Strangest Medical Cases: Tarrare - The Man Who Can Eat Everything!
This 18th Century Man Literally Ate Everything, Which Led to One of the Most Disturbing Medical Cases in History

This 18th Century Man Literally Ate Everything, Which Led to One of the Most Disturbing Medical Cases in History

Shannon Quinn - March 8, 2019

This 18th Century Man Literally Ate Everything, Which Led to One of the Most Disturbing Medical Cases in History
“Saturn Devouring His Son” by Giambattista Tiepolo in 1745. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Tarrare’s Hunger Gets Out of Hand

When it was clear that Tarrare did not have a career as a spy, he decided he would settle with having a normal appetite. So he begged doctor Baron Percy to find a cure. He was living out most of his time in the hospital as doctors continued to experiment on him. The doctors decided to give Tarrare nearly every type of medication that existed at that time. Back then, people were taking some questionable medications, like cocaine, laudanum, tobacco pills, and more. Surprise, surprise- none of them worked. Today, someone who has polyphagia usually has it due to another underlying cause like diabetes, or hyperthyroidism. Even today, there is no real cure for the condition. Instead of treating polyphagia directly, those other medical conditions are being treated first, and it may help the symptoms of hunger.

At one point during Tarrare’s treatment, the hospital was not giving him enough food. He began to go to the wards where doctors were blood-letting their patients, and he would drink from them like a vampire. Doctors would bring in dead bodies, and Tarrare swooped in to gobble up the human flesh. One day, doctors were horrified to discover that a 14-month old baby had gone missing from the hospital. They could only assume that Tarrare had eaten the baby. Needless to say, this was the final straw that broke the camel’s back. He was kicked out of the hospital, and told never to return.

This 18th Century Man Literally Ate Everything, Which Led to One of the Most Disturbing Medical Cases in History
The terrifying painting “Saturn Devouring His Son” by Francisco Goya.

For years later, when he was 26 years old, Baron Percy was notified that Tarrare showed up at a hospital in Versailles because he had tuberculosis. When he died, his body reeked noxious odors that were so horrible, doctors were choking and needed to leave the room to get some fresh air. When doctors performed an autopsy on Tarrare’s body, they described his organs as “putrefied” and “covered in pus”. His stomach was so big, it filled up almost his entire abdominal cavity. His liver was also abnormally large, while the rest of his organs were smaller than average. And the opening from his mouth to his stomach was so wide, someone could look inside his mouth and see all the way down to his stomach. It was all so horrifying and difficult to breathe through the stink, the doctors had to stop halfway through, and give up.

 

Where Did We Find This Stuff? Here Are Our Sources:

Medium – History’s Hungriest Human

Mental Floss – Tarrare, the Greatest Glutton of All Time

Very Well Health – Causes of Polyphagia

BBC Future – The Tragic Fate of The Man Who Couldn’t Stop Eating

Good – A Career As A Competitive Eater In The 1600s Sounds Like It Was Torture

Factinate – The Bizarre True Story of Nicholas Wood, The Great Eater of Kent

The Journal of Foreign Medical Science and Literature, Volume 10.

All That’s Interesting – The Story of Tarrare, The Insatiable Glutton Who Ate Everything From Human Flesh to Live Eels.

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