a disproportionately large mouth. The maximum distance between the jaws of Tarrar reached 10 cm, so that he could swallow large objects as a whole. According to medical records, behind his extended cheeks there was room for ten eggs.

Tarrar was known as an apathetic and unprincipled man. When he was hungry, he could only think about food. And when I overeat, I really wanted to sleep. Only being moderately well fed, he showed interest in the outside world.


It is difficult to imagine how such a person lives on the street. But even more severe trials were waiting for Tarrar ahead. Europe was feverish at the consequences of the Great French Revolution. As a result, the First Coalition war began, and our hero became a soldier.

For such a glutton, the army ration was a miserable crumb. He had to do the work of co-workers in exchange for their portions of food. But this was not enough. In the end, the exhausted Tarrara was taken to the military hospital of Sulz.

The patient received a four-time hospital ration, and also finished everything that remained from other people’s portions. Moreover, he made his way to the kitchen and absorbed the remains of food, and somehow he got into the chemist’s warehouse and ate all the poultices there.

Der Völler, Georg Emanuel Opitz, 1804


Tarrar quickly became a sensation among doctors and with pleasure ate the provisions that they gave him in the framework of experiments. For example, for several approaches consumed lunch, intended for 15 adult men.

Once Tarrar grabbed the cat, tore his belly with his teeth, drank blood and ate everything else to the very bones. The stomach took raw meat, but later the patient vomited hair. Tarrar also swallowed live snakes, lizards, blackheads, without giving up anything.


Such unusual behavior attracted the attention of the senior physician M. Percy, of whose memoirs we know the history of Tarrar. As one of the experiments, the medic convinced the guinea pig to swallow a wooden case with papers inside. When the object came out with a chair, its contents remained unscathed.

The resourceful physician decided that there was simply no better way to transfer important documents. Percy came to General Alexander de Beauharnais and suggested that Tarrar be appointed a secret courier. After some hesitation, the military commander agreed.

Tarrara was dressed like a commoner and ordered to deliver the note to the French colonel, who was in captivity with the Prussians, and if possible to find out the location of the enemy troops. The unlucky spy did not know a word of German, which caused suspicion among local peasants. Very soon he was detained by Prussian soldiers.

Fragment of the battle between Prussia and France near the village of Valmy, Jean Victor Adam, 1837
Fragment of the battle between Prussia and France near the village of Valmy, Jean Victor Adam, 1837


Tarrar sustained severe beatings and did not give out the plan of his superiors. But when he was left for a day without food, the prisoner told about an important task in the stomach. The Prussians strapped him near the toilet and waited for the parcel to appear, so to speak, into the light.

As it turned out, Alexander de Beauharnais was not sure of Tarrar’s mental abilities and therefore decided not to take risks. For the first time, instead of an important message, he wrote some nonsense. This further angered the Prussians. They even more strongly beat up Tarrara and threw him out of the camp, counting as a jerk.


After the incident in captivity, Tarrar returned to the hospital. He was so depressed that he agreed to all the experiments of Dr. Percy, only to recover and evade further service.

Tarrara tried to treat opioids, acids and laxatives based on tobacco. But the pathological hunger did not recede. To satisfy him, the patient made sorties to the dumps and into the city streets, fighting for the dregs with the yard dogs.

He made his way into the wards with the wounded and drank their blood. Several times he was caught in the morgue for eating corpses. And when a 14-month-old child disappeared from one ward, it’s clear who was suspected. Patients who lost patience immediately expelled Tarrar from the institution.

He disappeared for four years, and in 1798 he appeared in the hospital of Versailles. Percy found out about this from a local doctor and came to look at the old ward. Tarrar was very bad: he suffered from purulent diarrhea and neglected tuberculosis. Only a few days later the patient died.

“Willem van der Meer’s anatomy lesson”, Mihil Janson van Mirevelt, 1617


The doctors were surprised at how quickly Tarrar’s body was decaying. As the autopsy showed, his insides swam into the pus. The deceased had a liver enlarged and a gallbladder stretched. The stomach was incredibly large and occupied a significant part of the abdominal cavity. Esophagus was enlarged. Even the hard-working doctors were horrified by the sight and smell, why they decided to end with autopsy, without examining the pathology to the end.

Obviously, Tarrar had an extreme form of polyphagia – a condition that manifested itself with increased appetite. Doctors of the 18th century could not establish the cause of the disease.

Some modern physicians, for example Dr. Cindy McElory of Huntington, believe that Tarrar’s polyphagia could have been caused by hyperthyroidism. It is a disorder of the thyroid gland that speeds up metabolism and leads to diarrhea, increased sweating and degeneration of the hair. All these symptoms were characteristic of Tarrar.

According to another modern version, the reason could be damage or a brain tumor.

Sources :

1. The London Medical and Physical Journal , pp. 203-205.
2. ForteanTimes , Jan Bondeson.
3. Quartz , Katherine Ellen Foley.

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