RABELAIS: Gargantua and Pantagruel [Book I]

RABELAIS: Gargantua and Pantagruel [Book I]

  • In a preface to Gargantua, Rabelais dedicates the book to the most noble and illustrious drinkers.
  • Rabelais compares the unattractive exterior of Socrates with the ridiculous stories contained within Rabelais’ books. But Rabelais argues that his stories possess things of high value like Socrates possessed more than human understanding, admirable virtue, courage, temperance, etc.
  • Just as a dog takes great pains to extract a little marrow from a bone, and consequently finds it more savory and delicious than more easily accessible meats, so too is the knowledge and value extracted from reading Rabelais’ books.
  • Rabelais promises the reader will become valiant and well-advised after reading his books. The books will teach the reader about religion, economics, politics, etc.
  • Rabelais criticizes the notion that Homer intended all of the allegorical stories which succeeding generations have found in his poems. Accordingly, he argues that the reader can interpret his stories in such a way as to create an allegory unintended by Rabelais. Indeed, Rabelais’ only intent in writing these books is to make the reader happy.
  • Rabelais wrote these books in drunken merriment.
  • The narrator explains that he discovered the genealogy of Gargantua in a large tomb located in a meadow. The narrator wishes that all men knew of their lineage from the time of Noah because he believes that some kings are descendants of beggars, while some beggars are the descendants of kings.
  • The narrator believes he descended from a king because he desires to be a kin more than any man, so that he can give good cheer, do nothing, nor care for anything except to plentifully enrich his friends and noble and learned men.
  • Pantagruelizing is drinking stiffly to your heart’s desire and reading Pantagruel.
  • Along with the genealogy of Gargantua, the narrator finds a Galamatia of Extravagant conceits in the tomb, which he transcribes in chapter 2 of Gargantua. The conceits are extravagant, to be sure, and generally incoherent.
  • Grangousier, who is Gargantua’s father, married Gargamelle, Gargantua’s mother. They frequently did the two backed beast with each other, and she became pregnant with Gargantua. She carried the baby for 11 monhs. The narrator explains that the duration of the pregnancy is not unnatural or farfetched. He cites man ancient authorities such as Pliny, who describe fetal periods of even longer duration. The greater the duration of pregnancy was usually identified as necessary to form a being destined for greatness. The narrator seems to sarcastically disregard this notion, and even exhorts the reader to send him recent widows so that he can have sex with them during the first two months because the widow will lose no honor is she conceives of child within two months after her husband’s death. She can claim that the child belongs to the husband.
  • Gargamelle ate a great quantity of tripes, a type of meat, and consequently defecated, which induced labor.
  • While Gargamelle was in labor, Grangousier and several of their friends drank heartily and praised alcohol as a divine and celestial juice.
  • Grangousier encourages Gargamelle to give birth to the baby quickly so that they can set about making another. Gargamelle says that she wishes someone would cut off Grangousier’s penis, but then quickly retracts her statement and expresses her devotion to his member.
  • The attendants gave Gargamelle a restrictive and binding medicine because she was pooping too much, so the baby was birthed through her ear. When the baby was born, it cried for drink. The narrator asserts that the manner of birth is not unrealistic. He adduces the birth of Bacchus from Zeus’ leg, the birth of Jesus from the virgin Mary, and several anecdotes written by Pliny in his Natural History.
  • The baby was named Gargantua because Grangousier, after hearing his son’s loud cry for drink, remarked that his son had a sonorous, or Gargantuan voice.
  • Gargantua was addicted to alcohol; therefore his nurses would give him alcohol to pacify him whenever he fretted. Gargantua would fall into a state of ecstasy whenever he heard the sounds of flagons and pints, as if he had tasted the joys of paradise.
  • They appareled Gargantua in white and blue. According to Grangousier, white represented gladness and delight; blue represented celestial things. The narrator demonstrates that the common perceptions of white as representative of faith, and blue as constancy are misguided, and attributable to an unknown and unqualified source.
  • The narrator demonstrates that black represents grief by adducing the myriad examples of cultures donning black when in mourning. Therefore, because white is the opposite of black, white must represent the opposite of grief; i.e. happiness and delight. The proposition that blue represents celestial things is self-evident according to the narrator. I suppose he means to adduce the color of the sky.

Opening this box you would have found within it a heavenly and inestimable drug, a more than human understanding, an admirable virtue, matchless learning, invincible courage, unimitable sobriety, certain contentment of mind, perfect assurance, and an incredible misregard of all that for which men commonly do so much watch, run, sail, fight, travel, toil and turmoil themselves.

You must, by a sedulous lecture, and frequent meditation, break the bone, and suck out the marrow.

Do you believe, upon your conscience, that Homer, whilst he was a-couching his Iliads and Odysses, had any thought upon those allegories, which Plutarch, Heraclides Ponticus, Eustathius, Cornutus squeezed out of him, and which Politian filched again from them?

‘Tis true that it brings forth to you no birth Of any value, but in point of mirth; Thinking therefore how sorrow might your mind Consume, I could no apter subject find; One inch of joy surmounts of grief a span; Because to laugh is proper to the man.

I think many are at this day emperors, kings, dukes, princes, and popes on the earth, whose extraction is from some porters and pardon-pedlars; as, on the contrary, many are now poor wandering beggars, wretched and miserable, who are descended of the blood and lineage of great kings and emperors.

I cannot think but I am come of the race of some rich king or prince in former times; for never yet saw you any man that had a greater desire to be a king, and to be rich, than I have, and that only that I may make good cheer, do nothing, nor care for anything, and plentifully enrich my friends, and all honest and learned men.

I drink for thirst to come. I drink eternally. This is to me an eternity of drinking, and drinking of eternity. Come, therefore, blades, to this divine liquor and celestial juice, swill it over heartily, and spare not! It is a decoction of nectar and ambrosia.

Preface – Ch. 10

In the preface to Book One of Rabelais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel series, he asserts that although his writings contain ridiculous, indecent, and absurd stories, there still exists within them something valuable. Rabelais compares his superficially frivolous books with the unattractive appearance of Socrates. As Socrates’ unattractive countenance, uncouth appearance, and boorish behavior conceal a more than human understanding, peerless knowledge, etc. so too does Rabelais’ inappropriate stories contain valuable lessons on topics such as religion, economics, and politics.

However, Rabelais advises the readers that they must diligently read and frequently meditate upon the writings in order to attain the benefits of being well-advised and valiant, which Rabelais promises to the readers who can understand the insights and wisdom hidden within the texts.

In spite of Rabelais’ insistence that reading his novels will benefit the reader with regard to virtue, wisdom, and other higher values, at the end of the preface, he contradicts himself and admits that there is nothing to be gained from his writings except mirth. He argues that Homer’s Illiad and Odyssey do not contain the allegorical meanings and instructions that subsequent analysts have squeezed out of the poems. Similarly, any interpretation of Rabelais’ work that concludes Rabelais intended to instruct people about morals and how to improve themselves, are fallacious. Rabelais was engaged in drinking while writing the stories, and had no transcendent thoughts. His purpose in writings these novels is to delight the reader, which Rabelais believs to be an admirable goal because “One inch of joy surmounts of grief a span; Because to laugh is proper to the man.”

  • From the time Gargantua was three until he was five, he engaged in little more than eating, drinking, and sleeping. However, he did frequently grope his nurses, and his nurses gave myriad names to Gargantua’s gargantuan penis, such as honey pipe, bush rusher, and little piercer.
  • Gargantua owned wooden horses, and when guests of the Grangousier arrived at the castle and asked Gargantua where the stables were located so that they could secure their horses, Gargantua led them to his bedroom an showed them his “stable” of wooden horses.
  • At about the age of five, Grangousier returns from a war and speaks with his son. Gargantua tells his father that he has discovered the most magnificent and convenient way to wipe his butt. After describing the innumerable different materials he used to wipe his butt (everything from hats, bed sheets, curtains, animals, etc.) Gargantua informs his father that a goose’s neck is the most satisfying and excellent because it is soft and warm. Gargantua claims that the felicity of demigods and heroes dwelling in Elysian fields do not consist solely in asphodel, ambrosia, and nectar, but in wiping their butts with the neck of a goose.
  • Grangousier admired his son’s discourse, and determined that Gargantua was destined for greatness and possessed a certain kind of divine knowledge and apprehension. Grangousier resolved to hire Gargantua a tutor of the same quality of Aristotle. He compares the future greatness of his son with the excellence of Alexander the Great.
  • Although Gargantua studied hard under a Sophist, he did not profit from his study, but grew foolish, simple, and blockish. Therefore Grangousier resolved to hire another tutor. Grangousier’s friend brought a young boy who had been tutored by another master before Grangousier. The young boy admirably displayed virtue and wisdom so that Grangousier decided to hire the young boy and his tutor to instruct Gargantua. While the young boy was giving his speech before Grangousier, Gargantua cried like a cow and farted.
  • Gargantua, his new tutor named Ponocrates, and the young boy named Eudemon embarked for Paris. Grangousier bought an immense horse to carry Gargantua to Paris. During the trip, the horse cut down a whole forest of trees with its tail because wasps and other insects goaded her in the forest. Cutting down the forest contributed to the extinction of the insects because they no longer had any shelter.
  • The companions arrived in Paris, and the Parisians beheld Gargantua with much admiration, crowding around him as if to see a spectacle. The narrator comments that Parisians are so foolish that they will gather and gape at inane spectacles such as jugglers, a mule with bells, a blind fiddler, etc. rather than turn their attention to higher matters. The Parisians so constrained and irritated Gargantua that he pissed on them, drowning hundreds of thousands of people. Then Gargantua took the bells of St. Antony to his lodging, intending to set them on his horse as ornaments. The faculty of St. Antony’s decided to send the oldest and most sufficient of their faculty, Janotus, to Gargantua and plead for the bells return by demonstrating the great and horrible prejudice the university would sustain without the bells.
  • Gargantua decides to return the bells to the mayor of the city before Janotus gives his speech, so that Janotus will not be puffed up with vainglory thinkin that the return was made because of him. However, he will not notify Janotus of his intent, but let Janotus vainly give his speech.
  • Janotus proceeds to give a bombastic speech interspersed with incoherent Latin.
  • Gargantua and his companions laugh heartily when Janotus finishes his speech. Gargantua decides to offer Janotus sausages and a pair of pants. Janotus goes to an assembly to collect these gifts, but the assembly informs Janotus that Gargantua had already agreed to return the bells, and therefore Janotus would not be rewarded. Janotus claims that Gargantua offered them to him gratis. However, the assembly still denied him. Janotus sued the assembly and the assembly sued him. The dispute is still being tried in court; for misery is the inseperable companion of lawsuits, and a pleader will sooner attain the end of his life than the final decision of their pretended rights.

Think not that the felicity of the heroes and demigods in the Elysian fields consisteth either in their asphodel, ambrosia, or nectar, as our old women here used to say; but in this, according to my judgment, that they wipe their tails with the neck of a goose, holding her head betwixt their legs.

The articles of Paris maintain that to God alone belongs infinity, and nature produceth nothing that is immortal; for she putteth an end and period to all things by her engendered, according to the saying, Omnia orta cadunt, &c. But these thick mist-swallowers make the suits in law depending before them both infinite and immortal. In doing whereof, they have given occasion to, and verified the saying of Chilo the Lacedaemonian, consecrated to the oracle at Delphos, that misery is the inseparable companion of law-debates; and that pleaders are miserable; for sooner shall they attain to the end of their lives, than to the final decision of their pretended rights.

Ch.11 – Ch. 20

In these chapters, Gargantua discourses about the most excellent material with which to wipe one’s butt. He communicates his myriad attempts to wipe his butt with varied materials, such as hats, clothes, bed-sheets, curtains, animals, etc. to his father. Finally, he reveals that the most excellent thing for wiping one’s butt is the neck of a goose because it is soft and warm. This is the most amusing anecdote in these 10 chapters. If I were to interpret this story as having a more profound meaning, then I would conjecture that Rabelais is encouraging the reader to “think outside the box,” to approach tasks in unusual manners in order to perhaps discover a “more satisfactory” method of solving a particular question. Who knows, perhaps the reader will learn something which give the blessed, who dwell in Elysian Fields, delight.

As a former law student, I much enjoyed reading about Rabelais’ interpretation of the judicial system. Rabelais asserts that nature produces nothing immortal, but because judges and lawyers render lawsuits immortal and infinite, Rabelais implies that the legal system is something unnatural in the most pejorative sense of the word. He also attacks the belief that people have rights when he states that a pleader will sooner attain death than the final decision of their pretended rights.

  • Having returned the bells and appeased the Parisians, Gargantua accepts the Parisian’s offer to take care of Gargantua’s horse indefinitely. Ponocrates asks Gargantua to persist in his usual course of study, so that Ponocrates can discern how his old masters made Gargantua so ignorant. Gargantua’s day consists of reading prayer books, eating, drinking, pissing, and defecating. When Ponocrates informs Gargantua that it is unhealthy to eat such a large meal upon waking unless one does exercise beforehand, Gargantua retorts that the Pope ate such a meal and lived until his dying day (hahah everyone lives until their dying day).
  • Gargantua also enjoys to play sundry games of chance with dice and cards.
  • Ponocrates, having perceived Gargantua’s accustomed manner of living, resolved to correct his vicious crude behavior. However, he knows that nature cannot endure a sudden change without great violence, so Ponocrates proceeds with Gargantua’s instruction in a methodical and gradual pace. Eventually, Gargantua did not waste a single hour of the day. He was either engaged in studying, conversing about his studies, or strenuous exercise. Before he went to bed every night, he would recapitualate to Ponocrates what he had read, seen, done, learned, and understood in the whole course of that day.
  • Gargantua seems to have practiced every art – music, fencing, horticulture, horsemanship, etc. He began to eat only enough food to nourish his body, and never ate for pleasure.
  • Some cake bakers from a neighboring country named Lerne passed through Gargantua’s country on their way to a market place. The farmers of Gargantua’s country asked the cake bakers if they could buy some of their cakes. The Lerne cake bakers haughtily replied that they would not sell their cakes to such worthless peasants. This infuriated the farmers, who commenced fighting with the cake-bakers. The farmers took several cakes, but did pay for them.
  • The cake-bakers returned to Lerne, and informed their king named Picrochole what had transpired. Picrchole mustered an army, and invaded Gargantua’s country, pillaging towns along the way.
  • The Lerne army arrived in a town named Seville, in which many of the inhabitants were suffering from the plague. The narrator remarks that the invading army ransacked the houses of the sick, yet did not become sick. The narrator is astonished that these wicked soldiers could rob the sick with impunity while the preachers, apothecaries, and physicians who visited the sick contracted the plague. Why does this happen, asks the narrator.
  • Also in the city of Seville is an abbey with a vineyard. Some of the Lerne soldiers begin to gather and steal the grapes. A monk named Friar John exhorts the other monks to assist him in saving the vineyard. Another monk dismisses Friar John for being a drunkard, and scolds him for interrupting the divine service. Friar John beseeches the monks to consider the wine service (nice play on words), and claims that every honest man loves wine; therefore they must defend their vineyard. Friar John seizes a cross, rushes into a vineyard, and devastates the disorganized army. He kills thousands of soldier in the most gruesome ways with his cross, and even encourages the other monks to slit the throats of the soldiers that he knocked down, but did not kill.
  • During the slaughter in the vineyard, Picrochole and the rest of his army secure a fortress in Clermond.
  • A messenger finally informs Grangousier of the events in his country. Grangousier wonders at Picrochole’s audacity because the two have always been good allies. He grieves that he might need to don arms in his old age when he should be enjoying peace and leisure. He assembles his counsel, and they resolve to try every available alternative to establish peace – the first being to send a messenger to Picrochole to ascertain the motivation for the invasion. Grangousier also sends a letter to Gargantua, requesting that he return from Paris and defend his birthright.

With his master did he briefly recapitulate, after the manner of the Pythagoreans, that which he had read, seen, learned, done, and understood in the whole course of that day.

The curates, vicars, preachers, physicians, chirurgeons, and apothecaries, who went to visit, to dress, to cure, to heal, to preach unto and admonish those that were sick, were all dead of the infection, and these devilish robbers and murderers caught never any harm at all. Whence comes this to pass, my masters? I beseech you think upon it.

Ch. 21 – 30

In these chapters, Gargantua’s “proper” education is commenced under the tutelage of Ponocrates. Indeed, Gargantua becomes proficient in sundry arts, renounces his previous vices, and engages in wholesome exercise daily. However, I could not help thinking that Rabelais was satirizing the “moral improvement” of Gargantua. The narrator writes that Gargantua does not waste a single hour of the day, and that Ponocrates schedules one day of every month for leisurely activity, but the day is usually spent discussing lessons anyway. This type of austere education does rectify Gargantua’s inappropriate vices, but at what cost? Gargantua has become inhuman, and incapable of engaging in frivolous pursuits, even when Ponocrates designates certain days that are to be spent in foolishness and indulgence. Nevertheless, I think that it is very important to adopt at least one of Gargantua’s habits, which is to recapitulate what one has done, seen, heard, and learned that day before retiring to sleep. This discipline improves memory and retention of important lessons.

Another important allegory in these chapters is the irony involved in “good things happening to bad people.” The invading army of Lerne pillages the houses of people sick with the plague, yet none of the soldiers contract disease while priests, apothecaries, and physicians, who visit the sick intending to cure them, do become ill. The narrator asks the reader to consider why such things happen. The only answer I can form is that the laws of nature are indifferent to the human concepts of good and evil.

Rabelais also demonstrates that a person’s appearance and reputation do not necessarily correspond to their actions. He illustrates this principle by writing about pious people committing evil acts. The monks of the Seville abbey cruelly slaughter the soldiers who were stealing grapes from the Abbey’s vineyard.

  • Grangousier sends a wise and prudent man named Ulric Gallet to Picrochole to determine the cause of the invasion and whether war can be avoided. Gallet begins his speech to Picrochole by asserting that there cannot arise among men a juster cause of grief than when they receive injury from one whom they have cause to expect good-will. Gallet says that the alliance between Grangousier and Picrochole is so strong that other countries have refrained from declaring war on either Garngousier or Picrochole because they knew that they would incur the wrath of both countries. Furthermore, Grangousier has never wronged Picrochole, and if a wrong was perpetrated upon Picrochole, then he should have informed Grangousier of the injury so that Grangousier could remedy it. Gallet continues his speech, saying that Picrochole is like one who cannot abide for long in a state of happiness and fortune because of intemperance and cupidity. Finally, Gallet asks Picrochole what his intentions and motivations are.
  • Picrochole only answered Gallet with an ambiguous statement about providing cakes to someone. Gallet returned to Grangousier, and conveyed Picrochole obscure “cake” message. Grangousier sent other men to inquire about his country as to any quarrels involving cakes. One of the messengers informs Grangousier of what transpired between the farmers and the cake-bakers. Accordingly, Grangousier resolves to resend Gallet with 5 cartloads of cakes, and money to appease the injured cake-baker. Picrochole consults with his advisors after listening to Gallet’s offer of peace. His advisors convince Picrochole that Grangousier’s army is weak, and easily conquered, but that Picrochole’s army needs food. Therefore, Picrochole decides to accept the offer of cake, food, and money from Grangousier, but does not renounce the invasion. Gallet returns to Grangousier, and relates that there is not alternative available but to engage in war with Picrochole.
  • Some of Picrochole’s statesman flatter an encourage Picrochole to wage war against all of Europe by describing the future successes to be attained in such an enterprise. Flattered, Picrochole envisions himself as ruler of all Europe and begin to give the necessary orders to his troops. However, there is one counselor who protests the plan. The counselor asks Picrochole what he hopes to attain by this expedition. Picrochole replies that he seeks nothing more than to return home afterwards, sit down, rest, and be merry. The counselor retorts that it would be better to take rest now rather than expose themselves to unnecessary dangers. Then another counselor reviles the original counselor as a womanish coward who wishes to remain at home and indulge in trivialities like Sardanapalus. “He that nothing ventures hath neither horse nor mule.” The original counselor rejoins, he that ventures too much loses both horse and mule. Picrochole decides to commence preparations for the ambitious enterprise.
  • Gargantua, Ponocrates, Eudemon, and Gargatnua’s trainer named Gymnast depart Paris to return home. Gymnast scouts ahead of the party, and encounters the invading army. After frightening many of the soldiers into fleeing by pretending to be a devil and performing gymnastics on his horse, he kills the remaining soldiers. Then he returns to Gargantua, and informs the giant that the invading army is not formidable, but disorganized and weak.
  • Gargantua’s party continues to the fort that the invading army had established. The army begins to shoot cannon balls at Gargantua, but the shots do little more than irritate Gargantua as flies would do. Gargantua demolishes the fort, and relieves himself, drowning several hundreds of soldiers with his urine.
  • Odysseus trained his horse to walk through dead bodies unafraid by feeding it and leading it through hay with a jack-o-lantern hidden in the hay.
  • Gargantua and his party triumphantly return to Grangousier’s castle, where they are treated to a feast. During the feast, Gargantua ate six pilgrims hiding in the salad. The pilgrims escaped from Gargantua’s mouth, and said that their experience was foretold by Scripture.
  • Friar John appeared at the feast and was celebrated as a hero for his deeds at the abbey.
  • The company is surprised that Friar John is congenial because monks have a reputation of being austere men who are hated by society because they do not work. Monks only pray for society, which society deems useless. Friar John is unique. He diligently makes crossbows and nets to capture rabbits. He is not a hypocrite or bigot; he is honest, jovial, resolute and a good fellow.

There cannot arise amongst men a juster cause of grief than when they receive hurt and damage where they may justly expect for favour and good will.

I have a paved stomach, as hollow as a butt of malvoisie or St. Benedictus’ boot (butt), and always open like a lawyer’s pouch.

Ch. 31 – 40

In these chapters, Grangousier’s messenger named Ulric Gallet sets forth the most perceptive comments about human nature. When he arrives at the fortress of Picrochole, he informs the foreign king that there is no more justified cause of grief than when one receives an injury from another whom he only expects good-will and favor based upon previous relations. Grangousier never did anything worthy of Picrochole violent invasion, and as a result cannot understand why his friend is betraying him. The scene is similar to a scene in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, in which King Duncan remarks that the Thane of Cawdor’s treachery is especially grievous because of the intimate relationship between them before the betrayal. Truly, “there is no art to find the mind’s construction in the face.”

Ulric also remarks that men who have attained a state of happiness and good fortune often cannot endure in such a condition, and soon fall from such a height because of their intemperance and insatiable ambition. Once again, this theme is very similar to Macbeth. Macbeth performed bravely in the war of the beginning scenes, and King Duncan honors him with a new title and promises for greater honors in the future. Nevertheless, Macbeth is not content with his recently acquired acclaim, and desires more. This ambition precipitates Macbeth’s fall from a state of happiness to absolute depravity and damnation.

  • Gargantua and his counsel concluded that they should fight with the enemy tomorrow. However, Gargantua cannot fall asleep. The Monk helps Gargantua fall asleep by reading psalms to him.
  • In the morning, Gargantua and his troops marched to meet Picrochole’s army. Friar John’s helmet becomes caught in a tree branch, and he hangs from the tree until Gymnast frees him. Afterwards, Friar John removes all of his armor and wears only his frock.
  • Gargantua’s forces draw near Picrochole, and Gargantua consults his advisors as to the next course of action. Picrochole’s troops outnumber Gargantua’s significantly, but Friar John rhetorically asks whether they judge men by number or valor, and then gives the command to charge. Gargantua’s army wins the skirmish, but Picrochole’s troops take Friar John as a prisoner.
  • Friar John kills his captors, and takes one of Picrochole’s generals, named Touchfaucet, as a prisoner.
  • Friar John returns to Grangousier’s castle with Touchfaucet and five pilgrims who were prisoners of Picrochole’s army. Grangousier asks the pilgrims whence they came. They say that they are returning from a pilgrimage to Saint Sebastian’s, where they prayed to the saint to alleviate them from the plague. Grangousier reproves the pilgrims for believing that the Gods or saints are responsible for the evil in the world, and reproaches the deceivers who disseminated this lie. Grangousier asserts that the plague kills only the body, but the imposters and deceivers of the world empoison souls. (reminiscent of St. Augustine). Grangousier then sets the pilgrims on their way with money and victuals.
  • Concerning the prisoner Touchfaucet, Grangouier displays an extraordinary amount of generosity. Grangousier tells Touchfaucet that the current “war” is not really a war, but rather a sedition, much like the description used by Plato to refer to the battles among disparate Greek city-states. The two quarreling countries are allies, and will remain allies. The only thing hindering their amity is a trivial brawl between peasant farmers and cake-bakers that will be presently resolved if Picrochole will deign to parley. Finally, Grangousier gives Touchfaucet a valuable sword, and allows him to return to Picrochole.
  • Many of the neighboring countries align with Grangousier, and send aid in the form of money, troops, and other necessaries of war. Touchfaucet returns to Picrochole, and informs the king of what transpired at Grangousier’s castle. Touchfaucet endeavors to persuade Picrochole to capitulate, adducing Grangousier’s nobility and the overwhelming power of Grangousier’s army compared to Picrochole’s. One of Picrochole’s other advisors ridicules Touchfaucet, calling him a traitor. Touchfaucet, enraged by the advisor’s accusations, kills him with his new sword. Seeing the valuable sword, Picrochole believes that Touchfaucet indeed has become a traitor, and orders his men to kill Touchfaucet, which they do.
  • Gargantua leads his forces against Picrochole at Clermond. Gargantua routs Picrochole’s army.
  • Picrochole fled the battle. During his flight, his horse stumbled and fell. This incensed Picrochole, who presently killed the horse with his sword. Then Picrochole entered a mill looking for a mule to ride. However, the miller’s men beat him, and took away his clothes, leaving him with only a jacket. No one knows where Picrochole is today. However, there is a rumor that he is a porter in Lyons, and that he is waiting for the coming of the Cocklicranes because an old woman prophesied that he would regain his kingdom upon the return of the “Cocklicranes.”
  • Gargantua gives a speech to the vanquished army of Picrochole. He tells them that his forefathers have a reputation for generosity, that the nature of gratitude and thankfulness for such generosity is to return such kindness with like amity. However, Gargantua realizes that clemency will encourage future transgression; therefore, to oppose this, Gargantua orders Picrochole’s troops to hand over the cake-bakers who were the cause of this war and the counselors who had been incendiaries and fomenters of the war in order to be punished.

Do you esteem men by their number rather than by their valour and prowess?

The pest killeth but the bodies, but such abominable imposters empoison our very souls.

Let her be as ugly as ever was Proserpina, she will once, by the Lord G—, be overturned, and get her skin-coat shaken, if there dwell any monks near to her; for a good carpenter will make use of any kind of timber.

This is the nature of gratitude and true thankfulness. For time, which gnaws and diminisheth all things else, augments and increaseth benefits; because a noble action of liberality, done to a man of reason, doth grow continually by his generous thinking of it and remembering it.

Ch. 41 – 50

Friar John is fast becoming my favorite character in this novel. He is amusing, witty, and courageous. When faced with an overwhelming number of enemy troops, he asks his companions whether they judge men by their number rather than by their valor and prowess. Then, heedless of the danger, he charges into the enemy line.

Friar John also provides this witty aphorism: no matter how ugly a woman is, she will get her skin-coat shaken (i.e. have sex), a good carpenter will make use of any wood. His statements are so profane and paradoxical considering his position as a monk, that I cannot help but feel admiration for him. He is a person who lives according to his own rules and values, not those imposed upon him by an external force. To support this opinion, I adduce his renouncement of armor in favor of his habit. He is an iconoclast, a man who does not hesitate to seek out new methods of living or performing a certain action.

  • Gargantua punishes the cake-bakers and instigators of the war by ordering them to work in his newly established printing press. Then he bestows honors and rewards upon his troops and friends.
  • Friar John refused Gargantua’s offers to make him an Abbot of an existing Abbey. Instead he requests Gargantua’s aid to build a new Abbey according to his own mind and fancy. His abbey would only admit women and men who were fair, well-featured and virtuous, as opposed to the sots, hags, and misshapen fools who were currently monks. Furthermore, the three traditional vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience will be changed to allow Friar John’s monks to marry, grow rich, and be free.
  • Gargantua built Friar John a great and magnificent Abbey in Theleme. Upon the gate of the Abbey is an inscription that reads: Here enter not, vile bigot, attorneys, judges, usurers, the avaricious, the jealous, hags, goblins, etc. Here enter pure, honest, faithful, and true expounders of the Scriptures old and new, lovely, ingenious, grateful, etc.
  • The Thelemites did not spend their lives in rules, statutes, and laws, but according to their own free will and pleasure. The only command to observe was – Do what thou wilt. Men by nature desire what is forbidden and denied to them. Therefore, imposing laws on men compel them to become scoundrels. Left to their own devices, men will naturally incline to virtue.
  • Gargantua and Friar John discovered a riddle written on a bronze plate under the ground where they were laying the foundation for the Abbey. Gargantua interprets the riddle to mean that men are most happy when they aim at the example set by God in the form of Jesus. Friar John believes that the riddle is about a tennis match.

The greatest loss of time that I know is to count the hours

Do What Thou Wilt; because men that are free, well-born, well-bred, and conversant in honest companies, have naturally an instinct and spur that prompteth them unto virtuous actions, and withdraws them from vice, which is called honour. Those same men, when by base subjection and constraint they are brought under and kept down, turn aside from that noble disposition by which they formerly were inclined to virtue, to shake off and break that bond of servitude wherein they are so tyrannously enslaved; for it is agreeable with the nature of man to long after things forbidden and to desire what is denied us.

Ch. 51 – 58

In the last chapters of Book 1, Rabelais describes the subsequent events of the war. In bestowing diverse rewards upon his friends and allies, Gargantua offers to build Friar John a new Abbey. The discussion of the rules and principles which will govern the Abbey provide the most relevant insights of these last few chapters.

Friar John decides that the monks of the Abbey shall follow one commandment: Do What Thou Wilt. He believes that men naturally incline toward virtuous behavior, but that laws, rules, and statues pervert this tendency. Since men desire what is forbidden or denied, they perversely behave wickedly. Essentially, he advocates anarchy. If we accept Friar John’s premises that men are naturally virtuous and only perform evils because those evils are forbidden, than it logically follows that all laws should be renounced. However, I don’t accept the premise that men are naturally good. I believe that at least a few men – and that is all that it takes to refute Rabelais’ argument – will prey upon the generosity and goodness of others for their own self-interest.

The last chapter considers the theme of ambiguity in literature, which was previously discussed in the preface. Gargantua interprets a riddle found under the ground upon which they were laying the foundations for Friar John’s Abbey to mean that men are most happy when they aim at the example set by God in the form of Jesus. Friar John believes that the riddle is about a tennis match. These two disparate explanations of the same text elucidate the drastic difference of opinions that two people can hold about the exact same piece of writing. I think it was brilliant that Rabelais illustrated how a text, regardless of its substance, style, etc. can be interpreted as possessing a high them or moral lesson and also as something trivial; ultimately, the value of a story depends upon the reader.

Gargantua and Pantagruel (Penguin Classics)

2 thoughts on “RABELAIS: Gargantua and Pantagruel [Book I]”

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