Basque tale: the Tartaro

WHO, or what is Tartaro or Tartare? " Oh! you mean the man with one eye in the middle of his forehead,” is the quick and universal answer. Tartaro is the Cyclops, the round eye of the sun, κύκλωψ. But the word Tartaro apparently has nothing to do with it. Mr. Cerquand, in his “ Legends and Popular Stories of the Country Basque ", derives the word from Tartar, Tartare, in the same way that the French word Ogre would derive from Hungarian, Ugri. 

The only objection to this highly probable derivation (made even more probable by a Souletin, Moiriak variant) is the relatively late date (13th century) of the first appearance of the Tartars in Europe. It is also perfectly true that in many tales the Tartaro replaces and is identified with the giant or the ogre; but this does not appear to us to be the original conception of this mythological monster, and we have never heard such a description of him from an illiterate Basque. 

To them, he is simply a Cyclops – a huge man, with one eye in the center of his forehead.


Once upon a time, there was a king's son who, as a punishment for a sin, became a monster. He could only become a man again by getting married. One day he met a young girl who refused him because she was so afraid of him. And the Tartar wanted to offer her a ring which she did not accept. However, he sent it to him through a young man. 

As soon as the ring was on her finger, she began to say, "You there, and I here." He was still shouting that, and Tartarus was pursuing her incessantly; and, as the maiden had such a horror of him, she cut off his finger and ring, and threw them into a large pond, and there the Tartarus drowned.

Tartaro, Abbadie's version

Our next story was communicated by M. d'Abbadie to the Society of Sciences and Arts of Bayonne. The narrator is Father Heguiagaray, Parish Priest of Esquiule in La Soule:–

In my childhood, I often heard the story of Tartarus from my mother. It was a colossus, with a single eye in the middle of its forehead. He was a shepherd and a hunter, but a hunter of men. Every day he ate a sheep; then, after a nap, all those who had the misfortune to fall into his hands. His home was a large barn, with thick walls, a high roof and a very strong door, which only he knew how to open. His mother, an old witch, lived in a corner of the garden, in a hut built of turf.

One day, a powerful young man was caught in the traps of Tartarus, who took him to his home. This young man saw the Tartar eat a whole sheep, and he knew that he was accustomed to taking a nap, and that after that would come his turn. In his desperation, he told himself he had to do something. As soon as the Tartar began to snore, he put the spit in the fire, reddened it and plunged it into the giant's single eye. Immediately he jumped up and began to run after the man who had injured him; but it was impossible to find him.

“You will not escape. It is very good for you to hide, he said; “but only I know the secret how to open this door. »

The Tartar opened the door ajar and let the sheep out between his legs. The young man removes the big bell from the ram, puts it around his neck, throws over his body the skin of the sheep that the giant has just eaten and walks on all fours to the door.

The Tartar examines it by feeling it, notices the ruse and grabs hold of the skin; but the young man slips from the skin, dives between his legs and flees.

Immediately the mother of Tartarus meets him, and says to him:

“O, lucky young man! You have escaped the cruel tyrant; take this ring as a souvenir of your escape. »

He accepts, puts the ring on his finger, and immediately the ring begins to cry: “Heben nuk!” Heben nuk! (“You have me here! You have me here!”)

The Tartar pursues him, and is about to catch up with him, when the young man, mad with fright, and unable to remove the ring, takes out his knife, cuts his finger, throws it away, and thus escapes the pursuit of the Tartar. .