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Tarrare: The Man Who Ate EVERYTHING! Wikimedia
Wikimedia

Once upon a time, there was a man named Tarrare. Tarrare was a very hungry man. He had an insatiable appetite. It was so extreme that some people even called him a glutton for it. On at least one occasion he ate items like live cats and a wooden box. Some people swear this story is true, others are distrusting. Who knows, honestly. But this is the story of Tarrare.

Tarrare, The Street Performer

Tarrare, also spelled Tarare, was a Frenchman born in Lyon, a rural part of France. His date of birth is guesstimated to be at the end of the eighteenth century, around 1772. The exact date is unknown. So is the knowledge of if his real name was actually Tarrare or not. What is known is that even as a child he had an abnormally large appetite. So much so that his family had to put him on the streets in his teen years because they could not afford to feed him anymore. By this time he was able to eat large quantities of animals that matched him in body weight in a single day. It isn’t clarified if that was one of his regular eating habits, though.

After leaving his parents, It wasn’t long before he started touring as an opening act for a traveling sideshow. Here, just by eating corks, full baskets of apples and live animals, he drew many large and curious crowds. Already homeless, shortly after seeing the crowds he moved to Paris and started working as a solo street performer.

Tarrare, The Spy

From accounts, Tarrare seems like he might have been a really weird looking guy. And by “might”, I mean he sounds absolutely Tarrare-iffying. He was average in height and weighed about a hundred pounds if he hadn’t eaten. Also in this state, his stomach hung so loose that he could stretch it around his waist to form a belt. When he was full, on the other hand, the skin of his stomach stretched out like a large balloon or a pregnant woman’s stomach. On top of this, his jarring appearance included hair that was fair, very small lips, red eyes, and baggy cheeks that created a large jowl. A distinct odor also followed this hungry man. It is said that the stench could be smelled from 20 feet away from him. Also, the smell intensified after he ate. Also, allegedly, you could look down his throat and see straight into the infinity pool that was his stomach due to an excessively large esophagus. In other news, psychologically, Tarrare was determined to be sane, however apathetic.

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If you’re wondering if in his years as a showman, did he suffer medical emergencies since he was literally eating…anything and everything. The answer to that is yes. Once, he even collapsed during a performance due to an obstruction in his stomach. Audience members had to carry him to the Hôtel-Dieu hospital to be treated with laxatives. Thankfully it was nearby. After his treatment, Tarrare offered to show the hospital staff his special talent by propositioning to swallowing the chief surgeon’s pocket watch, probably as proof of how he ended up with such an obstruction. The surgeon, however,  declined by telling Tarrare he’d cut him open to get it back.

At twenty, Tarrare joined the French Revolutionary Army during the French War. While there he regularly consumed four times the normal military rations. FOUR TIMES! He started off doing the occasional odd job, but Dr. Percy, a military surgeon who saw him after a fit of exhaustion and tests, he thought that Tarrare would be better off as a French spy for the Army of the Rhine. They paid him in thirty pounds of meat (delivered in a wheelbarrow) to carry documents in a wooden box past enemy lines. He swallowed the wooden box and attempted to deliver it. He was caught, however, and imprisoned.

Tuberculosis

Tarrare died in Versailles in 1798…by the prongs of a golden fork. He’d swallowed the piece of cutlery two years prior but had never seen it ahem, *return*. So, he figured it was lodged inside of him, and thus killing him. Dr. Percy was contacted to dislodge it, but it turns out that Tarrare was dying of tuberculosis. Autopsies of his quickly decaying form showed that his esophagus and insides were lined with ulcers and pus. Also, they never found that fork.

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So what made him this hungry anomaly? Many medical professionals have guessed, but no one knows for sure. One theory suggests that a tapeworm was living inside Tarrare’s body. Another possibility is that he suffered from a rare disease called Polyphagia or Hyperphagia. The condition consists of experiencing an extreme amount of hunger, that doesn’t subside if you eat more food. Medical condition, cannibal or parasite, we may never know what was truly happening with the man from the 18th century known as Tarrare. Maybe, just maybe that is for the best.

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Moriah Gill About the author:
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