Biography (Dictionary of World Biography: Renaissance)
Article abstract: Rabelais, although a physician by trade, is best known for his writings, which satirize the Church and its officials while capturing the spirit of the Renaissance through grandiose characters who have an insatiable thirst for knowledge. Rabelais’ strong challenge to spiritual authority is representative of a new period in literary thought and action.
François Rabelais was most likely born in 1494 or 1495 in the Loire valley of France, at La Devinière, near Chinon, in the province of Touraine. His father was a lawyer, a prominent member of the landowning middle class. Little is known of his youth and, in fact, scarcely a date in his biography is beyond dispute. At some point, he entered the Franciscan monastery of La Baumette at Angers as a novice. Since his subsequent actions and especially his writings suggest the opposite of the stereotypical monastic temperament, Rabelais, the scholars surmise, entered the order so that he might study ancient texts. By the age of twenty-seven, Rabelais is known to have been a monk in the monastery of Puy-Saint-Martin at Fontenay-le-Comte, where he was immersed in Greek and other “new” humanistic studies. The faculty of theology at the Sorbonne was opposed to the study of Greek (eventually proscribing such study in France), and the head of the monastery was hostile to it as well. As a result, Rabelais petitioned Pope Clement VII for a transfer to...
(The entire section is 2154 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of this article. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
François Rabelais had a varied career. For almost two decades he was a monk, leaving a monastery in 1530 to study medicine at the University of Montpelier. During his lifetime, Rabelais published four books: Pantagruel (1532), Gargantua (1534), The Third Book (1546), and The Fourth Book (1552). A volume titled Fifth Book appeared in 1564 and was attributed to Rabelais, but most scholars doubt that he wrote it.
Rabelais’ knowledge of classical languages, theology, and philosophy was solid, and his books reveal his interests in both popular culture and the need to reform Christianity. Although he remained a Roman Catholic, his belief that Christian scholars should read the New Testament in the original Greek and not in the Latin translation of the Bible that the Catholic church had long regarded as official, alarmed many conservative theologians, fearful that Rabelais’ view would encourage heretical interpretations. In sixteenth century France, censorship of books on religion was entrusted to the judicial Parliament of Paris and to the Sorbonne, which was then the theological school at the University of Paris.
In all four of his books, Rabelais satirized the pretentiousness and superficiality of theologians, especially those at the Sorbonne, arguing...
(The entire section is 396 words.)
Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Much of François Rabelais’s biography is lost in obscurity, but modern scholars have established the principal events of his life. The year of Rabelais’s birth, believed to be 1494, is still uncertain, but it is known that his father, Antoine, was a lawyer at the royal court of Chinon and was associated with the most enlightened men of his day. Rabelais spent his childhood at Chinon, especially at the family’s country home, La Devinière, often mentioned in his works, and at Angers, his mother’s birthplace. He was probably educated at the Benedictine abbey of Seuillé, evoked in Friar John’s monastery in Gargantua and Pantagruel.
By 1521, Rabelais was a Franciscan monk at Fontenay-le-Comte in Bas Poitou; it was there that he met Pierre Amy, one of the outstanding Hellenists of the time, and entered into correspondence with the eminent French Hellenist Guillaume Budé. Rabelais translated some of Herodotus from Greek into Latin, and also contributed to André Tiraqueau’s treatise on the laws of marriage, “De legibus connubialibus,” echoes of which appear in book 3.
In 1523, the Greek books of the monastery were confiscated under orders from the Sorbonne, and shortly afterward Rabelais transferred to the Benedictines of Saint-Pierre-de-Maillezain, where he came into contact with the scholarly bishop Geoffroy d’Estissac. In 1527, Rabelais left the monastery and toured the same universities his Pantagruel visits in book...
(The entire section is 395 words.)
Early Life (Dictionary of World Biography: The Renaissance)
François Rabelais was most likely born in 1494 or 1495 in the Loire valley of France, at La Devinière, near Chinon, in the province of Touraine. His father was a lawyer, a prominent member of the landowning middle class. Little is known of his youth and, in fact, scarcely a date in his biography is beyond dispute. At some point, he entered the Franciscan monastery of La Baumette at Angers as a novice. Since his subsequent actions and especially his writings suggest the opposite of the stereotypical monastic temperament, Rabelais, the scholars surmise, entered the order so that he might study ancient texts. By the age of twenty-seven, Rabelais is known to have been a monk in the monastery of Puy-Saint-Martin at Fontenay-le-Comte, where he was immersed in Greek and other “new” humanistic studies. The faculty of theology at the Sorbonne was opposed to the study of Greek (eventually proscribing such study in France), and the head of the monastery was hostile to it as well. As a result, Rabelais petitioned Pope Clement VII for a transfer to the more liberal and scholarly Benedictine Order. His request was granted in 1524, and the rest of his life was a step-by-step return to a secular status.
Little is known about the next six years of Rabelais’ life. He must have found even the Benedictine monastery...
(The entire section is 369 words.)
Life’s Work (Dictionary of World Biography: The Renaissance)
Rabelais was an outstanding Greek scholar. He was a lecturer on anatomy, using the original Greek treatises. He received his doctorate of medicine at Montpellier in 1537 and for the last two decades of his life was highly regarded as a skilled physician. He was an intimate of the learned and powerful. It was not until he began his literary career at almost forty years of age, however, that he won lasting fame.
In 1532, Rabelais was working for a Lyons printer, editing Greek medical texts. During that summer, he read Grandes et inestimables cronicques du grant et énorme géant Gargantua (1532; great and inestimable chronicles of the great and enormous giant Gargantua), a newly published book by an anonymous author. This crude tale was an adjunct to the Arthurian legends, employing a character who had been present in French folklore for centuries. Rabelais was moved to write a sequel, greatly superior to the original in both style and content. Pantagruel (English translation, 1653), the literal meaning of which is “all-thirsty,” was published in the autumn of 1532. It is the story of Gargantua’s son, a boisterous and jovial drunkard, who is the gross personification of the tippler’s burning thirst. A visit by Rabelais to his home province during a time of severe drought also may have been an inspiration for the book. Pantagruel’s author was identified as Alcofribas Nasier, which was an anagram of François Rabelais. The...
(The entire section is 977 words.)
Biography (Dictionary of World Biography: The Renaissance)
François Rabelais has been afforded the greatest honor which can be bestowed upon any literary man or woman—his name has become an adjective. The term Rabelaisian is often applied too narrowly, to mean simply a story which graphically features copulation and the bodily functions. Still, the origination of that adjective is an acknowledgment that Rabelais’ work is so singular as to be described only on its own terms.
It has been suggested that no writer better captures the spirit of the Renaissance. His giants represent the grandiosity of his age. Their appetite for life is as huge as their bodies, and they thirst for knowledge as well as wine. Few passages in literature contrast the medieval and the Renaissance attitudes so strikingly as do chapters 21 through 24 of book 1. Gargantua’s tutor, Ponocrates, an advocate of the “new learning,” saves the giant from the slothful and ineffective instruction of his former teachers, the worst of whom is the Sophist and Scholastic master, Tubal Holofernes. The demanding regimen of Ponocrates turns Gargantua into a complete man, physically, mentally, and spiritually—what the moderns have come to call the Renaissance man.
Also, few examples of the Humanist ideal can match Rabelais’ utopian Abbey of Thélème (book 1, chapters 52 through 57). The rule of Thélème is the obverse of that of Saint Benedict, which Rabelais himself had finally fled. Only the brightest and most beautiful are...
(The entire section is 295 words.)
Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
François Rabelais (RAH-buh-lay) is generally thought to have been born circa 1494 at La Devinière, a family estate near Chinon, in the old province of Touraine, France. His father, Antoine, was probably a lawyer and petty official who eventually became village mayor, but he may have been an apothecary or tavern keeper. Legend places François in a convent school at an early age. It is certainly true that he was a fifth son, and thus likely to have been “given” to the church as a candidate for Holy Orders; inheritance rights rarely extended that far down the family line. The same legend makes him a schoolfellow of the du Bellay brothers, later to become powers in the church and the state, and the protectors of Rabelais. By 1519, he is on record as a Franciscan canon (priest) and minor official.
Rabelais, as his writings suggest, resented the Franciscans, a relatively strict order. In 1524, he persuaded his friends to reassign him to a more relaxed Benedictine house with easier access. Eventually, however, even this stalled. A parish priest by 1530, he left that to enter medical school at Montpellier that fall. Six weeks later, he received his first medical degree; before the end of the school year, he was lecturing on the standard authorities. He returned to Montpellier periodically.
The following year, 1532, was pivotal. He moved to...
(The entire section is 848 words.)
Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
François Rabelais is one of those rare writers who define and test the boundaries of fiction, especially of comedy. The range of his comedy is broad, running from the coarse physical to the arcane intellectual. Like the greatest comic writers, however, his underlying purposes are quite serious. He ceaselessly attacks hypocrisy and repression and advocates personal freedom and self-expression through his characters, the giants Gargantua and Pantagruel.
(The entire section is 68 words.)
Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Concrete facts about the life of François Rabelais (rahb-uh-lay) are few and far between. The dates and places of his birth and death are guesses, and the gaps in his career are many. As is so often true of people with colorful personalities but uncertain biographies, his life is obscured by a mist of legend and anecdote. There is, for example, the story that Rabelais, finding himself without money in Lyons, obtained free transportation to Paris by pretending that he was involved in a plot to poison the king. Probably equally apocryphal are the well-known words attributed to him on his deathbed: “Down with the curtain; the farce is done! I am going to seek a great perhaps.” Modern understanding of Rabelais the man is further confused by his relationship to the bitter religious and political controversies that raged in Europe during his lifetime. As an exponent of rationality and common sense, and an enemy of narrow-minded dogmatism of any sort, Rabelais almost inevitably became the victim of bigotry and cant. His writing was denounced by extremists on both sides of moderation. He was characterized by John Calvin as a debauched libertine and by the Catholics as an infamous drunkard. Both characterizations, whether justified or not, have stuck.
About all that is known for certain about Rabelais is that he was, at various times, a monk, a doctor of...
(The entire section is 1023 words.)