RABELAIS: Gargantua and Pantagruel [Book II]

RABELAIS: Gargantua and Pantagruel [Book II]

  • In the first chapter of book 2, Rabelais provides a genealogy of Pantagruel in Biblical fashion. Grangousier begat Titus who begat Porphyro who begat etc. Rabelais also accounts for the inordinate growth of some parts of the human body such as the nose, legs, butt, gut, etc. by citing the hearty consumption of medlars. Some people became giants from eating these fruits, and of these giants is Pantagruel and his ancestors.
  • One of Pantagruel’s ancestors, Hurtali, sat upon Noah’s ark, and saved the ark from danger. If you do not believe this story, Rabelais suggests that you drink on good draught without water.
  • Gargantua and his wife Badebec begat Pantagruel. Badebec died in childbirth. Gargantua is ambivalent – sad because his wife died, but ecstatic about his healthy baby boy.
  • Pantagruel was a voracious baby, even eating the leg of a cow before his attendants could wrestle the cow away from him.
  • Pantagruel traveled throughout Europe during his adolescence. He frequented brothels, and learned how to play tennis.
  • During his travels he met a man named Limousin who interspersed Latin with French, so that everyone was entirely unable to understand what he said. Pantagruel grabbed Limousin by the throat. This caused Limousin to be perpetually thirsty, and later to randomly exclaim that he felt as if Pantagruel was still grabbing his throat.
  • Pantagruel traveled to Paris and studied liberal arts. He believed that the city was a fine place in which to live, but a poor place in which to die.
  • Gargantua writes a letter to Pantagruel. In the letter, Gargantua argues that the most excellent gift bestowed upon man by our creator is the ability to make ourselves immortal through our progeny. However, Gargantua encourages Pantagruel to harbor both the image of Gargantua’s body and the greater, more excellent, part of Gargantua – his intelligence. He gives a litany of advice, very similar to Polonius in Hamlet, and then requests that Pantagruel return to him before he dies so that he may see Pantagruel and give him his blessing. This letter did indeed motivate Pantagruel to study diligently.
  • Pantagruel meets a stranger, who is shabbily dressed and starving. Pantagruel offers the man aid. The man begins to speak in divers languages until he finally speaks French, so that Pantagruel and his friends can understand him. The man’s name is Panurge. Pantagruel invites Panurge to become his companion. Panurge accepts, and vows never to leave Pantagruel’s side, even if they must go amongst devils.
  • Pantarguel gained a reputation among the Parisians as the most learned men of the age by discoursing on various topics with reputed experts in the field and thoroughly refuting previously held conceptions. During this time, a lawsuit was pending in court. The lawsuit had been pending for over 42 weeks, and the most learned judges of Europe could not resolve the case, much less understand it. Therefore, they requested Pantagruel’s assistance. They handed Pantagruel a large and heavy stack of papers regarding the case. Pantagruel scoffed at the papers, arguing that the writers of these papers were ignorant of greek and latin, languages required to truly understand the nature of justice. Then he asked the judges whether they had asked the parties of the lawsuit to appear before them. The answer was no. Pantagruel told the judges to burn the papers and request the parties of the lawsuits to appear before him. He would hear the case and decide it.
  • The two parties appeared before Pantagruel and told their complaints to Pantagruel. The complaints were incoherent ramblings, and Pantagruel’s decision was also incoherent. However, both plaintiff and defendant departed from the courthouse content with the decision, which has never happened nor will ever happen in the court of law. The judges were astonished at the brilliance of Pantagruel and swooned in a state of admiration.

O false death, how injurious and despiteful hast thou been to me! How malicious and outrageous have I found thee in taking her from me, my well-beloved wife, to whom immortality did of right belong!

Let me see thee an abyss and bottomless pit of knowledge.

Wisdom entereth not into a malicious mind, and that knowledge without conscience is but the ruin of the soul, it behoveth thee to serve, to love, to fear God, and on him to cast all thy thoughts and all thy hope, and by faith formed in charity to cleave unto him, so that thou mayst never be separated from him by thy sins. Suspect the abuses of the world. Set not thy heart upon vanity, for this life is transitory, but the Word of the Lord endureth for ever. Be serviceable to all thy neighbours, and love them as thyself. Reverence thy preceptors: shun the conversation of those whom thou desirest not to resemble, and receive not in vain the graces which God hath bestowed upon thee.

For nature hath made us equal, but fortune hath some exalted and others deprived.


Gargantua’s letter to Pantagruel was the one of the few serious parts of these opening chapters. Gargantus observes that God, although he has taken immortality away from humanity because of Adam and Eve’s sin in the garden of Eden, has granted us the capability of attaining some immortality here on earth through our progeny. This idea that humans can attain immortality despite the transitory nature of life is a common theme throughout literature, and while many writers have concluded that humanity can attain a type of immortality through reproduction, I am much more interested in those, such as Plato, who believe that the immortality achieved through intellectual endeavors are much more lasting, admirable, desirable, excellent, good, etc. than mere physical reproduction. Gargantua does reinforce this concept that the continuation of one’s intellectual works is more important than mere physical resemblance in an offspring. He exhorts Pantagruel to cultivate his intelligence and wit through rigorous study, so that he will emulate and perpetuate the great thoughts of previous men.

  • The citizens offer Pantagruel an esteemed position as a member of the court, but Pantagruel politely declines the offer, believing that such a political position induces corruption in the individual who holds such a profession.
  • Instead, Pantagruel asks the citizen for some of their finest wine, which the citizens do provide. In the subsequent celebration, Panurge becomes exceedingly drunk and begins to relate the tale of his escape from the Turks. He fabricates an incredible story in which he was being roasted alive by a Turk who fell asleep, which enabled Panurge to grab a burning stick and burn the house down, allowing him to escape.
  • Panurge then tells Pantagruel an amusing story concerning the time when animals first spoke, which was but three days since. He says that a lion was walking in the forest, reciting his prayers, when he frightened an old woman. The old woman fell backwards, causing her skirt to raise up above her shoulders, so that she was sprawled naked on the ground. The lion, concerned about the health of the lady approached her, and mistook her vagina for a wound caused by a hatchet or axe. He immediately called a nearby fox to assist him in mending the woman’s wound. He told the fox to rub the wound with its tail until he returned with moss to stuff the wound, so that it would not become infected. The fox did rub the vagina with his tail, but smelled something rank effusing from the woman. The fox did his best to avoid the villainous smell, but soon discovered from where the smell issued, the butt. The lion returned with moss. The fox notified the lion about the second “wound” of the lady, and that it emitted a pungent stench. The lion began to cram the butt and vagina of the woman with moss, but did not have sufficient quantities of moss to stuff the holes. The holes seemingly were bottomless. I was laughing out loud while reading this tale.
  • In chapter 16, Rabelais gives an account on the behavior of Panurge. Panurge is a practical jokester and thief. He frequently molests the night guard with fire and dung. He spreads dung on the city’s streets. He ruins the fine apparel of gentlemen and gentlewomen with grease. He farts loudly and unapologetically, saying that he is tuning his tail to the song of music which the woman, whom he has made to sneeze ceaselessly with some type of powder, is making with her nose. He throws itching powder onto the women whom he considers most beautiful, so that they frantically run about and take off their clothes in an effort to rid themselves of the itch.
  • Panurge would steal money from churches, and then use it to coerce men to have sex with old and ugly women. He also hosted feasts for Pages. During these feasts, Panurge would cut the saddle-straps of their horses, so that the next time the Pages’ masters attempted to mount the horse, they would fall on their backside and accordingly whip the Pages.
  • A very scholarly man from England named Thaumast heard about the fame and renown of Pantagruel’s intelligence. Thaumast determined to seek Pantagruel in order to satisfy his mind about some topics of philosophy and the sciences which perplexed him. He travels to Pantagruel and asks him to engage in a public discourse with him on various topics. If Pnatagruel can satisfy the questions that plague Thaumast, then Thaumast will give him everything that he owns and become his slave, seeing that there is nothing more valuable that Thaumast owns, which would be suitable payment for so inestimable a thing as knowledge and truth. Pantagruel agrees to the proposed public oration, but later in the evening expresses his doubts about  being able to keep pace with so leanred a man as Thaumast to Panurge. Panurge allays Pantagruel’s fears, assuring Pantagruel that he will answer the Englishman’s questions.
  • Because Thaumast requested the discourse to be partaken solely in signs rather than words, Panurge and Thaumast engage in incoherent and silly signs such as sticking their thumb into their noses and wiggling the other fingers.
  • At the end of the spectacle, Thaumast concludes that Panurge has given satisfactory answers to all of the insoluble questions of philosophy, and then they feast.
  • Panurge begins to court the most respectable lady in Paris. She is married, however, and defiantly rebuffs Panurge’s advances. Panurge, finally exasperated, gives up his courtship, but threatens the lady that if he can not ride her, then he will get the dogs to do so.
  • Then Panurge found a female dog in heat and led it to his home. He fed it, killed it, an chopped up its vuvla. The next day he went to church, and sprinkled the vulva on the lady. Hundreds of dogs began to piss on her and try to hump her.
  • Pantagruel receives news of his father’s “departure into the land of the fairies,” and of an enemy invasion of his homeland, Utopia. Pantagruel leaves Paris immediately with Panurge and his other followers.

The poor fox wiped as hard as he could, here and there, within and without; but the false old trot did so fizzle and fist that she stunk like a hundred devils, which put the poor fox to a great deal of ill ease, for he knew not to what side to turn himself to escape the unsavoury perfume of this old woman’s postern blasts. And whilst to that effect he was shifting hither and thither, without knowing how to shun the annoyance of those unwholesome gusts, he saw that behind there was yet another hole, not so great as that which he did wipe, out of which came this filthy and infectious air.

I will have their skin-coat shaken once yet before they die; only, to those that were horribly ugly and ill-favoured, I caused their head to be put within a bag, to hide their face.

Sir, no other thing brought me hither but the great desire I had to learn and to know that of which I have doubted all my life long, and have neither found book nor man able to content me in the resolution of those doubts which I have proposed.

There is nothing in you but honey, but sugar, but a sweet and celestial manna. To you it was to whom Paris ought to have adjudged the golden apple, not to Venus, no, nor to Juno, nor to Minerva, for never was there so much magnificence in Juno, so much wisdom in Minerva, nor so much comeliness in Venus as there is in you. O heavenly gods and goddesses! How happy shall that man be to whom you will grant the favour to embrace her, to kiss her, and to rub his bacon with hers!

As for me, I hope that those heavy nights, those pains and troubles, which I suffer for love of you, shall be a deduction to me of so much pain in purgatory; yet, at the least, pray to God to give me patience in my misery.

Ch. 14 – 24

Rabelais devotes most of these chapters to a description of the very humorous and depraved Panurge. Panurge is promiscuous, an alcoholic, a thief, a jokester, and a story-teller. The story about how the lion and fox attempted to “heal the wounds,” in other words the vagina and butt-hole, of an old woman was hysterical. This is one of the very few times during the course of reading books one and two of this series when I found myself laughing out loud. Even Panurge’s attempt to seriously woo a woman is laden with indecent sexual innuendos and vicious retaliation after being spurned by the woman, who is in fact married. I often wondered that this book series was categorized as a comedic work because I did not find most of the scatological jokes of book one very entertaining at all. Furthermore, I was frustrated while reading these books because I felt as if I was not deriving any significant amusement or reading any relevant philosophical consideration. However, being introduced to the character of Panurge certainly compensates for the tediousness of the previous readings.

  • Pantagruel and his companions arrive on the shores of Utopia. A cavalry unit of the invading army attacks them, but the companions are able to trap the cavalry in a circle, and then burn all of them to death, except one who became their prisoner.
  • One of Pantagruel’s companions, named Carpalin, captures and kills many wild animals for a feast. During the feast, they ask their prisoner about the composition of the invading army. The prisoner tells them that the army is comprised of several hundred thousand soldiers and giants as large as Pantagruel, and also a train of one hundred thousand whores, to which Panurge eagerly stakes his claim to all one hundred thousand. Pantagruel and his companions are undaunted by the overwhelming numbers, and determine to confront the enemy.
  • Before they leave the shore, Pantagruel erects a monument in honor of the bravery and wit displayed by his companions in vanquishing the enemy cavalry. Panurge, in mock imitation of this monument, erect a statue in honor of the recent feast of wild animals.
  • Pantagruel orders the prisoner to return to the army and notify them that Pantagruel will attack them tomorrow when his navy arrives. Pantagruel doesn’t have a navy, and intends to surprise the enemy by striking during the night when the enemy is sleeping in preparation for the next day’s  battle. Along with the prisoner, Pantagruel challenged the opposing king to eat a hot spice or chili, which Pantagruel had sent along with the prisoner, and not to drink. The king tasted the chili, which burned his motuh, so that he guzzled vast quantities of wine. His guards did the same. Hearing about the impending battle, and the way in which the king and his guards were “preparing” for battle, the soldiers began to guzzle wine, and the whole army was soon fast asleep.
  • Pantagruel approached the camp of the army, drank vast quantities of wine himself, was administered a drug that induces urine by Panurge, and began to piss over the whole army, killing innumerable soldiers. Carpalin had set fire to all of the enemy’s munition’s previously, so that many of the soldiers believed it was the apocalypse by fire, or that the gods of the sea were angry at them because of the saltiness of the urine.
  • The kings guards, who were all giants, carried the king away to safety. Pantagruel and his companions chased the deserters until they cornered them in a field. One of the giants challenged Pantagruel to one-on-one combat while the others watched and feasted. Pantagruel killed the giant and began to use its body to mow down the other giants while Carpalin and Panurge slit the throats of the fallen giants to ensure that they were dead.
  • After the battle, Pantagruel discovered that his friend Epistemon had been beheaded during the confrontation. Pantagruel was tremendously distressed, but Panurge assured him that he would sow him back together and so restore Epistemon to life. Accordingly, Panurge sprinkled some type of ointment on the severed, head, sowed it onto the body, and soon Epistemon did indeed begin to breathe. Epistemon tells the companions of the delightful time he had in hell. He says that the devils are jolly folk, and that the damned souls assume roles quite contradictory to the roles which they possessed on earth. For example, Odysseus is a haw mower, Alexander the Great mends clothes, etc. Furthermore, the philosophers who favored a worldly life of abstinence and austereness, such as Epictetus and Diogenes, were dressed in the most magnificent and expensive clothes, and caroused with many women all day.
  • Pantagruel notifies the neighboring town that he has defeated the invading army and captured the enemy king name Anarchus. The townspeople rejoice, and host a feast in honor of Pantagruel and his valiant companions.
  • Pantagruel informs the citizens of the town that he intends to conquer the invading army’s country, Dipsody, and establish a colony there. He offers land in the foresaid colony to any citizen of the town who wishes to accompany him to the country in order to alleviate the condition of overcrowding currently plaguing the city.
  • Panurge marries the defeated king to an old hag, who beats him.
  • The narrator of the story travels into Pantagruel’s mouth and discovers a whole civilization. He exits after living there for several months, and Panatagruel asks him where he has been. The narrator answers that he has been in his mouth, ate of what he ate, and even shit in his mouth. Pantagruel laughs and notifies him that they have conquered the Dipsodes, and offers him territory in the country. The narrator humbly accepts.
  • Pantagruel became sick. In order to cure him, the physicians advised Pantagruel to swallow “pills” with men inside who could spring out of the pills after they had been digested and remove the vile humors environing his stomach. This course of action was performed, and Pantagruel was healed.
  • The narrator concludes the story with a response to the critics who denounce his work as frivolous. The narrator writes that they should consider their own fault rather than his, and that his only intention in writing these stories was to entertain.

Here was the prowess made apparent of

Four brave and valiant champions of proof,

Who, without any arms but wit, at once,

Like Fabius, or the two Scipions,

Burnt in a fire six hundred and threescore

Crablice, strong rogues ne’er vanquished before.

By this each king may learn, rook, pawn, and knight,

That sleight is much more prevalent than might.

One half of the world knoweth not how the other half liveth.

Think not so much upon my faults that you forget your own

Ch. 25-34

In the last chapters of book 2, Rabelais mocks the tradition of erecting monuments in honor of battles which we saw in Plutarch’s account of Aleander the Great. While Pantagruel seriously construct a statue in honor of the wit displayed by his courageous friends in conquering the overwhelming number of enemy cavalry, Panurge erects a monument in honor of the feast of wild animals the party consumed afterwards. However, the inscription made by Pantagruel over his monument does contain a common theme found throughout literature; i.e. that “the pen is mightier than the sword.” In Pantagruel’s words, he states that “sleight is much more prevalent than might.” This is reminiscent of the tale of Sinon, the Greek who deceived the Trojans about the infamous wooden horse, and thus did by deceit what ten years of war could not.

Gargantua and Pantagruel (Penguin Classics)

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