Les chasseurs luttent contre la Bête du Gévaudan

The Beast of Gevaudan, or the construction of a legend

around a cannibalistic animal that raged in the 18th century

Léa Robert

National Veterinary School of Toulouse

University of Toulouse III - Paul Sabatier

Léa Robert - La Bête du Gévaudan, ou la construction d’une légende autour d’un animal anthropophage ayant sévi au XVIIIème siècle - 2022

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Among the fauna that populates the Earth, there is an animal that has been very present in literature and popular fantasies over the centuries: the wolf (Canis lupus). It is found from Antiquity in Greek mythology (the wolf island; the marble wolf; Leto and Apollo; Lycaon and the birth of werewolves), Roman (myth of Remus and Romulus and the creation of Rome; warrior symbol associated with Mars) and Scandinavian (giant wolf Fenrir, son of the god Loki; Odin's wolves Gere and Freke). It appears in many tales, we can cite for example the wolf Mormô, the novel by Renart, the fables of La Fontaine, Little Red Riding Hood, Monsieur Seguin's goat, the 3 Little Pigs, Peter and the wolf, .. .

In Antiquity, the wolf was seen as the symbol of warriors, we did not hesitate to feed on it to acquire its strength and vigor. Each part of the wolf had virtues in the human pharmacopoeia. With the arrival of Christianity, the wolf became an enemy to be killed. It attacks men and herds in the countryside, and it is often associated with the Devil. We find this association in particular in certain popular myths, that of the werewolf and that of the leader of wolves.

In order to exterminate this ugly animal, a wolf corps was founded by Charlemagne in the 9th century. The wolves are tracked, chased. A reward is promised to anyone who kills one, the value of which varies from year to year, as can be seen during the affair of the Beast of Gévaudan in the 18th century. The last French wolf will end up being killed in 1937. It is only in 1992 that it will reappear in the Alpine massif.


In studies and writings on the wolf, the associated legends and the vision that we can have of it, a story is very often told: that of the Beast of Gévaudan. Indeed, in the 18th century, the wolf was omnipresent in France, the peasants rubbed shoulders with it regularly when they took their animals to pasture. It is therefore natural that he is closely involved in this affair.

In turn, the Beast knew how to make people talk about it, more than many other cannibalistic Beasts that raged at the same time, thanks in particular to the newspapers which reported this story regularly between 1764 and 1767, both nationally and internationally. 'foreign. From real facts, she became a legend, and despite the autopsy carried out and the testimonies of the times, no one agrees on her true identity. Even today, many hypotheses exist regarding the nature of the Beast, the best known being that of a cannibalistic wolf. If an already negative vision of the wolf existed in the collective imagination at that time, it is likely that it could have amplified the fear inspired by the Beast.


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Léa Robert - La Bête du Gévaudan, ou la construction d’une légende autour d’un animal anthropophage ayant sévi au XVIIIème siècle - 2022

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