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Tarrare

3 months ago/184 comments/en.wikipedia.org
3 months ago by monkeycantype

The best teacher at my high school could never eat enough to maintain his body weight - all day long he sipped little juice boxes of protein goop that he took with a grimace from a bear sized stack of pallets against the back wall of his office . He was nearish to seven foot, and in his opinion, didn't have a big enough stomach for the task. As a young man he'd been a skinny pole. During a university science lab he had discovered he has an extraordinary ability to taste tiny concentrations of chemicals, somehow this information got passed on to an ice cream factory, and he got a summer holiday job tasting the ice cream for traces of the 'wrong' flavour e.g. could he still taste coffee after the line had been switched form ice coffee to strawberry. The story went that over three months of eating ice cream all day everyday, he blossomed into a ripped Adonis, and subsequently with his new athletic physique become a windsurfing champion. (yes there is such a thing as a windsurfing champion) But eating ice cream is not the universal delight you and I assume it is. It was a subjective ordeal, a long torturous slog, long days of spoon upon spoon. At the end of the summer, the now champion, couldn't face another bucket and began the lifelong search for something he could endure eating in quantities to satisfy his metabolism

3 months ago by contravariant

Wow, what a thrill it must be to be a high school teacher and be able to say to your students "I turned down a job in the ice-cream factory for this shit".

3 months ago by monkeycantype

Nah - apart from the eating he was a happy one. I went to a high school on the island where Thor from the movies grew up. The good teachers were there because they wanted to surf, smoke a bit of dope and not work too much. The teachers that didn't surf we're miserable creatures, bitter and humiliated they'd had to crawl to the ends of the earth to meet the standard for employability.

3 months ago by skrebbel

He went to high school is Asgard‽ Cool!

3 months ago by tragomaskhalos

Has Wes Anderson optioned the film rights yet ?!

3 months ago by samstave
3 months ago by mkl

> yes there is such a thing as a windsurfing champion

I don't think it's that obscure - it's an Olympic event.

3 months ago by bigdict

I wish I were that high right now.

3 months ago by kbenson

Am I the only one that finds it disturbing that it's mentioned that people saw no sign of mental illness in him yet he ate live puppies and kittens, dead bodies from the morgue, and was ejected from the hospital when he was suspected of eating a toddler?

Honestly this whole article is nightmare fuel about what a person might become if all-consuming hunger is the driving urge of their life.

3 months ago by tsujp

You are because in 1847, 49 years after Terrare’s death in 1798, Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis who discovered washing your hands before operations drastically reduced morality would be ignored and ridiculed by his peers for years until he suffered a mental breakdown and was thrown into an insane asylum where he was beaten and died.

Around this same time people still believed that disease was caused by miasma. That is, disease was carried by smell alone. This is why plague doctors in centuries prior had those masks with beaks filled with spices and aromatics; cannot smell the disease? You cannot contract it. Make no mistake though, that was still the common belief until Dr. Jon Snow proved cholera was caused by polluted water and not miasma.

This is a time where if you couldn’t sense something yourself then it wasn’t considered real; its no wonder that mental illness wasn’t (and still isn’t) really taken seriously either in some degree or at all.

3 months ago by inglor_cz

AFAIK Semmelweiss acted very cranky before and the forced hospitalization of him in an asylum was a consequence of a long string of hostile incidents.

Once I read some examples of texts written by Semmelweiss; if they were representative, he had a problem, possibly paranoid schizophrenia. This kind of belligerent word salad does not get written by healthy people.

That does not justify his tragic death or diminish his scientific discoveries, of course.

3 months ago by undefined
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3 months ago by ReactiveJelly

I think the story is embellished a lot.

I also think, though I might have my historical periods wrong, he lived in a time when stray dogs and cats were considered pests and eating puppies and kittens wasn't the weirdest thing.

3 months ago by howdydoo

Definitely embellished. If you try to eat a live cat, it will scratch your face beyond recognition.

3 months ago by Trasmatta

Here's a similar case that also purports live cat eating: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Domery

> In one year [Domery] devoured 174 cats (not their skins) dead or alive; and says, he had several severe conflicts of interest in the act of destroying them, by feeling the effects of their torments on his face and hands: sometimes he killed them before eating, but when very hungry, did not wait to perform this humane office

So in that case, the person reporting it is saying the man was indeed scratched up by the cats.

3 months ago by SideburnsOfDoom

> he lived in a time when stray dogs and cats were considered pests

IIRC, Neutering cats and dogs wasn't common until the 1930s, and before then "getting rid of" the excess offspring was basically mandatory.

https://dogtime.com/dog-health/spay-neuter/34567-history-spa...

3 months ago by dylan604

Okay, maybe the pesky dogs and cats, but surely we can agree on toddlers being past whatever line.

3 months ago by bawolff

A very modest proposal for a line

3 months ago by marginalia_nu

Psychiatry is a fairly young field, and mental illness as we think of it today is a relatively recent concept.

There has always been the idea of things such as madness and stupidity, but it wasn't until the 19th century the notion of systematically cataloguing mental illness got much traction.

3 months ago by hyperman1

It wasn't until the 19th century the notion of systematically cataloging anything got much traction. See e.g. how the SI and MKS systems came from this time. This was the point in time where science as an activity got a lot more organized.

3 months ago by marginalia_nu

To be fair, Aristotle did quite a lot of that too, although the doctrinal position his conclusions came to have held back science for quite a bit.

Aristotle didn't have the data available to the 19th century scientists, but his methodology was surprisingly solid and well grounded.

Linnaeus also did a lot of work in the 18th century, which in many ways paved way for the scientific boom in the 19th century.

3 months ago by quotemstr

Is it so surprising that he wouldn't have been considered mentally ill, especially at the time? Imagine someone who's generally affable, who can more or less hold down a job, who speaks in complete sentences, obeys the usual social rules about manners, dress, and speech --- an ordinary guy --- except that he has a habit of eating a variety of unusual objects. Would you consider him eccentric or would you go straight to mental illness?

I think we're too eager to medicalize personality quirks nowadays. Traditionally, a mental illness is a set of behaviors or beliefs that impair one's general functioning in society. Mere weirdness doesn't count.

3 months ago by gambiting

Stephen Fry's podcast on Victorian England has an episode on exactly this - there was no concept of "disabled" person back then. Either you were "abled bodied" or not. Someone who could work and provide for their family was considered "able bodied", even if they were physically disfigured, missing limbs, having some mental illness or any other issues - if you can be a functional member of the society then you're able bodied.

3 months ago by dematz

It's interesting that in the British navy, "Able" seaman was not about disability as we would think about it at all (even though they would, like, climb up ropes or whatever sailors do). It seems much closer to how we'd think of junior engineer/engineer/senior engineer in terms of increasing experience.

3 months ago by zwkrt

Well it is true that weirdness is more of a mental illness over time. The more society becomes rigid and codified and dense, the less room for weirdness to exist, as there are more ways to be transgressive and more people to transgress against.

3 months ago by undefined
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3 months ago by nrdgrrrl
3 months ago by nmaley

I knew a guy once with a milder version of what appears to be a similar syndrome. We worked together, and he would go out for lunch and wolf down a whole large pizza. Afterwards, he would get very hot and sweaty. He was not particularly tall and skinny as a rake. He wasn't an athlete, had a sedentary job, yet he was eating 2-3 times normal calorie intake, maybe 5-6K calories/day at least. In all other respects he seemed a normal guy, who to my knowledge did not eat toddlers. There was clearly some medical reason for what was going on, but since he seemed normal in other respects as far as I know he never went to the doctor about it. I'm not medical and have no idea what his syndrome was, but I wonder if it could have had something to do with his mitochondrial functions. See https://astralcodexten.substack.com/p/shilling-for-big-mitoc... I'm not suggesting Tarrare was taking a drug that hadn't been invented yet, but that possibly he naturally had a natural version of the mitochondrial permeability syndrome that DNP induces.

3 months ago by bluedevil2k

DNP is a common drug used by bodybuilders to drop fat extremely quickly. Like 20 pounds in 2 weeks quickly. It basically turns your metabolism up to 125% of normal. They describe themselves as being hot and sweaty at all times…though they do also say it destroys their appetite. Fun fact…it was originally developed as an explosive in WW1 and it was observed the workers in the munitions factories were losing tons of weight (and dying). Turns out DNP is a poison. Who would have guessed.

https://www.thedailybeast.com/dnp-the-deadly-internet-diet-d...

3 months ago by altgeek

For the body hackers reading this, DNP is not something to be trifled with. Cataracts are a common side effect, and overdose is uniformly fatal.

But, you'll die a ripped corpse ;) Flex!

3 months ago by atdrummond

I would never suggest anyone use DNP but my understanding is that the cataract side effect is predominantly limited to women. I know dozens of men who have used it for years (from my time in the strength and bodybuilding sports) and not a single one had accelerated cataract development. Of the 5 women I knew who used it, 4 have developed cataracts before 50!

I am looking for the paper on this but there’s a preprint I reviewed when I was a referee for a journal that was a meta-analysis on DNP side effects papers. The authors never resubmitted it but a lot of the data was solid. If I can find it I’ll share.

3 months ago by WaxProlix

That's wild, but it sounds incredibly dangerous. Even if it were possible to safely dose something like this, getting pure and well-measured quantities has to be really, really hard, right? We're talking tens or hundreds of milligrams between 'safe' doses and unsafe ones. (200-300 seems to be 'recommended' starting dose; 350 is the lowest recorded fatal dose)

I'd love to be beautiful as much as the next guy but man, seems risky.

3 months ago by texasbigdata

David Sinclair at Harvard is working on making this molecule safe. Back in the day it was FDA approved it was wildly popular, but the "idiot takes 10x the dosage and cooks their insides" is too much of a risk for a 2020+ general population especially given the extremely slow half time.

3 months ago by sva_

> getting pure and well-measured quantities has to be really, really hard, right?

Accurate scales are very affordable nowadays. A $50 Gemini-20 can accurately measure in the milligram range with very little tolerance. The danger is probably more of people not keeping to the right dosages.

3 months ago by undefined
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3 months ago by undefined
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3 months ago by hotpockets

In case you are wondering why oc suspected mitochondria, it's because many people believe (though science can't say for certain) that the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell.

3 months ago by umanwizard

> though science can't say for certain

What, really? I’ve always heard the mitochondria’s role in energy production described as established fact.

3 months ago by feoren

"Mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell" is a common meme for being one of the few random (and possibly useless) facts one remembers from school.

https://knowyourmeme.com/memes/mitochondria-is-the-powerhous...

3 months ago by code-e

Poe's Law strikes again

3 months ago by undefined
[deleted]
3 months ago by raverbashing

This ACx article is priceless

> As far as I know, DNP is the only substance to be banned by both the FDA and the Department of Homeland Security for unrelated reasons.

It does still make victims https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00414-016-1378-...

3 months ago by liamwire

I came to the same thought immediately upon reading the article. Like a memory leak, but with calories instead of bytes.

3 months ago by whatshisface

One might call it a, "leak."

3 months ago by dkdbejwi383

> Like a memory leak, but with calories instead of bytes.

What a missed opportunity!

3 months ago by vijayrs

For a more entertaining lesson on Tarrare, see this video by Sam O'Nella: https://youtu.be/nYHDj2sB-rc

3 months ago by pablodavila

Also check out the Sawbones podcast about it! https://maximumfun.org/episodes/sawbones/sawbones-man-who-at... It goes a bit more in depth.

3 months ago by waynesonfire
3 months ago by cammikebrown

I’ve browsed weird Wikipedia articles for over 15 years now, and Tarrare still stands out to me as one of the strangest people in history. Can anyone name anyone stranger?

3 months ago by sajforbes

If you're not aware, Wikipedia itself has an article on unusual Wikipedia articles: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Unusual_articles

Some of them can be quite... weird.

3 months ago by moehm

If that's not enough, I made a small little site, where I aggregate and curate good Wikipedia articles and their respective discussions on HN.

It's for those curious hours where you want to read something interesting.

https://www.mostdiscussed.com/popular

3 months ago by mafro

Excellent work, sir, thank you.

3 months ago by cachvico

Goodbye, evening.

3 months ago by bryanrasmussen

well there was just this post https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=29960105 the subject of which was also a related article at the bottom of this one, seems more Tarrare was Domery lite.

3 months ago by yesenadam

Yes, it's about Charles Domery. I find his wikipedia article rather unbelievable. The mostly likely explanation by a mile seems that it's a joke or a hoax. It seems everything "known" about him comes from this[0] letter to a journal in 1799, purporting to quote another letter. The Tarrare story, likewise, seems to spring from a single article, in that case 1804 - those dates seem strangely close, if they're the two purported weirdest eaters in history—and both supposedly fought on the French side in the War of the First Coalition! I find it strange that the veracity of those reports isn't questioned or mentioned on those wikipedia pages.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Domery

[0] https://books.google.com.au/books?id=An-we0KnG78C&pg=PA209&r...

3 months ago by epolanski

How curious that both of the most incredibly voracious people ever both served Napoleon in the same time frame and their stories come from few isolated documents..

3 months ago by kebman

No, but I still have a soft spot for their article about the outhouse. It used to be bordering on the humorous, but over time it has become pretty dry.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outhouse

3 months ago by wyre

Can you share a Wayback Machine link?

3 months ago by ectopod

Wikipedia records the history of every page.

https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Outhouse&action=h...

3 months ago by undefined
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3 months ago by unwind

Can't decide if this sounds like the backing story for an episode of X Files, E.R. or Good Doctor. Really weird stuff, and slightly scary in its alien-ness.

I'm glad the Wikipedia page includes details of his appearance and how his stomach's skin and so on behaved, since it sounds kind of impossible for all that food to simply fit within a body.

It sounds like he must have had his metabolism turned up to 11, perhaps due to some genetic mutation that also caused the other abnormalities found in the autopsy? I know absolutely nothing about medicine, and was a bit sad that the page doesn't include some kind of modern-day analysis/diagnosis, but I guess nobody source-worthy has attempted that, then.

3 months ago by thaumasiotes

There is a relatively common (still very rare) genetic mutation that is known to cause constant hunger: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prader%E2%80%93Willi_syndrome

It is the product of a genetic arms race between mothers and fathers over whether a child should take its nutrition from the mother (by nursing) or the father (by eating). Prader-Willi syndrome occurs when the mother's genetic instructions are not appropriately counterbalanced by the father; the converse -- exactly the same genetic deficiency, but coming from the maternal side rather than the paternal side -- is https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angelman_syndrome .

The same genetic conflict occurs in lions, which is why ligers (lion father, tiger mother) are much larger than tiglons (tiger father, lion mother).

> It sounds like he must have had his metabolism turned up to 11, perhaps due to some genetic mutation that also caused the other abnormalities found in the autopsy?

Tarrare didn't suffer from Prader-Willi syndrome, since as you note he metabolized all the food he ate. I would speculate that his metabolism was sufficient to cause his hunger in the 'normal' way, and the hunger didn't need its own cause.

I would also guess that the enlarged throat and stomach were caused more or less 'mechanically' by his consumption of large quantities of food. A response to his eating habits, rather than a suite of mutations working together to both cause and accommodate a large appetite.

In other words, my causal model would go

metabolism -> hunger -> large meals -> large throat/stomach

3 months ago by kingcharles

I would agree that his enlarged stomach is probably a bi-product of his illness.

In the periods when I've eaten a lot, I could eat a lot. In the periods when I was eating only tiny meals on a regular basis, my stomach would shrink and I would only need tiny amounts of food to fill satiated.

3 months ago by caminante

For Tarrare, Wiki supposes hypothyroidism or a malfunctioning amygdala.

3 months ago by unwind

Thanks for pointing that out, I missed that part.

3 months ago by manuel_w

> He was hospitalised due to exhaustion and became the subject of a series of medical experiments to test his eating capacity, in which, among other things, he ate a meal intended for 15 people in a single sitting, ate live cats, snakes, lizards, and puppies, and swallowed eels whole without chewing.

Why the live cats? I mean, where's the point of eating them alive and not slaughtering them first?

3 months ago by coronasaurus

The article had earlier mentions of live animals, I find it odd that it didn't bother you until it got to 'cats'.

3 months ago by poulsbohemian

Look, I'm not suggesting anyone eat any kind of live animal, especially cats, but I think there's a question here of how exactly one would eat some of these animals... even my smallest cat is easily way too big to fit in my mouth and certainly too big to pass through my esophagus, and all of that disregards the very practical consideration of the animal fighting back. Thus, I read a great deal of dramatic flair and exaggeration in the article - it seems vey unlikely that he ate all of the things listed, at least not in the way they were described, but rather it seems likely that there arose some fables given the person's clear extreme appetite and habits.

3 months ago by virtualritz

Probably as odd as people having dogs as pets but eating pigs?

People getting upset about animals being eaten alive/dead/at all is highly dependent on cultural background. There is no logic to it.

3 months ago by itake

Eating live sea food (oysters, gold fish, octopus, etc.) isn't that uncommon in most cultures.

3 months ago by walrus01

I thought a lot of the instances of supposed "live" small octupus being eaten that you can see in videos are actually recently-killed octopus that spasm when large amounts of soy sauce are applied to the tentacles, because of the salinity of the soy sauce.

3 months ago by bee_rider

At first glance, it is less surprising when he's eating live animals as a "warm-up act for a traveling charlatan" than when he does so as an experiment for medical professionals. With a little reflection this is probably more of a modern surprise -- medical ethics were a bit lax at the time I guess.

3 months ago by kingcharles

I suspect one of the reasons could have been for money. He would certainly have been a sideshow from an early age, wherever he went, and I'm sure people would find animals to give him on the condition he ate them live as entertainment.

They would have to be small or skinny cats though, even with an enlarged gullet.

3 months ago by Hamuko

I guess he was in a constant state of starvation, so no time to actually slaughter and turn the animal into meat.

3 months ago by dylan604

What magical spell must be cast to turn animal into meat? Isn't it already meat just wearing a fur coat?

3 months ago by mafro

It's a magical spell cast with a very sharp knife, and involves a grisly process of removing all material typically considered inedible.

3 months ago by Hamuko

I think you'd at the very least separate the fur coat from the meat. Tarrare seemingly ate every part of the cat except for the bones - and then just vomited out the extra bits (like the fur coat).

3 months ago by type0

> Why the live cats?

Abundance of kittens in every street corner, it's not like people castrated their cats in 18th century France.

3 months ago by dhruval

There is a popular YouTube personality based out Korea who I suspect has a similar disorder.

https://youtube.com/channel/UCfpaSruWW3S4dibonKXENjA

A 90lb woman who regularly seems to eat 10lbs of food in one sitting.

Has 5 + million subs on a channel devoted to eating. So she is turning lemons into lemonade.

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