Basque Legends | Annotated Tale

COMPLETE! Entered into SurLaLune Database in October 2018 with all known ATU Classifications. Two sections, "An Essay on the Basque Language" and "Basque Poetry," are not included in this database.

Tartaro, The


ONCE upon a time there was the son of a king who for the punishment of some fault became a monster. He could become a man again only by marrying. One day he met a young girl who refused him, because she was so frightened at him. And the Tartaro wanted to give her a ring, which she would not accept. However, he sent it her by a young man. As soon as the ring was upon her finger it began to say, "Thou there, and I here." [1] It kept always crying out this, and the Tartaro pursued her continually; and, as the young girl had such a horror of him, she cut off her finger and the ring, and threw them into a large pond, and there the Tartaro drowned himself.

Estefanella Hirigarray, of Ahetze.


               Our next story was communicated by M. d'Abbadie to the Société des Sciences et des Arts de Bayonne. The narrator is M. l'Abbé Heguiagaray, the Parish Priest of Esquiule in La Soule:--

               In my infancy I often heard from my mother the story of the Tartaro. He was a Colossus, with only one eye in the middle of his forehead. He was a shepherd and a hunter, but a hunter of men. Every day he ate a sheep; then, after a snooze, every one who had the misfortune to fall into his hands. His dwelling was a huge barn, with thick walls, a high roof, and a very strong door, which he alone knew how to open. His mother, an old witch, lived in one corner of the garden, in a hut constructed of turf.

               One day a powerful young man was caught in the snares of the Tartaro, who carried him off to his house. This young man saw the Tartaro eat a whole sheep, and he knew that he was accustomed to take a snooze, and that after that his own turn would come. In his despair he said to himself that he must do something. Directly the Tartaro began to snore he put the spit into the fire, made it red-hot, and plunged it into the giant's one eye. Immediately he leapt up, and began to run after the man who had injured him; but it was impossible to find him.

               "You shall not escape. It is all very well to hide yourself," said he; "but I alone know the secret how to open this door."

               The Tartaro opened the door half-way, and let the sheep out between his legs. The young man takes the big bell off the ram, and puts it round his neck, and throws over his body the skin of the sheep which the giant had just eaten, and walks on all fours to the door.

               The Tartaro examines him by feeling him, perceives the trick, and clutches hold of the skin; but the young man slips off the skin, dives between his legs, and runs off.

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

               "O, you lucky young fellow! You have escaped the cruel tyrant; take this ring as a remembrance of your escape."

               He accepts, puts the ring on his finger, and immediately the ring begins to cry out, "Heben nuk! Heben nuk!" ("Thou hast me here! Thou hast me here!")

               The Tartaro pursues, and is on the point of catching him, when the young man, maddened with fright, and not being able to pull off the ring, takes out his knife, and cuts off his own finger, and throws it away, and thus escapes the pursuit of the Tartaro.

               In other versions the young man goes into the forest with some pigs, meets the Tartaro there, is carried by him home, blinds him with the red-hot spit, and escapes by letting himself down through a garret window. The Tartaro pursues, guided by his ring, which at last he throws to the young man to put on, when it cries out as above, and the young man cuts off his finger, and throws it down a precipice or into a bog, where the ring still cries out, and the Tartaro following, is dashed to pieces and drowned.



[1] This talking giant’s ring appears in Campbell’s “Popular Tales of the West Highlands,” Vol. I., p. 111, in the tale called “Conall cra Bhuidhe.” He also refers (p. 153) to Grimm’s tale of the “Robber and his Sons,” where the same ring appears:—“He puts on the gold ring which the giant gave him, which forces him to cry out, ‘Here I am!’ He bites off his own finger, and so escapes.”

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Tartaro, The
Tale Author/Editor: Webster, Wentworth
Book Title: Basque Legends
Book Author/Editor: Webster, Wentworth
Publisher: Griffith and Farran
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1879
Country of Origin: France (Basque)
Classification: unclassified

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