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François Rabelais 1494?-1553

(Also wrote under pseudonyms of Alcofribas Nasier and L’abstracteur de quinte essence) French satirist, editor and translator.

The following entry presents recent criticism on Rabelais. For earlier commentary, see LC, Volume 5.

A Renaissance monk, physician, and scholar, Rabelais has for centuries received acclaim for his Gargantua...

(The entire section contains 142771 words.)

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François Rabelais 1494?-1553

(Also wrote under pseudonyms of Alcofribas Nasier and L’abstracteur de quinte essence) French satirist, editor and translator.

The following entry presents recent criticism on Rabelais. For earlier commentary, see LC, Volume 5.

A Renaissance monk, physician, and scholar, Rabelais has for centuries received acclaim for his Gargantua and Pantagruel (1532-64), a multivolume narrative comprising comedy, satire, myth, and humanist philosophy and detailing the epic stories of two giants' upbringing, ribald adventures, and journeys towards self-discovery. Throughout this massive work shine the language and wit of a profound thinker possessing a remarkably original voice and vivacious literary style. A prominent influence on writers from Laurence Sterne to James Joyce, Rabelais ranks as one of the greatest figures in European literature.

Biographical Information

Although many dates and details of Rabelais's life are uncertain, scholars believe he was born at his family's estate in Chinon, France in 1494. The wealth of his family afforded Rabelais a high quality education at home before he entered a Franciscan monastery for his formal training. There he began studying Latin, Greek, and Hebrew texts that were outside the prescribed curriculum and were forbidden by the Church. Acquiring in a short time considerable knowledge of secular history, myth, and humanist thought, Rabelais began composing letters in a mixture of Latin and Greek to Guillaume Bude and Desiderius Erasmus, Christian humanists whom he admired for their forthright views and unwillingness to bow to Church dogmatism. His secretly acquired Classical texts were eventually discovered and confiscated, but Rabelais received the patronage and protection of a high-ranking friend, Bishop Geoffroy d’Estissac, who accepted him into the Benedictine order at Saint-Pierre-de-Maillzeais in 1524.

As d’Estissac's secretary, Rabelais traveled with the bishop throughout his diocese and became intimately acquainted with rural peoples, acquiring a keen ear for rustic dialects, popular tales, and an appreciation of simple existence—all of which greatly influenced his fictional world. Following two years under d’Estissac, Rabelais set out on his own as a secular priest and aspiring physician who traveled about France teaching and studying. In 1530 he entered the widely esteemed University of Montpellier, where he obtained a medical degree. He soon gained renown as a talented lecturer, doctor, and editor-translator of works by the Greek physicians Hippocrates and Galen, proving instrumental in reviving and incorporating their theories into contemporary medical practice. Because of his reputation and accomplishments in the field, Rabelais was appointed chief physician in 1532 to the well-known Hôtel-Dieu in Lyon. That same year he began his writing career with the publication of Les horribles et espouvantables faictz et prouesses dutres renomme Pantagruel Roy des Dipsodes, fils dugrand geant Gargantua (Pantagruel, King of the Dipsodes, with His Heroic Acts and Prowesses). The book was banned in 1533 by the Sorbonne for obscenity. Rabelais left Lyon for Rome the next year as companion and personal physician to bishop and diplomat Jean du Bellay. For the next decade, Rabelais periodically assisted du Bellay and his brother Guillaume, governor of the Piedmont region of Italy, in various capacities. Primarily, he served as family physician, and as an intermediary in attempts to reconcile Catholic and Protestant factions, who had been at odds since Martin Luther's revolutionary pronouncements against the Church in 1517.

Between his travels and official service, Rabelais continued to practice and study medicine as well as write. He published subsequent volumes of his story about Pantagruel and Gangantua in 1534, 1546, and 1552, encountering further censure by Church officials who believed Rabelais to be a Lutheran sympathizer. Rabelais was also criticized by the Calvinists, an extreme Protestant group, who deemed him a dangerous spokesman for atheistic values. Although his works were protected by royal edict, scholars believe that persecution by religious groups forced Rabelais to leave France on occasion. In 1551 he was awarded the vicarship of two parishes, insuring him social stability. However, in 1553 he resigned the offices and died a few months later.

Major Works

Scholars attribute four books in the Pantagruel and Gargantua series to Rabelais with certainty. First appearing at the annual Lyon fair, and modeled after a recently published, popular chapbook tale of Arthurian giants (Les grandes et inestimables chroniques du grand et enorme geant Gargantua), Rabelais's Pantagruel met with an avid readership, particularly as it, unlike its predecessor, contained allusions to current events and more vividly portrayed human life under the humorous guise of gianthood—a fantastic realm then in vogue with French readers. This first volume was soon revised and expanded. The second book, La vie inestimable du grand Gargantua, père de Pantagruel, (The Inestimable Life of the Great Gargantua, Father of Pantagruel) represents Rabelais's attempt to recreate the myth of Gargantua, father of his first fictive hero. Due to the chronological precedence of its story, Gargantua has been placed first in sequence by some editors of Rabelais's work. Next came Le tiers and Le quart livres des faictz et dictz heroiques du noble Pantagruel (The Third and Fourth Books of the Heroic Deeds and Sayings of the Good Pantagruel), the last to be positively attributed to Rabelais; in these works, the giant element is downplayed and a greater emphasis is placed on the quest for truth and meaning in life. More complex in structure, more copious in allusion and ambiguity, these later books greatly contributed to Rabelais's posthumous reputation as a profound thinker and allegorist. An additional work, L’isle sonante (The Ringing Island), appeared in print under Rabelais's name in 1562. The majority of scholars recognize this work as a largely authentic continuation of the Pantagruel story. This publication was followed two years later by Le cinquieme et dernier livre des faictz et dictz heroiques du bon Pantagruel (The Fifth and Last Book of the Heroic Deeds and Sayings of the Good Pantagruel), which included L’isle sonante as its first sixteen chapters. The authenticity of the latter portion of this work, given its predominantly moralistic and didactic tenor, has been seriously questioned and the issue remains unresolved.

The unwieldy size and scope of Gargantua and Pantagruel prevents simple summary of its circuitous plot and numerous themes. The first two books are closely allied in that both center around the birth, education, and maturity of the hero-giants Gargantua and Pantagruel, who demonstrate remarkable physical prowess and wisdom, yet often find themselves or their friends caught in a series of ridiculous predicaments. There results a central dichotomy in Rabelais's work between sagacious, occasionally profound, prose and superficial, rollicking entertainment. Through modern analyses, scholars have shown that despite several ribald episodes and seemingly aimless, digressive language, Gargantua does move gradually toward highe concerns. In the closing chapter of Gargantua, the titular character builds an archetypal religious abbey (Theleme) for his aide and confidante, Friar Jean. The abbey, for its egalitarian tenets and adoption of Renaissance principles of education and open-mindedness, is regarded as Rabelais's idealized conception of a new world order. The inscription on one of its cornerstones, “Fay ce que vouldras” (“Do what you will”), along with an emphasis on responsible, active participation in God's community on earth, represent ideals which Rabelais iterates throughout the novel in various ways, often cloaking his humanist beliefs in irony, humor, and allegory.

Critical Reception

Central to Rabelais's artistic world, and to his humanist conception of life, was the potency, magic, and unlimited appeal of human language itself. Rabelais released in his books a pyrotechnical display of verbal constructs and linguistic games; yet, such inventiveness, and a purported inattention to contiguous plot and relevant detail, have provoked some harsh criticism of his work. Many sixteenth- and seventeenth-century scholars took Rabelais's ribald, seemingly amoral humor and madcap verbiage at face value and labeled the author a drunken fool with a profane pen, rather than a serious writer with a uniquely organized and effectively expressed message for the world. However, most later critics have acknowledged the serious intent of Gargantua and Pantagruel and accept the wordplay, circuitous narrative, and occasional grossness as the natural outpourings of a literary genius artistically intoxicated with life at its fullest, language at its richest.

Rabelais's writings continue to garner positive critical attention, though the depth of Gargantua and Pantagruel, with its apparent contradictions, complex allegories, and time-specific satire has generated a disparate body of recent commentary applying a variety of critical styles and viewpoints, from narratology to semiotics. Camilla J. Nilles has investigated Rabelais's deliberate evasion of resolution and finality in the Quart Livre. Carla Freccero has examined the different narrative strategies Rabelais employs in Pantagruel and Gargantua. Edwin M. Duval has stressed that the series must be read within its historical context, while Gerard Ponziano Lavatori as well as Elizabeth Chesney Zegura and Marcel Tetel have detected economic concerns informing the text. Many critics have focused on Rabelais's philosophic and religious thought. François Rigolot, for example, in his analysis of Rabelais's portrayal of the lady from Paris, has contrasted the misogynist depiction with Rabelais’ humanist ideology, and Margaret Broom Harp has viewed the encounter with the Ennasins as a reflection of Rabelais's evangelic humanism. Florence M. Weinberg has argued that the Andouilles in the Quart Livre represent Lutherans and the flying hog represents Martin Luther. F. W. Marshall has maintained that Rabelais's treatment of Papimania reveals both his loyalty to the Catholic church and his interest in reform. Gérrard Defaux has considered the whole of humanist thought, and has seen Rabelais as its greatest voice. He declares that Rabelais's “importance and exemplarity are above all due to the exhilarating and vibrant violence of his satire, and to the remarkable depth and acuity of his critical intelligence.”

Principal Works

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*Les horribles et espouvantables faictz et prouesses du tres renommé Pantagruel Roy des Dipsodes, filz du grand géant Gargantua [as Alcofrybas Nasier] (satire) 1532 [Pantagruel, King of the Dipsodes, with His Heroic Acts and Prowesses, 1653]

*La vie inestimable du grand Gargantua, père de Pantagruel [as l’abstracteur de quinte essence] (satire) 1534 [The Inestimable Life of the Great Gargantua, Father of Pantagruel, 1653]

Epistre de Maistre François Rabelais, homme de grans lettres grecques et latines à Jehan Bouchet, traictant des ymaginations qu’on peut avoir touchant la chose désirée (letter) 1545, published in Épitres morales et familières du traverseur

*Le tiers livre des faictz et dictz heroiques du noble Pantagruel (satire) 1546 [Third Book of the Heroic Deeds and Sayings of the Good Pantagruel, 1693]

*Le quart livre des faictz et dictz heroiques du noble Pantagruel (satire) 1552 [Fourth Book of the Heroic Deeds and Sayings of the Good Pantagruel, 1693-94]

Le cinquième et dernier livre des faictz et dictz heroiques du noble Pantagruel (satire) 1564 [The Fifth and Last Book of the Heroic Deeds and Sayings of the Good Pantagruel, 1693-94]

L’isle sonante (satire) 1662

Oeuvres., 9 vols. [variorum edition] (satires) 1823-26

Oeuvres. 7 vols. (satires) 1912-65

*These works are commonly referred to as Gargantua and Pantagruel.

†This work was written between 1524 and 1527.

‡The authenticity of this work has been often debated and remains uncertain.

Camilla J. Nilles (essay date 1988)

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SOURCE: “Solution and Dissolution in the Closure to the Quart Livre,” in Essays in Literature,Vol. XV, No. 1, Spring 1988, pp. 131-40.

[In the following essay, Nilles argues that Rabelais deliberately evades a sense of finality and resolution in the conclusion of the Quart Livre.]

The Quart Livre, which appeared in 1552, is the last work whose authorship is uncontestably attributed to François Rabelais. It may seem ironic that an author who had devoted three volumes to the comic exploits of the giants Gargantua and Pantagruel should introduce the final installment of their “faicts et dicts” (“words and deeds”) with a praise of moderation. But, rather than an absence of extremes, the Quart Livre's prologue sees moderation as the joining of contraries in one harmonious whole, as exemplified by the narrator's own “moderate” wish for good health, in which a sound mind and a sound body sustain one another in a mutually salutary relationship.1 Paradoxically, the narrative which follows is itself bereft of the virtues exalted in the prologue. Each of the ideologies or cults encountered in the course of the voyage is preoccupied with a single aspect of human activity to the exclusion of all others. The journey presents a proliferation of frameworks and shifting perspectives, fragmenting the prologue's vision, continuously postponing the moment of wholeness the prologue so fervently extols. Nowhere is the Quart Livre's irresolution more evident than at the book's closure, precisely the moment when a resolution of some kind can most reasonably be expected. The final island visited on the Quart Livre's journey, Gaster's kingdom, poses more questions than it answers, while the remaining chapters defer the voyage's end by detaining the heroes in the middle of the open sea.

The present study explores the interaction of the forces of cohesion and disjunction in the Quart Livre's concluding chapters, the episodes relating to the visit to Gaster's domain, and the events which take place off the coasts of Chaneph and Ganabin. Here provisional solution is given to the diverse themes that converge in the Gaster episode, first by the strange and mysterious list of prodigies which concludes the Gaster chapters, and then by the episode which follows the visit to Gaster's realm, the becalming off the island of Chaneph. Neither the prodigy list nor the becalming, however, provides the final word (the “mot”) which will answer the questions underlying the Quart Livre's quest. In Rabelais's work, the desire for completion and fullness coexists with their constant deferral, engaging them not in a repetitive and ultimately fruitless pattern of reversal and mutual negation but in dynamic, creative process.

The episode of Gaster is rich, complex, and ambiguous, as attested by the many interpretations it has engendered.2 Recently a number of studies have given up the search for a single intended sense; they have seen instead a polyvalence of meaning.3 François Rigolot and Michel Jeanneret both see Gaster's multiple attributes organizing themselves around two poles, one negative and one positive. As he is first introduced, Gaster is the stomach, a concrete, inert object, “rond, dur inflectible” [round, hard … inflexible], indomitable, feared for his absolute tyranny. Later, “Gasterventre” assumes a new identity, “Gaster-faber,” becoming a form of energy and renewal, a benevolent force, source and inspiration of all human progress. Gaster brings together in one being two aspects of human existence which the medieval world view held to be mutually exclusive: material need, which humans share with all forms of animal life and which reduces them to their level, and a will to transcend imposed limitations, to improve the condition of life, to assert superiority over brute nature. Gaster does not resolve the differences between matter and energy but engages them in a fertile dialogue, providing the occasion for them mutually to illuminate one another: material need takes on new meaning when it is placed at the source of all human achievement; technical progress issanctioned by locating its inspiration in a natural, visceral drive. In Gaster good and evil meet, the natural and the unnatural, individual self-interest and collective well-being. He embraces contradiction, points toward the moment of fullness and completion.

The promise of fulfillment is not kept, however. In the concluding paragraphs, Gaster is abandoned. His episode is never brought to closure, the leave-taking and departure from his island are never related. Instead, a new subject is introduced, usurping his power and replacing him. The list of arts and sciences invented by Gaster to cultivate, protect, and transport grain ends with his discovery of a way to make bullets return to their source; then a lengthy digression describes natural phenomena capable of repelling damaging influences in an equally fantastic manner. When the list draws to a close, we find ourselves at sea once more, headed for the island of Chaneph.

Critical studies have devoted little attention to the prodigy list, tending to dismiss it as a mere “facétie,” as a satire of popular belief in the occult powers of prodigies, as a smoke screen thrown up to conceal the ending of an already obscure episode.4 The prodigy list, however, is an integral part of the Gaster episode, intimately linked to it by a series of structural and thematic bonds, yet remote enough in character to furnish a perspective which gives Gaster new meaning.

The prodigy list takes up structures of thought and style first introduced in the opening paragraphs of Gaster's episode but never completely resolved during the visit to his domain. Its paratactic structure recalls a similar arrangement in the first chapter of the Gaster sequence. There the animals forced to submit to Gaster's rule are enumerated. Both lists are displays of power, Gaster subjugating the animal realm, the prodigies exerting mysterious forces to expel or repel foreign substances. Both lists also attempt to exert power over their readers, commanding their attention through the repetition of attention-riveting devices (“Et tout pour la trippe” [And all for the gut's sake], “Attendu que …” [Given that …], respectively) and persuading them of the truth of the argument through the number and diversity of the examples called forth to support it.

The two lists exert very different forms of power, however. The first list groups together various wild animals according to shared characteristics and shows them performing a variety of feats to satisfy Gaster's whims. Animals, birds, and fish proliferate, verbs multiply, the list takes on epic proportions as the entire animal kingdom is whipped to a clamorous frenzy by Gaster's imperious demands. Prefiguring the role he will later play in the process of civilization, Gaster is here given credit for the domestication of the animal kingdom: “Mesmes es animans brutaulx il apprend ars desniées de Nature” [Even to brute beasts he teaches arts which Nature had denied them].5

The prodigies' power lies not in their ability to inspire the pursuit of “unnatural” knowledge but, on the contrary, in their capacity to expel or repel foreign objects and return the victims of violation to their unaltered, natural state. The list includes a plant which expels iron objects embedded in wood; dittany, which expels arrows embedded in flesh; laurels, fig trees, and seals, whose odors repel lightening; a ram whose sight returns maddened elephants to their senses; wild fig trees which overcome the fury of raging bulls and put them in a stupor; and beech trees, which calm fierce serpents. The repeated purgings create the impression that the list is advancing toward a state of ever greater serenity. It also continues to gain in strength, each prodigy possessing a more compelling force than the preceding and exercising it over a more intractable subject. While initially they control only inanimate objects (iron, arrows), their dominion soon extends to the most ferocious of beasts (wild elephants, maddened bulls, venomous serpents). A final progression involves the nature of the impurity expelled or repelled and evolves from the concrete to the abstract. The initial prodigies extract only foreign objects (metal, arrows), but later prodigies eradicate intangible forces or conditions (madness, rage) interfering with the subject's essential being. Unlike the animal list, in which all creatures were reduced to the same level by their common material need, the prodigy list describes an ascending movement, evolving according to the same principles that had governed Gaster's successive transformations and, like him, encompassing in its range both the material and the abstract.

All progressions reach their full extension in the myth of the elder tree, which occupies the terminal point in the prodigy list, just as Gaster is the last in the series of island rulers. Grown in the most remote regions, the elder tree is used to fabricate flutes whose divine music immediately captivates all listeners. Like Gaster, the elder tree is the most powerful element in the sequence it concludes: the king of beasts himself is astounded and falls mute before the music of its flutes. And, like Gaster, the elder joins in one object the material (the flute composed of organic matter) and the intangible (the force of its haunting music). The elder, however, stands in direct opposition to Gaster and all that he represents. To assure the most perfect instruments, the elder must be grown so far from society that “le chant des coqs ne sera ouy” [the cock's crow will not be heard]. Civilization, Gaster's greatest accomplishment, becomes here a force of corruption, interfering with the purity of the natural state. Nor is this the only difference between Gaster and the remarkable tree. While Gaster's achievements are rooted in the material sphere, the elder exercises its power through the divine music of its flutes; while Gaster proceeds by increasing knowledge, the elder gains force from withdrawing to a purer, as yet uncorrupted state; while Gaster reigns in the midst of feverish activity and inarticulate babbling, the elder flourishes in an atmosphere of peace, tranquility, and silence.

Silence becomes another feature common to the beginning and the end of the Gaster episode. Gaster too inhabits a world without sound: “Il ne oyt poinct.” [He hears nothing.] He rules creation through silent signs while remaining impervious to verbal appeals. Language, an abstract, symbolic system of communication, is replaced by one which is at once more organic and more efficient. Demonstrating the power of his silent signs, they are compared to the most terrifying and imperious of audible commands, the roar of the king of beasts, and clearly emerge victorious: all creatures shiver at the sound of the lion's outburst, but Gaster's commands move the very heavens and the earth.

The silence surrounding the elder tree is achieved only through complete withdrawal from the material reign Gaster wishes to subjugate. Like Gaster, the elder is also able to impose silence on all that surrounds it. The lion is called forth once more to test the mysterious force its flutes exert. Upon hearing their music, “le lion, animant de si grande force et constance, devient tout estonné et consterné” [the lion, a beast of such great strength and fortitude, is totally amazed and dumbfounded] (2: 230). The beast is again overcome and subdued but by a power quite different from that exerted by Gaster. The lion is not outdone or defeated by a superior physical force but rather is awe-struck, inspired with reverential fear for something so sublime that it transcends all earthly experience.

To explain why the elder must be grown out of earshot of cock's crow and to account for the unusual power invested in its flutes, the narrator resorts to allegory. In the opening paragraphs of the episode, allegory had also been invoked to explain the irregularities of the island's physical surface: although access to Gaster's realm is unusually difficult, once the crew has overcome the initial obstacles, they discover fields so verdant and delightful that they could easily be mistaken for the earthly paradise. Pantagruel immediately recognizes in the island's geographical disposition the physical realization of Hesiod's allegory and announces to his friends that they have come upon Virtue's domain.6 As further exploration of the island soon reveals, the giant is mistaken: no abstract truth lies behind the island's mysterious configuration, only Gaster's gross materiality.7 The physical surface cannot be read allegorically, its confusion and contradiction cannot be resolved by appealing to transcendent reality. The signs that tease Pantagruel into prematurely giving them meaning never deliver the fullness they promise.

In the concluding paragraphs of Gaster's episode, the possibility that an abstract truth informs concrete reality is again raised. The fact that flutes should be made only from elders grown where “le chant des coqs ne sera ouy” can be interpreted literally to mean that they must be fabricated from wild elder wood, or “plus haultement, non selon la lettre, mais allegoricquement” [in a higher sense, not according to the letter, but allegorically] (2: 230). Here the narrator recalls the example of the Pythagoreans who, in saying that the statue of Mercury should not be made from any sort of wood indiscriminately, meant that God should not be worshipped in the common fashion but in a special, religious way. In like manner, to say that flutes should come only from trees grown in remote areas means that “les gens saiges et studieux ne se doibvent adonner à la musique triviale et vulgaire, mais à la celeste, divine, angelique, plus absconse et de plus loing apportée” [wise and studious people should not devote themselves to trivial and vulgar music, but to heavenly, divine, angelic music, which is more abstruse and comes from a a greater distance] (2: 230).

The use of allegory again posits the simultaneous coexistence of two realities, spiritual and material, in a single object, while the interpretations given to both the Pythagorean allegory and the allegory of the elder tree confirm that possibility by clearly distinguishing two modes of being: the “triviale et vulgaire,” everyday existence preoccupied with material needs and their satisfaction, and the “esleue et religieuse” [special and religious], the “celeste, divine, angelique, plus absconce,” to which it urges the “gens saiges et studieux” to aspire. Unlike the episode's beginning, nothing follows to cast doubt on the validity of allegorical readings or to contradict those advanced by the narrator. At the end of the episode the possibility is left open that matter and spirit might achieve harmonious solution in a meaningful whole.

Although Gaster overcomes the inertia of matter, transforming it into a source of energy and inspiration, his domain remains strictly material: he does not admit the duality of human nature and offers nothing to satisfy spiritual aspirations. The prodigy list introduces a new spiritual reality, upsetting the provisional balance Gaster achieved, pointing up his shortcomings by recalling various aspects of his reign but reproducing them in a totally alien register. The two extremes of the episode, beginning and end, present specular images of one another, the material and the immaterial meeting once more in a confrontation that appears to preclude a final, uniform solution. The prodigy list becomes a pivotal moment in the text: it creates a new perspective from which to look back on Gaster, to see his incompleteness, to put in context his awesome power. At the same time, the prodigy list confronts Gaster's materiality with its own spirituality, introducing a new dialogue which becomes the generative principle of the chapters to follow.

The approach to Chaneph, the next island on the Quart Livre's itinerary, is hardly filled with the promise that the sighting of Gaster's domain had held forth. Not far from the island, the giant and his friends are becalmed and unable to draw near enough to land. With the loss of wind the crew has lost its principal source of occupation and each member is forced to find a way to fill time. They listlessly engage in a variety of trivial and unproductive pursuits, unrelated by a common incentive or a sense of community. Finally, to amuse themselves, they each formulate a riddle to address to Pantagruel.

No wind, no activity, no answers—the series of absences which qualify the chapter's beginning are not entirely negative, however. The very prospect of an answer infects the crew with eager anticipation. As they await their turn to pose their question, they become animated emotionally and physically. They emerge from their torpor to regain their good humor (“en grande alaigresse d’esprit” [with a very light heart], “en guayeté de coeur” [with joy in his heart]) and shake off their lethargy to engage in physical activity (“soy levant en pieds” [rising to his feet], “s’estant un peu frotté le front et sescoué les aureilles” [having rubbed his forehead a little and shaken his ears]). Want has stimulated interest and activity, heightened the expectation of fulfillment, and increased the tension of anticipation.

Pantagruel promises his friends a “seule solution” in terms implying that he will do more than merely furnish an answer to their riddles:

A tous les doubtes et quaestions par vous propousées compete une seule solution, et à tous telz symptomates et accidens une seule medicine. La response vous sera promptement expousée, non par longs ambages et discours de parolles: l’estomach affamé n’a poinct d’aureilles, il n’oyt goutte. Par signes, gestes et effectz serez satisfaicts et aurez resolution à vostre contentement. (2: 233)

[A single solution will be sufficient to all the doubts and questions you have raised and a single medicine to all such symptoms and accidents. The answer will be given to you promptly, without circumlocutions and wordy discourses: a hungry stomach has no ears, it hears nothing. You will be satisfied through signs, gestures, and demonstrations and will have the solution you desire.]

To the pre-existing voids, Pantagruel has added yet another hunger, which associates the need for answers with physical appetites. At the same time he has provided the clue to Gaster's identity so pointedly withheld in the previous episode, suggesting that his “seule solution” will resolve the other unanswered questions raised by the visit to that island.

Pantagruel does not offer his “seule solution” immediately but promises to reveal it after the crew has dined. Gratification is again deferred, but now that the crew has received assurance of an ultimate resolution, the wait takes on a pleasant, agreeable character. The waiting period is filled with eating and drinking, both undertaken in a spirit quite different from the gluttonous gorging of Gaster's feast. As always in Rabelais, the banquet, with its deep evangelical and classical associations not only offers satisfaction to the physical appetite but generates the conviviality and exchange that provide satisfaction on yet another level. Here, moreover, the activity of eating and drinking actually occupies the time in which the “seule solution” is given. At the end of the meal the crew is astonished to discover that all the voids of the chapter's beginning have been filled: food and drink have satisfied hunger and thirst, pleasant activity has occupied free time, silence and isolation have been overcome by the banquet's warm camaraderie, the riddles have all received answers, the sails are filled with fresh wind. The satisfaction of physical appetite coincides with the satisfaction of all other wants.

Once all the riddles have been answered, in an order quite different from that in which they were posed, there remains only Frère Jean's “Maniere de haulser le temps?” [A way to make the wind rise?], a query whose importance is heightened by the fact that it is the first to be asked, and the last to be answered. To be sure, the riddle is loaded with significance: “haulser le temps” means to make the wind come up and also to pass away time.8 The question raised by the riddle simultaneously articulates all of the chapter's initial voids, increasing expectation, challenging Pantagruel to provide an answer which will satisfy them all.

Pantagruel's answer is only a verbal confirmation of what everyone has already experienced. He first replies by inviting the crew to observe the physical evidence before them: “Maniere de haulser le temps? Ne l’avons nous à soubhayt haulsé? Voyez le guabet de la hune. Voyez les siflemens des voiles. Voyez la roiddeur des estailz, des utacques et des scoutes.” [A way to make the wind rise? Have we not raised it satisfactorily? Look at the pennant on top of the mast. Listen to the whistling of the sails. Look at the tautness of the stays, the ties, and the sheets.] He then associates the rising wind with the satisfaction of physical appetites by repeating the word “haulser” in a different context and giving it new meaning: “Nous haulsans et vuidans les tasses, s’est pareillement le temps haulsé par occulte sympathie de Nature” (2: 239). [While we were raising and emptying our cups, the wind also rose by Nature's hidden sympathies.] The giant's pun brings together divergent thematic possibilities in one formal unit and reveals unforeseen similarities between them. As a result, human activity, which had surpassed natural limitations under Gaster's reign, is once more integrated into Nature's plan: human will corresponds to the will of Nature.

What Pantagruel's pun achieves on the formal level, wine achieves on the thematic level. Throughout Rabelais's work, wine operates as an image in both the material and the spiritual realms. While it is a natural substance, consumed in response to an organic stimulus, providing material satisfaction and physical pleasure, it is also a source of inspiration, endowed with the power to elevate the mind and spirit. Here wine appears under both species, as the physical substance which satisfies the crew's thirst and as a gift of divine Bacchus, by which, as Pantagruel recalls, “sont hault eslevez les espritz des humains, leurs corps evidentement alaigriz, et assouply ce que en eulx estoit terrestre” [human minds are raised high, their bodies noticeably lightened, and what was most earthy in them made pliant] (2: 241). Wine too is a single solution in which the material and the spiritual coexist.

The “seule solution” offers satisfaction to both spiritual and material need and mediates extremes on both the semiotic and thematic level. Satisfaction, however, is not achieved by supplying what is lacking to produce a completed whole. Instead, like the prodigy list, it involves reduction to a simpler form, a purer state of being. In the opening chapter of the episode, Pantagruel had looked upon his friends' questions as “symptomates et accidens,” as aberrations interfering with the health of the mind. Later he applied the same vocabularly to hunger, which he termed a “perturbation,” a temporary deviation from normalcy. To both he promised a cure: his friends' doubts would be dispelled with a “seule medicine,” just as their hunger would be “guéri” [cured] by eating and drinking. In both cases, resolution entails the elimination of accidental, occasional characteristics, the return to an essential mode of being, the recovery of the health and wholeness that had been the prologue's “moderate wish.”

At the same time, satisfaction is presented as a dynamic process rather than a state of finality or as a suppression of desire. In giving thanks for the meal, Panurge does not neglect to express gratitude for both the relief from hunger it effects and the pleasure taken in effecting it:

Sans poinct de faulte nous doibvons bien louer le bon Dieu nostre createur, servateur, conservateur, qui par ce bon pain, par ce bon vin et frays, par ces bonnes viandes nous guerist de telles perturbations, tant du corps comme de l’ame, oultre le plaisir et volupté que nous avons beuvans et mangeans. (2: 239)

[Without question we should surely praise the good Lord our Creator, Savior, and Preserver who through this good bread, this good, fresh wine, and these good meats cures disorders, both of the body and of the soul, not to mention the pleasure and sensual delight that we have in drinking and eating.]

Fulfillment is realized not only at the meal's end but in the very act of consumption. Similarly, when Pantagruel promises to answer his friends' questions only after they have shared a meal together, he appears to be only delaying the moment of truth. But, as the crew discovers, the answer to all their questions lies in the very act which seems to postpone it; meaning lies in deferment itself.

Finally, satisfaction is not presented as a state of fullness and plenitude. The act which fills the stomach is described as an emptying (“vuidans les tasses” [emptying the cups], “vuidans les victuailles” [unloading the provisions] of the ship) while the providing of an answer is seen as a way to “vuider doubtes” [clear up doubts]. The same lightness and insubstantiality characterize the agent which brings about fulfillment: a “legiere solution” [easy solution] to questions, the spirituality of wine and wind. Once satisfied, the body becomes “plus legier” [more nimble], “alaigriz” [lighter]. Freed from the constraints of sensual appetite, it is “emancip[é] de jeun” [liberated from fasting]. Buoyed by their new-found levity, like the lifted tankards (the “tasses haulsées”) or the raised winds (“le temps haulsé”), spirits, too, are raised. The satisfied subjects pass from the material state to the incorporeal: doubts are dissolved (“resolus”), dead time is eliminated (“haulsé”). Tracing the curve inscribed by Gaster's episode, the process of fulfillment passes from the concrete to the abstract, from an impure to a pure condition, from the state of material need to the state of inspiration and enlightenment. In the act of satisfying hunger, the material and the spiritual are joined. A sound mind is established in a sound body, realizing the prologue's “moderate wish” for good health. Gaster's demands must be met but their satisfaction frees man to pursue needs of another, less tangible order: satisfaction creates the void that generates desire.9

The Quart Livre's voyage in search of the single, unequivocal “mot” of the Dive Bouteille continuously proceeds toward that end but never achieves it. The concluding chapters even betray an effort to avoid finality: the crew bypasses the islands of Chaneph and Ganabin, the last stops on the Quart Livre's itinerary, in favor of the unlimited horizons of the open sea. The narrative shows a similar hesitation to come to closure: Gaster's domain is the last island visited but it only partially resolves the problems raised in the course of the voyage. The episode of the becalming provides thematic resolution, but it is not the final episode. The actual ending of the Quart Livre, the episode relating Panurge's fear at the prospect of landing on the island of thieves and robbers, introduces an entirely new narrative sequence, all the more disruptive because it calls back the fear-bedeviled Panurge, who had not appeared in that guise since the storm, some 40 chapters earlier. Neither the voyage nor the narrative is focused on the ending which should give them meaning, on satisfaction or fulfillment, but on the process of discovery itself: the quest, the search for meaning, the dynamic operations they set in motion. The last “mot” of the Quart Livre marks anything but finality. “Beuvons!” [Let's drink!], Panurge cries, celebrating thirst, the open mouth, and the unsatisfied desire that had marked the Quart Livre's beginning and now marks its end.


  1. The subversion of the prologue's praise of moderation begins, according to Alfred Glauser and Floyd Gray, as early as the prologue itself, where the stylistic extravagance of the narrator's encomium undermines its purported message. See Rabelais créateur (Paris: Nizet, 1964), p. 38, and Rabelais et l’écriture (Paris: Nizet, 1974), pp. 28-29.

  2. Among positivistic historical readings, Jean Plattard sees an exposition of historical materialism, La Vie de François Rabelais (Paris: G. Van Oest, 1928), p. 304; V. L. Saulnier, a defense of philosophical materialism, Rabelais dans son enquête, 2 vols. (Paris: SEDES, 1982) 2: 124-29; Robert Marichal, the development of one of St. Paul's epistles, “Quart Livre commentaires,” Etudes Rabelaisiennes, 1 (Genève: Droz, 1956), 151-202.

  3. Three of the most important recent pluralistic studies are Michel Jeanneret's “Les Paroles dégelées,” Littérature, 17 (fév. 1975), 14-30, in which he investigates thematic polyvalence in the last eighteen chapters of the Quart Livre; François Rigolot's reading of Gaster in Les Langages de Rabelais, Etudes Rabelaisiennes, 10 (Genève: Droz, 1972), 152-60, which emphasizes the episode's thematic ambiguity as well as the ambiguity that arises as a result of the conflict between the episode's style and its ostensible message; and Terence Crave's essay, “Reading Rabelais: Variations on the Rock of Virtue,” in Literary Theory / Renaissance Texts, ed. Patricia Parker and David Quint (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1986), pp. 78-95, which explores the agonistic dialogue set in motion by the episode's multiple frames of reference.

  4. Rigolot calls the prodigy list “pure facétie,” claiming that “ces cas curieux ont beau être attestés par les anciens, on ne saurait les prendre au sérieux” [it is no good calling upon the ancients to testify to the authenticity of these strange cases—they cannot be taken seriously) (Langages, p. 159); Marichal believes that Rabelais is merely satirizing popular credulity (“Commentaires,” p. 195); Michael Screech accuses Rabelais of “teasing his readers” with the prodigy list, Rabelais (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1979), p. 448.

  5. François Rabelais, Oeuvres complètes, ed. Pierre Jourda, 2 vols. (Paris: Garnier, 1962), 2: 21. All further references will be to this edition and will be noted in the text by page number. Translations into English are my own.

  6. Works and Days, 289.

  7. Cave offers illuminating insights into Rabelais's use of Hesiod's topos in “Reading Rabelais,” pp. 79-82.

  8. More specifically, “hausser le temps” meant “to spend or passe away the time in quaffing, swilling, carousing” according to Randle Cotrave, A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues (1611; rpt., Columbia, S. C.: Univ. of South Carolina Press, 1950), n. pag.

  9. In the Tiers Livre, the need to satisfy material appetites before turning to spiritual matters is presented in a similar fashion: hunger is conceived as a noisy, turbulent, animal condition and freedom from hunger as lightening and uplifting (1: 455-56).

J. E. G. Dixon (essay date 1991)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7698

SOURCE: “The Treatment of morbus gallicus in Rabelais,” in Etudes Rabelaisiennes, Vol. XXV, 1991, pp. 61-75.

[In the essay that follows, Dixon examines Rabelais's views on morbus gallicus, or syphilis, arguing that Rabelais consistently criticized those in authority who had the power to influence behavior and thought regarding the disease.]

The period 1532-1534 marks a date in the history of western culture, for these years saw the appearance of Pantagruel and Gargantua respectively. From the first line on the first page, the contemporary reader entered a hitherto unknown world: “Beuveurs très illustres, et vous, véroléz très précieux (car à vous, non à aultres, sont dédiéz mes escriptz).”1 This apostrophe is repeated nearly 20 years and half a life-time later: “Beuveurs infatigables, et vous vérolléz horrifiques.”2 What does Rabelais mean? What is the significance of the beuveurs and the véroléz? What, if any, is the connexion between them? The former, linked with wine, will become a theme to be developed and to undergo subtle changes throughout the work. The latter will recur here and there in the work, and represent a small part of a larger concern and theme. Viewed in the broad, they might be taken to represent good health and ill, medicine and the physician, and the relationship which unites them.

In this paper, it is my intention to examine, not the larger concern, but the disease in question—morbus gallicus, as was its usual learned name: the French disease—and the references made to it by Rabelais in his works.

It is as well to explain at the outset, since this disease is rather an unusual one to occupy a noticeable place in a literary3 work, why it has a place at all. For, in fact, there are no fewer than twenty-seven specific mentions of it by the terms vérole ans vérolé(s) and a few other mentions and allusions by other terms4.

In 1494-1495 Charles VIII of France led an army through Italy—on the first aggressive military excursion by the French outside their boundaries for 200 years—to lay claim to the throne of Naples, which was held by the Spanish crown. Samuel Eliot Morison describes it thus: “During the absence of Christophe Columbus on his Second Voyage, Charles VIII, king of France, with fifty thousand men marched down to Naples, and marched back again. All Europe watched this victorious procession with delight or apprehension, and followed the inglorious retreat with amusement and scorn. But before long it was clear that something else had happened, … people began to itch, to feel burning pains in the body, and to break out in loathsome chancres, pustules, skin eruption and ‘pestiferous buboes’. In Italy they called this disease the mal francese, or morbus gallicus, which for many years remained the most common medical term. The French, believing that the disease was imported by the retreating army, called it ‘mal de Naples’. From France the scourge crossed to England, where as early as 1497 we find it called the ‘infirmity cumm out of Franche’, and where later it was known as the French Pox. Germany naturally blamed it on the French, but the Poles called it the German sickness; and in Russia … its visitations were called the Polish Disease. The ships of Vasco da Gama carried the contagion to the Far East, and as early as 1512 there were two outbreaks in Japan, where it was called Nambanniassa, the Portuguese Sickness.”5

The disease had marked characteristics: it was particularly virulent, running its course in a few years rather than 30 or more; it was highly contagious, and, as we have seen, reached pandemic proportions in a few years; and it was extremely painful, distressing, and unsightly in its physical manifestations. Moreover it was recognized from the beginning as being a venereal contagion.

Its symptoms and severity led people to believe that it was a new disease hitherto unknown in Europe. And not only new, but distinct. Diagnosis is the first essential step in pathology; and although diagnosis, like almost every branch of clinical medicine at this time, was rudimentary, the severity of the disease was a considerable factor in aiding diagnosis. It is therefore not surprising that, about 50 years late, Rabelais is able to distinguish it from other, and better known, diseases:

(Nous) avions les faces guastées aux lieux touchéz par lesdictz feueilletz (des Décrétales). L’un y avoit la picote, l’aultre le tac, l’aultre la vérolle, l’aultre la rougeolle, l’aultre gros furoncles. Somme, celluy de nous tous estoit le moins blessé à qui les dens estoient tombées6.

In another passage he (or some unknown writer) distinguishes between “… les ladres …, les empoisonnéz …, les pestiféréz …, les vérolés …, ainsi de tous aultres”7. In fact, however, as early as 1533 our author is differentiating between venereal infections: “… mais, le Soleil entrant en cancer et autres signes, se doibvent garder de vérolle, de chancre, de pisses chauldes, poullains grenetz etc.”8

The distinctiveness of this new affliction made the description and recognition of symptoms easier. The dermatological eruptions and sores noted by Morison are also described by Rabelais in various places9. More alarming is this picture of the afflicted, which describes them in what must be an advanced stage:

O quantes foys nous les avons veu, à l’heure que ilz estoyent bien oingtz et engresséz à point, et le visaige leur reluysoit comme la claveure d’un charnier, et les dentz leurs tressailloyent comme font les marchettes d’un clavier d’orgues ou d’espinette quand on joue dessus, et que le gosier leur escumoit comme à un verrat que les vaultres ont aculé entre les toilles10.

After diagnosis from symptoms, treatment. People are willing to spend large sums of money to seek a cure for diseases and relief from pain. Financial accounts left by wealthy burghers, as well as by traders and artisans not so wealthy, attest to this universal concern11.

Although there was no known cure, it is when considering the treatments and mooted cure of this disease and of other diseases that we find the most marked differences between the new age, as we have come to regard it, and the old age. The new physicians went to school with the Greeks, and from them, particularly from Hippocrates and Galen, they learnt the value of first hand observation and of the potential of empiricism. There were of course many obstacles which prevented any true advance in clinical pathology, which would not come into its own until the nineteenth century, and the discovery by Pasteur of the bacterial aetiology of disease. And it was not until 1905 that the organism causing syphilis was identified. With the discovery of the cause comes the discovery of the cure. The men of the Renaissance did not, obviously, know the cause; but it is to their credit that through trial and error they hit upon two treatments which were not totally without effect. One was sweating in a steam bath; the other was the application of a mercury ointment. In the former treatment the patient would be enclosed in a wooden box having two compartments—the upper compartment in which the patient sat, with only his head outside; and a lower compartment in which was lit a fire. The patient was subjected to this treatment for varying periods in a heat at time intense enough to cure the patient permanently12. The other treatment prescribed the rubbing of a mercury oxide ointment into the patient's sores. By one of those strokes of good fortune which are not rare in science, mercury came to be the principle treatment of the disease by Ehrlich following the discovery of the cause in 1905. Mercury had the effect of reducing the severity of the symptoms as well as of slowing down the progression of the disease. Rabelais was of course acquainted with both treatments. In Pantagruel we read: “… car toute sueur est salée; ce que vous direz estre vray si vous voulez taster de la vostre propre, ou bien de celles des vérolléz quand on les faict suer …”13 The second, in the episode of Epistemon's visit to Hades. On his return he recounts to his companions what he had seen there:

Boniface pape huytiesme estoit escumeur des marmites,
Nicolas pape tiers estoit papetier,
Le pape Alexandre estoit preneur de ratz,
Le pape Sixte, gresseur de vérolle.
—Comment? (dist Pantagruel) il y a-il des vérolléz
de par delà?
—Certes (dist Epistemon) je n’en veiz oncques tant: il en
y a plus de cent millions.
Car croyez que ceulz qui n’ont eu la vérolle en ce monde-cy
l’ont en l’aultre(14).

There are few more fascinating insights into men's thinking provided by the study of the age which lies between the dying Middle Ages and the mature Renaissance, than to observe the move away from a theological explanation and accounting of natural phenomena and toward a natural and physical explanation of them. The pandemic of morbus gallicus in question began at the end of the fifteenth century. One of the earliest treatments for the disease was provided by guaiacum. This tree was found in the islands of the New World. It was believed then that wherever God allowed a poison or a harmful plant to grow, nearby He would provided the cure15. It is of course untrue. But it was firmly believed; and since, already, the notion was circulating that Christopher Columbus's sailors had brought the disease back with them from the New World, so it was believed that the New World would provide a cure. Some merchants grew rich through the importing of Guaiacum; but no one else benefited from it in any way. At least this theory is a step in the right direction. If we go back just a little further we will find a totally different explanation of pathology—a theological explanation.

It was universally believe that God visited disease on humans as a punishment for their sins, that each disease had as it were its patron-saint, and that the sufferer would have to pray to him for his intercession with God. If the prayerful sufferer were cured, the cure was regarded as a miracle. Whenever this superstition raised its head, Rabelais did not fail to castigate it. In the midst of the Picrocholine war, five pilgrims wander on the battlefield and are taken to the king, Grandgousier, who ask them where they came from. Here is the scene:

Nous venons de Sainct Sébastian près de Nantes, et nous en retournons par noz petites journées.

—Voyre, mais (dist Grandgousier), qu’alliez-vous faire à Sainct Sébastian?

—Nous allions (dist Lasdaller) luy offrir noz votes contre la peste.

—O (dist Grandgousier) pauvres gens, estimez-vous que la peste vienne de Sainct Sébastian?

—Ouy vrayment (respondit Lasdaller), noz prescheurs nous l’afferment.

—Ouy? (dist Grandgousier) les faulx prophètes vous announcent-ilz telz abuz!

Blasphèment-ilz en ceste façon les justes et sainctz de Dieu qu’ilz les font semblables aux diables qui ne font que mal entre les humains, comme Homère escript que la peste fut mise en l’oust des Gregoys par Apollo, et comme les poètes faignent un grand tas de Vejoves et dieux malfaisans?

Ainsi preschoit à Sinays un caphart que cainct Antoine mettoit le feu ès jambes, Sainct Eutrope faisoit les hydropiques, Sainct Gildas les folz, sainct Genou les gouttes. Mais je le puniz en tel exemple, quoy qu’il me appelast hérétique, que depuis ce temps caphart quiconques n’est auzé entrer en mes terres, et m’esbahys si vostre roy les laisse prescher par son royaulme telz scandales, car plus sont à punir que ceulx qui par art magicque ou aultre engin auroient mis la peste par le pays. La peste ne tue que le corps, mais telz imposteurs empoisonnent les âmes16.

The foregoing remarks have been guided by the order: nosology and symptomatology, transmission, and treatment. We must now consider the problem of aetiology, and the controversy surrounding it. If the disease was so virulent and contagious that it seemed a new affliction, it is inevitable that there would be speculations as to its source and origin. We have just seen Rabelais's mocking dismissal of a supernatural aetiology of disease. But, as in the search for a cure, so the search for understanding turned to natural explanations. These were not lacking. Some put forward were: conjunction of the planets, foul air, or foul matter, (which is parodied by Rabelais: e.g. Pant. ch. 16), excessive heat, and floods. With time, however, one theory came to predominate. And ever since then, medical historians who have studied it have been divided. The debate continues, to this day, unresolved, between the protagonists of the Columbian theory and of the Unitarian theory. In a nutshell, they claim, either that before this outbreak it did not exist and had never been known in Europe, that it had therefore been introduced, a foreign evil from overseas; or that it had always existed, in all parts of the world, and that by some special unknown mechanisms and factors, the disease, often quiescent or latent, is stirred up from time to time in particularly powerful form17.

Does Maître Rabelais have anything to say on this question of its origin? Not much. and it is difficult to know how to take what little he does say.

On the face of it, the rumours of a New World origin of the disease, and the paradox of adventurers setting out in search of exciting new lands and of bringing back that are tailor-made to appeal to Rabelais's mind, as to one enamoured of exotica. But there are only two reference to earlier occurences of the disease; of them one only refers to origins, and that not to an American origin.

In the first chapter of Pantagruel, in which Rabelais gives a long catalogue of names of giants, in parody of the Bible, and which is presented as the genealogy of the protagonist, we read:

Athlas … engendra Goliath,
Qui engendra Eryx … 
Qui engendra Tite … 
Qui engendra Eryon … 
Qui engendra Polyphème … 
Qui engendra Cace … 
Qui engendra Etion, lequel premier eut la vérolle pour n’avoir
beu frayz en esté(18).

In the first Book, we learn that it was the cause of death of the young Gargantua's sophistical tutor, Master Thubal Holoferne: “Puis luy leugt le Compost, où il fut bien seize ans et deux moys, lors que son précepteur mourut; et fut l’an mil quatre cens et vingt, de la vérolle que luy vint.”19

Rabelais lost a golden opportunity to make an important historical contribution to the serious questions attaching to what seemed a new disease. His apparent lack of curiosity or concern appears astounding. He was a humanist and classical scholar, and he expounded at length on all the great themes and burning issues of his day20. Moreover, he knew the influence and “immortality” of literature. It can only be that, at the period in question, he was not writing with posterity in view21, and that he did not put a high value on his own writings, which were avowedly of a popular nature and purpose22.

It is otherwise with the Columbian theory. For it is due very largely to the prestige of literary form and expression that the New World origin theory was launched and sustained. I will mention two works, over 200 years apart. The first is the Latin medical poem entitled Syphilus sive Morbus Gallicus by Fracastorius, published in 1530 at Verona23.

If Rabelais's lack of curiosity in this case is surprising, his seeming lack of concern about another area of medicine is event more so. If he had been concerned with the disease itself—if, that is, he had been writing, even in isolated passages, as a practising physician—he would, I feel sure, have said something of that branch of clinical medicine that is by far the most important of all, namely, prophylaxis. The answer to this disease in these terms is as obvious as any answer to contagion can be: DO NOT TOUCH—which, given its context, opens up a fertile field indeed for comic treatment. But the reader will search Rabelais's books and minor writings from one end to the other in vain: he will find not the least reference or allusion to such an obvious—and impossibly unrealistic—solution. On the contrary, and far from it: in another episode—this in the Tiers Livre—in a characteristic comic paradox, Rabelais takes the opposite path and proposes the carnal act itself as a remedy—for lust! Panurge, wanting to marry but fearful of being cuckolded, consults a physician, who advises him that carnal concupiscence is restrained by five means: by wine imbibed intemperately24, by certain drugs and plants, by strenuous labour, by assiduous study, and by the veneral act. “Je vous attendois là (dist Panurge) et le prens pour moy. Use des praecédens qui vouldra.”25

In this examinations of Rabelais's references to the disease in question—La vérole, morbus gallicus, syphilis—can a pattern be discerned, or a consistent form of treatment be noted? Can any conclusions be drawn?

Since the author was a physician, the first obvious bias to look for would be that which led to a serious “clinical” use, especially given the nature of the disease. However, of all the references (with one exception which we will discuss shortly), only one can be considered to fall under such a rubric. It is this:

Et ainsi comme vous, véroléz, de loin à vos jambes sciaticques et à vos omoplattes sentez la venue des pluyes … de tout changement de temps: ainsi à leurs racines, … elles [arbres] pressentent quelles sortes de bastons soubs elles croissent …26

Even so, one significant thing to note is that the clinical characteristic of the disease does not figure for itself, but rather is used as one element of an image. Imagery, of course (like the apostrophe to the véroléz in question), is a literary device: the pathological nature of the first element is incidental.

We find, in fact, on examining the references we have cited and their contexts, that the author takes no medical “position” or stand, has no bias or axe to grind, imparts no clinical “lesson”. In a word, he is not much concerned with the disease in itself.

Nor is there any sign that his interest, as a man of learning, lies in airing his knowlege of the subject for its own sake—as he does in other areas, e.g. the physiological explanation of tears produced by excessive mirth (Gargantua, 20), and of blindness caused by excessive brightness (Gargantua, 10).

In pursuing our analysis, we are reminded of Hughes Salel's dixain addressed to the author, which praises him for the great merit of his Pantagruel, namely, its “utilité”. Does it hold true of the theme we have examined? There is, in truth, little of instruction in these passages. But from that little the lesson is big, and will in the future have momentous consequences. It is that morbus gallicus, like all diseases, whatever their origin, is a natural phenomenon, not a heaven-sent scourge to punish for blasphemy of heresy, and will respond to treatment and be cured only natural remedies and means.

This lesson is not immediately obvious—it is in fact one of the “profits” which lie “soubz plaisant fondement”. We have already seen indications, in fact, that the exploitation of the theme is incidental: it is brought in for other purposes; and other ends mean literary ends. Two among them are apostrophes to the readers, and imagery. But we can be more precise: of the references made to the disease and its victims, the great majority are exploited for the comic effect they lend themselves to—and thus are consistent with the author's literary doctrine. A glance at the citations in the Appendix will readily recall to the reader the comic element of the episodes in question. This conclusion is not only consistent with the author's stated intent:

Vray est qu’icy peu de perfection
Vous apprendez, sinon en cas de rire:

—it is also in harmony with his medico-literary philosophy.

All is grist to Rabelais's mill. In spite of the suffering the disease inflicted on people, in spite of the high fees charged by surgeons and a growing army of quacks who bled their patients financially for as long as they showed an ability to pay, it was not so serious and desperate a matter as to prohibit the comic. But not at the expense of the victims of the disease. Rabelais had studied the physician's duties towards his patients; one of these duties was the assumption of an unfailingly cheerful countenance and appearance. As he wrote in the dedicatory epistle which he addressed to Monseigneur Odet, Cardinal de Châtillon:

Hippocrates, en plusieurs lieux, mesmement on sixiesme livre des Epidémies, descrivant l’institution du médecin … l’ont composé en gestes, maintien, reguard, touchement, contenance, grâce, honesteté, netteté de face, vestements, barbe, cheveulx, mains, bouche, voire jusques à particularizer les ongles, comme s’il deust jouer le rolle de quelque amoureux ou poursuyvant en quelque insigne commoedie27

His whole book is of a piece with his medical practice. In answer to critics who condemned him for filling his books with heresies, he replied that he wrote only to amuse:

Mais la calumnie de certains canibales, misantropes, agelastes, avoit tant contre moy esté atroce et desraisonnée qu’elle avoit vainc ma patience, et plus n’estois délibéré en escrire un iota. Car l’une des moindres contumélies dont ilz usoient estoit que tels livres tous estoient farciz d’hérésies diverses (n’en povoient toutesfois une seulle exhiber un endroict aulcun); de folastries joyeuses, hors l’offense de Dieu et du Roy, prou: c’est le subject et théme unicque d’iceulz livres28.

But to whom was Rabelais addressing his books? Who were they meant for, if anyone in particular? Let us recall the first line of the first book, already quoted: “Beuveurs très illustres, et vous, véroléz très précieux.” This dedication has perhaps become more precise, for it seems now that Rabelais is more conscious of the sick and weak, the oppressed and the unfortunate. Every good physician knows the therapeutic value of laughter, of gaiety, of cheerfulness. This is how he explains his philosophy of comedy:

J’ay esté et suis journellement stipulé, requis et importuné pour la continuation des mythologies Pantagruelicques, alléguans que plusieurs gens languoureux, malades ou autrement faschéz et désoléz avoient, à la lecture d’icelles, trompé leurs ennuictz, temps joyeusement passé et repceu alaigresse et consolation nouvelle. Esquelz je suis coustumier de respondre que, icelles par esbat composant, ne prétendois gloire ne louange aulcune, seulement avois esguard et intention par escript donner ce peu de soulaigement que povois ès affligéz et malades absens, lequel voluntiers, quand besoing est, je fais ès présens qui soy aident de mon art et service29.

Equally consistent with both his exploitation of the theme and his medicoliterary philosophy is Rabelais's attitude toward the afflicted. We have already seen that the First and Fifth books are addressed to them, albeit jocularly; as is also the Third Book. In the Prologue to the Second Book his sympathy is equally unequivocal: “Mais que diray-je des pauvres véroléz et goutteux?” he writes30.

In the entire work there is only one passage where he voices an attitude in conflict with this sympathy. At the end of Gargantua he erects an ideal convent-cum-monastery—The abbey of Thélème. The entrance is adorned by a gate, above which there is engraved a long inscription in verse, which specifies who may be admitted and who are to be excluded. Among the latter class we find precisely those for whom he had previously shown, will show again, and even in the same book has shown such touching concern. But what a change in attitude!

Cy n’entrez pas, vous rassotéz mastins,
Soirs ny matins, vieux chagrins et jaloux;
Ny vous aussi, séditieux mutins,
Larves, lutins, de Dangier palatins,
Grecs ou Latins, plus à craindre que loups;
Ny vous gualous, vérolléz jusqu’à l’ous;
Portez vos loups ailleurs paistre en bonheur,
Croustelevéz, remplis de déshonneur(31).

Tone of writing is as distinctive as tone of voice. What is remarkable about this text, is firstly, the fact that Rabelais singles them out at all; secondly, that he stigmatizes them with such anger; and thirdly, that he condemns, them, not on grounds of health and hygiene, but on moral grounds (“remplis de déshonneur”). A brief comment on each will suffice: (1) That they would not find a place in Thélème is obvious from reading the qualities of those admitted, so their singling out is somewhat gratuitous, and their castigation surprising. (2) Rabelais hardly ever shows anger in his first period: it is one of the very few passages in which he does in the first two Books. It is not until the later books that his targets are truly the objects of his indignation and resentment—of a contempt fully earned. (3) The only occasions on which Rabelais condemns on moral grounds is when he castigates those in positions of authority and able to harm the fabric of society or to poison men's minds.

I do not doubt that these lines were written by Rabelais. But I tend to think the inscription—and perhaps much of Thélème, particularly the courtly and “social” chapters, 55-57—was suggested (commissioned even?) by another—perhaps by Marguerite de Navarre. The anti-monastic theme of Thélème is Rabelaisian; but the manner in which it is treated and elaborated seems incompatible with the spirit of the good doctor32.

In view of the unusual, and unique, feature of this text, it is particularly significant that the condemnation in Télème is subsequently repudiated by Rabelais—indeed, in his very first writing following the end of Gargantua, i.e. in the Prologue to the Tiers Livre (OC, 328):

De ce poinct expédié, à mon tonneau je retourne. Sus à ce vin, compaings! Enfans, beuvez à pleins guodetz! … Notez bien ce que j’ay dict, et quelle manière de gens je invite … Des cerveaulx à bourlet, grabeleurs de corrections, ne me parlez … Des caphars encores moins, quoy que tous soient beuveurs oultréz tous verolléz croustelevéz, guarniz de altération inextinguible et manducation insatiable.

(My italics)

Rabelais had a long memory. The repudiation, which he waited 12 years to make, must have been important to him. At the very least, it restores the constancy of his expressed compassion for suffering and the sufferers.

It is one of the marks of greatness of Rabelais that he sides with the underdog—that he manifests such sympathy for the poor and the weak, the sick and the suffering, the oppressed and downtrodden and dispirited—and that he lambastes the powerful. He knew that the individual can do little real and lasting harm except to himself; that widespread and prolonged damage can be done to society only by those occupying positions of power and authority. That Rabelais was received at Court, that he hobnobbed all his adult life with the rulers of Church and State and Army and consorted with leaders of the liberal professions, makes it, and him, all the more remarkable. This striking feature of Rabelais the man and his creation has interesting, and broader, exegetical consequences and ramifications.


  1. Gargantua, Prologue, line 1. (Œuvres Complètes, Paris, Gallimard, “Bibliothèque de la Pléiade”, 1955) p. 3.

  2. Cinquiesme Livre, Prologue, 1 (OC, 749).

  3. “A literary work”. This is obviously a 20th century judgement, of one of the western world's greatest creative masterpieces. It was otherwise for Rabelais's contemporaries who saw in Pantagruel and Gargantua two comic farces meant to appeal to the popular taste. Which was the humanist's way of spreading his “gospel”. This explains why 18 of the 27 specific references to the disease in question occur in the popular works of 1532-1535. There are 7 mentions in the Cinquième Livre, 2 in the Tiers Livre ans 1 in the Quart Livre. (see also Note 20 in this respect).

  4. The figure given are obtained from the author's Concordance to Rabelais, prepared at the Literary and Linguistic Computing Centre, University of Cambridge. The contexts are given in an appendix.

  5. Samuel Eliot Morison, Admiral of the Ocean Sea, (Boston, 1942), ch. XXXVII, pp. 193-194. It should perhaps be observed, in the interest of historical accuracy, that this one detail Morison is mistaken. We would not wish to deny the privilege of priority to Scotland, whose people first gave a foothold to the disease in the British Isles—no doubt because their relations with France, as allies, were closer than those between France and England—before sharing it which their Sassenach tormentors south of the border. The arrival of the disease in Scotland and its spread to England and Ireland are well documented. R.S. Morton, in his article, “Some Aspects of the Early History of Syphilis in Scotland”, is categorical. He attributes it to Perkin Warbeck and his followers, who arrived at Aberdeen in August 1495. Warbeck (who pretended to be the Duke of York—one of the two children suffocated in the Tower during the brief reign of Richard III—and hence heir to the throne of England) was “undoubtedly a pawn of James IV of Scotland”, who held “a great display of arms—‘a wapping schawing’—at Stirling in honour of Warbeck” (Brit. J. Vener. Dis., 38, (1962), 175). No doubt it is easier to bestow this “gift” on a friend than on an enemy, though enmity is no bar. Maupassant made of this human proclivity a telling theme in his powerful and ironic story of heroism in war, “Le lit 29”, in Mile Fifi (Paris, 1893).

    The reader will be interested to read the account of a contemporary observer, that of Guicciardini: “After our account of other matters, it does not seem unworthy to report that at this period—when it was Italy's fate that all of her ills should originate with the French invasion or should at least be attributed to them—the disease which the French called ‘the Neapolitain sickness’ and the Italians commonly called buboes or ‘French sickness’, made its first appearance.

    The French caught this disease in Naples, and they spread it all over Italy on their way home to France. It was either quite new or until this time entirely unknown in our hemisphere except in its most remote parts and was for many years so horrible that it deserves to be mentioned as a grave disaster. It showed itself either in hideous boils which often became incurable sores, or with intense pains in the joints and nerves all over the body. The doctors know nothing about the disease, did not employ suitable remedies but quite often wrong ones which made the symptoms much worse. Many people of every age and sex died from it, and many others were hideously deformed and became helpless and subject to almost continual agonies of pain. Indeed most of those who appeared to have recovered in a short time fell again into the same misery. However, after many years the influence of the stars which made the disease so virulent was mitigated or the appropriate cures for it became known through long experience, and it became much less malignant.

    It had of its own accord also produced several types different from the first form of the disease. This was a calamity of which the men of our age might the more reasonably complain if it had fallen upon them without any fault of their own: for it is agreed by all those who closely observed the characteristics of the disease, that it never, or hardly ever, occurs save by contagion in coitus. Yet one should rightly remove this smirch from the French name, because it was later seen that the disease had been brought in from those islands which, as we shall narrate at some more appropriate moment, began to be known to our hemisphere during those years through the voyages of a Genoese, Christopher Columbus. In those islands, however, this malady finds a prompt remedy through the benevolence of nature; for they cure it easily, simply by drinking the juice of a tree distinguished for its many remarkable properties”, Guicciardini, History of Italy, ed. and abridged by John R. Hale (New York, Twayne publishers, “The Great Histories”, 1964), pp. 278-279.

    It is important to note two things: first, that Guicciardini had no way of knowing that the juice of this “remarkable” tree (guaiacum) effected a cure—a supposed cure which proved false; and second that, on the other hand, when he was recording events which took place in his own country and in his own time, he was a scrupulous inquirer and researcher whose investigations deserve the greatest respect and confidence.

  6. Quart Livre, 52, 129 (OC, 682).

  7. Cinquiesme Livre, 19, 69 (OC, 802).

  8. Pantagrueline Prognostication, V. (OC, 902).

  9. See, for example, Pant. 15, 56 (OC, 233); Tiers Livre, Prol., 251 (OC, 328).

  10. Pantagruel, Prologue, 36-42 (OC, 168).

  11. See Wickersheimer for source: reference quoted note 19. Also, cp. Rabelais: “après avoir tous leurs biens despenduz en médicins sans en rien profiter” (Pantagruel, Prologue).

  12. See, for example, Antonioli, Rabelais et la médecine, “Etudes rabelaisiennes”, t. XII (Genève, Librairie Droz, 1976), 95-96.

  13. Pantagruel, 2, 55-58 (OC, 179).

  14. Pantagruel, 30, 134-142 (OC, 299).

  15. Myths die hard. Even to-day, one hears it said occasionally, that if one is stung by stinging-nettles one needs only to look around and he will find some dock-leaves; for Nature always provides nearby a remedy to the ills she causes. Between the early 16th century and the early 20th century we progressed from a theological to a natural explanation of a superstition. God has merely been replaced by Nature; but everything else remains the same. In this regard, see also the passage from Guicciardini reproduced at n. 4.

  16. Gargantua, 45, 34-61 (OC, 131).

  17. In order to understand the historical topicality of Rabelais's references to the disease it may help to outline what is known and documented of the outbreak itself; secondly, sketch the outline of the Columbian theory; thirdly, compare them; and finally, glance at some of the literary and other written sources dealing with the epidemic and the theory of its origin. We have seen that it was the peculiar virulence, contagiousness and severity of the disease which, making a powerful impression on people's minds, disposed them to consider it a new form of affliction, and hence to cast around for a new explanation. We have also seen that, since its outbreak coincided with the French invasion of Italy and investment of Naples, there might be a direct cause-and-effect relation. We have quoted Guicciardini and Morison, who related that the sailors of Christopher Columbus, returned to Spain from the Second Voyage to the New World, were strong candidates for the distinction of having introduced it into Europe.

    According to Karl Sudhoff, one of the most renowned medical historians of this century, this theory is not supported by contemporary records. The most painstaking researches carried out in the archives of Naples, produced no evidence of either an epidemic or a new disease. [Karl Sudhoff, “The Origin of Syphilis” in Essays in the History of Medicine, (New York, Medical Life Press, 1926), pp. 263-265.]

    All the reliable evidence points to the fact that there was an outbreak of syphilis in Italy, between 1494 and 1496, and that it followed the line of the French army's march—Naples, Capua, Rome, Siena, Florence, Milan, Turin. Also, over a dozen incunabula have been unearthed, most of them by physicians, who describe it as a new disease. It is conceivable that, if it had existed in Europe before this time, in its ordinary forms, diagnosis may have failed—all the more since syphilis shows symptoms characteristic of other diseases. In fact, Sir William Osler, the great Canadian medical teacher and writer, described it as “the Great Imitator”. (See n. 22.)

    What of the Columbian theory? There is adequate evidence to show that the Spanish sailors did meet native girls and women on the islands visited and explored. The girls are described by more than one source as being “young and beautiful, everywhere naked, in most places accessible, and presumably complaisant”. Another says that they wore nothing, that “they have very pretty bodies, and were the first to come and give thanks to Heaven and to bring what they had”.

    See Las Casas, Columbus, and Guacanagari, quoted or referred to by Morison, op. cit. p. 206. I have also relied on The Journal of Christopher Columbus, ed. L.A. Vigneras (London, Anthony Blond, 1968) and The Four Voyages of Christopher Columbus, ed. and tr. by J.M. Cohen (Harmondsworth, Penguin Books, 1969).

    We may note that the physical appearance of the girls of Hispaniola belies the likelihood of infection—and in fact there are no reports from any source of diseased women. (Compare the description given by Morison, p. 2, and Rabelais, p. 3, supra). Next, Christopher Columbus in his accounts of his voyage gives no indication that his sailors were in anything but good health throughout the crucial 51-day period of the return (See Cohen, op. cit., p. 209). The first lesions appeared after two to six weeks following contact, and generally after three or four weeks. It is incidentally interesting to see the cause attributed to the death of Martin Alonso Pinzon, the rebellious captain of the Pinta on the first voyage. Vigneras, op. cit., n. 151, writes: “Martin Alonso died about three weeks later, possibly of syphilis contracted in the Indies.” And Cohen, who subscribed to the Columbian theory, says that Pinzon “died of grief”. Or again, the earliest record of any outbreak of syphilis in Cadiz or Seville is not in 1496, but rather not until 1497. Then it is found in prostitutes and considered to be a new disease, which was named las bubas.

    One might ask, finally, if it was thought that Columbus's sailors were infected on the Second Voyage, how is it to be explained that they did not import the contagion on return from the First Voyage?

    However, it seems to me that the most telling argument is provided by the chronology. Christopher Columbus reached Palos, on return from his first voyage, on March 15, 1493; and Cadiz, on return from the second, on June 11, 1496. Charles VIII and his army entered Italy in Septembre, 1494, and occupied Naples from February 22 to May 20, 1495.

    One of the earliest writers on the disease, Caspare Torella, the Papal Court's Spanish physician, who dedicated his Tractatus contra Pudendagram seu Morbum Gallicum to Caesar Borgia (one of his patients!), wrote that the pestilence began in 1493, in France. [See Morison, op. cit., p. 198.] And Sudhoff has collected and published a deal of evidence (“selected to prove his point”, according to Morison) to show that it existed in Europe long before. [Karl Sudhoff, The Earliest Printed Literature on Syphilis, published in the series “Monumenta Medica”, vol. III, ed. H.E. Sigerist.] Since Sudhoff, much has been written on both sides. R.R. Wilcox has written on venereal disease in the Bible, and T.F. Carney has attributed to it the death of Sulla, the Roman general, in 78 B.C. [See, respectively, R.R. Wilcox, “Venereal disease in the Bible” in Brit. Journ. Ven. Dis. 25 (1949), 28-33; T.F. Carney, “The Death of Sulla” in Acta Classica IV (1961), 64-79.]

  18. Pantagruel, 1, 101-111 (OC, 174-175).

  19. Gargantua, 14, 21 (OC, 48).

  20. We find, on the other hand, a curious echo in the Pantagrueline Prognostication of 1533, already cited, (see n. 7 above). Rabelais gives a list of “gens soubzmiz à (Vénus), comme putains, maquerelles, marjolets, bougrins, bragars, napleux, eschancréz, ribleurs, rufiens, caignardiers … ” (Ch. 5, line 63-64, OC, 902). The term “napleux” is a hapax legomenon in Rabelais. It is given by Edmond Huguet in his Dictionnaire de la langue française du XVIe siècle, who defines it. He quotes four illustrations of the use of the word, among them the one in Rabelais and this one, from a sottie of the turn of the century:

    Reigneurs dissolutz, appostates,
    Yvrongnes, napleux, a grant hastes,

    It would seem that the word, as used here and by Rabelais, is a perfectly neutral term which carries no taint of opprobrium. Quite otherwise is a cognate term which we find in an article by Wickersheimer. In his researches in the issues attaching to syphilis at this period, Wickersheimer unearthed a number of “inventaires sommaires” in departmental, municipal, and hospital archives. I will quote two of them, both from the Archives de l’Aube:

    “23. Troyes (Officialité épiscopale), 1507 ou 1508. Guillaume Pierrote ayant appelé “naplier” le clerc Jean Genvret, celui-ci riposta en l’appelant “coupault”, c’est-à-dire cocu, mais “naplier” est, paraît-il, une injure plus atroce que “coupault”. Pierrote nie d’ailleurs avoir prononcé le mot “naplier”, bien que Genvret lui ait autre fois avoué avoir eu le mal de Naples.

    “28. Ibid. 1516 ou 1517.

    Noël Marin, clerc, est accusé d’avoir battu Etienne Lerlin, potier d’étain, de l’avoir appelé ‘Villain napplier, paillard infâme’ et d’avoir dit ‘qu’il estoit napplier, luy et ses frères, et qu’il gastoit touttes les femmes et les chamberières partout où il alloit’”, (Ernest Wickersheimer, “Sur la syphilis aux XVe et XVIe siècles”, in Humanisme et Renaissance, IV (1937), 185, 187).

    The word naplier is found in neither Rabelais nor Huguet.

  21. “… not writing with posterity in view”: This would be an almost certain recipe for literary failure. It is, paradoxically, one of the soundest axioms of literary, or artistic, criticism that no writer endures who does speak to his contemporaries.

  22. Of the 16 specific mentions of morbus gallicus quoted in this article, 11 are from the early works of the period 1532-1534. These are the popular novels written to appeal to the gallery. The Tiers Livre (1546) and Quart Livre (1552)-one quotation each-are more serious and mature works, and their humour appreciably less somatic and more cerebral.

  23. A mixture of mythology, astrology, theological superstition, and genuine medical knowledge, it tells the story of an adventurer (possibly modeled on Columbus) who sails westward from Spain, past Antillia, Haiti and Guiana to Ophir. The sailors landing there shoot some beautiful birds, and incur the wrath of the Sun-God. One of the birds prophesied dire ills:

    Nor end your sufferings here; a strange disease
    And most obscene, shall on your bodies seize.

    Before the visitors' departure, the natives hold their great festival to the Sun-God, all now stricken with the same obscene disease. But the high priest displays some boughs of the magical guaiacum and purges the tainted ground with them. This, he informs the Spanish commander, is the disease predicted by the holy bird; and the tells the story of the origin of the affliction and the discovery of the cure:

    A shepherd once (distrust no ancient fame)
    Possess’d these downs, and Syphilus his name.

    This shepherd kept his king's flocks, and one summer the heat and drought being intense the cattle died. Syphilus blasphemed against the Sun-God, and not only transferred his worship to his king, but won over the people to his way. The Sun-God in his vindictive anger sent forth a dire infection on earth which contaminated air, water and land. Syphilus became its first victim.

    He first wore buboes dreadful to the sight,
    First felt strange pains and sleepless pass’d the night;
    From him the malady received its name.

    The subject of the poem is summed up in these lines:

    Say, Goddess, to what cause we shall at last
    Assign this plague, unknown to ages past;
    If from western climes ’twas wafted o’er,
    When daring Spaniard left their native shore;
    Resolv’d beyond th’Atlantick to descry
    Conjectured worlds, or in the search to dye.

    [For these excerpts I am indebted to the essay on Fracastorius by Sir William Osler in An Alabama Student and Other Biographical Essays (New York, Oxford University Press, 1909). See pp. 289-293 in particular.]

    Two hundred and twenty-nine years later the story of the origin is still very much alive. Voltaire has Dr. Pangloss contract this disease from Cunégonde's mother's maid, and is in a piteous state when he meets up with Candide some time later. The innocent Candide asks Pangloss how he came to be in a such condition, and Pangloss explains:

    O mon cher Candide! vous avez connu Paquette, cette jolie suivante de notre auguste baronne; j’ai goûté dans ses bras les délices du paradis, qui ont produit ces tourments d’enfer dont vous me voyez dévoré; elle en était infectée, elle en est peut-être morte. Paquette tenait ce présent d’un cordelier très savant qui avait remonté à la source, car il l’avait eu d’une vieille comtesse, qui l’avait reçu d’un capitaine de cavalerie, qui le devait à une marquise, qui le tenait d’un page, qui l’avait eu en droite ligne d’un des compagnons de Christophe Colomb.

    [Voltaire, “Candide”, in Contes philosophiques (Paris, Garnier Frères, 1949), pp. 44-45.] How different is the mocking, scornful spirit of the mischievous Voltaire—“Un page … l’avait reçu d’un jésuite”(!)—from the healthy, magnanimous gaiety of Rabelais's rumbustious laughter.

  24. This remedy is corroborated by the Porter in Macbeth who, being asked by MacDuff what three things drink particularly provokes, answers: “Lechery sir, it provokes and unprovokes; it provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance” Macbeth, II, iii, 29-30.

  25. Tiers Livre, ch. 31 (OC, 440-443).

  26. Cinquiesme Livre, 9 (OC, 773).

  27. Tiers Livre, A Mgr. Odet, Cardinal de Chastillon, 16-25 (OC, 517-518).

  28. Ibid., 96-104 (OC, 520).

  29. Ibid., 2-14 (OC, 517). For a fuller discussion see Antonioli, op. cit., 278-281.

  30. Pantagruel, Prologue, 36 (OC, 168).

  31. Gargantua, 54, 43-50 (OC, 153).

  32. Anti-monasticism is also a feature of Marguerite's writings—and particularly of her Heptaméron. The same may be said of the other three dominant themes of Thélème: feminism, liberty, conformity; and more especially of the dominant rûole of women in this ultra-refined society. However, the key to my contention is the moralising tone of this poem: Marguerite is a moralising writer; Rabelais is not, he is a moral writer.

Edwin M. Duval (essay date 1991)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3787

SOURCE: “Introduction: The Design of Rabelais's Christian Humanist Epics,” in The Design of Rabelais's Pantagruel, Yale University Press, 1991, pp. xiii-xviii.

[In the following excerpt, Duval argues that Pantagruel must be read in the historical and ideological contexts of its origin, noting the work's unified structure and heavy reliance on Christian humanism.]

What literature has in common with painting, according to Horace, is that some poems, like some paintings, are best judged when examined attentively at close range, others when viewed more globally from a distance:

Ut pictura poesis: erit quae, si propius stes,
Te capiat magis, et quaedam, si longius abstes.

[AP 361-62]

Horace's point is simply that in judging large works—whether paintings or poems—the critic must not focus myopically on the weakest parts but must broaden his view to consider the overall effect of the whole. If Homer occasionally nods, he may be excused by the vast, epic proportions of his poems (AP 347-60).

But the distinction between microscopy and macroscopy is useful for interpreters as well as for judges of literature. In coming to terms with large and complex works we are often tempted to stand too close, so to speak, and to scrutinize small details without stepping back to consider their place and function within the larger picture of the whole. The result can easily be an imperfect sense—or a partial sense, or even no sense at all—of what the work is all about.

The long narrative works of François Rabelais have suffered perhaps more than those of any major author from this kind of interpretive microscopy. Even the best of readers tend to focus on individual episodes and details isolated from their context and to arrive at a general view only indirectly and inductively by selecting, combining, and interpreting at will a limited number of smaller parts.

This tendency is perhaps understandable. Many superficial aspects of Rabelais's books—their apparent spontaneity and exuberance, their comic truculence, their inconsistencies and internal contradictions, their episodic structure, their radical open-endedness—conspire to suggest to postclassical readers not a coherent and ordered composition but something akin to those grotesque composite images described by Horace, which start as a beautiful woman and end as an ugly fish—ridiculous, incoherent forms like the dreams of a sick man in which neither the beginning nor the end corresponds to the middle:

 … cuius, velut aegri somnia, vanae
Fingentur species, ut nec pes nec caput uni
Reddatur formae.

[AP 7-9]

From these appearances has been derived an implicit but almost universal assumption that Rabelais's books are not really works at all but rather miscellaneous “texts,” Menippean grab bags of discrete, tenuously related episodes whose order and number could be modified without significantly altering the meaning of the whole.1 Such a view would seem to justify and even to require a myopic focus on its individual parts.

The present study takes its point of departure in the conviction that this widely held assumption of formal incoherence is mistaken and that, superficial appearances and received ideas notwithstanding, each of Rabelais's books is a complete, whole, and meticulously ordered work in the fullest sense of the word. As such each belongs squarely in Horace's second category of paintaings and poems that “te capia[n]t magis … si longius abstes” (AP 362). This is not to suggest that careful attention to the smallest details is not indispensable for an adequate understanding of Rabelais's books, but rather that every episode and virtually every detail is subordinated to a coherent, overarching design that must be clearly apprehended before any particular episode or detail may be properly understood.2

By design I mean not the kind of thematic unity or general coherence of vision that might be inferred from the sum of a work's several parts, but rather a master plan that appears to have preceded and governed the composition of each of Rabelais's books, that is meant to be discerned by the reader even before he has arrived at an understanding of any single episode, and that functions as a guide toward a proper understanding of not only the whole work but also its constituent parts. Consisting in an overall structure and not in the words that fill the structure out, it exists independently of the local, textual ambiguities that have elicited so many divergent interpretations and, transcending them, provides the stable perspective from which all such ambiguities may be properly understood. Design in this sense is thus simultaneously an intention, a structure, and a built-in hermeneutic device. It is a sure and indispensable guide to correct interpretation that reveals, through form, the meaning and most profound intentions of the work.

In keeping with this fundamental conviction I have undertaken in this study to read the first of Rabelais's Pantagrueline books not as a mere text or collection of unrelated texts but as an integral, organic work informed by a clear and meaningful design. To this end, rather than proceed from a close examination of a few parts to a more general interpretation of the whole, I have deliberately begun with the Horatian long view, moving closer to examine problematic episodes and details only after their place and function within the overall design have been clearly understood.3

But design as I have found it to function in Rabelais's works is not simply a matter of pure, universal form that is immediately obvious and intelligible to all readers of all times. As the expression of an intention it involves a point of view and a complex of opinions and judgments relating to a specific historical moment, and an ideology unique to a culture very remote from our own. As a built-in hermeneutic device it is a culturally determined means of communication fashioned to be deciphered by a specific group of readers whose experience with literature and habits of reading were radically different from those of readers today. This being the case, the macroscopic perspective necessary to perceive an overarching design must constantly be supplemented by an even broader historical perspective, without which any such design would remain largely unintelligible. I have therefore made every effort to bring to the Pantagruel as much as I could of the knowledge, beliefs, experience, expectations, and habits of mind that it presupposes in its readers, so as to respond to its design in something approaching the way it was fashioned to make its readers respond.

I have found two general contexts to be particularly important in this regard. One is strictly literary and involves the traditions and the conventions that determine what we would today call its genre. Genre is of course intimately related to questions of design, for not only is the structure of a work determined in large part by its genre but, as Alastair Fowler has argued, genre is itself an “instrument of meaning” in that literary works actually produce meaning through deliberate “modulations or departures” from recognizable but constantly evolving generic norms (Kinds of Literature, esp. pp. 22-23). If this is so then it is obviously a matter of extreme importance not to mistake the generic pretensions of works whose overall design and meaning we wish to understand.

To read Rabelais's books as “novels,” “comedies,” “satires,” or “chronicles,” as modern readers have variously done, is to expect from them a design they do not or cannot possibly have. Worse yet, it is to force them to work within a framework of norms and conventions very different from those they are specifically designed to modulate, and consequently to overlook their specific literary meaning while reading into them an entirely inappropriate one. Even read as “romances” these books are bound to be seriously misunderstood. Their utter disregard for women and love, and especially their strict unity of hero and action, clearly set them apart from a genre whose most characteristic features are courtly eroticism and multiple plots and heroes.4

All of Rabelais's works identify themselves in one way or another—through various patterns, allusions, echoes, and what Fowler calls “generic signals”—as epics of a kind. This is most obviously true of the Pantagruel. From the very beginning this self-proclaimed sequel to a burlesque Arthurian epic constantly points to its own epic pretensions. Its subject is a single heroic action performed after due preparation by a single epic hero. And as we shall see the Pantagruel as a whole, like all of Rabelais's books, conforms not only to many of the most immutable characteristics of epic but even to a strict Aristotelian definition of έποποιία. Its story is constructed “dramatically around a single piece of action, whole and complete in itself, with a beginning, middle, and end, so that like a single living organism it may produce its own peculiar form of pleasure” (Poetics 1459a 23.1). And despite its episodic structure it is not so long, so complex, or so rich in the “reversals, discoveries, calamities,” or “diverse episodes” permitted to epic that it cannot be “perceived as a whole in a glance, from beginning to end” (1459b 24.2, 5, 7).

In short, the Pantagruel demands to be read primarily as an epic, inscribed in the heroic tradition illustrated by the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Aeneid, and later chansons de geste like the chronicles of Turpinus and Fierabras. Only by doing so will we be able to discover the full implications of its design and the new meaning it generates by modulating, innovating, transforming, and subverting the norms and conventions of the genre.

The second context I have found to be indispensable for a proper understanding of the Pantagruel's design is the more broadly cultural and intellectual one commonly referred to as Christian humanism. By qualifying Rabelais's epic as “Christian humanist” from the outset I mean to identify not so much the ideology that it is designed to express—for this is a matter to be proved, not taken as a point of departure—but simply the matrix of texts and attitudes within which the book is designed to function, to which it constantly alludes, and through which it signifies by a process we today would call intertextuality.

For although Rabelais obviously wrote his first book to be understood and enjoyed by virtually everyone, it is equally obvious to anyone who has read Rabelais with some degree of attention that he designed all his books to be understood and enjoyed most fully by the small community of readers who knew the languages of humanism and could recognize tags, allusions, and resonances from classical, biblical, and modern humanist texts. If we were to read the Pantagruel as aliens, ignorant of the languages it speaks and unfamiliar with the humanistic culture it shares with the readers to which it was principally addressed, then we would certainly misunderstand its nature as a work and misinterpret the most profound implications of its design, whatever else we might be able to make of the words on the page of the “text.” Only to the degree that we are able to enter the community of intended readers by bringing to the Pantagruel the Christian humanist culture it presupposes in us will we be successful in making sense of its design.

Here a word of caution is perhaps in order. By setting aside the comic and “popular” aspects of the Pantagruel to focus almost exclusively on its humanistic erudition and its higher, serious meanings, the following pages are likely to give the impression of an arbitrary preference for high culture over low, or of an a priori judgment that the importance of the book lies more in its humanism than in its humor. This is not at all the case. It is rather an inevitable consequence of the fact that the fundamental, overarching design of the Pantagruel is revealed through elements whose humor is extraneous to their function of revealing design, that the design itself is by nature neither serious nor comic but rather a neutral structure and guide to interpretation, and that the primary meanings to which the design leads us turn out to be relatively serious meanings that can only be qualified as “Christian humanist.” In short, the boisterous, ribald, good-natured humor so characteristic of Rabelais's first book proves on inspection to be essentially extrinsic to its fundamental design, and therefore to the focus of this study.

This is not to say that the comic, the low, the obscene are somehow extraneous or irrelevant to the work itself. On the contrary, since my thesis is precisely that Rabelais's books are true works in which everything is strictly subordinated to a single overarching design and integrated into a perfectly coherent whole, then this study can fairly be said to fail unless it can demonstrate that the Pantagruel's most popular forms of expression and crudest forms of humor are not only compatible with the serious meanings to which its design leads us, but are necessary and integral to the work itself. Such a demonstration indeed forms a crucial part of my argument, but it cannot be undertaken until the design of the work and the meanings to which it points have been fully understood. For this reason and this reason alone I have put off consideration of the most obvious aspects of the Pantagruel until the end.

The reader's indulgence is therefore begged in advance for what may first seem a partial and tendentious treatment of the Pantagruel, or at best a backward approach to the most conspicuous aspects of the book. In the epilogue I have tried to show how the Christian humanism of the Pantagruel, far from residing only in serious meanings separable from and unrelated to the popular medium through which they are expressed, is an all-encompassing ideology that embraces both content and form, serious and comic, high and low, sacred and profane in a single coherent view, and that low style and coarse, popular humor are in fact crucial to its meaning in a way that shortcuts to such a conclusion would not have allowed us even to imagine.

My single aim throughout this book has been to determine as precisely, as accurately, and as completely as possible what the Pantagruel is about—what it is supposed to mean and how it means what it does. This is not the same thing as proposing to reduce an obviously complex work to a single valid meaning, or undertaking to exhaust all its possible meanings. My purpose has been rather to arrive at what I believe must be viewed as the primary meanings of the work—immanent, stable, fundamental meanings from which all others can be shown to derive and which establish clear limits within which further interpretation may legitimately operate. Having discovered these meanings I have not undertaken to explore the vast range of secondary meanings these generate and sanction. My conclusions about design and meaning are offered not as a last word on the Pantagruel but, on the contrary, as a first step toward a more complete and coherent understanding, and a foundation on which valid interpretation may continue to build. If design in Rabelais is everything I believe it is and have tried to show it is here, then there should be virtually nothing in this difficult and complex work whose presence cannot eventually be accounted for, whose relation to everything else cannot eventually be explained, and whose full range of possible meanings cannot eventually be understood and guaranteed, by its design.


  1. For most readers this view is merely an unexamined, perhaps even an unconscious, assumption. For a few it has become an explicit article of faith. The most extreme view is perhaps that of Dorothy Coleman, who attempted to prove the thesis that Rabelais's books are “Menippean satires” in the strictest sense and asserted of the Tiers Livre, for example, that “within the framework provided by the beginning and end of the book, there is a pilling-up of episodes. … Grotesque parodies mingle with serious episodes; other episodes could well have come earlier or later in the book; it is written with the same formlessness as … Gargantua” (Rabelais, pp. 83-84).

  2. Although virtually all studies of Rabelais deal in some way with what we might call the “coherence” of his books—whether in Weltanschauung, ideology, narrative technique, comic technique, language, tone, etc.—only two to my knowledge have systematically investigated something resembling what I am calling “design” here, both dealing exclusively with the Tiers Livre: V.L. Saulnier's Le dessein de Rabelais (1957), reprinted in Rabelais I (1983), and Walter Kaiser's Praisers of Folly (1963). These extremely valuable studies point the way to a more appropriate approach to Rabelais, even if their interpretations do not always stand up under scrutiny. By contrast even the most useful and influential studies of Rabelais—those of Abel Lefranc and Lucien Febvre, M. A. Screech and Gérard Defaux, Mikhail Bakhtin and Michel Jeanneret, François Rigolot and Terence Cave—are, in spite of the light they shed on Rabelais's meaning and manner, characteristically fragmentary and inductive in their approach (i.e., “microscopic” in the neutral, purely Horatian sense).

  3. One could reasonably object that perception of the whole cannot precede at least a provisional interpretation of the parts, and that it is precisely this impossibility that makes poesis fundamentally different from pictura. Because pictura is a spatial medium, we can easily perceive the overall design of a painting at a glance, even before identifying a single figure in it. But because poesis is to a considerable degree temporal, we must encounter each part of a poem serially before discerning the larger design that informs it.

    Without denying the truth of this observation or wishing to simplify the complex dialectic known as the hermeneutic circle, I would answer only that the priority I am granting to design over detail is one not of perception but of perspective. The macroscopic approach would consist in arriving as quickly as possible and by any reliable means at a complete sense of a work's overarching design and then proceeding to solve local problems of interpretation in the manner that the design requires. Theoretical difficulties with such an approach are only theoretical. In the case of Rabelais's works, the overarching design is remarkably easy to discern, provided only that we cease to assume that none is there to be found.

  4. It is of no consequence that the term epic was not yet in use in Rabelais's time, nor that the categories epic and romance had not yet been differentiated and defined by literary theorists, nor that the two modes were indistinguishable in many late medieval romance epics. Rabelais and his readers knew Vergil's epic intimately and considered it a model of the genre. They also knew the basic “rules” of the genre, not only from Horace's ubiquitous Epistola ad Pisones but also from Marco Girolamo Vida's detailed discussion of Vergilian epic in book 2 of the De arte poetica (dedicated in 1527 to the French dauphin François, son of François I). They even had direct access to the recently rediscovered (if not yet critically important) text of Aristotle's Poetics, which had been available in Giorgio Valla's Latin translation since 1498, in the Greek original since 1508, and in Alessandro de’ Pazzi's soon-to-become standard bilingual edition since 1536 at the latest (dedicated in 1527, first printed in 1536). Even without the aid of critical labels and categories, Rabelais's readers were thus capable of identifying the Pantagruel and its sequels as something quite distinct from a roman, as different from Mélusine and the Orlando furioso as is the Aeneid from the Aethiopica.

    On the availability of Aristotle's Poetics in Rabelais's time see Weinberg, A History of Literary Criticism, 1.349-423, and Cranz, A Bibliography of Aristotle Editions. On the eventual elaboration of a theoretical distinction between epic and romance, begun in the year following Rabelais's death with the quarrel between Giraldi and Pigna and continued to the end of the century through Tasso's quarrel with Ariosto, see Weinberg, 1.433-51 and 2.954-1073. For a parallel development in France, see Fumaroli, “Jacques Amyot and the Clerical Polemic Against the Chivalric Novel.”

A Note on Texts And Abbreviations

The text of Rabelais used here is that of the Oeuvres complètes edited by Pierre Jourda and published in two volumes by Garnier. Quotations from Rabelais's major works will be identified in the text by title, chapter, and page number in this edition (see list of abbreviations below). Quotations from minor works will be similarly identified by volume and page number in Jourda. I have occasionally modified Jourda's text (which for the Pantagruel is based on the “definitive” edition of 1542) to reflect readings from earlier editions. All such modifications are clearly identified as variants and, in the case of 1532 readings, accompanied by chapter and page numbers referring to V.L. Saulnier's edition of the editio princeps. In the rare instances where the Jourda or the Saulnier texts are faulty I have emended them to conform to the appropriate original edition. For variant readings I have relied on the unfinished critical edition of the Oeuvres begun in 1913 by Abel Lefranc and his team.

The text of Erasmus's works is that of the Clericus edition of the Opera omnia. Because the superb North-Holland edition, which is destined to supersede that eighteenth-century classic, is not yet complete, simplicity and the reader's convenience seemed to demand that all references be made to the Clericus edition and identified simply by volume and column number in the “Opera.”

Quotations from the Bible generally follow the text of the Revised Standard Version (RSV) but depart from it whenever necessary to reflect the meaning of the text Rabelais and his readers knew and used—most often that of the Latin Vulgate, occasionally that of the Greek New Testament and Septuagint, and in a few cases that of the Hebrew Bible. I have indicated all such departures from the RSV in brackets.

Unless otherwise indicated, quotations from Greek and Latin literature are from the editions of the Loeb Classical Library. Wherever textual detail is crucial to my argument I have quoted instead from sixteenth-century editions that would have been easily available to Rabelais and his readers, indicating my sources in the notes and bibliography. In the case of some Greek words this has meant quoting from a standard Renaissance Latin translation. All translations from Greek and Latin into English are my own.

Principal abbreviations used throughout these pages are the following:

AP: Ars poetica

BHR: Bibliothèque d’Humanisme et Renaissance

CL: Cinquiesme Livre

ER: Etudes Rabelaisiennes

G: Gargantua

HN: Historia naturalis

Met: Metamorphoses

P: Pantagruel

PL: Patrologia Latina

PMLA: Publications of the Modern Language Association of America

QL: Le Quart Livre

RHLF: Revue d’Histoire Littéraire de la France

RQ: Renaissance Quarterly

STEFM: Société des Textes Français Modernes

THR: Travaux d’Humanisme et Renaissance

TL: Le Tiers Livre

TLF: Textes Littéraires Français

Carla Freccero (essay date 1991)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 12875

SOURCE: “Gargantua: Inheriting the Father,” in Father Figures: Genealogy and Narrative Structure in Rabelais, Cornell University Press, 1991, pp. 52-89.

[In the following excerpt, Freccero argues that unlike Pantagruel—whose defining metaphor is that of the text as organic growth—Gargantuapresents itself as an artificial construct.]

Whereas during the earlier phases of humanism the metaphor of rebirth conserved a relatively simple relationship with its “reality reference,” the Rabelaisian text explicitly complicates the connection.1 The organic trope of rebirth or even exhumation and resuscitation that continues to make its appearance in Pantagruel (on the level of subject matter as well) gives way to archaeological and architectural metaphors of excavation and reconstruction in Gargantua, where a self-consciousness of the text as written discourse dominates. This is in part a political gesture, a polemic against the pretentious genealogies constructed in the sixteenth century to justify national chauvinism, as Walter Stephens has pointed out with regard to Rabelais's parody of contemporary historiography. It is also thematically and structurally symptomatic of the predicament of authorship and genealogical succession in this sixteenth-century prose narrative on the threshold of novelistic discourse.

The creation of meaning through metaphor (and so fictional narrative) is an authorial process, a work of construction rather than a “natural” growth.2 And discourse as text is appropriation. Throughout Pantagruel, the theme of organic renewal and succession comes into conflict with a recognition of the book's textuality, and thus its arbitrariness—the way a constructed work, an invention, does not follow the natural laws of biological reproduction.

The metaphor that structures Gargantua (published only a short time—one and a half to three years—after Pantagruel) is a metaphor of structuring. The text delineates a return to the past to seek out origins. This time, however, the vehicle is an archaeological act of excavation, reconstruction, construction and, in chapter 58, excavation once again. Thomas M. Greene notes: “At the opening stand the unearthing of the book and the chaotic `Fanfreluches': at the end stands the institution of the Abbey of Thélème. Disinterment and construction frame the volume” (The Light in Troy: Imitation and Discovery in Renaissance Poetry, 237). The narrative foregrounds the artificiality of its created world.

In noting the differences between the two works, M. A. Screech comments: “Pantagruel in all its versions starts off with a reference to the Grandes et inestimables Chronicques and succeeds in getting right to the end of its Prologue without a single classical allusion. Gargantua on the other hand plunges the reader straight into Alcibiades's praise of Socrates in the Symposium. … It is much more clearly the work of a humanist with lessons to convey” (Rabelais, 125). This impression is partially conveyed through a discourse of construction. The text, a text of “symboles Pythagoricques,” resembles a Silenus box containing drugs, not the organic substance of the Prologue to Pantagruel. The process of interpretation (“by diligent reading and frequent meditation,” 14; 38), and composition (17) are invoked, divorcing the book from its previous connections with oral transmission. Barry Lydgate illustrates how this difference is declared from the very beginning of the Prologue:

“Beuveurs tresillustres et vous, Verolés tresprecieux”—the initial words of the Prologue to Gargantua signal the reader from the start that this is to be the world of a private fiction. In Pantagruel the imitation of epic formulas (“Trèsillustres et trèschevaleureux champions”) evokes familiar patterns of collective response, if only to discredit them more tellingly. In Gargantua, however, the grouping is purely symbolic from the outset, and refers to a context of reception that the Rabelaisian oeuvre itself alone creates.

(“Printing, Narrative and the Genesis of the Rabelaisian Novel,” 398)

Not only do the “beuveurs” and “veroléz” (the latter a Rabelasian coinage) refer specifically back to those for whom Pantagruel was intended, but even the title page (except in the first edition, where it is missing) identifies Gargantua through his Rabelaisian progeny.3 The author's coming into his own occurs simultaneously with the admission of the work's textuality, its constructedness. There are many references, in the Prologue and in the first chapter, to Pantagruel and Gargantua as works belonging to the same corpus. The Prologue does not foreground the narrator's role as character, his voice remaining indistinguishable from that of the author throughout the references to Rabelais's books: “my writings” (9); “certain books of our invention, such as Gargantua, Pantagruel” (11; 37); “for I never spent—or wasted—any more—or other—time in the composing of this lordly book, than that fixed for the taking of my bodily refreshment” (17; 39); “my books” (17).4 Chapter 1 returns to the fictional narrator but cites Pantagruel twice as sole subtext for the present book: “For knowledge of the Gargantua's genealogy and of the antiquity of his descent, I refer you to the great Pantagrueline Chronicle” (19; 41). The second mention constitutes, according to Lefranc, one of the most important clues that Pantagruel did, in fact, precede Gargantua: “You may see in your pantagruelizing: that is to say, as you drink to your heart's desire and read the fearsome exploits of Pantagruel” (Rabelais: Oeuvres, 1:24, n. 47; Calder, Screech, and Saulnier, 24; Cohen, 42).

Gargantua is not an entity with “roots.” It has been obscured, entombed: it refers back, but not to nature:

Et fut trouvée par Jean Audeau en un pré qu’il avoit près l’arceau Gualeau, au dessoubz de l’Olive, tirant à Narsay, duquel faisant lever les fossez, toucherent les piocheurs de leurs marres un grand tombeau de bronse, long sans mesure. … Icelluy ouvrans en certain lieu, signé, au dessus, d’un goubelet à l’entour du quel estoit escript en letres Ethrusques: HIC BIBITUR, trouverent neuf flaccons en tel ordre qu’on assiet les quilles en Guascoigne, des quelz celluy qui on mylieu estoit couvroit un gros, gras, grand, gris, joly, petit, moisy livret, plus, mais non mieulx sentent que roses.


It was found by Jean Audeau, in a meadow of his near the Arch Gualeau, below l’Olive, on the way to Narsay. Here, as they were cleaning the ditches, the diggers struck with their picks against a great tomb of bronze, so immeasurably long that they never found the end of it. … Opening this tomb at a certain place which was sealed on the top with the sign of a goblet, around which was inscribed in Etruscan letters, HIC BIBITUR, they found nine flagons, arranged after the fashion of skittles in Gascony; and beneath the middle flagon lay a great, greasy, grand, grey, pretty, little, mouldy book, which smelt more strongly but not more sweetly than roses.


The book is surrounded by signs of an absolute past, including obscure symbols that function like hieroglyphs, so as to be undecodable by a noninitiate. Rabelais will return to the question of hieroglyphs and the opacity of signs in chapters 8 and 9 on the meaning of the colors blue and white. For now what is foregrounded is the excavational endeavor and the “discovery” of the book as artifact of the past. Nor is the genealogy transmitted orally, as it is in Pantagruel, chapter 1. Here it consists of a parchment requiring transcription (as in the illegible symbols of chapter 2's facsimile), decoding (“[practicing] that art by which letters can be read that are not apparent” [23; 42]), and translation. There is an acute awareness of temporal distance: the title page of one of the variants announces that the book was “composed, of old, by M. Alcofrybas” (4), the book's appearance harks back to another age—“The first editions of Gargantua are tiny books, badly printed in those gothic characters that the French humanists despised” (Gargantua, édition critique, xxiv)5—and the genealogy itself is found in a coffin. Gargantua is an archaeological artifact, reconstructed and irrevocably severed from its past.

The gap between past and present widens in the transition from Pantagruel to Gargantua. Whereas Pantagruel exists as a work of the present, seeming to evolve from a recent past, Gargantua extends further back into antiquity, the difference between the time of the story and that of its composition (or transcription) providing the thematics of chapter 1. The anxiety of the Prologue to Pantagruel, resulting from the uneasy coexistence of a claim to sameness and a will to differentiation, seems resolved in Gargantua by the explicit acknowledgment of an archaeological, reconstructive endeavor.

The narrator justifies his enterprise in the opening pages of chapter 1:

Ne vous faschera si pour le present je m’en deporte, combien que la chose soit telle que, tant plus seroit remembrée, tant plus elle plairoit à vos Seigneuries; comme vous avez l’autorité de Flacce, qui dict estre aulcuns propos, telz que ceulx cy, qui plus sont delectables quand plus souvent sont redictz.


Do not take it amiss, therefore, if for the moment I pass this over, though it is such an attractive subject that the more often it were gone over the better it would please your lordships. For which fact you have the authority […] of Horace, who says that there are some things—and these are no doubt of that kind—that become more delightful with each repetition.


He invokes authorities on “the pleasure of repetition,” citing Plato (in the later edition) and Horace, and masks to some extent a motive for his own repetition “with a difference.” By rewriting the story of Gargantua, Rabelais not only repeats but appropriates it.

If the motives of repetition are concealed, those that underlie the genealogical impulse are not. In Nietzschean fashion, the narrator hints at the origins of aristocratic genealogies, demystifying the determinism of origins with a joke about himself:

Pleust à Dieu qu’un chascun sceust aussi certainement sa genealogie. Je pense que plusieurs sont aujourd’huy empereurs, roys, ducz, princes et papes en la terre, lesquelz sont descenduz de quelques porteurs de rogatons et de coustretz. … Et, pour vous donner à entendre de moy qui parle, je cuyde que soye descendu de quelque riche roy ou prince au temps jadis. Car oncques ne veistes homme qui eust plus grande affection d’estre roy et riche que moy, affin de faire grand chere, et pas ne travailler, et bien enrichir mes amis et tous gens de bien et de sçavoir.


Would to God that everyone had as certain knowledge of his genealogy, from Noah's ark to the present age! I think there are many today among the Emperors, Kings, Dukes, Princes, and Popes of this world whose ancestors were mere pedlars of pardons and firewood. … And to give you some information about myself, who address you, believe that I am descended from some wealthy king or prince of the olden days. For you have never met a man with a greater desire to be a king or to be rich than I have, so that I may entertain liberally, do no work, have no worries, and plentifully reward my friends, as well as all worthy and learned men.


The narrator comments upon the arbitrariness of the connection between the past and the present, thus diverting attention from the rewriting of Gargantua's story while at the same time hinting that, just as the narrator's aristocratic origin is arbitrarily a function of his desire for wealth, so too Gargantua inherits fictitiously, merely by the will of its author. The lineage claimed for the book (the retelling of a well-known tale) in one passage is denied in the next by the assertion that genealogies may disguise rather than reveal origins (“Would to God that everyone had as certain knowledge of his genealogy”). Gargantua may be, then, at the same time a “lordly book,” descended from obscure and lowly origins, and also one of the “almshouse beggars—poor, suffering wretches—who are descended from the blood and lineage of great Kings and Emperors” (20; 41), suffering present ignominy while awaiting a greater destiny in a future world: “Mais en ce je me reconforte que en l’aultre monde je le seray [roy or riche] voyre plus grand que de present ne l’auseroye soubhaiter” (21) (“But I comfort myself with one thought, that in the other world I shall be all this, and greater still than at present I dare even wish” [41]). Finally, this passage, which for the first time in the text confronts the “issue” of genealogy as a result of construction, delineates on a microcosmic level that temporal sequence from past to future that informs the macrocosm of the Rabelaisian quest.

Although the letter to Pantagruel in Pantagruel, chapter 8, attempts to retrace the passage of time from Dark Ages to Enlightenment, it does so at the level of biological reproduction, the natural perpetuation of humanity through time.6Gargantua, chapter 1, adds a historical dimension. The past becomes a construct of the present—a “genealogy”—that, though human, needs to be interpreted from a book. Furthermore, whereas Gargantua's letter assumes a linear progression of time toward perfection, chapter 1 both questions the progressive view of history and suggests a transformation of “vertical” time to horizontal or spatial time (the time of narrative unfolding). Time may produce regression, as in the case of the “almshouse beggars” or the prophesied disasters preceding final retribution in the Christian view of history presented by the “enigma” of chapter 56. Translatio imperii and its analogue translatio studii, the principles of inheritance cited in chapter 1, proceed by location, in a nonlinear, occasionally retrogressive drift westward:

des Assyriens es Medes,
des Medes es Perses,
des Perses es Macedones,
des Macedones es Romains,
des Romains es Grecz,
des Grecs es Françoys.


from the Assyrians to the Medes, from the Medes to the Persians, from the Persians to the Macedonians, from the Macedonians to the Romans, from the Romans to the Greeks, from the Greeks to the French.


In chapter 2, time is depicted graphically, in the reproduction of the incomplete (because damaged) “Fanfreluches antidotées,” “out of reverence for antiquity” (24; 42), as the narrator says. Historical distance resulting in loss or decay (however playfully presented) sets the tone for the beginning of Gargantua's story. The vaguely apocalyptic “nonsense” of the “Fanfreluches” points backward to an obscure, undecodable origin from which Gargantua, as narrative extension, emerges. Mystery lies at the origin of signification—semiotic confusion in the present, which becomes a theme in Gargantua, finds its source here, in an enigmatic text.

The end of Gargantua will return to the idea of enigma, in the form of the “Enigme en prophétie,” which lies at the foundation of one of the seemingly most serene detailed and rationalistic Renaissance constructions, the “Abbaye de Thélème.” Throughout the book, questions of origin and signification—of the origins of signification—are explored, while that exploration occupies a space between two mysteries, at the beginning and at the end.

In this second book, which situates Pantagruel in a line of descent and provides it (him) with a history in the form of a father whose authority determines the outcome of the son, the problem of genealogy (and so authority) is linguistically played out. Having been formulated in terms of a problem of construction, the question of authority arises in connection with the text's symbolic edifice, its system of signs.

The Prologue first introduces the question of interpretation that will return again and again throughout Gargantua, specifically in relation to words as signs, to symbols, and to emblems.8 Until recently, critics argued about the narrator's position on allegorical reading in the Prologue, citing the famous “turning point” that seems to contradict the injunction to find a “higher meaning.”9 Edwin Duval has convincingly argued that it is not necessary to consider the turning point a contradiction, that Alcofrybas is merely pointing out that authors do not intend all the meanings that can be found in their texts. Cathleen Bauschatz demonstrates how the debate about allegory in the Prologue exposes the tension between author's and reader's interpretation that informs Gargantua, attributing this in part to the loss of authorial control occasioned by print and the wide dissemination of works in the sixteenth century and to the very real possibility of hostile readings.10

François Rigolot and Richard Regosin have shown how the Prologue nevertheless remains problematic because it interrogates the inside/outside polarization in interpretation through a series of container/contained images: the Silenus boxes, the cover and the contents of a book, the monk and his “habit,” the bone and its “substantial marrow,” the bottle.11 The proverb “the habit does not make the monk” (11; 37) reverses the hierarchy of privilege granted to the inside in the rest of the series, destabilizing the traditionally valorized superiority of inner truth over surface. Regosin argues, in relation to allegory, that “scriptural exegesis provided the model of reading and while its approaches and methodologies might have been discussed, its difficulties debated, its extensiveness disputed, the text itself, by guaranteeing the integrity of its meaning and justifying (necessitating) the endless quest for its significance, validates the paradigm of container and contained, and the privilege of secreted truth” (“Ins[ides] and Outs[ides] of Reading,” 69). This paradigm continues to inform the debates on meaning in Rabelais's text, for example, in the heated exchange between Cave, Jeanneret, and Rigolot on the one hand and Defaux (speaking also for Duval) on the other.12 Bauschatz nicely characterizes the debate as one between author-centered paradigms of reading (Defaux, Duval) and reader-centered ones (“‘Description du Jeu de Paulme Soubz Obscures Parolles,” 71). Even Regosin, however, attributes authorial triumph to the undermining of the inside/outside paradigm of reading: “The parodic destruction of the ‘sacred word’ and of the forces it supports begins with the undermining of its own word and the challenges to that hermeneutic process which pretends to reveal the mysteries it hides. But most significantly, the prologue demonstrates that neither voice nor text is original or autonomous; each is open to intrusions from the outside, each indeed is constituted by the very interaction of what it would claim as self and what is other” (70). Rather than a triumphant unmasking of the “sacred word,” there is throughout Gargantua a hesitation between paradigms, an interrogation of the bases of meaning related to a crisis of the sign that Richard Waswo sees as informing the “relational semantics” of Lorenzo Valla's linguistic theory and that is also related to the theological crises of sixteenth-century Europe.13

Chapters 8 and 9 reexamine the issue of signification and arrive at equally playful yet less optimistic conclusions about the ability to interpret signs correctly. These chapters question the grounds of signification and examine the status of the appeal to auctoritas to justify an interpretation. Parodies of misinterpretation that question the capacity of language to signify unambiguously do occur in Pantagruel, particularly in chapters 9 and 13. These passages, however, demonstrate rather than purport to analyze or question the slippage between sign and meaning. They unfold in a dramatic rather than an expository context, as a function of individual characters involved in specific situations. Chapters 8 and 9 of Gargantua, on the other hand, represent products of the (writing) narrator, Alcofrybas. As such, they constitute a pause in the narrative in favor of parodic exposition; Alcofrybas and his ilk come under scrutiny. But if Alcofrybas is the model of excessive or bad interpretation, no alternative or better interpretive models present themselves to resolve the dilemmas of interpretation posited in these chapters.14 Modern readings of the arguments exposed in chapters 8 (“Des couleurs et livrée de Gargantua”) and 9 (“De ce qu’est signifié par les coleurs blanc et bleu”) themselves mime the difficulties of determining meaning that the chapters explore. What is striking in the survey of these readings is that they often produce interpretations that conform to the particular investment a critic has made in Rabelais. Camps divide into an “ancient” (realist) versus “moderns” (nominalist) debate, with a Rabelais confident of the inherent or natural connectionbetween words and their meanings on the one hand and on the other a Saussurian writer conscious of the arbitrary link between signs and what they signify. The consequences of this choice are potentially far reaching, since they may support either a thoroughly orthodox Rabelais or an Ockhamistic (potentially Lutheran) Rabelais, one who would have radicalized the logician's sign theory to the point of severing all contact between discourse and the divine.15

William of Ockham, in a peculiarly “modern” way, radically problematized metaphysical discussions of signification primarily launched, in the context of Christian theology, by Augustine.16 Against Augustinian Platonism (ever bordering, in spite of the rhetorician's efforts, on a dualistic vision of the world) whereby human discourse, because temporal, may approach eternal truth only asymptotically, and against the positivistic rationalism of Aquinas, whereby universal truth (“reality”) may be said to coexist (though temporally prior) in things (and thus in words and concepts as well), Ockham plied his razor. Somewhat simply put, Ockham made possible the explicit questioning of linguistic referentiality. Whereas for Augustine eternal, divine truth (or God) constituted the ultimate referent, a silence for which “fallen” discourse nostalgically yearned, the mind itself, according to Ockham, could originate such abstract conceptualizations, for they were universal ideas.17 And whereas Thomism placed the divine (or universal) idea, originating in God, within the particulars of this world in order to account for knowledge, Ockhamism dispensed with the necessity for a presupposed mediating term and posited the mind as an independent means of apprehending reality. Thus, along positivistic lines (in the tradition of Aristotle and Aquinas) Ockham is said to have prepared the way for empirical science by positing “naturally universal” signs that can be understood by simple, intuitive knowledge. In a more Platonic and Augustinian vein, Ockhamism laid the foundations both for an assertion of the autonomy of language (its basis in convention rather than in nature or essence) and for the Lutheran claim that faith, not reason, is the only access man may have to the divine.The mind's capacity for “complex abstractive knowledge” enables it to create universal concepts, mental objects, with no previous extralinguistic references. This does not mean that the concepts (linguistic signs) cannot be universally understood, only that the basis for their apprehension does not lie in the realm of nature or of divine truth: “The other kind of universal is so by convention (universale per voluntariam institutionem). In this way an uttered word, which is really a single quality, is universal; for it is a conventional sign meant to signify many things (signum voluntarie institutum ad significandum plura). Therefore, just as the word is said to be common so it can be said to be universal. But it is not so by nature, only by convention (non habet ex natura rei, sed ex placito instituentium tantum).”18 Thus, already in Ockham's time, the word relinquishes its analogical and essential connectedness to the world of things and to the divine in the “Great Chain of Being.”19

Pantagruel, in the Tiers Livre, chapter 19, seems to present the position described above rather simply (Screech ed., 140). But here, in chapters 8 and 9 of Gargantua, where the question concerns symbolic signification in general, the argument is not so clearly stated. What occurs in these chapters, and perhaps generates such widely variant modern readings, is basically contradictory in a manner that, according to Richard Waswo, was characteristic of the Renaissance's “discovery” of relational semantics:

The treatment of socio-historical usage as a determinant of meaning, the revival of the “probable” dialectics of Cicero and Quintilian, the insistence on a unified perspective from which to regard both the arts of discourse and the discourse they produce, and the pursuit of the cognitive consequences of these new forms of linguistic attention—all initiated by Valla—generated an implicitly revolutionary semantics that was embedded and transmitted therein. … The tension between language treated as creating meaning and conceived as but containing it begins to be felt as a result of the humanistic “rebirth” of classical letters in the Renaissance.

(“The Reaction of Juan Luis Vives to Valla's Philosophy of Language,” 603)

In these two chapters, then, Rabelais seems to worry about the very problem that is reiterated throughout the quest and that leaves the Cinquième Livre's final revelation suspended in perpetual undecidability. Signs must mean essentially, if a universe informed by God's intentionality is to be assumed (however distant, unattainable, and otherworldly the meaning may remain), yet language continually escapes this leash, asserting its own discursive contingency.

Critics of the text, falling prey perhaps to the expository rather than the poetic style of the chapters, have rejected the undecidability in Rabelais's text as merely apparent, thus not granting even the less radical term “ambiguity,” so easily accorded to the latter type of text. M. A. Screech, whose excavation of the intertextuality in chapters 8 and 9 initially cleared the site for further investigation, states rather unselfconsciously, “The principal aim of chapter ten is to take the interpretation out of the realm of personal opinion and place it firmly within the jus gentium” (“Emblems and Colours: The Controversy over Gargantua's Colors and Devices,” 75). Here Screech is restating a passage from chapter 9: “Et n’est poinct cette signifiance par imposition humaine institué, mais repceue par consentement de tout le monde, que les philosophes nomment jus gentium, droict universel, valable par toutes contrées” (71) (“Nor is this significance based on mere human interpretation. It is accepted by that common consent which philosophers call jus gentium, universal law, valid in all countries” [59]). The distinction Screech makes, based on this passage, between “the realm of personal opinion” and “jus gentium” is by no means as clear-cut as he presumes, constituting as it does the very humor of the argument developed in chapters 8 and 9. Gérard Defaux suggests that the argument concerning the significance of the colors blue and white may be in fact blatantly paradoxical, thus ipso facto rendering comic the distinction between “personal” and “universal” interpretations: “Indeed, it seems that the equations white = faith and blue = resolve had often been accepted. The sophist Alcofrybas, far from wanting, as he claims, to make jus gentium triumph, decides instead to wage war against it” (“Rabelais et son masque comique,” 120, n. 9). The argument concerning these colors was, at the very least, a querelle, as Rabelais himself indicates, so that any appeal to universal agreement could not be made without a hint of irony.

Another ironic chuckle might be felt in the phrase “par imposition humaine institué” in the passage cited above. Chapter 8 opens with the quintessential authoritative “imposition” concerning the colors, the will of the father:

Les couleurs de Gargantua feurent blanc et bleu, comme cy dessus avez peu lire; et par icelles vouloit son pere qu’on entendist que ce luy estoit une joye celeste. Car le blanc luy signifioyt joye, plaisir, delices et resjouyssance, et le bleu, choses celestes.


Gargantua's colours were white and blue, as you may have read above, by which his father meant it to be understood that he felt a heavenly joy. For white signified to him gladness, pleasure, delights, and rejoicing, and blue anything to do with Heaven.


Grandgousier's gigantic “human imposition” suspends the question of universal agreement. Nothing more is needed in this context than his desire to effect a particular interpretation. This is true of the textual world in general, as the prologues themselves amply demonstrate. Nevertheless, even this solution to the dilemma of the debate about signs in these chapters is questionable. Although chapter 8 itself critiques the arbitrary imposition of meaning, thematically Gargantua will both approach and recoil from the sort of authority here exercised by Grandgousier. If such an exercise of will can exist in the linguistic realm, then it can also be applied in the political realm, where some guarantee continues to be sought to justify such an imposition.

Given the questionable nature of these chapters as “serious” argument, what can be said about the arguments themselves? What are the implications of the theory of interpretation developed in Gargantua, chapters 8 and 9? Thomas M. Greene underscores the text's self-contradiction by juxtaposing, in the following quotation, radically opposed notions of the grounding of signification, all of which appear in Rabelais's two chapters: “In rejecting the association of white with faith for its association with joy, he [Rabelais] is in effect rejecting an arbitrary system of medieval symbolism for an interpretation rooted in universal tradition (the “jus gentium”), in human physiology, and in the nature of things” (Rabelais: A Study in Comic Courage, 38). Modern semiotic philosophies make rigid distinctions between the categories above, “jus gentium” (rhetorics), “human physiology” (linguistic naturalism), and “the nature of things” (philosophies of essence or ontologies) and require a choice that itself has ramifications. Lucien Febvre rightly cautions against ascribing modern specialized meanings to the terms employed by sixteenth-century theorists, although he too is a man of his era, conferring upon science the role of clarifying the obscure premodern discourse of philosophy.20 Certainly there existed a greater degree of linguistic elasticity than in modern technical vocabularies, both because the vulgar tongue was still freely evolving (rather than institutionally determined) and because the humanistic disciplines were not as discretely categorized as they are today. But as Waswo has pointed out, the Renaissance grappled with a specific décalage between theory and practice in the area of linguistic philosophy, whereby a new metalanguage to describe an evolving practice had yet to be created, although existing theory had already become obsolete.21

In Rabelais's time, theoretical discussions about the nature of signification and its relation to ontology had moved beyond the strictly philosophical and theological framework of the realist/nominalist debate and had extended to the “human sciences,” to the realm of language in general. Philosophies of meaning had entered the nontechnical domain of the professional practitioners of language, the humanists. Thus, whereas Ockham was no doubt influential, his thought dominating theories of signification in the universities in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, it was not primarily from him that Rabelais received his descriptive manner of discussing the issue.22 Ockham still belonged to the school of the Sophists that humanist learning eschewed. Rather, Rabelais's discourse seems to find its patron in the more rhetorically oriented arguments of Lorenzo Valla.

The narrator cites Valla's Contra Bartoli libellum to aid his demonstration that white is the color of light and therefore of joy:

La clarté n’esjouist elle pas toute nature? Elle est blanche plus que chose que soyt. A quoy prouver je vous pourroys renvoyer au livre de Laurens Valle contre Bartole; mays le tesmoignage evangelicque vous contentera.


Does not light make all Nature glad? It is whiter than anything which exists. As proof of which I could refer you to the book of Laurentius Valla against Bartolus. But evidence from the Gospels will satisfy you.


The passage refers to an error in the Vulgate edition of Matthew 17 that read “vestimenta eius facta sunt alba sicut nix” (“and his rainment was white as the snow”). Valla, in condemning Bartolus for designating gold as the color of light, also points out that, in the Greek, the sentence above has the word “light” rather than “snow,” so that the Gospel itself designates white as the color of light. Screech indicates the importance of this quotation and the ensuing association of white and light for the argument Rabelais is trying to make by pointing out that it enables Rabelais to include the example of Tobias and the angel (“Emblems and Colours,” 77). The Tobias example, in turn, derives its importance from the association (albeit rather indirect) of light with joy: “Et Thobie (cap. v) quant il eut perdu la veue, lors que Raphael le salua, respondit il pas: ‘Quelle joye pourray jeavoir, moy qui poinct ne voy la lumiere du ciel?’” (73-74) (“And Tobit—in chapter v—when he had lost his sight said in answer to Raphael's salutation: ‘What joy can I have who see not the light of Heaven?’” [60]). Valla was not alone in pointing out the textual error that, when corrected, produced the “luminous whiteness” so useful in chapter 9's proof. Yet whether or not Valla's Contra Bartoli is incidental to the discourse (as are most of the authorities cited in this chapter), the mention of the humanist's name in the context of this discussion suggests a broader subtextual influence.

Valla himself was greatly influenced by Ockham, whom Jean Paris sees as informing the Rabelaisian discussion. He spent time at Pavia, which was Ockhamist in orientation, and owes a great deal to the logician in terms of method and philosophical orientation.23 Ockham, as I mentioned earlier, made possible the philosophical separation between language (or categories of thought) and being (categories of reality) and concentrated on the former as the only knowable object of man's inquiry.24 Valla, approaching these problems from a grammatical and rhetorical, rather than a metaphysical, point of view, translated the category “thought” or “knowledge” into an almost exclusively linguistic category. Thus dialectic, which for Scholastics had been an instrument for exploring Truth or Reality, took on its linguistic function, as a science of language whose object is the discursive process.25

In the realm of signification, then, language begins to be thought of as relational rather than referential. Ockham distinguished between intuitive knowledge (a direct knowledge of the particulars of the world), abstractive knowledge (the natural generation in the mind of abstract concepts, or universals, deriving from the particulars), and their translation into language, the “arbitrary” or conventional signs that designate the natural signs occurring in the mind. Valla's work, focusing on the primacy of linguistic expression, draws this Ockhamist contradition to the surface in his discourse. These contradictions become clear in the very difficulty of Valla's formulation:

The human voice is indeed natural, but its meaning descends from instruction; for men devised words which they might adjust to things known. Of whom Adam was the first, with God the creator, as they taught words with their meanings to posterity. As sounds are indeed from nature but words and meanings from a contriver, so the sounds lay hold of the ears, the meanings of the mind, the words of both. Afterwards letters are discovered as mute words or images of words, just as words themselves are as images of meanings which are now properly called names. Hence this is whatever we say; yet it is also the substance, quality, action itself, and in fact the thing itself. … Consequently, it makes no difference whether we say, what is wood, what is stone, what iron, what man, or what does “wood,” “stone,” “iron,” “man,” signify—about the matter of which objects nothing can be said: what the thing is and what “thing” signifies, being the same “what,” is dissolved in that thing. But if I ask, what word is “thing,” you will respond rightly: it is a word signifying the meaning or sense of all other words, but which now signifies whatever belongs to it.

(Opera omnia, Dialecticae, i, 14: 676-77)26

In this passage Valla establishes the conventionality of language: “Vox humana naturalis illa quidem est, sed eius significatio ab institutione descendit,” then he goes on to equate the word as sign with name, meaning (signified), and with the thing itself: “Voces sunt quasi imagines significationum quae iam proprie dicuntur vocabula. Atque hoc est quicquid loquimur: etiam ipsum substantia, qualitas, actio: atque adeo ipsum res.” Thus he collocates both signifier and signified in the realm of language, alluding to referentiality (in the real or external world) only by saying that nothing can be said of that (external reality) to which a word refers: “Quapropter nihil interest utrum dicamus, quid est lignum, quid est lapis, quid ferrum, quid homo, an quid significat lignum, lapis, ferrum, homo, quorum nihil de res dici potest.”27 Meaning, it seems, is to be constituted not by external reality reference, but by contextual linguistic usage. Yet Valla persists in theorizing a distinction between a linguistic object and an object of reference in reality that his discourse cannot express, while his own linguistic usage undoes the possibility of such a distinction.28

Valla's linguistic philosophy is in many ways exemplified in the discourse of Rabelais, to the point of persisting in the contradiction that, while meaning is effectively constituted by language and within discourse, some other, external (or “natural,” to use Rabelais's term) signifying process must exist that language persistently attempts and fails to express or demonstrate. Unlike Augustinianism, which accepts this failure, this discourse vacillates between a celebration of its own autonomy (philosophically and rhetorically demonstrated by Valla) and an attempt, through language, to arrive at and incorporate an otherness of referentiality. Whereas at first in chapter 9 the conventional nature of linguistic signs is extended to a more general semiotic theory, whereby jus gentium, the rhetorical measure of human truth, determines meaning, a little later a different mode of signifying, resembling Ockham's intuitive and abstractive knowledge, is brought to bear upon the argument:

Lequel consentement universel n’est faict que nature n’en donne quelque argument et raison, laquelle un chascun peut soubdain par soy comprendre sans aultrement estre instruict de persone—laquelle nous appellons droict naturel.

Par le blanc, à mesmes induction de nature, tout le monde a entendu joye, liesse, soulas, plaisir et delectation.


Now this universal agreement would not obtain if Nature did not give some argument and reason for it, which everyone at once can understand for himself without further instruction from anybody—and this we call the Law of Nature. By white, according to this same natural induction, therefore, all the world has understood joy, gladness, solace, pleasure, and delight.


The claim for an immediacy of the signified contradicts the rhetorical strategies employed in this chapter to convince the reader of the meaning of the color white. That the case of black precedes that of white already suggests such an awareness, as though its meaning were somehow more obvious than the meaning of white. The passage is framed by a “logical rule” and by historical and biblical arguments that repeatedly attempt to persuade (“Does not light make all Nature glad?” [72; 60]; “Read the ancient histories” [74; 60]; “If you ask why Nature intends the colour white to stand for joy and gladness, I reply …” [76; 61]). The repetition of proofs and formulas of persuasion undermines the claim for a natureinduced enlightenment “which everyone can at once understand for himself without further instruction from anybody.” The necessity for rhetorical argument renders moot the point about natural signification. Were the symbolic meaning of white evident, no such querelle would exist.

Screech has noted the enthymemic (or falsely syllogistic) structure of the Aristotelian proof presented at the beginning of chapter 9, which argues that (1) black and white are contraries; (2) joy and sorrow are contraries as well; (3) therefore, since black signifies sorrow, white must signify joy. Here Screech accuses Rabelais of having made a “gaffe”: “Sadness and joy are indeed contraries, but are they contrary in species? If he [Rabelais] had read his Thomas he would have known they are not” (“Emblems and Colours”, 79). Gérard Defaux has suggested in turn that the “gaffe” belongs to Screech and considers this faulty “proof” one more detail in Rabelais's portrait of a Sophist (Alcofrybas Nasier) (“Rabelais et son masque comique,” 109-10). Alcofrybas, as Sophist, merely exemplifies the vacuity of a certain type of syllogistic reasoning: “In fact, everything becomes clear if we remember the definition of a sophist: he who possesses apparent, but not real, knowledge” (Defaux, 110, n. 63). Neither necessarily clarifies this passage. Screech's supposition that Rabelais had not been reading masks the critic's own oversight: the qualification that opposites must be of like “species” (espece) appears four times after the mention of the Aristotelian argument. “Virtue and vice” and “good and evil” represent the explicit examples of contraries in species, whereas “joy and sadness” and “white and black” justifiably correspond, “for these are physical opposites” (71; 59). Physical opposition need not necessarily translate a contrary “by species” state but may reflect a rhetorically (rather than logically or dialectically) based opposition having to do with effects only. Enthymemic reasoning need not be confined to its negative definition as faulty logic but may be conceived in positive terms as what “conviegne raisonnablement” (70) (“is reasonably suited”) to common opinion.

The strangeness of the proof, played out by the rest of chapter 9, lies primarily in the first premise (Jean Paris, Rabelais au futur, 124). It is questionable, whether willfully flawed as a misrepresentation of the Aquinian argument (as Defaux claims) or rhetorically persuasive as an appeal to common opinion, for the petitio principi exposes itself as it were, revealing rather than masking the suppressed assumption that black = sorrow or mourning. The text goes on to declare (“as you well know” [71; 59]) that black means mourning to all people, but it undermines this “well-known fact” by mentioning the exception: “Je excepte les antiques Syracousans et quelques Argives qui avoient l’ame de travers” (71) (“I except the ancient Syracusans and some Argives who had perverse natures” [59]). The exception brings the passage back to the realm of opinion in which white = joy already found itself. This second argument, which claims that black naturally means mourning, then becomes the basis for a corresponding association of white and joy: “By white, according to this same natural induction, therefore, all the world has understood joy, gladness, solace, pleasure, and light” (72; 60).29

These arguments, then, do not address logic or provide a formal demonstration of proof. They constitute a series of rhetorical gestures, persuasive strategies that, paradoxically, lay bare the nonlogical foundations of their premises even as they argue a particular point. Aquinian logic is being parodied, but not perforce in the person of the narrator. Instead, rhetoric performs a subtler action on logic—it reveals the latter's own conventional or arbitrary grounding in common opinion (as, for example, the statement that almost all nations associate black with sorrow). Proof in this chapter becomes persuasion, whose tactics are exposed as rhetorical rather than being masked as truth.

The rhetorical posturing of the discourse leads Gérard Defaux to suggest that all of Gargantua consists of a series of such antithetical poses, as though the relationship between Scholasticism and humanism were being played out in the text (“Rabelais et son masque comique,” 33). In simplifying the text to a series of binary oppositions, however, Defaux excludes the differences that remain beyond these equivalencies—equivalencies that in effect reduce a text to univocality. In his schema, it seems, the only “difference” between the poles of the antitheses is one of the author's hypothesized partisanship, which positively valorizes only one term, yet defines it in terms of its other. If indeed the game is Sophistic, how can Defaux claim there is partisanship for one position over the other? Gargantua's debate about language and signification cannot be explained solely in terms of antithetical relationships. The contradiction between “common opinion” and “natural law” is one difference among many that escapes the either/or of positive and negative terms.

Common opinion mediates between a complete arbitrariness, the tyrannical arrogance of him “[who has presumed that] without other proofs and valid arguments the world would regulate its practice by his foolish impostures” (65; 58) and the laws of nature, which “everyone can at once understand for himself without further instruction from anybody” (72; 60). Yet in this comic context, where the commonly agreed-upon meaning is precisely what is in dispute, no final theoretical solution can be arrived at. The fiction asserts a contingent link between sign and meaning (Grandgousier's will) while it argues—with analytical, exegetical, historical, etymological, and medical evidence—for a signification established by universal agreement and aided by nature. The final sentence of the chapter demonstrates this paradox once again: “[I] will briefly say that of course blue signifies heaven and heavenly things, by the same symbolism [“par mesmes symboles”] that makes white stand for joy and pleasure” (78; 62). The joke points both to the obvious “natural” connection between blue and the sky and to the absolutely inimitable chain of interpretations generated by this particular text to produce the symbolic equivalence white = joy. “By the same symbolism” either cannot establish this link (because it establishes a different one) or can generate a chain of signifieds that will arbitarily produce blue = heavenly things as white = joy. The discourse cannot ground itself in “natural” understanding because it cannot reproduce the gesture by which “everyone can at once understand for himself without further instruction from anybody.” It must signify in language, that is, discursively or rhetorically. Unmediated understanding, if possible at all, leaves (as do the “Fanfreluches”) an unreadable trace.

These chapters allegorize the possibility of immediate understanding in terms of an ideal origin:

Bien aultrement faisoient en temps jadys les saiges de Egypte, quant ilz escripvoient par letres qu’ilz appelloyent hieroglyphicques, lesquelles nul n’entendoyt qui n’entendist et un chascun entendoyt qui entendist la vertus, proprieté et nature des choses par ycelles figurées.


The sages of Egypt followed a very different course, when they wrote in letters that they called hieroglyphs—which none understood who did not understand, and which everyone understood who did understand, the virtue, property, and nature of the things thereby described.


Hieroglyphs here become figures for a transparent symbolism, a system of signs that resists the facile (usually phonetic and punning) confusion of surface (sensible representation) and depth (meaning). They constitute a sign system that clearly includes and excludes, not susceptible to the centrifugality of interpretations that mislead or lead away from meaning, because hieroglyphs are nonlinguistic and do not require interpretation, like the “Pythagorean symbols” of the Prologue. They make up the language of an informed elite, controllable and contained by a community of initiates. The passage expresses nostalgia for a symbolic origin, a pre-Babel state of unity between signifier and signified.30

Although nonmediate understanding constitutes a lost and longed for origin, it also menaces, pointing to that absent place where writing and the text no longer exist:

Si demendez comment par couleur blanche nature nous induict entendre joye et liesse, je vous responds que l’analogie et conformité est telle. Car—comme le blanc exteriorement disgrege et espart la veue, dissolvent manifestement les esperitz visifz …—tout ainsi le cueur par joye excellente est interiorement espart et patist manifeste resolution des esperitz vitaulx; laquelle tant peut estre acreue que le cueur demoureroit spolié de son entretien, et par consequent seroit la vie estaincte.


If you ask why Nature intends the colour white to stand for joy, I reply that the analogy and conformity is like this: As externally white distracts and dazzles the sight, manifestly dissolving the visual spirits, …—so internally the heart is dazzled by exceeding joy and suffers a manifest dissolution of the vital spirits, which can be so heightened that it is deprived of its nourishment, and consequently life is extinguished by this excess of joy.


The unmediated natural experience of white and joy is threatening in its excess, and joy may kill one who experiences its direct effect. Without the descent of signs into language, without the necessary prodigality of signification, the text would cease to exist.31 This death, which Augustine (for whom fallen texts were in a sense already dead) desired as the Second Coming, cannot but threaten this playful yet aggressive rival fiction's life. Unlike the Bible, which derives its authoritative guarantee of referentiality from God, this text, like Le blason des couleurs (64), runs the risk of illegitimacy, for it

a ausé prescrire de son autorité privée quelles choses seroient denotées par les couleurs, ce que est l’usance des tirans qui voulent leur arbitre tenir lieu de raison, non des saiges et sçavens qui par raisons manifestes contentent les lecteurs.


[has dared] to prescribe by [its] private authority what things shall be denoted by what colours; which is the custom of tyrants who would have their will take the place of reason, not of the wise and learned, who satisfy their readers with display of evidence.


Signification, arbitrarily imposed, becomes tyranny, the inauthentic abuse of power. In this nonsacred text, nature provides that guarantee of transcendent truth (or authentic reference) that separates jus gentium from human imposition. But whereas the Bible justifies its existence in terms of a necessary mediation between man and God, requiring interpretation, nonsacred signs—if everyone can immediately understand them—require no mediation, and fiction, the elaboration of linguistic signs, has no reason to exist. The chapter ends with the threat of death from a plenitude of immediately comprehended meaning. Literalized clarity may be blinding (“and you will find the same by experience when you cross snow-covered mountains, and complain that you cannot [see well]” [76; 61]). Between the nostalgia for a silent origin in hieroglyphs (where no text would ever have been necessary) and the impossibility of that final silence where sign and signified are one (the death of writing), the text errs among signifiers, asserting but never “proving” their sense, persuading but always deferring (“So here I will pull down my sails, consigning the rest to the book which is to be entirely devoted to it” [78; 62]).

The narrative's digression into the grounds of signification constitutes another moment in the struggle between autonomy and legitimate inheritance at work in Rabelais's text. Figured in its very modus operandi are the impossibility of self-evident signification and the textual desire for an autonomous world of signifiers. Yet the anxiety remains; a guarantee of referentiality is needed to limit arbitrariness, the tyranny of will over reason, to endow the chain of signifiers with a telos, a revelation at the end of the quest for meaning. What Waswo declares to be “the dilemma of the age—the search for absolute knowledge by means increasingly recognized as contingent” (Language and Meaning, 293) plays itself out in the course of Gargantua linguistically as well as thematically. The overall structure of the Rabelaisian novel enacts the dilemma as well in its quest narrative, while its continuator “resolves” the question of linguistic meaning's contingency by supplying a revelation at the end of the quest.

The concluding chapters of Gargantua bring together the thematic and structural aspects of the narrative's preoccupation with genealogy as filiation, inheritance, authority, while further exploring the impasses of the quest for transcendent meaning or closure. In these chapters the political also appears, explicitly related to these concerns, as suggested by the Prologue's promise to speak of matters “que concerne nostre religion que aussi l’estat politicq et vie oeconomicque” (14) (“concerning not only our religion, but also our public and private life” [38]).

The prose-verse alternation in the structure of the Thélème episode links it to the beginning of Gargantua, where a similar enigmatic discovery in verse is unearthed and transcribed for the reader. This framing of the book lends an apparent order, one that is reinforced by the thematics of “disinterment and construction” that constitute the Renaissance genealogical enterprise (Thomas M. Greene, “Resurrecting Rome: The Double task of the Humanist Imagination,” 48). Thélème seems to provide Gargantua with symmetry of form and closure.

The kind of closure performed upon Gargantua differs considerably from the ending of Pantagruel while returning to a similar theme. The penultimate chapter of Pantagruel, like Thélème, discloses another world, set apart from existing society by virtue of being contained within Pantagruel's body. The description abounds in detail, but here its specificity produces a microcosmic mirror image of the world outside:

Le premier que y trouvay, ce fut ung bon homme qui plantoit des choulx. Dont, tout esbahy, luy demanday: “Mon amy, que fays-tu icy?” “Je plante,” dist-il, “des choulx.” “Et à quoy ny comment?” dys je. “Hà, monsieur, dist il; nous ne pouvons pas estre tous riches.”

(Pantagruel, chap. 22, 171)

The first man I met was a good fellow planting cabbages, and in my amazement I asked him: “What are you doing here, my friend?” “I’m planting cabbages,” he said. “But how and what for?” I asked. “Ah, sir,” said he: “[…] we can’t all be rich.”


Economic disparity, lawlessness, plague—Pantagruel's body is by no means a perfect (or perfectly ordered) world. And although Pantagruel's activities determine to some extent the state of affairs in this other world (as with the plague, which “was a rank breath which had been coming from Pantagruel's stomach, since he ate so much garlic sauce” [172; 274]), the young prince claims no sovereigny over the realm. The world inside the giant's mouth is subject to the organic conditions of the body and not, as in Thélème, to the verbal will of a creator.32

The microcosms that temporarily effect closure on Rabelais's first two books emblematize the relation of organicity to structuredness that metaphorically governs the transition from Pantagruel to Gargantua. The first book reaches completion by revealing, through the organic conceit of the body, that “Pantagruel,” as body and as book, contains an entire universe. Gargantua, in turn, culminates in the explicit, artificial construction of an alternative verbal world.

Neither “book,” however, ends the Rabelaisian text. The alternative worlds in Pantagruel and Gargantua do not achieve perfection but require further purgation. Both contain mysterious elements at their core that trouble them and impede their completion. The need to resolve these puzzling and “fundamental” obscurities—the “stinking and infectious exhalation, which had recently been rising from the abyss” (172; 274), and the “enigme qui feut trouvé au fondemens de l’abbaye” (Gargantua, chap. 55, 305) (“riddle which was found in digging the foundations of the abbey” [160])—provides the narrative deferral that is constitutive of romance. Pantagruel stages a scene of restoration: the body is purged of its disease, while an appended passage promises the continuation of the chronicle. In Gargantua the situation is more complex. On the one hand, Thélème seems a resolution in itself, all the more so because utopia represents the culmination of any vision of social perfectibility. At the end of Gargantua, the perfect world has been constructed. The “enigme en prophétie,” however, reopens the closure of Thélème and literally deconstructs it, for it forces a return to the foundations of the structure and places them in question. At the same time this poem, which turns on Thélème and unravels it, elegantly resolves Gargantua, for it completes the frame. By recalling the “Fanfreluches” of chapter 2, the “enigma” provides Gargantua with a paradoxical closure of form. Uncertainty, finally, triumphs over the work, whether in the form of a threatening non-sens or in the undecidability of interpretation that is the subject of its last chapter.

The negativity that frames the body of the text places the status of the abbey in question. Critics have not ceased to argue the “two sides” of Thélème: static parody or Renaissance ideal. On the one hand, scholars such as Fernand Desonay assert that “Thélème is nothing but a farce” (“En relisant ‘L’Abbaye de Thélème’” [102]), while the other side sees in Thélème the Renaissance belief in human perfectibility on earth: “The abbey of Thélème, built for Frère Jean as a reward for his military service, represents the culmination of that evolutionary process, both individual and social, which this volume is at pains to trace. It stands clearly as an answer to the violence and the stupidity of Picrocholine aggression, but more than that, it represents a hypothetical form in which human experience on earth might flower into delight” (Greene, Rabelais, 48). The paradoxical nature of Thélème gives rise to certain speculations. Was Thélème, as M. A. Screech suggests, written early on in the composition of Gargantua, then juxtaposed with the “enigme en prophétie” after the persecutions of October 1534 and January 1535 (Rabelais, 2000)? In this case Thélème would, in fact, represent a utopian moment (and perhaps a will to closure) in the progress of the narrative. Revisions made of comic passages, rendering them more explicit, lend support to the hypothesis of an early “serious” version of these episodes. That Thélème acquired more humorous characteristics might indicate a growing skepticism with regard to the possibility of practicing a liberal Erasmian Christianity in an atmosphere of inquisitorial censorship.

A brief comparison of these descriptive details and their revisions demonstrates the heightened absurdity of Thélème's physical layout in the definitive edition. The first such detail occurs in chapter 51 (Abel Lefranc ed., 53):

Ledict bastiment estoit cent foys plus magnificque que n’est Bonivet; car en icelluy estoient neuf cens trente et deux chambres. …

(Calder, Screech, and Saulnier ed., 286)

Ledict bastiment estoit cent foys plus magnificque que n’est Bonivet, ne Chambourg, ne Chantilly; car en ycelluy estoient neuf mille troys cens, trente et deux chambres …

(Gargantua 2:406)

The said building was a hundred times more magnificent than Bonnivet [or Chambord or Chantilly]. For it contained [nine hundred thirty-two] nine thousand, three hundred and thirty-two apartments.


Enumerative comparison and hyperbole collaborate in the 1542 edition to signal the text's exaggeration. A similar addition of detail in chapter 53 (Abel Lefranc ed., chap. 55) renders the galleries of the “manor” patently absurd:

Le dedans du logis sus ladicte basse court estoit sus gros pilliers de cassidoine et porphyre, à beaux ars d’antique, au dedans des quelz estoient belles gualeries, longues et amples, aornées de painctures, de cornes de cerfz et aultres choses spectables.

(Calder, Screech, and Saulnier ed., 294)

Le dedans du logis sus ladicte basse court estoit sus gros pilliers de cassidoine et porphyre, à beaux ars d’antique, au dedans desquelz estoient belles gualeries, longues et amples, aornées de pinctures et cornes de cerfz, licornes, rhinoceros, hippopotames, dens de elephans at aultres choses spectables.

(Gargantua 2:418)

The rooms of the building above this first court stood upon stout pillars of chalcedony and porphyry, with magnificent old-fashioned arches between; and inside were fine, long, spacious galleries, decorated with paintings, with horns of stags, [unicorns, rhinoceroses, and hippopotami, with elephants' tusks] and with other remarkable objects.


These additions render apparent the failure of Thélème as social ideal, through the ironic distance established between reader and text by means of the absurd detail. Laughter disrupts the seriousness of the abbey and forces these chapters to be read in a different light.


  1. Paul Ricoeur, The Rule of Metaphor, 137: “Discourse, mainly as sentence, implies the polarity of sense and reference, that is, the possibility to distinguish between what is said … and about what something is said. To speak is to say something about something.” The term “reality reference” refers here to “the power of discourse to apply to an extralinguistic reality about which it says what it says.” Stephens's thesis is that Rabelais is parodying the entire nationalist enterprise of constructing genealogies for France in the Renaissance.

  2. For definitions of metaphor, see Aristotle, Poetics, chap. 21: 1457b, 251, and I. A. Richards, The Philosophy of Rhetoric. More recent discussions of the subject which pertain to my use of the term can be found in the writings of Jacques Derrida, particularly “White Mythology: Metaphor in the Text of Philosophy” in Margins of Philosophy. Critical Inquiry's Special Issue on Metaphor provides a useful survey of the problem. Another work on the subject is Paul Ricoeur's The Rule of Metaphor: Multi-disciplinary Studies of the Creation of Meaning in Language, trans. Robert Czerny. Ricoeur and Derrida are often opposed as “constructionist” versus “deconstructionist.” With regard to the critique of philosophy this may indeed be so; insofar as literary or poetic texts are concerned, I do not find them radically incompatible.

  3. Rabelais, Oeuvres complètes, ed. Guy Demerson, 33-35: “La Vie très horrificque du Grand Gargantua père de Pantagruel.” Fernand Hallyn appropriately remarks: “Isn’t Rabelais making an accommodation in choosing Gargantua for the hero of his second volume: what better way to introduce a paternity of meaning, belatedly reclaimed, than by having the story of the son followed by that of the father?” (“Le Paradoxe de la souveraineté,” 343).

  4. I do not entirely agree with Floyd Gray's assertion that in the Prologue the narrator's voice is clearly distinguishable from the author's whereas in chapter 1 it seems to me that a narrator is present. But, I also do not think the distinction is crucial in order to posit the parodic distance that Defaux seems to think depends heavily on the presence of a narrating persona who remains distinct from the author. See Floyd Gray, “Ambiguity and Point of View in the Prologue to Gargantua,” and Gérard Defaux, “Rabelais et son masque comique: Sophista loquitur.

  5. See Defaux, “Rabelais et son masque comique,” 100: “The handwriting of Master Alcofrybas is striking for its archaïsm, it is deliberately conceived in order to reveal a character historically belated with regard to his period in time.”

  6. Pantagruel, chap. 8, 41: “‘Mais, par ce moyen de propagation séminale, demeure ès enfans ce que estoit de perdu ès parens, et ès nepveux ce que dépérissoit ès enfans, et ainsi successivement jusques à l’heure de jugement final, quand Jésuchrist aura rendu à Dieu son père son royaulme pacificque hors tout dangier et contamination de péchée’” (“‘But by this method of seminal propagation, there remains in the children what has perished in the parents, and in the grandchildren what has perished in the children, and so on in succession till the hour of the Last Judgement, when Jesus Christ shall peacefully have rendered up to God His Kingdom, released from all danger and contamination of sin’” [193]).

  7. See Douglas Kelly, “Translatio Studii: Translation, Adaptation, and Allegory in Medieval French Literature.” Although the movement from the Romans to the Greeks to the French has been explained as referring to the Holy Roman Empire, which, succeeding Rome, becomes the ancestor of France (see Gargantua, ed. Lefranc, 1:21, n. 16), I wonder if it is not also Rabelais's interpretation of the inheritance of French humanism. See the stress on Greek learning in Gargantua's letter to Pantagruel, Pantagruel, chap. 8.

  8. For a study of how emblems function in Rabelais's text, see François Rigolot and Sandra Sider, “Fonctions de l’écriture emblématique chez Rabelais,” and Rigolot's article “Cratylisme et Pantagruélisme: Rabelais et le statut di signe.” For the literary historical treatment of symbol in relation to allegory, see Paul de Man, “The Rhetoric of Temporality, in Blindness and Insight: Essays in the Rhetoric of Contemporary Criticism.” In focusing on the difference between Rabelais's treatment of symbols and the use of allegory in the text (see chap. 6), I understand their difference to be that discussed by de Man: “Whereas the symbol postulates the possibility of an identity or identification, allegory designates primarily a distance in relation to its own origin, and, renouncing the nostalgia and the desire to coincide, it establishes its language in the void of this temporal difference” (207). See my discussion of hieroglyphs in the Quart Livre, chap. 25. I discuss the use of symbols and emblems in Rabelais in “The Other and the Same: The Image of the Hermaphrodite in Rabelais.”

  9. “Croiez vous en vostre foy qu’oncques Homere, escrivent l’Iliade et Odyssée, pensast es allegories lesquelles de luy ont beluté Plutarche, Heraclides, Ponticq, Eustatie et Phornute, et ce que d’iceulx Politian a desrobé? Si le croiez, vous n’aprochez ne de pieds ny de mains à mon opinion, qui decrete icelles aussi peu avoir esté songéez d’Homere que d’Ovide en ses Metamorphoses les sacremens de l’Evangile. … Si ne le croiez, quelle cause est, pourquoy autant n’en ferez de ces joyeuses et nouvelles chronicques, combien que, les dictant, n’y pensasse en plus que vous” (Gargantua, 15-17) (“But do you faithfully believe that Homer, in writing his Iliad and Odyssey, ever had in mind the allegories squeezed out of him by Plutarch, Heraclides Ponticus, Eustathius, and Phornutus, and which Politian afterwards stole from them in his turn? If you do, you are not within a hand's or a foot's length of my opinion. For I believe them to have been as little dreamed of by Homer as the Gospel mysteries were by Ovid in his Metamorphoses. … If you do not believe [that Homer had in mind these allegories], what reason is there that [you should not do the same] with these new and jolly chronicles, [even though] as I dictated them I gave no more thought to the matter than you” [38-39]).

  10. Edwin Duval, “Interpretation and the ‘Doctrine Absconce’ of Rabelais's Prologue to Gargantua.” Cathleen Bauschatz approaches the question by comparing author-oriented and reader-oriented approaches to reading and gives a critical overview of the debate from this perspective in “‘Une Description du Jeu de Paulme Soubz Obscures Paroles’: The Portrayal of Reading in Pantagruel and Gargantua.

  11. François Rigolot, Le Texte de la Renaissance: Des rhétoriqueurs à Montaigne, “Parémiologie,” 123-35; Richard Regosin, “The Ins(ides) and Outs(ides) of Reading.”

  12. Cave, Jeanneret, and Rigolot respond to Defaux's article, “D’un problème l’autre,” and Defaux in turn responds to their response, in the Revue d’Histoire Littéraire de la France 86, 4 (June-July 1986), “Débats.”

  13. Richard Waswo, in his Language and Meaning in the Renaissance, does not specifically discuss Rabelais in connection with his theory of the revolution in linguistic understanding exemplified by the language theories of Lorenzo Valla. His argument is basically that there was a shift, later reversed, from a referential theory whereby words refer to a meaning that is thought of as prior or external to language and thus fixed, to a relational theory that understands meaning to be constructed in and posited by discourse itself and is thus contingent. Like Thomas Kuhn in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Waswo argues that a theoretical paradigm for this shift was lacking, so that language continued to be thought of as referential while being “relationally” practiced and described. I think that Rabelais's linguistic practice as opposed to the pronouncements about language in the text can be described in Waswo's terms, and I would link this linguistic dilemma with theological developments in the sixteenth century. The conflict between (at least) two paradigms of truth, two radically opposed interpretations of what is meant to be a unitary doctrine, became hegemonic in the sixteenth century and was bound to destabilize the paradigmatic bases of theories of meaning and truth. One might argue that in Thélème (see chap. 5) the dilemma is figured in terms of an economic and political “paradigmatic shift” as well.

  14. Defaux, in “Rabelais et son masque comique,” 91, stresses the importance of the separation between the character Alcofrybas and the author Rabelais, which risks hypostatizing a narrative voice whose role as personnage remains very vague and rarely discernible. Walter Stephens concurs with this separation and brings much scholarship to bear to prove it. My argument is that there is a contamination effect; the pseudohistoriographer gets under Rabelais's skin. Others, such as Rigolot and Regosin, nuance the distinction between the author and the narrator, describing the relationship in primarily linguistic rather than overtly ideological terms.

  15. See Steven Ozment on Ockham's thought, The Age of Reform, 1250-1550: An Intellectual and Religious History of Late Medieval and Renaissance Europe, chap. 2, “The Scholastic Traditions”; also Ernest A. Moody, Truth and Consequences in Mediaveal Logic. Jean Paris provides an interesting discussion of the implications of Ockhamism for Rabelais's thought, particularly with regard to Gargantua, chapter 9, in Rabelais au futur, 126-31.

  16. On Augustine's theory of signification see Margaret W. Ferguson, “Saint Augustine's Region of Unlikeness: The Crossing of Exile and Language”; also John Freccero, Dante: The Poetics of Conversion.

  17. Ferguson, “Saint Augustine's Region of Unlikeness,” 844-45, and Ozment, Age of Reform, 58. See also Waswo's description of medieval and Renaissance linguistic theories in Language and Meaning in the Renaissance.

  18. From Ockham: The Philosophical Writings, 34.

  19. I am referring here to E. M. W. Tillyard's book, The Elizabethan World Picture. Michel Foucault's claim, countered by Jean Paris in Rabelais au futur (see chap. 12, “Les signes de la rupture”), is that a connectedness between word and thing persisted through the Renaissance until the seventeenth century. See The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences, part 1, chap. 2, “The Prose of the World.”

  20. Lucien Febvre argues: “The words that presented themselves to these men when they reasoned about the sciences in French—or simply when they reasoned—were not words made for reasoning, for explaining and demonstrating. They were not scientific words but words that belonged to the language of all, to the common, living language. They were accordion words, if I may say so. Their meaning expanded, contracted, altered, and evolved with a freedom that scientific words have ceased to exercise. The latter have the immobility of signposts” (The Problem of Unbelief in the Sixteenth Century: The Religion of Rabelais, 358). He goes on to conclude that “philosophy then was only opinions, a chaos of contradictory and wavering opinions. They wavered because they still lacked a steady, solid base, the firm base that would make them secure: science” (379). Recent work in philosophy has dismantled this base as well, exposing it as a product of its own desire to construct just such an unshakable foundation.

  21. See Richard Waswo, “The ‘Ordinary Language Philosophy’ of Lorenzo Valla,” and his Language and Meaning in the Renaissance.

  22. Jean Paris, in Rabelais au futur, 129-30, suggests that Ockham provides the philosophical context for Rabelais's discussion of signification. I think it is important, however, to stress the humanist mediation of Ockham's “purely philosophical” speculation, as provided by Lorenzo Valla (among others, such as Erasmus). Rabelais remains a humanist in his thoroughly rhetorical orientation to this philosophical question. It may be useful here to cite Charles Trinkhaus's statement on the relation between medieval and Renaissance approaches to philosophical issues: “It is well known by now that the Italian Humanists differed from their Scholastic rivals less in essential doctrines than in stylistic predilections, forms of presentation, and classical mentors” (in Ernst Cassirer, Paul O. Kristeller, and John H. Randall, Jr., eds., The Renaissance Philosophy of Man, 148).

  23. See Giovanni di Napoli, Lorenzo Valla: Filosofia e religione nell’umanesimo italiano, 213.

  24. Ernest Moody comments, “The primary significance of what is called the ‘nominalism’ of William of Ockham is its rejection of the confusion of logic with metaphysics, and its vigorous defense of the older conception of logic as a scientia sermocinalis whose function is to analyze the formal structure of language rather than to hypostatize this structure into a science of reality or of Mind” (Truth and Consequences, 5-6).

  25. An unpublished paper by Shane Gasbarra, “The Dialecticae Disputationes of Lorenzo Valla: Book One” (Yale University) has helped me formulate my thinking on Valla along these lines. He writes (p. 6): “Thus Aristotle establishes a sort of ‘logical decorum’ among the object of inquiry, the discursive mode, and the premises on which the given type of syllogism is based. Far from being the science of sciences and the privileged method of philosophy, dialectic treats of probability and opinions and never the nature of things. It is not identical with scientific demonstration and therefore cannot achieve logical certainty. This conception of dialectic as strictly a scientia sermocinalis, i.e., a ‘science’ of language whose categories are never supposed to correspond to those of an objective reality, is the very notion which animates Valla's Dialecticae Disputationes and upon which it is implicitly based.”

  26. This passage is cited and translated by Waswo, “‘Ordinary Language Philosophy,’” 265.

  27. Waswo, “‘Ordinary Language Philosophy,’” 268: “What the thing is is what the word means. This equation is Valla's most profound critique of all the assumptions about the relation of word/object/meaning contained in the traditional process of signification or representation. It wholly denies both the correspondence theory of truth and the referential theory of meaning: neither truth nor meaning is to be sought in preextant, a priori ‘objects,’ about which ‘nothing can be said,’ since those objects are coextensive with, being created by, the words that name them. Language does not ‘represent’ a reality but constitutes one.”

  28. Referring to a phrase in the argument where Valla writes “itaque res significat rem: hoc significatur, illud huius est signum: illud non vox, hoc vox est,” Waswo notes: “The old process of signification which located the meaning of words in the objects, whether perceivable by the senses or laid up in a Platonic or Christian heaven, that they were said to ‘represent,’ has been modified almost out of existence by being reduced to tautology. Almost—but not quite, for Valla continued to use the vocabulary of the old process (‘What is signified by x,’ ‘x signifies all things’) in ways not incompatible with the presupposition that meaning was an object of reference instead of a function of use. … By examining the ‘common usage’ of words, therefore, Valla has indeed arrived at the limits of language—the vertiginous point at which the perceptual and conceptual categories imposed by that usage must themselves be called into question” (“‘Ordinary Language Philosophy,’” 269).

  29. Rigolot discusses Alcofrybas's arguments in these chapters in “Cratylisme et Pantagruélisme.”

  30. The nostalgia for Egypt as a lost origin can almost be called a topos. It is frequently evoked in Plato's Dialogues, and Erasmus also addresses the theme. For the importance of hieroglyphs in the Renaissance, see Liselotte Dieckmann, Hieroglyphics: The History of a Literary Symbol.

  31. Terence Cave explores this aspect of textuality, particularly as it applies to interpretation. See The Cornucopian Text: Problems of Writing in the French Renaissance, iii: “Indeed, the perpetual deferment of sense encourages—even constitutes—copia, defined as the ability of language to generate detours and deflections. Textual abundance (the extension of the surface) opens up in its turn an indefinite plurality of possible senses. The intention (will, sententia) which was supposed to inform the origin of a text and to guarantee the ultimate resolution of its sensus remains forever suspended, or submerged, in the flow of words.”

  32. Thus Pantagruel must ask Alcofrybas about his activities rather than overseeing them, as Gargantua does by decree at Thélème.


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———. The Rule of Metaphor: Multi-disciplinary Studies of the Creation of Meaning in Language. Trans. Robert Czerny. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1979. Originally published as La Métaphore vive. Paris: Seuil, 1975.

Rigolot, François. “Cratylisme et Pantagruélisme: Rabelais et le statut du signe.” Etudes Rabelaisiennes 13(1976): 115-32.

———. Le Texte de la Renaissance: Des rhétoriqueurs à Montaigne. Geneva: Droz, 1982.

Rigolot, François, and Sandra Sider. “Fonctions de l’écriture emblématique chez Rabelais.” L’Esprit Créateur 28, 2(1988): 36-47.

———. “Emblems and Colours: The Controversy over Gargantua's Colours and Devices.” In Mélanges d’histoire du XVIe siècle offerts à Henri Meylan, 65-80. Geneva: Droz, 1970.

Tillyard, E. M. W. The Elizabethan World Picture. New York: Random, 1959.

Waswo, Richard. Language and Meaning in the Renaissance. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987.

———. “The ‘Ordinary Language Philosophy’ or Lorenzo Valla.” Bibliothèque d’Humanisme et Renaissance 41(1979): 255-71.

Elizabeth Chesney Zegura and Marcel Tetel (essay date 1993)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 9802

SOURCE: “Change and Exchange,” in Rabelais Revisited, Twayne Publishers, 1993, pp. 1-22.

[In the excerpt below, Zegura and Tetel discuss the importance of change and economics in Rabelais's life and works, arguing that these two concepts hold the key for comprehending his disjointed writings.]

François Rabelais hawked his Third Book (1546) by claiming the text would never run dry. “Our barrel will prove inexhaustible,” he tells us, comparing his book to a bottomless cask of wine that is “lively at the source and of perpetual flow … a veritable cornucopia of merriment and mockery” (TB, Prol., 298-99).1 That the prognostication holds true today, not just for the Third Book but for the entire Rabelaisian text, is a tribute to the good doctor's special brand of alchemy, which within the crucible of the fiction combines ingredients so diverse that they never stop interacting. To catalog this hodgepodge of ingredients, which we often label macaronic, would be to catalog the Renaissance itself, a syncretic period of socioeconomic and intellectual ferment that was afloat with heterogeneous philosophies and cultural manifestations. In both the text and the world it represents, humanism is coeval with Scholasticism, a regressive fascination with origins is counterbalanced by progressive attempts at originality, Platonism and Aristotelianism coexist with witchcraft and necromancy, and utopian treatises advocating shared values and property are inscribed against a backdrop of petty tyranny, theft, and vandalism.

The result is a rich but volatile admixture of contraries that yields new complexities with each successive taste, as signifiers recombine like atomic particles in new molecular configurations. No reading is ever quite identical to its predecessor, for instead of ironing out semantic wrinkles and reducing the play of signifiers, each taste and each aftertaste from the “cornucopian text” at once challenges our old interpretive paradigms and restructures our image of the author.2


Five centuries after his birth, the “real” Rabelais still eludes us. Instead he remains what he has always been: a tantalizing enigma, a puzzle whose pieces do not quite fit. Moreover, among the readings that have been proposed through the years, some provisionally and others positivistically and reductively, there is little consensus. Indeed, our interpretations taken collectively are as contradictory and often as puzzling as the Pantagrueline Tales themselves. Gilbert Ducher, known as Vulton (1538), hailed his fellow humanist as the “supreme master” of Renaissance letters; Pierre Boulanger (1587) marveled at his “refined genius”; and Anatole France (1889) called him “the miracle of the sixteenth century.” In his Théotimus (1549), however, Gabriel du Puy Herbault labeled Rabelais “an impure and corrupt man” possessing the gift of gab but very little common sense, and John Calvin (1555) placed Maître François among the lowly ranks of “mad dogs” whose literary output is garbage.3

Clearly the slurs upon Rabelais by Calvin and du Puy Herbault must be taken with a grain of salt: functioning first and foremost as religious polemic, they constitute return volleys in a rhetorical battle between Rabelais, the Calvinists, and the Sorbonne during an era of profound upheaval in the Church. As any teacher of Rabelais knows, however, the basic negativism of both Calvin and du Puy Herbault finds adherents even today. Counterbalancing the aficionados who find Rabelais sublime, a Gargantuan artist rivaling Shakespeare in his use of language and the breadth of his inspiration, are detractors so antagonized by his ebullient scatology that they consider him a second-rate pornographic writer. For all those who see in him the embodiment of Renaissance reason, which exuberantly challenged the medieval episteme with its normative values and closed corpus of knowledge, there are detractors who deplore his exploration of madness and his nonsensical breaches of logic. Depending upon the metatext one reads, Rabelais may be labeled feminist or antifeminist, atheistic or evangelistic, profoundly original or a plagiarist of the worst sort.

What emerges from this fractured spectrum of readings is a profoundly dichotomous Rabelais, whose emblem might well be the two-colored man of the Third Book prologue (TB, Prol., 297), or Gargantua's two-headed androgyne (G, VIII, 28), or even the reversible Silenus box (G, Prol., 3-4), which turns into its opposite when examined closely. Even for his contemporaries, the object of this controversy was not so much Rabelais the man, an eminent physician and classicist, as the corpus of his fictional writing: Pantagruel (1532), Gargantua (1534), the Third Book (1546), the Fourth Book (1552), and a partially finished Fifth Book, the disputed origins of which have fueled the controversy surrounding Rabelais.4 As for the four authenticated books, which revolve around the adventures of Gallic giants who double as Renaissance men, they are a brilliant but disjointed combination of lists, enigmas, epic feats, burlesque comedy, topical satire, fantasy, folklore, philosophy, pedagogy, theology, and scatology, all grafted onto the Gargantua legend. Almost impossible to classify generically, this magnum opus yields glimpses of a Rabelais who is by turns pious and irreverent, earthy and refined, regressively misogynist and progressively androgynous.

All literature is ultimately ambiguous, to be sure, owing to the inherently double or plural nature of figurative language and discourse. We as readers further fragment textuality with the biases, sensitivities, and expectations we bring to the reading experience. Even given these caveats, however, antinomies and unresolved enigmas are so prevalent in Rabelais that they arguably constitute the substantificque mouelle or “marrow” of his fiction. Admittedly a good number of the loose ends that puzzle readers today are learned puns and inside jokes to be deciphered by Rabelais's fellow humanists, enamored of Platonic duality and allegory, who delighted in intellectual games.5 Similarly, Rabelais's penchant for contradiction can be partially explained as a function of the pro and contra logic of Scholastic reasoning, which still prevailed at the Sorbonne during Rabelais's lifetime, and his abrupt shifts from high to low style have been convincingly linked to the upside-down worlds of carnival and the feast of fools, where aristocrats were mocked and idiots venerated.6 While each of these historical insights adds immeasurably to our appreciation of particular facets of Rabelais's writing, none comes close to accounting for the massive depth and breadth of polyvalence in the Pantagrueline Tales. Given the conjunction between these textual bipolarities and those in the culture at large, it seems likely that the systemic all-prevasiveness of Rabelais's ambiguity reflects the divided consciousness of an era in transition.

If it is difficult to pin Rabelais down, it is because he is never stationary. His world, both fictional and historical, is dominated by the forces of change. Aside from the minimal amount of sleep they require, the giants populating Rabelais's fiction, who owe their stature to an inherited mutation, are constantly on the move: eating, growing, studying, reproducing, inventing, playing, traveling, defecating, asking questions, working, and warring. In typical Renaissance fashion, even the education of the heroes is predominantly peripatetic, taking them outside the classroom to fields and meadows in the Gargantua, to neighboring university towns in the Pantagruel, to experts from multiple disciplines in the Third Book, and to a series of foreign countries in the Fourth Book.

At the beginning of Pantagruel, this movement seems overwhelmingly progressive: in his celebrated letter (P, VIII), Gargantua places his son's education and growth under the hubristic emblem of humanistic advances, the much-heralded transition from darkness to light that is a commonplace of Renaissance writing. Further reading, however, reveals that Rabelais's world is not only expanding diachronically; on a synchronic level, it also gyrates wildly on its axis, rather like the cyclical wheel of fortune and reversible world upside down that inform so much of the Rabelaisian text. This is because change permeates not just the themes and action but also the discourse itself of Rabelais's novel. The narrator is shifty, the logic dialectical, the discursive mode dialogic, and the language ambiguous, filled with plays upon words and multiple entendres that leave the reader vacillating between two or more interpretations.7

Far from gratuitous, the protean instability of Rabelais's narrative is in large measure a function of exchange, which denotes the substitution or trade of one thing for another within contexts as diverse as linguistics and finance. While Rabelais uses the word “exchange” or “eschange” only twice, as a reference to the transition from life to death (OC, TB, Prol., 326; FB, Prol., 524), the structure itself permeates the entire Rabelaisian text.8 The prologue of the Pantagruel catapults us into a wheeling-and-dealing marketplace where values fluctuate and goods change hands constantly, and while the peddler's caravan remains curtained thereafter, the first book's commercial framework provides a unifying backdrop to the Pantagrueline Tales. Coins and currency such as ecuz and caroluz flow almost as freely as linguistic tokens on the pages of Rabelais's text, which is liberally punctuated with references to money, profit, buying, selling, and financial transactions in general.9 Inherently dialectic by virtue of their commerce with otherness, these monetary transactions are often the locus of paradox and ambiguity, which act to further destabilize the Renaissance epic's inherently shaky value system. Panurge's charitable contributions in chapter 17 of Pantagruel prove to be a screen for theft, and the same character's “Praise of Debt,” which he justifies as a form of caritas and cooperation, is one of the most famous paradoxes of all literature. In a slightly different vein, Panurge's confusion of the golden bough, a spiritual token used by Aeneas to gain entrance to the underworld, and caroluz or “golden coins” (TB, XVII, 354), adds to the deterioration of an already eroded value system by suggesting that rewards in the new world of the Renaissance go not to the worthiest knight but rather to the highest bidder and craftiest bargainer.

Here and in the Frozen Words episode (FB, LVI, 650), where Panurge talks of “selling” language, it becomes clear that financial references are both a theme in their own right, reflective of the inflationary times, and a metonym of exchange in general, which in Rabelais comprises borrowing from the ancients, attempts at commerce with the supernatural, linguistic exchange, the economy of salvation, symbolic substitutions, and trade with other cultures. These processes are so prevalent in the Pantagrueline Tales that one may view the entire saga as an anatomy of exchange, an inquest into its laws and its limitations. In the Gargantua, the head-on encounter of two radically different systems of agricultural exchange precipitates the entire Picrocholine War, which itself finds resolution in the utopian Abbey of Thélème, a model of perfect reciprocity. The Third Book, which chronicles Panurge's quandary over whether or not to marry, combines a debate on the merits of commerce with alterity with an inquest on the limits of intellectual commerce, and the Fourth Book, which advances by means of a sea voyage, extends the first prologue theme of marketing to the level of intercultural commerce.

Not just the plot but microunits of the text as well form variations on the theme of exchange. Such episodes as Badebec's death, Gargantua's letter on learning, the court case of Kissarse and Bumfondle, Epistemon's hell, Gargantua's color symbolism, and “The Praise of the Pantagruelion” feed into the epic's vast network of exchange. Though many of these episodes contain no mention of money, they are articulated in terms and patterns consistent with the original financial metonym. Within the Pantagrueline Tales, both linguistic and financial exchange are marred by inflation, devaluation, two-sided tokens, middlemen, and the specter of profit.

The felicitous conjunction of economic theory and linguistic terminology, which refers to words as tokens, helps us appreciate the relationship between Rabelais's original financial metonym and other exchange networks within the saga. The analogy between words and money is far from anachronistic, for economics and monetary theory appear as subsets of semiotics and linguistic theory throughout the Middle Ages, and attempts to enrich the French language and literary style in the sixteenth century are often couched in monetary terms. In his Deffence et illustration de la langue françoyse (1549), for example, Joachim du Bellay urges the French to pillage “without conscience” the wealth of ancient languages, and the correspondence between the two humanistic giants Guillaume Budé and Erasmus is dense with economic signifiers used as financial, stylistic, and epistemological referents.10 To read and write, for the dean of French humanists and his illustrious Flemish counterpart, is both to “pillage libraries” (98) and to “spend” (56) one's intellect upon literary “treasures” (64, 67) that are “profitable” (74). Taken together, these and similar examples suggest that Rabelais fully intends his financial references, and even the market backdrop of his first prologue, to reflect on and function as signifiers within his epistemological and linguistic quest.

Because of its traditional prominence in the debate between nominalists and realists, and because of the gap between its absolute and relative value in the Renaissance, money is particularly well adapted to help figure the crisis of signification outlined in Rabelais. Coins themselves were viewed by economic realists in the early feudal era as verbal symbols whose face value corresponded perfectly to the quantity and quality of substance contained within them.11 With the advent of economic nominalism in the later Middle Ages, however, “money came to constitute a mobile measure,” and there occurred a “gradual loosening of the relation between the face value and the metallic value of coins.”12 As coins and paper notes proliferated in the sixteenth century, their value decreased, prompting Jean Bodin to speculate in 1568 that fluctuations in monetary value were a function of abundance versus rarity, and that the depreciation of French currency could be directly linked to its profusion.

Because of the similarity between the floating of monetary values and Rabelais's own floating of linguistic signifiers, both articulated in opposition to an immovable ideal, it seems likely that the author is consciously inscribing his financial subtext within a broader meditation on the problematics of signification in the absence of symbolic transparency. Structurally, moreover, the two-sided physical configuration of the verbal and monetary tokens in which the narrator-barker-alchemist traffics effectively emblematizes the binary configuration of the Rabelaisian text. And at the same time, on a thematic level, money's pejorative connotations as a fallen symbol and as an object of postlapsarian cupiditas provide a vehicle for the author's critique of greed, which he both contrasts with the unselfish prelapsarian ideal of caritas and links subversively with the economics of excess or hubris underlying the Renaissance voyages of discovery.


In addition to being consistent with preexisting literary and philosophical models and imbued with internal logic, the exchange-oriented cast of Rabelais's fiction has roots in his life and times. Like the Pantagrueline Tales, Rabelais's biography is a string of enigmas, inconsistencies, migrations, and transmutations played out against a background of intellectual, social, and financial ferment, which was characteristic of the sixteenth century. While our knowledge of Rabelais's early years is sketchy, we do know that he was one of three surviving children born to the lawyer Antoine Rabelais toward the end of the fifteenth century in the region of Chinon in west central France.

His precise date of birth is uncertain, but two provisional time frames are in circulation. A manuscript of epitaphs, found in Saint Paul's Church in Paris and probably dating from the eighteenth century, indicates that Rabelais was 70 at the time of his death in 1553, which would place his date of birth in 1483. Yet in a letter dated 1521 to Guillaume Budé, Rabelais's own claim to be an adulescens, a Latin term designating the period between 14 and 28 years, has resulted in the wide acceptance of 1494 as an alternative birthdate. The major flaw in this appealing hypothesis, which would make Rabelais 38 instead of 49 when he penned his first novel, is the fact that adulescens is occasionally used figuratively by humanists, denoting a period of literary apprenticeship unrelated to biological age. Given Budé's fame as an intellectual in 1521, it is entirely plausible that an obscure Franciscan monk, newly enamored of classicizing studies, would consider himself an “adolescent” in comparison with the father of French humanism. Like the elusive “meaning” of his epic, then, Rabelais's birthdate has become a puzzle of textuality, contingent upon the accuracy of an unknown scribe and the value of a two-sided linguistic token.

While knowing the exact date of Rabelais's birth is appealing, it is less crucial to our understanding of his text than is our grasp of the century between 1453 and 1553, the year of Rabelais's death. Like our own era, the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries were a time of radical and widespread changes in such varied areas as art, politics, religion, geography, astronomy, jurisprudence, technology, and economics. On an international level, 1453 marks the fall of Constantinople to the Turks, effectively ending medieval Christendom's efforts to occupy the Holy Land. Not only the outcome but the nature of the conflict proved decisive, for the Turks’ use of artillery and massive cannonballs broke radically with the one-on-one combat of chivalry and its emphasis upon personal honor.

On the domestic front, 1453 also marks the end of the Hundred Years War, which together with the plague and recurring famines decimated France's population and paralyzed its economy during the late Middle Ages. The decades immediately following the decisive battle of Castillon were characterized by an intense rebuilding effort, which may well have inspired Rabelais's preoccupation with growth, procreation, productivity, and trade. Demographic data for the period are limited, but growth curves in a number of towns suggest that the population of France increased by at least half during the century following the war with England.13 Forests that had grown up untended during the war, such as that in the sixteenth chapter of Gargantua, were razed to make way for new farmland, and agricultural productivity leapt forward to keep pace with the population explosion. This increased demand for produce also contributed to a general rise in agricultural prices and profits, allowing newly affluent landowners to purchase luxury items that in turn boosted trade and urban production. Though this upward economic spiral was to become inflationary as early as the 1530s, a phenomenon due in part to the excess bullion imported from central Europe and the Americas, it is fair to say that the initial economic surge brought a visible degree of prosperity to late fifteenth- and early sixteenth-century France.

By using this newfound wealth to promote scholarship, renovate castles, upgrade the arts, and amass books, King Francis I (1515-47) generally succeeded in wresting France out of the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance, but the route toward modernization and enlightenment was not without its underside. France ultimately failed in its military effort to annex Milan and Naples, and the decades of war, primarily against Emperor Charles V, badly depleted the French treasury, which was simultaneously being drained by the court's newly acquired taste for luxury. Despite the country's increased productivity, moreover, there is some indication that this surface prosperity was not fully shared by the peasantry, which was observed in 1517 to be “more oppressed than dogs or slaves.”14 For scholars and writers, moreover, the climate of religious tolerance and intellectual openness fostered by Francis I during the first decades of his reign was resisted at every step by the conservative Sorbonne and Parlement, which banned the study of Greek, condemned freethinkers as heretics, and ordered that a number of suspected Reformers be burned at the stake. Following the Affaire des Placards in 1534, a massive demonstration against the papal mass that was more or less contemporaneous with the publication of Rabelais's Gargantua, even the liberal Francis joined in the crackdown on dissidents, perhaps sensing that intellectual ferment was fast becoming religious schism. Despite the reinstitution of the inquisitional Chambre Ardente in 1547 by his son and successor. Henry II, the tide of change could not be stemmed, and less than a decade after Rabelais's death, the nation was embroiled in a bloody and devastating civil war that in the end, 30 years later, would leave only the ashes of France's burgeoning golden age.

Many of the changes that helped define the Renaissance were fueled in part by exchange with Italy, a country that first captured the imagination of French soldiers during the peninsular campaigns of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. The gilded ceilings, bright sensual paintings, silken garments, bubbling fountains, and voluptuous sculptures of the Italian courts left an indelible impression upon the Frenchmen who accompanied Charles VIII and his successors in their assault upon Naples and Milan. Accustomed to more spartan fare, the northerners eagerly embraced the land of Petrarch and Botticelli, whose luminous esthetic achievements camouflaged a profound ethical and epistemological crisis.

Beginning in the fourteenth century, perhaps as a result of intellectual ferment at the court of Avignon, Italian artists and philosophers rediscovered pagan antiquity and began to break loose from the restrictive confines of ecclesiastical dogma, which for centuries had dominated medieval art and scholarship.15 The result was a dynamic era of “rebirth” that informed the thought of Rabelais 150 years later. In the graphic arts, vitality and movement returned to representations of the human body. Freed from their Christian interpretations, classical texts also opened up a rich variety of behavioral and cognitive models that at once enriched and destabilized the decision-making processes and value systems of Renaissance humanists. Whereas the late-medieval Dante could still reconcile divine and terrestrial love in a single figure, the humanist Petrarch vacillated erratically between the two poles, and Boccaccio changed the short exemplum with its clear-cut moral into a complex tapestry of relative values and situational ethics. This legacy of moral and epistemological polyvalence, a problematic byproduct of cultural rebirth, permeates the Rabelaisian text even more radically than it does the texts of Rabelais's Italian ancestors.

In Italy as in France, this profoundly altered outlook on life was not entirely literary in origin. Instead, it was fueled by changing patterns of financial as well as intellectual exchange. As fiefs disintegrated, the increasing migration of peasants from rural farmlands to dense urban centers, the growth of an ever more powerful middle class, and the evolution from local to national and international markets contributed to the substitution of pragmatic values for medieval and feudal idealism. For scholars, renewed contact with antiquity represented an equally important form of commerce that served to cross-pollinate previously homogeneous values. While this grafting of pagan borrowings onto fundamentally Christian texts is generally labeled “syncretic,” a term denoting the absence of discord between pluralistic credos, the polysemous system of borrowing that Rabelais inherited from Italy necessarily contributes to the ambiguity of his text. True, the syncretic potpourri of ideas placed in circulation by Italian and French humanists was in the main neither atheistic nor anti-Christian. Although they strayed from the narrow confines of Catholic dogma, philosophers such as Giovanni Pico della Mirandola and Marsilio Ficino were ultimately seeking to reconcile their own religion and pagan antiquity in a new synthesis. Inevitably, however, the antitheses inherent in this attempted synthesis attracted satirists such as Luigi Pulci, Teofilo Folengo, and Ludovico Ariosto, whose irreverent mock epics poking fun at chivalry elicited charges of impiety that paralleled and foreshadowed the Sorbonne's denunciation of Rabelais. Not coincidentally, all three Italian writers are cited by the Gallic doctor, who openly espouses their parodic legacy in the writing of his own burlesque epic.

Much more subversive to the long-range interests of the Church than these high-spirited spoofs of chivalry was the growing interest in philology, historical exegesis, and the resurrection of dead languages by humanists such as Lorenzo Valla, who in 1457 demonstrated that the “Donation of Constantine,” a document supporting the papacy's claim to secular power, was in fact a forgery or linguistic counterfeit. While this discovery did not generate an immediate backlash at the Vatican, which prior to the Counter-Reformation patronized the new learning on an even grander scale than did Francis I, Nicola Beda and the Sorbonne in France were to take a much dimmer view of anything that even smacked of the new learning, going so far as to confiscate Greek books, censor humanist publications, and denounce scholars such as Jacques Lefèvre d’Etaples as heretics. It is against this polarized backdrop that Gargantua urges his son to learn Greek, Hebrew, and Arabic as well as the requisite Latin (P, VIII, 193), and much of Rabelais's own linguistic ambivalence stems from a familiarity with Greek and Hebrew etymologies that he uses to enrich and equivocize the meaning of French words. At the same time, the enhanced sensitivity to linguistic misrepresentation growing out of Vallas's work converges in Rabelais with the old quarrel between nominalists and realists over the existence in nature of universals figuring in discourse.

While it is common to talk of Renaissance France's debt to Italy, French religious ferment in the sixteenth century was also shaped by events taking place in the North. Martin Luther's theses decrying Church abuses had been posted in 1517, and his ideology quickly spread to France, where religious dissenters were labeled Lutheristes by the Sorbonne at least as early as the 1520s. An even more important German contribution to French Renaissance culture was Johannes Gutenberg's invention in the 1440s and early 1450s of printing with movable type, which would become a powerful catalyst in both the Renaissance and the Reform. By the end of the century, presses had been set up all over Europe, including Paris and Lyon, and the writings of both ancient and modern classicists, as well as those of scientists and theologians, became available to would-be scholars as fast as the printers could produce them. Though the sudden deluge of printed material in the Renaissance, available only in rare manuscripts prior to the 1450s, may seem minor in comparison with the twentieth century's computer-aided information explosion, the analogy does give us a clearer perspective on Gargantua's wish for his son to become an “inexhaustible storehouse [abysme] of knowledge” (P, VIII, 194), a dream fueled in part by the vast quantities of information placed in circulation by the new technology.

The massive breadth of Rabelais's own erudition, evident in his easy references to Lucian, Pliny, Heraclitus, and dozens of other authors, is a clear product of the printing revolution, which allowed scholars to amass, cross-reference, and compare numerous texts from highly divergent sources instead of devoting years to a single rare manuscript.16 At the same time, though, it is safe to say that the invention contributed to the epistemological crisis of Rabelais and other discerning contemporaries. First of all, the mass-production on paper of words that had been recited face to face in oral literature, and that later were transcribed by a hand-held quill, doubtless aggravates the sense of distance between signified and signifier informing the Rabelaisian text. Not coincidentally, the crisis of representation that accompanies the birth of printing is most evident in the proliferation of printed monetary notes worth far less than the gold standard they symbolize: these paper notes, arguably, are the “monkeymoney” exchanged at Medamothi, made not from precious metal but copied apishly onto leaves made from trees.

Second, the vast quantity of data from heterogeneous sources that was placed in circulation by the printing process tended on the whole to raise more questions than it answered, making scholars like Rabelais acutely aware of contradictions within canonical bodies of knowledge. In the years between 1534 and 1546, Gargantua's optimism about the wealth of learning available to his son had evolved into Panurge's lacs de perplexité or “gin of perplexity” (TB, XXXVII, 430), a state of total confusion before the mass of information confronting him. Clearly, accelerated change and exchange in the Renaissance had negative as well as positive ramifications.

Not just vehicles of intellectual commerce and catalysts of social change, printed books in the Renaissance were also significant objects of exchange, contributing to the prosperity of cities like Lyon and Paris. As a result, literacy itself became even more of a marketable commodity that it had been previously, a fact reflected by the sizable number of intellectuals who found work, often part-time, in and around the printing industry. Despite his evocation of the oral-aural tradition and the reservations about the longevity of printing he voices in the prologue to Pantagruel, Rabelais capitalized as fully as any intellectual of his time on the advantages afforded him by the new medium, churning out almanacs, prognostications, and popular novels in addition to medical and legal translations. True, royalties as we know them did not exist in the sixteenth century, and the margin of profit associated with printing was relatively low, suggesting to some scholars that authors received no financial remuneration. Given the nature and timing of Rabelais's output, however, which regularly appeared during periods of economic hardship for the doctor, it seems reasonable to accept, at least hypothetically, the author's own contention that he is serving Pantagruel à gaiges or “for wages” (OC, P, Prol., 169).

Not all the publishing ventures of the sixteenth century were as successful as the Pantagrueline Tales, to be sure. One of the industry's signal failures, at least in terms of sales and dissemination, was a small, unprepossessing volume, entitled De Revolutionibus, in which Copernicus upended the centuries-old premises of Ptolomeic cosmography. Published in 1543, the treatise further destabilized the cognitive and epistemological underpinnings of Western culture by proposing that the earth, far from being the stable center of the universe, is in fact mobile, revolving around the sun. Though there is no clear reference to De Revolutionibus in the Pantagrueline Tales, it is appealing to imagine that Rabelais had read or heard of the Copernican text prior to the composition of his vertiginous Fourth Book in the late 1540s. Even if this is not the case, the similarities between Rabelais's mobile world and that of Copernicus represent kindred manifestations of the intellectual ferment sweeping over Europe in the sixteenth century.

While Copernicus was turning the medieval laws of astrophysics upside down, Renaissance navigators were making some revolutionary discoveries of their own. In 1519 Ferdinand Magellan sailed around the world, demonstrating once and for all that the earth was spherical instead of flat, and between them, Christopher Columbus and Amerigo Vespucci discovered a new continent. It is generally agreed that these voyages of discovery, like De Revolutionibus, had little immediate impact upon the public consciousness. Nevertheless, Rabelais's clear allusion in his Fourth Book to Jacques Cartier's quest for a northwest passage, along with the entire ocean voyage sequence and his familiarity with shipbuilders' jargon, bears witness to a mind profoundly imprinted with the known world's sudden expansion.


On a biographical level, Rabelais's own turbulent life was a mirror of the changing times in which he lived. Though his first vocation was that of a Franciscan monk, which by its very nature implies stability and even a resistance to change, Rabelais not only switched monasteries and monastic orders over the years, becoming a Benedictine and eventually a secular monk, but also traveled extensively throughout France and Italy and wore a variety of different professional hats: philologist, physician, scholar, editor, novelist, poet, secretary, librarian, botanist, and diplomat. While today we often stigmatize such career fluctuations as “unstable,” well-roundedness was a Renaissance ideal, evident not only in the characterization of Panurge as a jack-of-all-trades and in the broad liberal education of the giants, but also in the real-life versatility of men like Leonardo da Vinci, at once poet and painter, inventor and architect. This drive to know and do that we see in the prototypical uomo universale or “Renaissance man” reflects the radically expanding horizons of learned culture as a whole during the Renaissance, in fields as diverse as geography, cosmology, theology, and philology.

At the same time, the erratic track of Rabelais's biography cannot be wholly explained as a desire for intellectual fulfillment, for to do so ignores the economic realities that clearly affected some of his career changes. The social mobility that enabled Renaissance men such as Rabelais to break away from their farms, families, and traditional economic base to pursue their own individual talents and interests carried with it newfound monetary pressures that were largely absent within the protective womb of home and cloister. Though Rabelais's family was affluent, his share of their wealth very likely devolved to the Church when he took his vows. In any event, the financial references in Rabelais's fiction and his correspondence allow us to speculate that part of his evolution, including his shift from humanist physician to scatological novelist and his association with a parade of patrons, was financially as well as ideologically motivated.

Compounding the artist's financial worries was political pressure from the Sorbonne, Parlement, the Church, the Franciscans, and the Benedictines. Their repressive policies elicited from Rabelais a circuitous series of adaptive tactics that resemble the parrying and thrusting, dodging and darting of an experienced jouster. By using a pseudonym, veiling his discourse in ambiguity, applying to well-placed patrons, and generally living his life à tâtons (gropingly), he managed to deflect his opposition again and again. As a result, the biographical tracks he has left us mimic the constantly changing course of a navigator, who adjusts his speed and direction repeatedly to compensate for wind shifts, icebergs, and enemy vessels.

Rabelais's life is characterized not only by change but by exchange as well. Our first documented glimpse of him is his letter of 4 March 1521 to Guillaume Budé, the spiritual father of French humanism, in which Rabelais expresses admiration for Budé's scholarship and a desire to follow in his footsteps. We learn from the letter that Rabelais was at the time a Franciscan monk or novice at the monastery of Puy-Saint-Martin in Fontenay-le-Comte, a feudal town known for its flourishing market and for the plethora of lawyers attached to the royal courts based there.17 Though the abbey would prove overly restrictive in the long term, Rabelais made the acquaintance there of another young humanist, Pierre Amy, and together they exchanged ideas about the new learning and Roman law with lawyers from the town.

One of the more notable advocates privy to these discussions was André Tiraqueau, who in 1513 had published two treatises on marriage portraying woman as an inferior creature subordinate to her husband. It is likely that the seed for Rabelais's Third Book, which revolves around the querelle des femmes or “woman question,” was planted during this period, since his name figures in the foreword of a profeminist volume written by Amaury Bouchard and published by Josse Bade in 1522.

Shortly after the Sorbonne's confiscation of his Greek texts in 1523, Rabelais applied for and was granted a papal indult to leave the Franciscan convent at Puy-Saint-Martin and join the Benedictine Abbey of Maillezais at Saint-Pierre-de-la-Fontaine-le-Comte, then under the bishopric of Geoffroy d’Estissac. Very soon after his arrival, Rabelais entered the bishop's service at the priory of Ligugé as a secretary and perhaps tutor to the bishop's nephew, Louis. Rabelais's duties involved accompanying his patron to supervise construction projects throughout Poitou, a region that crops up repeatedly in the Pantagrueline Tales.

Rabelais apparently left Ligugé in or around 1527, the year in which the bishop's nephew was married. From that year until 1530, when Rabelais matriculated as a medical student at the University of Montpellier, we have no documents concerning his activities, but the wealth of information about Paris and France's provincial university towns suggests to some scholars that Rabelais undertook a peripatetic educational tour similar to that of Pantagruel, visiting the universities of Bordeaux, Toulouse, Bourges, Orleans, and Paris during the closing years of the decade. It is likely that Rabelais was engaging in commerce of a different kind on the side. Two of his natural children, Junie and François, were probably born to a Parisian widow during this period, the fruit of a type of liaison formally forbidden but widely practiced among clerics.

On 17 September 1530 Rabelais reappears in the historical record when he registered as a medical student at the University of Montpellier, long recognized throughout Europe for the distinction of its medical faculty. Like most humanists, Rabelais had already acquainted himself with the principal medical texts of antiquity, a fact that helps explain his acquisition of a bachelor's degree 15 days after the beginning of lectures. While Rabelais is famous for having participated in some of the first dissections and autopsies at Montpellier, it would be inaccurate to deduce that his course of studies was primarily clinical. On the contrary, ancient texts were the primary source of medical lore for budding physicians at Montpellier. We know that Rabelais himself obtained his medical credentials by expurgating the Aphorisms of Hippocrates and Galen's Ars parva, both in the original Greek.

If medicine was a natural extension of Rabelais's humanistic studies, there was one important distinction: the medical degree enabled him to exchange knowledge for money by working as a paid physician. Rabelais's first known appointment as a doctor took place on 1 November 1532 at the Hôtel-Dieu in Lyon, one of the most important financial and trade centers in Europe. Situated on a major waterway and at the intersection of trade routes linking Flanders, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and Spain, Lyon was a natural hub of international commerce and hosted four major fairs annually, attracting buyers and sellers from all over the continent. One of Lyon's principal industries in 1532 was the printing trade, which inevitably attracted literati eager to discuss and participate in the production of humanistic texts. Because of the presses there, impoverished scholars had the opportunity to supplement their income by working as editors, proofreaders, and translators, an option that probably influenced Rabelais's decision to settle there in 1532. Shortly after his arrival in Lyon, and several months prior to his medical appointment, Rabelais provided an introduction to the medical writings of Jean Manardi, a Ferrarese doctor, which were published by Sebastien Gryphius in 1532 upon Rabelais's recommendation. During the summer of his relocation to Lyon, Rabelais also published with Gryphius the edition of Hippocrates' Aphorisms that he had prepared at Montpellier. Within the intellectual marketplace, these two learned editions helped establish Rabelais's reputation as a medical authority and enhanced his opportunities for more lucrative and stimulating employment.

Receiving an appointment at the Hôtel-Dieu, an old and prestigious hospital in Lyon, was a signal honor for Rabelais, who helped lower the mortality rate by 2-3 percent during his tenure there.18 In exchange for his efforts, he received the rather modest sum of 40 livres tournois (pounds) per annum.19 Given the currency's decreasing buying power during the inflationary 1530s, it seems likely that Rabelais's hospital stipend only partially alleviated the faulte d’argent (lack of money) about which he wrote repeatedly during this era. That he turned to fiction at precisely this point, after leaving the financial security of cloistered life and before entering the service of a wealthy patron, suggests that the rhetoric of buying and selling in the prologue of Pantagruel, the first book, has biographical as well as metaphorical resonances. Like a fair number of scholars today, Rabelais supplemented his income by writing fiction on the side under a pseudonym, beginning with a scatological mock epic entitled Pantagruel, published in the fall of 1532 by Claude Nourry.

The early 1530s were an extraordinarily eventful period in the life of Rabelais. In addition to taking his first medical degree, becoming a practicing physician, and publishing the three texts previously mentioned, Rabelais edited the Will of Lucius Cupidus, an apocryphal legal document that scholars in the Renaissance believed to be an ancient Roman codicil. In late 1532 or early 1533, he capitalized on the prevailing vogue for astrological and prophetic literature by publishing at least two parodies of the genre: the Pantagrueline Prognostication and the Almanac for the Year 1533, of which only brief fragments survive. Presumably the works met with considerable commercial success, for Rabelais continued to produce almanacs well into the next decade, probably earning a small but significant income from their sale. Resourcefully fanning the flame of success, Rabelais followed his Pantagruel with a sequel entitled Gargantua in 1534, published before the public's enthusiasm for the first volume had had a chance to wane.

Rabelais first visited Italy earlier that same year when Jean du Bellay, Bishop of Paris, engaged the physician to treat his sciatica during negotiations with the pope regarding Henry VIII's divorce. Because of its rich history and distinguished writers, Rome was considered by Renaissance humanists to be the capital of the world (OC, 970), and well before arriving Rabelais had mapped out an itinerary for his pilgrimage, which he shared with Jean du Bellay in a letter dated 31 August 1534. First, he planned to engage in intellectual commerce, conferring with Italian humanists and studying the indigenous flora and fauna of the region. The dialogues that Rabelais opened with fellow scholars in Italy were apparently a source of satisfaction to him, but his botanical studies were considerably less successful, primarily because the “sameness” of Rome's flora and fauna rendered the acquisition of this knowledge unproductive. “Italy,” Rabelais tells us in the letter, “has no plant, no animal, that I had not seen previously.”20 In the same letter, the doctor indicates that he had also intended to prepare a topography of Rome, but the Italian scholar Bartolomeo Marliani stole a march upon him, producing a map so ingenious that Rabelais abandoned his own project and arranged for Marliani's topography to be printed in France. Interestingly enough, Rabelais phrases the entire episode in economic terms. The topography was to have been the “fruit” (OC, 972) or profit reaped from time invested exploring the streets of Rome, yet far from being resentful at Marliani, Rabelais proclaims himself to be indebted (je lui dois [OC, 972]) to his colleague for bringing the dream to fruition. That Rabelais considered himself “indebted” further suggests that he ultimately viewed wealth as intellectual rather than financial, at least at this point in his career.

Rabelais's second visit to Rome coincided with the lavishly staged arrival of Charles V, who, having just defeated the pirate Barbarossa in Tunisia, was marching northward from Sicily in an effort to strengthen his power base in Italy and obtain funding from Italian princes, including the pope. The imperial visit set off a flurry of politicking and posturing that is chronicled by Rabelais in his correspondence with Geoffroy d’Estissac. Though these epistles are again laced with economic terminology, they differ radically in tone and subject matter from the high-minded letters to Jean du Bellay following Rabelais's first visit to Rome. Whereas the earlier letter focuses upon intellectual profit and moral debts, Rabelais in his second series of Roman letters dwells almost entirely upon the underside of the Eternal City's economy. In a style curiously devoid of humor, Rabelais deplores the gratuities required in Rome for simple services like mail delivery, the bribes necessary for favorable legal and ecclesiastical decisions, the lack of compensation to owners whose property is annexed by the papacy, and the unjust taxation of even artisans and laborers to support the Vatican's extravagance.

Permeated with references to money, these epistles reveal the shaky state of Rabelais's own finances, a problem exacerbated by living in Rome. To help defray his unexpected expenses and ease the tightening of his purse strings, Rabelais requested financial assistance from his mentor over and above the loan he had already received and spent. “I am constrained to appeal to you again for alms,” writes Rabelais, “for the thirty ecuz you graciously had delivered to me here are almost gone, and I have not spent them on wickedness or food.”21 Not only was the cost of living high in rome, he explained, but his finances had been depleted by efforts to regularize his standing with the Church. As a favor to du Bellay, the pope eventually granted Rabelais an indult free of charge, pardoning him for abandoning the cloister, but the costs of preparing the appeal, obtaining the proper documentation, and expediting the review process were substantial.

That Rabelais should request such an indult, risking personal bankruptcy in exchange for papal forgiveness, seems at first glance inconsistent with the satire of ecclesiastical favors that permeates the pages of his fiction. Janotus de Bragamardo, who attempts to ransom the bells of Notre Dame with the “pardons and indulgences” (G, XIX, 56) in which prelates traditionally traffic, commands only scorn and pity from the wayward Gargantua, whose decision to return the bells that he stole is a moral one, undertaken in direct opposition to all the “deals” the Church has to offer. Unlike the wealthy and self-sufficient Utopian prince, however, who can thumb his nose at ecclesiastical favor with impunity, Rabelais the man was subject to the same economic constraints that cause the Papefigues (Popefiggers) of the Fourth Book to pay tribute to the Church, despite their irreverence toward the papacy. By obtaining the papal indult, Rabelais improved his shaky financial prospects, putting himself in line for revenues from ecclesiastical benefices for which he would otherwise have been ineligible. Within the economy of salvation, moreover, he was hedging his bets a century earlier than Pascal: for if divine judgment does hinge on pardons and indulgences, a proposition that Rabelais the writer deemed unlikely, the cash he had spent to obtain the indult was clearly a blue-chip investment.

In the fall of 1539, Rabelais's career branched off in yet another direction. France at the time occupied the northern Italian province of Piemonte, which Francis I hoped to use as a stepping-stone to the duchy of Milan, and in 1539 Guillaume du Bellay, Sieur de Langey and brother of the recently elevated cardinal, was appointed governor of the territory. As his physician he chose Rabelais, who during his sojourn in Turin maintained the governor's library and pursued the botanical studies he had begun in Poitou many years earlier. Despite his admiration for Langey and the generlaly fulfilling nature of his duties, Rabelais's tenure as the governor's secretary and physician was fraught with trials that again tested his resiliency. In 1540 his epistolary candor caused a stir when a letter of his detailing the du Bellay family's tolerant attitude toward Reformers was made public, resulting in embarrassment to both Rabelais and his patron. Not long afterwards, during a brief return home the next year, Rabelais responded to the increasingly restrictive atmosphere in France by toning down the theological satire in revised editions of his first two novels. That the new volumes failed to pass muster with the Sorbonne's censors, despite changes designed specifically to placate the theology faculty, may be partially explained by Etienne Dolet's mischief. That very same year, without Rabelais's permission, he published pirated editions of the original Gargantua and Pantagruel, effectively nullifying Rabelais's painstaking efforts to maintain a low and politically correct profile. Openly derisive toward Sorbonne theologians, who are scornfully referred to as sorbonagres and sorbonicoles, these peppery texts from the early 1530s served to keep Rabelais's youthful outspokenness in the public eye during an era of increasing repression.

On a more personal level, the “exchange” from life to death that so fascinates the mature Rabelais, subtending the entire Fourth Book, struck close to home during the early 1540s. The loss of his third illegitimate child, a two-year-old son named Théodule, is documented in a Latin poem by Jean Boyssonné, who also poeticized the passing of Langey's wife in 1541, writing an elegy that he transmitted to the governor via Rabelais. Less than two years later, in January of 1543, Langey himself would also die after a long and painful illness, willing Rabelais a yearly income that ironically went to pay the governor's own creditors. Only a few months afterward, Rabelais lost his first and lifelong mentor, Geoffroy d’Estissac.

Between Langey's death in 1543 and the publication of the Third Book in 1546, Rabelais appears to have weathered the Sorbonne's disapproval by maintaining the good favor of Francis I. In his Discours de la Court, published in 1543, Claude Chappuys lists Rabelais among the Masters of the King's Requests, an honorary title accorded to scholars and poets in the monarch's entourage. Two years later, in 1545, Francis granted “my beloved and faithful François Rabelais” a ten-year privilege for publication of his Pantagrueline Tales. Based on the limited biographical traces to which we have access, however, it appears that the doctor's favored status with the monarchy changed radically in 1546, with publication of the controversial Third Book.

That Rabelais willingly jeopardized his standing with the king is unlikely. Given the death of his mentors, his lack of revenue from Langey's estate, and the purely titular nature of his position as Master of Requests, Rabelais was probably strapped for funds when he wrote his third novel, which opens with a three-chapter discourse on debt. Less overtly irreverent than its predecessors, the Third Book was nonetheless censored by the Sorbonne, ostensibly for a one-word printing error confusing “soul” (âme) with “ass” (âne). The king's apparent failure to protect his “beloved and faithful” writer this time, as he had on several previous occasions, reflects a growing tendency on the part of Francis I to give Parlement and the Sorbonne a free rein in their crackdown on dissidence. That same year, Etienne Dolet was burned at the stake for questioning the immortality of the soul.

Possibly to avoid a similar fate, Rabelais fled to Metz, a town outside French soil at that time that was known for its tolerance toward Reformers. City records indicate that during his brief stay there Rabelais earned 120 livres annually for unspecified services to the municipality, a modest sum that the doctor attempted to bolster by asking Jean du Bellay for assistance. While the cardinal's response to Rabelais's plea for help is unknown, a year later he summoned his former physician to accompany him to Italy on a mission for the new king, Henry II. On the way south, Rabelais presented to his publisher a partial edition of the Fourth Book, the uncharacteristic sloppiness of which suggests two possibilities: either Rabelais was low on cash or he was seeking a quick forum to refute the Sorbonne's charges of heresy.

The move to Rome marked an upturn in Rabelais's vacillating fortunes insofar as it returned him to the epicenter of intellectual ferment in Europe, enhancing his opportunities for philosophical commerce, and provided him access to the cardinal's powerful intimates, who could bend the king's ear in his favor. A particular admirer of Rabelais among this group was Cardinal Odet de Coligny, to whom the doctor dedicated his Fourth Book. Embittered by the diatribe of Gabriel du Puy Herbault, which appeared in 1549, Rabelais apparently was on the verge of laying down his pen altogether, threatening to “write no jot more” (FB, Dedicatory Epistle to Monseigneur Odet, 491). Fortunately for us, Odet de Coligny persuaded Rabelais to seek special permission to publish from King Henry II, who, like his father, turned out to be a fan of the Pantagrueline Tales.

Never averse to turning a profit, Rabelais did his best to exploit this happy coincidence, churning out a royal panegyric in 1549 that is markedly un-Rabelaisian. His Sciomachie, a mundane account of the festivities orchestrated by Cardinal du Bellay to celebrate the birth of Henry's son, represents more than anything else a foray into the economy of favors and influence. By eulogizing du Bellay's devotion to his king, Rabelais invites a reciprocal loyalty on the part of Henry, who had demoted the cardinal earlier that year. At the same time, Rabelais himself undoubtedly hoped to benefit from the Sciomachie, using it as a tribute to be traded for patronage and protection.22

The strategy almost succeeded: as late as 1551 Rabelais seemed to be secure in the favor of the king and untroubled by his eternal “lack of money.” Thanks to his old patron, Jean du Bellay, Rabelais was during that year appointed curé of Saint-Martin-de-Meudon, a benefice that entitled him to at least 300 livres per annum. Concurrently, he was finishing up an expanded edition of his Fourth Book, where for the first time he laced his writing with potshots at the papacy, a ploy apparently calculated to garner favor with the French monarchy, which had been at loggerheads with the Vatican since 1547. As it turned out, however, Rabelais had hitched his political destiny to a falling star. The wind of international politics into which he cast his “plume” or feather pen (OC, FB, Dedicatory Epistle to Monseigneur Odet, 521) dramatically shifted prior to the Fourth Book's publication early in 1552, as Julius III apologized to Henry II and the wheels of reconciliation were set in motion. Antipapal rhetoric fell out of fashion, and the Fourth Book of Rabelais was summarily censured by the Sorbonne and banned by the Parlement.

What happened to Rabelais thereafter, in the wake of his investment in a bandwagon that foundered, remains shrouded in mystery. Two epitaphs published the next year, one in May by Jacques Tahureau and the other in November by Pierre de Ronsard, suggest that Rabelais probably died in early 1553, transacting his ultimate “exchange.” Following his death, unauthorized editions of his works continued to flood the market, and in 1562 the Isle Sonante (Ringing Island) appeared, the first installment of what now constitutes the Fifth Book. Though this posthumous novel continues the navigations of Pantagruel, the ecclesiastical satire is so transparent and the invective so virulent that most scholars dispute its authenticity, leaving us with yet another mystery.

Beginning and ending with a question mark, then, Rabelais's biographical and literary tracks continue to perplex readers even today. Instead of trying to reshape these ill-fitting puzzle parts into a monolithic whole, we propose to seek Rabelais's sustantificque mouelle in the ambiguities and bipolarities that he has left us, seeking the explanation for this polyvalence in the twin forces of change and exchange.


  1. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations of Rabelais in English are from The Five Books of Gargantua and Pantagruel, trans. Jacques LeClercq (1936; reprint, New York: Modern Library, 1944). Quotations in French, where necessary for clarification and amplification, are from Oeuvres complètes, 5 vols., ed. Jacques Boulenger and Lucien Scheler (Paris: Gallimard, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, 1955); hereafter cited in the text as OC.

  2. The term “cornucopian text” is borrowed from Terence Cave, The Cornucopian Text: Problems of Writing in the French Renaissance (Oxford: Clarendon, 1979).

  3. The judgments of Rabelais are cited in notes to Gargantua, ed. Jean-Christian Dumont (Paris: Nouveaux Classiques Larousse, 1972), 167-68.

  4. For a discussion of the Fifth Book's authenticity, see Alfred Glauser, Le Faux Rabelais, ou L’ Inauthenticité du “Cinquiesme Livre” (Paris: Nizet, 1975); and Mireille Huchon, Rabelais grammarien: De l’histoire du texte aux problèmes d’ authenticité (Etudes Rabelaisiennes 16) (Geneva: Droz, 1981).

  5. See Rosalie Colie, Paradoxia Epidemica: The Renaissance Tradition of Paradox (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1966).

  6. Mikhail Bakhtin expounds this theory in Rabelais and His World, trans. Hélène Iwolsky (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984).

  7. See Mikhail Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays, trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981).

  8. Numerous scholars have noted the importance of economic elements and structures of exchange in Rabelais. See, for example, Guy Demerson, Rabelais: Une vie, une oeuvre, une époque (Paris: Balland, 1986).

  9. That this analogy between coins and words was widespread in the sixteenth century is demonstrated by Danielle Trudeau, “Langue et monnaie au 16e siècle,” Stanford French Review 7 (Spring 1983): 37-55. In Rabelais's case, the analogy is clearly operative in the printer's salutation preceding the expurgated Gargantua and Pantagruel of 1542, where readers are urged to distinguish between la faulse monnoye or “false money” of Dolet's pirated text and la bonne monnoye or “good money” of the authorized edition. See Michael B. Kline, Rabelais and the Age of Printing (Etudes Rabelaisiennes 4) (Geneva: Droz, 1963). Within the body of the text, references to money and coins include écus, marcs d’or (G, XLVI, 135), moutons à la grand laine (G, VIII, 30), unzain (G, XXV, 80), bezans d’or (G, XXXI, 94; G, LI, 146), philippus (G, XXXII, 95), sou (G, XXXIII, 98), carolus (G, XLVI, 133), saluz (G, XLVI, 134), ducatz (G, XLVI, 135; P, XXI, 263, 264), seraphs (P, XIV, 229), teston (P, XVI, 242), denier (P, XVII, 244), liards (P, XVII, 244), fleurins (P, XVII, 245), francs (P, XVII, 247), and gettons (P, XXI, 263).

  10. The reference to du Bellay, quoted by Trudeau, “Langue et monnaie” (49), is taken from Deffence et illustration de la langue françoyse, ed. H. Chamard (1549; Paris: Didier, 1966), 196-97. Textual citations of the correspondence between Erasmus and Budé refer to the French translation by Marie-Madeleine de la Garanderie, La Correspondance d’Erasme et de Guillaume Budé (Paris: J. Vrin, 1967).

  11. R. Howard Bloch, Etymologies and Genealogies: A Literary Anthropology of the French Middle Ages (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983), 168.

  12. Ibid., 168-69.

  13. See R. J. Knecht, French Renaissance Monarchy: Francis I and Henry II (London: Longman, 1984), 5-7; and J. H. M. Salmon, Society in Crisis: France in the Sixteenth Century (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1975), 27-57.

  14. From The Travel Journey of Antonio De Beatis, ed. J. R. Hale (London: The Hakluyt Society, 1979), 165, quoted in R. J. Knecht, Francis I (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 305.

  15. For a discussion of the Avignon connection, see Franco Simone, The French Renaissance: Medieval Tradition and Italian Influence in Shaping the Renaissance in France, trans. H. Gaston Hall (New York: Macmillan, 1969), 37-78.

  16. See Elizabeth Eisenstein, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change: Communications and Cultural Transformations in Early Modern Europe, 2 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979).

  17. The biographical data included here generally follow the outline of Jean Plattard, The Life of François Rabelais, trans. Louis P. Roche (London: Frank Cass and Co., 1968).

  18. Ibid., 111-12.

  19. The livre tournois or “Tours pound” was France's official money of account in the sixteenth century and originally was worth a pound (livre) of silver. In Rabelais's day, the livre was not coined at Tours, as it had been through the thirteenth century, but functioned instead as an ideal or imaginary standard that was equivalent to 20 sous (shillings) or 240 deniers (pence) and was payable in ever-decreasing quantities of “real” coins, including the écu (crown). For more information on coinage and monetary values in the age of Rabelais, see Martin Wolfe, The Fiscal System of Renaissance France (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1972), 293-94; and Frank C. Spooner, The International Economy and Monetary Movements in France, 1493-1725 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1972). The real buying power of these currencies and of Rabelais's stipend is more difficult to assess. We know that the barber-surgeon at the Hôtel-Dieu received the same salary as his more illustrious supervisor (Plattard, Life of Rabelais [112]), and that half that amount was received by a typical Paris-area vineyard worker in 1510 (F. P. Braudel and Frank P. Spooner, “Prices in Europe from 1450 to 1750,” in The Cambridge Economic History of Europe, vol. 4, ed. E. E. Rich and C. H. Wilson [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1967], 374-486). The difference between the two stipends diminishes considerably when we factor in the effects of devaluation over a 22-year period and the barter goods that typically augmented agricultural wages. Not surprisingly, Plattard concludes that Rabelais's salary was little more than an honorarium.

  20. “L’Italie n’a nulle plante, nul animal, que je n’eusse vu et noté auparavant” (OC, 972).

  21. “Je suis contrainct de recourir encores à vos aulmosnes, car les trente escus qu’il vous pleust me faire icy livrer sont quasi venus à leur fin, et si n’en ay rien despendu en meschanceté ny pour ma bouche” (OC, 986).

  22. See Richard Cooper, Rabelais et l’Italie (Etudes Rabelaisiennes 24) (Geneva: Droz, 1991), 61-78, 183-223.

Ullrich Langer (essay date 1994)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7580

SOURCE: “Friendship and the Adversarial Rhetoric of Humanism,” in Common Knowledge, Vol. 3, No. 1, Spring 1994, pp. 40-53.

[In the essay below, Langer considers the friendship between Pantagruel and Panurge in light of the competing intellectual beliefs of the time.]

At the conclusion of the war against the Dipsodes and the giants, the hero of Rabelais' Pantagruel faces his Mohammedan counterpart, Loupgarou, the incarnation of Plautus' phrase, homo homini lupus [man is a wolf to man], a figure of hatred and cruelty among human beings.1 Pantagruel, the Christian humanist giant, finds himself in dire straits, his weapon, a ship's mast, shattered by Loupgarou's enchanted mace. In desperation he calls out to his friend, “Ha, Panurge, où es-tu?”, an appeal reminiscent of Christ's words, “My God, my God, why have you deserted me?” (Mark 15:34).2 Pantagruel's cry for help is in fact doubly reminiscent of Christ's words (pronounced in Aramaic, lama sabachthani), as the Hebrew lamah hazabtani is used earlier in the book by a lady friend of Pantagruel's. The giant left her abruptly to go off to war, and she sends him a ring containing a false diamond and the engraved Hebrew phrase. Wily and polyglot, Panurge translates the phrase and finds the solution to the rebus: “Dy, amant faulx, pourquoy me as tu laissée?” [Say, false lover, why have you abandoned me?]3 The phrase indicates the insufficiency of love between men and women: men are always ready to embark on epic voyages and desert their ladies. In this earlier episode, Pantagruel certainly was no homo homini deus, no god to his fellow creature.

But Pantagruel and Panurge are friends, as distinct from lovers, and the mark of friendship would surely be the sacrifice of one for the other. Rabelais is careful to set up their relation as friendship. When they first meet, Pantagruel announces to Panurge, “By my faith, I have already conceived such a love for you that, if you agree, you will never leave my company, and you and I will be a new pair of friends, such as Aeneas and Achates.”4 Epic friends prove their friendship in battle; when one cries out for help, the other rushes to stand by his side. Lucian's Toxaris, a dialogue compiling examples of Greek and Scythian friends and their self-sacrifice in peace and war, was a favorite sixteenth-century sourcebook of epic friendship, and Rabelais was an avid reader of Lucian.

Another avid reader of Lucian was Erasmus. In the opening section of his Adagia, we find, among a series of phrases on friendship, the two adages most relevant to Pantagruel's desperate situation: on the one hand, “man is a wolf to man” (1.1.70); on the other, “man is a god to man” (1.1.69). Since Loupgarou is obviously the former, should not Panurge be the latter? In his commentary on homo homini deus, Erasmus catalogues instances in which the ancients conferred the name of “god” on someone or something that preserved them “in desperate and involved situations, or in deadly peril.”5 Erasmus condemns as disgusting flattery the use of “God” by Christians to designate other mortal men, even in jest, and allows its use only when it is clear that the term is part of a saying carefully attributed to the Greeks (“but I might almost say, as the Greeks do,” etc.).

In fact, Pantagruel never gets to use Plautus' adage, even under the guise of Erasmus' prudent presentation, since Panurge fails to help his friend in his moment of greatest need. Upon hearing Pantagruel's cry, Panurge makes what would be easy to interpret as an ironic remark: “Par Dieu! ilz se feront mal, qui ne les despartira.” [By God! they will hurt each other if one doesn’t separate them, 156.] Panurge does not attempt to intervene, however, and it is Carpalim, another of Pantagruel's companions, but not his chosen friend, who wants to help. It is clear that Panurge is in no mood to provide the sort of sacrifice that the rhetoric of friendship would demand of him. This particular failing of Panurge as friend, manifestly set up in the novel, announces the cowardly and indecisive character traits that Panurge will show especially in later books, the Tiers livre and the Quart livre, and confirms some suspicions the reader may have had about Panurge all along.

Pantagruel, however, does not have these suspicions. His choice of Panurge as friend for eternity is never in doubt; his generosity toward his friend is in no proportion to the (lack of) merit Panurge continues to prove. Although Panurge is often useful to the giant, he is essentially a voyou, a good-for-nothing out for cheap thrills. Pantagruel's friendship with Panurge presents, then, a real problem, which the epic combat with Loupgarou only highlights. Their friendship is also paradigmatic, in the sense that unequal literary relationships, such as those of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, Dom Juan and Sganarelle, Jacques and his Master, refer in some way to the problem of Pantagruel and Panurge.

The issue is not merely one of literary types. It involves the ways in which relationships can be explained or motivated. It also involves the question of whether one ought to motivate, provide reasons for, the love of one human being for another. In Rabelais' time, these questions involved competing discourses that were, finally, inadequate to the literary representation of Pantagruel's friendship. Rabelais' representation unwittingly offered an antitheoretical move beyond the disputes concerning friendship that divided humanism and scholasticism in the early sixteenth century.

What are the possibilities for understanding Pantagruel's excessive love of Panurge?

Before delving into the intellectual discourses available to Rabelais, a first solution might be to locate the giant's generosity in the social relationship implied by Pantagruel's status as the sovereign and Panurge as the vassal, his inferior. In this sense, Pantagruel's liberalitas is simply the product of nostalgia for feudal ways: the generosity of the lord is a natural feature of his social status, and is exercised irrespective of friendship toward anyone in particular. As the very exclusivity and excess of the friendship between Pantagruel and his vassal suggest, however, the feudal bond is insufficient to motivate their attachment. In addition, in the instance already cited, the vassal has failed to perform the essential feudal function of military succor to his lord, and so is less than deserving of his generosity. But clearly more is at play.


The selflessness with which Pantagruel apparently loves an undeserving companion seems to link him to a discourse of charity that was familiar to Rabelais, an evangelical humanist. This discourse constituted a key element of the Christian humanist reaction to the perceived irrelevance of scholastic theology. In a famous annotation of 1 Tim. 1:6-7 (on vaniloquium), Erasmus enumerates scurrilous distinctions and questions debated by the scholastics, and in a typical and dramatic way dismisses centuries of scholastic theology. He concludes:

Life is short; and to lead a Christian life is an arduous task. Putting trifles aside, then, let us concentrate most of all on those matters which Christ wanted us to know, which the apostles proclaimed, which emphasize charity, a pure heart, a good conscience, and a faith not vain; which Paul calls the sole end and consummation of the entire Law.6

Charity is at the heart of the urgent tasks in a Christian life, and scholastic quibbling will only take time away from those tasks. The relationship of charity (“Dilige proximum tuum sicut teipsum”) is indeed one of gratuitous love, in the sense that no return is expected from the gift of love. Commenting on this precept in his Paraphrases on the New Testament, Erasmus emphasizes the gratuitousness of charity. When you love yourself, you do not require a return7—and since, according to the New Testament commandment, you should love another as yourself, you cannot require a return of your love. In fact, loving someone only if he or she loves you back is against the spirit of charity that commands love of friends and enemies alike.8

The inclusiveness of charity poses a problem for the understanding of Pantagruel's love, however, since the latter is exclusive. In his commentary on the adage homo homini deus, Erasmus points out the inclusiveness of Pauline charity: “Paul, though, places the height of virtue in charity; but charity which consists in doing the greatest good to the greatest number” (114).9 In addition, charity is always exercised toward fellow creatures as a step toward God, the ultimate object of the creature's love.10 It is therefore unclear to what extent charity is ultimately gratuitous, given that charity toward other creatures can reap great benefits from God. Erasmus expresses this underlying, discreet calculus in commenting on Luke 6:35 (“Date mutuum nihil inde sperantes” [Lend not hoping for a return]):

Do good also to those who will not do you good in return, or will pay for good with evil. If your loan is given in this spirit, even if nothing should be given back to you, nevertheless you will enjoy helping your neighbor. And there is no danger that your goods should be lost to you, since God will most richly pay back a reward.11

In spite of a rhetoric of gratuitousness, evangelical charity institutes human relationships that point to God as the ultimate motivation, the true end and reward.


The exclusive generosity of the giant's love takes us away from charity and brings us closer to the classical discourse of friendship, a discourse that pervaded moral philosophy in early modern Europe, and provided many commonplaces for humanist epideictic rhetoric.12 The sources for the rhetoric of friendship were available in various editions and translations from the late fifteenth century onwards: Books 8 and 9 of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, Cicero's Laelius de amicitia, Plato's Lysis, Lucian's Toxaris, Seneca's De beneficiis and his letters, Plutarch's Moralia, Valerius Maximus' Facta et dicta memorabilia, and Diogenes Laertius' Lives. This last work was an especially fruitful source for commonplaces, as Diogenes compiled sayings from philosophers' writings, some of which concern friendship, such as Aristotle's definition of friends: “one soul living in two bodies” (5.20). This moral philosophy was presented in the form of compendia of sayings or ideas, of contemporary treatises or dialogues on friendship, and in dedicatory pieces or prefaces. Phrases from classical authors are often found side by side with quotations from patristic literature (especially from Augustine and Lactantius). The Middle Ages produced two widely known treatises on friendship: Aelred of Riévaux's De spirituali amicitia and Peter of Blois' De amicitia christiana et de dilectione Dei et proximi. The Old Testament furnished commonplaces as well, with the example of Jonathan and David (1 Sam. 18:1, 18:3, 20:17) often quoted. Erasmus himself compares the Christian precept of charity to classical friendship, in his adage Amicitia aequalitas. Amicus alter ipse (1.1.2), as does the first translator into French of Cicero's treatise on friendship, Jean Collin.13 The commonplace literature of friendship was in a way the site of humanist nostalgia for the times when men could be true friends, when interest and ulterior motives did not cloud human relationships.

Although the variety of sources makes for a heterogeneous picture, there is a broad consensus in this literature: in spite of doubts here and there (especially in Plato), friendship generally requires a resemblance in the friends. Friendship generally is impossible among the unjust. Friendship generally has as its aim the exercise of virtue, especially in the civic sphere. On the surface, not one of these conditions is fulfilled by the friendship between Pantagruel and Panurge. The giant is very different from his unreliable friend; Panurge is rather uncharitable, even as he seems to require charity from Pantagruel; Panurge, even given his friendship with Pantagruel, hardly excels in virtuous civic involvement (proposing, for instance, the building of walls around the city of Paris out of female genitalia and monks' erect penises).

There is, however, at the heart of friendship “theory” a reflection on the gratuitousness of human relationships—the notion of beneficium, the service or favor one performs for a friend—that will lead closer to the literary representation of friendship. Seneca provides the most extensive analysis of these services, and insists that a true favor is one that is performed without hope of a return or of interest: demus beneficia, non feneremus [let us give favors and not lend with interest].14 The most virtuous favor is one in which neither interest nor principal is expected in return.15 In fact, the scandalous behavior of Panurge is the best guarantee of the beneficium offered through Pantagruel's love, as the giant can assume that his favors will not be returned. This logical reduction of the virtuous favor points to a profound incompatibility between the economic analysis of friendship and the civic and ethical intentions that motivate its praise. The most generous act is also the one that is least likely to produce ethical results. Seneca senses the dangers of what we may call sophistic analysis, and requires in the beneficium a proportionality: the favor has to be adapted to the character of the person who performs it, who receives it, and to the circumstances and intentions surrounding it.16 It is important to exclude prodigality, largitio; generosity must be neither absent nor excessive.17 In the evolution of Rabelais' books, this sense of measure is progressively lost: generosity is practiced on a literally gigantic scale. Pantagruel assigns to his friend Panurge the revenue of the (fictive) domain of Salmigondin, which amounts to fantastic annual sums, and which his friend proceeds to squander on banquets and prostitutes, prompting a dispute between the friends at the beginning of the Tiers livre. Although through analysis of the beneficium the classical account of friendship comes close to providing a model for the literary unequal pair, there is in Pantagruel yet more at play.18


We can also understand Rabelais' unreasonableness, his gratuitousness, in light of the (nominalist) late scholastic tradition, given that we find among many late scholastics an emphasis on the willful-conventional aspect of human and divine relations. Pantagruel's love for Panurge seems unconditional in a profound sense; neither virtue nor pleasure nor even usefulness are motivations for his friendship. In fact, Rabelais appears to make certain that we exclude these motivations. The exclusion of all ends external to the person who is the object of love forms part of the scholastic concept of the love of God, although the history of this particular notion goes back much further. In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle proposes the following criterion in distinguishing the good:

Now we call that which is in itself worthy of pursuit {τò καθ' αυτò διωκτòν} more complete than that which is worthy of pursuit for the sake of something else, and that which is never desirable for the sake of something else more complete than the things that are desirable both in themselves and for the sake of that other thing, and therefore we call complete without qualification that which is always desirable in itself and never for the sake of something else {τò καθ' αυτò αιρετòν αει μηδεποτε δι' αγγο}.19

The greatest good, that which is to be desired for itself, is most strongly defined in negative terms: it is that which is not desired in view of anything else. This negative definition seems to be inextricably bound to the notion of what an object of love is in itself, and will be reflected in the literary representation of friendship.20 The criterion proposed by Aristotle is the basis for the distinction explained by Saint Augustine between the love of the creature for God and the love a creature holds for other creatures, including itself. The love for God should be “enjoyment” [fruitio], whereas the love for another creature should be “use” [usus].

Before Augustine proposes this distinction, in his De doctrina christiana, he introduces a more fundamental distinction concerning the possible objects of learning, things and signs. In the realm of things, two sorts of relationships prevail:

Some things are to be enjoyed, others to be used, and there are others which are enjoyed and used. Those things which are to be enjoyed make us blessed. Those things which are to be used help and, as it were, sustain us as we move toward blessedness in order that we may gain and cling to those things which make us blessed. If we who enjoy and use things, being placed in the midst of things of both kinds, wish to enjoy those things which should be used, our course will be impeded and sometimes deflected.21

Following, we find a second, lapidary distinction between enjoyment and use that would be invoked by all scholastic theologians who would comment on the question: “To enjoy something is to cling to it with love for its own sake. To use something, however, is to employ it in obtaining that which you love, provided that it is worthy of love.”22

These definitions did a lot of work throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, especially the words propter seipsam [for its own sake] and the final si tamen amandum est [provided that it is worthy of love]. The relationship of use always supposes a third term, a final end or object external to the relationship between user and used. Use in Augustine is full of ethical connotations and problems, too, as these sentences suggest. Use as such is not bad, if the final object is worthy of one's desire. If, presumably, the final object of a relationship of use (say, money or physical pleasure) is not worthy of one's efforts, then, given Augustine's formulation, one should not use objects (and especially not persons) to obtain these other unworthy things. But one should not, strictly speaking, enjoy human beings, either, for they are to be loved as a step toward God, not for themselves.23 Only God is to be enjoyed.24 All human relationships, if not practiced in view of the final object of love, God, are profoundly problematic; in fact, they can be nothing but problematic, given the double bind imposed by the dialectic between use and enjoyment on the one hand, and the exclusive definition of the object worthy of love, on the other. This Augustinian distinction is the basis for an important analysis in the beginning of Peter Lombard's Sentences (dist I c 1-3), a textbook of the mid-twelfth century that had enormous influence in the shaping of scholastic theology. Commentators on the first book of the Sentences discuss Augustine's distinction, and discuss whether some object other than God can and should be enjoyed. By the time Rabelais, who was trained as a Franciscan, writes his novels, the distinction has become more subtle and has engendered subdistinctions. Here is the way Ockham presents the distinction:

Enjoyment is twofold, ordinate and inordinate. Ordinate enjoyment is when the object most worthy of love is loved in the most worthy way. Inordinate enjoyment is when an object is loved in the most worthy way and for its own sake, but which should be loved less and for the sake of something else. But ordinate enjoyment is twofold: when an object completely satisfies the will it is called the enjoyment of the blessed {fruitio patriae}; when an object does not satisfy completely, but permits along with it, also naturally, anxiety and sadness, it is called enjoyment of the way {fruitio viae, in the sense of the Christian wayfarer, the viator}.25

The creature can thus love another creature for its own sake [propter se], without that object of love being summe diligendum, most worthy of love. This enjoyment is, however, distinct from the enjoyment of God (the object most worthy of love) by the wayfarer not yet in the presence of his object of love, the fruitio viae. It is also distinct from the highest type of enjoyment, which is that of the saved [the beati], the fruitio patriae. Enjoyment is above all conceived as a satisfaction of the will.26 These precise distinctions are to be found in Renaissance dictionaries of theology (Johannes Altensteig in 1517, Erasmus Sarcerius in 1546) and in the commentaries of the University of Paris theologians (such as John Major in 1519). The Augustinian distinction between use and enjoyment (without its scholastic subdistinctions) is found in humanist writings as well, from Lorenzo Valla to Erasmus himself.27

But what does it mean to love someone absolutely [summe diligere] for his own sake [propter seipsum]? The conceptual paradoxes of this sort of love are revealed especially when God is the object of love. For how can the creature love God for his own sake? In fact, loving God because of the rewards he may be capable of giving, such as salvation, is not acceptable, for in that case one would be using him: “We say that we enjoy something that we love for its own sake, such as God is to be loved. For God is not to be loved because of benefits or salvation, but for his own sake.”28 On the one hand, it is obvious that God is the object most worthy of love; on the other, that this very worthiness makes it difficult to conceive of the proper way of loving him, except in negative terms. For his worthiness as object of love is constituted precisely by the creature's conceiving of his all-goodness and promise of salvation, which, however, cannot be the basis of the creature's love for him. Empirically speaking, the demonstration of God's lack of reward for the creature's love seems the best measure of that love, for then it is not exercised as a relationship of use. It is in the very “unreasonableness” and gratuitousness of the creature's love that this love proves itself enjoyment.

God is, of course, summe diligendus, and, for humanists and scholastics alike, reliable and good. Yet the negative conditions for the highest sort of love prepare the way for the relationship between human beings who are not summe diligendi, but, by the very fact of their imperfection, objects to be loved for their own sake. This seems to be the case with the heroes in Pantagruel, who, in their inequality and difference from each other, are a constant demonstration of a relationship that must derive from something other than use. The most obvious instance is the scene I invoked at the beginning of this essay, in which Panurge fails to come to the aid of his giant friend and which, in spite of this failing, does not diminish their friendship. In this sense, their relationship in the moments of its uselessness is an enactment of enjoyment of the other, and an implicit divinisation of the other, in the very love “for his own sake.”

Yet theoretically this should not be the case. Evangelical humanism is clear about condemning what does not have God as its final cause: we remember that Erasmus clearly admonished Christians not to use the saying homo homini deus. He also recommends, in the Enchiridion, relationships of use in the dealings of men with each other; these relationships should all have God as their end. Scholasticism, on the other hand, by introducing those “sophistic” subtleties (or quaestiunculae, to use Erasmus' dismissive term) that we have just rehearsed, allows greater freedom of intellectual movement in the understanding of human relationships. Although, theoretically, enjoyment of an object other than the worthiest [fruitio inordinata] is always inferior to enjoyment of the highest object [fruitio ordinata], the subjective and practical criteria of enjoyment are such that the will may be completely satisfied by love of an object other than God. Hence it may be difficult to distinguish between the two kinds of enjoyment on subjective grounds. This is the import of what Ockham appears to be saying when he concludes that one cannot rationally demonstrate that the will cannot be entirely satisfied by an object other than God [“Dico quod non potest naturaliter demonstrari quod voluntas non potest satiari nec quietari in aliquo citra Deum”].29 A love propter se, for his own sake, of another creature—that is, an object inherently imperfect—cannot be excluded. This concession is, of course, far from saying that human beings should enjoy each other, nor is the statement in Ockham a product of, say, empirical psychological observation. Rather, its formulation of rational uncertainty is part of the nominalist emphasis on the covenantal, freely willed order that God has established in his relationship with his creatures. This emphasis underlines the contingent (as against the necessary) nature of the created world, and thus reduces possibilities in some non-theological areas for rational demonstration. The concession, on the part of Ockham, of the possibility of entire enjoyment of another creature, was part of what Christian humanists tended to find abhorrent in and symptomatic of the scholastics' sinful “curiosity.”30

Within the radical formula propter seipsum, for his own sake, we find at the same time the condition for individuality and the possibilities for its representation. When Pantagruel loves Panurge for the sake of Panurge, what does he love? We have seen that, in the deliberate absence of coherent motivation, the question can no longer be posed, as any answer to the question is a deformation of his love. Similarly, asking what one loves when one loves God, in the terms set up, cannot have a coherent answer, as the answer would return the lover to a relationship of use. So Panurge as an individual object of love is individual precisely because there are no prior constraints on his character or behavior: in spite of aspects of his personality that have literary antecedents, he is not a coherent, virtuous, or nonvirtuous persona in the classical sense.

We have here, it seems to me, hints of the relational calculus of ends and means coming to its logical endpoint, and producing at this endpoint a representation of the individual as simply that which is, prior to its signification. This issue of individuality returns us to the Augustinian distinction between things and signs, which precedes the explanation of use and enjoyment in the De doctrina christiana (1.2.2). Signs are always signs of something, otherwise they would not be signs. Things can be signs of something else, or they can just be things. Things as “mere” things, and thus not as signs of something else, are more apt to be enjoyed, in that the very relationship of enjoyment supposes its end in the thing itself, not in that to which it points, refers, leads. Seen from this perspective, the relationship of one creature and another, propter seipsum, is based on the assumption that the creature loved is loved not as a sign but as a thing, and in this instance a radically individual thing. A sign, by contrast, is always there propter aliquid, for the sake of something else, that which it signifies.

The enjoyment that is friendship leads us, then, to the issue of individuality, and this both in a nominalist logical sense (our categorization of things is not inherent to the things themselves), and in an ethical sense (the most godlike relationship to another is as a radical individual, not as a member of a group, or as producing our own interest). Rabelais' novels display “thingness”: precisely and perhaps paradoxically because Panurge is not a consistent sign of something else, Pantagruel can love him for his own sake. The “thingness” of Panurge is the very stuff of his literary representation, and, in its resistance to use and motivation, that representation is also the basis for an ethic incarnated by Pantagruel, and only imperfectly given in the intellectual discourses of Rabelais' time.

For, in concluding, we cannot avoid the historical issue that arises out of the polemical nature of the intellectual context and the intentions of the author. Rabelais' text is overtly antischolastic, Erasmian, Christian comedy. A small but representative instance of Rabelais' attitude towards scholasticism should suffice. In Erasmus' note to the “idle speculation” [vaniloquium] of the doctors of the law (1 Tim. 1:6-7), he scornfully associates scholastic theologia with the Greek mataiologia, foolish, idle talk. Rabelais, in one of numerous instances of antischolastic satire, takes up the same joke in Gargantua. The child Gargantua has spent his time being tutored by dusty scholastics, Thubal Holoferne and Jobelin Bridé. His father does not see any progress in the child; a friend of Gargantua's father proposes a disputation between Gargantua and one of his pages, an angelic little boy with a perfect Ciceronian humanist education. The terms Rabelais chooses recall Erasmus' mockery and indicate Rabelais' dismissal of scholastic theology as silly, anachronistic talk: “voyons, si bon vous semble, quelle différence y a entre le sçavoir de vos resveurs mateologiens du temps jadis et les jeunes gens de maintenant” [let us see, if you wish, what difference there is between the knowledge of your crazy dreamers of yesteryear and the young people of today].31 The humanist youth goes on to trounce Gargantua, who ends up “weeping like a cow.” The contrast could not be more stark between the unwieldy, stupid scholastic and the graceful, angelic humanist. This and many other presentations of scholastics and scholasticism in Rabelais' works leave no doubt of the author's intentions.

As we have seen, though, it is scholasticism that provides the most intricate reading of human gratuitous love, and it is that reading that most closely accounts for this central feature of Rabelais' own literary world. Theoretical polemics clouded an understanding of human individuality emerging in imaginative accounts of human experience in the early modern period. Our own tendency to focus on the ideological polarities of the Renaissance is perhaps a reenactment of the humanists' blindness to their imaginative practice. Which is not to say that this practice is independent of conscious intellectual choices and programs, but that the practice is at the same time more synthetic and more daring than the antithetical structure of much intellectual life in the early modern period seems to allow.

The force of this polemical atmosphere and the sense of frustration it engendered are captured by a metaphor drawn from an episode of the Odyssey, Ulysses' perilous navigation between the monster Scylla and the whirlpool of Charybdis. The metaphor was used in the mean-spirited debates of the 1520's (among Erasmus, Luther, and the University of Paris theologian Noël Béda) concerning the possibility of salvation.32 At issue was man's ability (or inability) to achieve salvation by himself, with Luther arguing the negative. Erasmus responds to Luther's radical denial of human merit by attempting to steer a middle course between the “Scylla of arrogance” and the “Charybdis of despair or indolence” [“Scylla arrogantiae … Charybdi(s) desperationis aut socordiae”].33 Although the theological questions are, of course, extremely complex, the choice of this metaphor indicates the degree to which intellectual positions had hardened into opposing sides, and the increasing difficulty of a flexible course. In Luther's response to his Ulysses-like adversary, he characterizes Erasmus' solution as evasive and equivocal [“lubricus et flexiloquus”], and denies that there can be a middle course at all.34 Luther responds to Erasmus with the proverbial “Those who try to avoid Charybdis fall into Scylla.”35 In his rebuttal, Erasmus tries hard to maintain the possibility of a neither-nor solution: “And he does not sail unhappily, who holds a middle course between two opposite evils.”36 When Erasmus and his fellow humanist Jacques Lefèvre d’Etaples are subsequently attacked by the scholastic Béda, Erasmus once again uses the metaphor, but now inverts the terms of the opposition: If you cannot navigate between them, the Scylla of Luther (i.e., total reliance on God's grace) is preferable to the Charybdis of the scholastics (i.e., efficaciousness of man's merit).37 Béda, in turn, wonders whether one should call the ability of the creature to save itself, aided by God's grace, of all things, a Charybdis!38

It is indeed ironic that two doctrines concerning man's salvation should be figured in terms of two mortal dangers. It is, however, similarly ironic that the image of the middle course, conveying human effort and resourcefulness, should be invoked by an Erasmus who, when faced with scholastic censures, would rather throw himself into the Scylla of Luther than concede the merit, however limited, that scholastics accorded to human effort. The sometimes confusing attacks and counterattacks in this polemic demonstrate the way in which intellectual discourse touching upon theological matters was clouded by polarities. Some late scholastics, in their theological refinement of Lombard's questions, and some humanists, in their scholarly practice, had arrived at a sense of human effort and relations as somehow autonomous of religious releology. But these hints are submerged in the adversarial rhetoric of the time. This should, I think, make us suspicious of analyses of culture based on intellectual polarities. It should also make us take imaginative and theoretical expressions of culture seriously, in themselves, and not simply as the reproduction of social or ideological interests. The literary world of the humanist Rabelais does intellectual work that is connected in a profound way to work done by the critics of humanism, even though, on the surface, everything seems to tell us that Rabelais' interests are incompatible with those of his apparent adversaries. For friendship in humanist writings is best understood by scholars whom no humanist could acknowledge as a friend.


  1. The author wishes to thank Susan J. Erickson for her correction of and comments on this essay.

    Plautus' phrase is from his Asinaria (1. 495) and is reproduced by Erasmus in his Adagia (1.1.70) as a pendant to the phrase “man is a god to man.” On the significance of Loupgarou as an antithesis of charity, see Edwin M. Duval, The Design of Rabelais's Pantagruel (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991), 36-40.

  2. Jerusalem Bible. Quotations from Pantagruel are taken from the edition of Verdun L. Saulnier (Geneva: Droz, 1965), chap. 19 [29], 156. The numbers in brackets indicate the chapter numbers from the revised 1542 edition. Unless indicated otherwise, all translations are my own.

  3. Pantagruel, chap. 15 [24], 129. See Duval, Design, 13-14.

  4. “Par ma foy, je vous ay jà prins en amour si grande, que, si vous condescendez à mon vouloir, vous'ne bougerez jamais de ma compagnie, et vous et moy ferons ung nouveau per d’amytié, telle que fut entre Enée et Achates,” ibid., chap. 9, 54. See also the suggestive discussion of this encounter by Timothy Hampton, “‘Turkish Dogs’: Rabelais, Erasmus, and the Rhetoric of Alterity,” Representations 41 (1993): 58-82.

  5. Erasmus, Adages, in Collected Works of Erasmus, trans. Margaret Mann Phillips (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982), 31:113.

  6. “Breve tempus est, & arduum est negotium agere vere Christianum. Quin igitur omissis rebus supervacaneis, ea potissimum spectamus, quae Christus nos scire voluit, quae prodiderunt Apostoli, quae proprie ad charitatem faciunt, de corde puro, & conscientia bona, & fide non ficta, quam unam Paulus appellat [in 1 Tim. 1:5] finem & perfectionem totius Legis,” in Erasmus, Opera omnia (Loudun: P. Vander Aa, 1705), 6:926D n. 13. The translation is that of Craig R. Thompson, in “Better Teachers than Scotus or Aquinas,” in Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Proceedings of the Southeastern Institute of Medieval and Renaissance Studies, ed. John L. Lievsay (Durham: Duke University Press, 1968), 2:144 n. 58.

  7. “Unusquisque sibi charus est, nec aliquod a seipso praemium amoris exigit,” on Luke 6:31; quoted from Paraphrases in novum testamentum, in Erasmus, Opera omnia, 7:347E. Erasmus is borrowing this idea from Cicero (De amicitia, 21.80). I have dealt more fully with the economic aspects of gratuitous relationships in Renaissance Christian ethics in “Usus, fruitio, et l’économie de l’amitié,” forthcoming in the proceedings of a 1991 conference in Lyons, “Or, monnaie, échange dans la culture de la Renaissance” (Association d’Etudes sur la Renaissance, l’Humanisme, et la Réforme).

  8. “Qui redamat amantem, non amaturus nisi redametur, is multum abest ab Evangelica charitate quae amicos pariter & inimicos complectitur,” ibid.

  9. “Porro Paulus virtutem summam ad caritatem refert: caritatem autem in eo sitam, ut de quamplurimis quamoptime mereamur,” in Erasmus, Opera omnia, 2:55A.

  10. See on this question, Erasmus, Enchiridion militis christiani (1518), 4th canon.

  11. “Benefacite etiam his, qui vel non referunt beneficium, vel beneficium maleficio pensabunt. Et dato mutuum hoc animo, ut etiam si nihil sit ad te rediturum, tamen gaudeas opitulari proximo. Nec est periculum, ne vobis pereat merces vestra, siquidem hoc copiosus praemium rependet deus,” in Paraphrases, 348.

  12. Among the abundant literature, see, on classical friendship, Jean-Claude Fraisse, Philia; la notion d’amitié dans la philosophie antique (Paris: Vrin, 1984); see also Marie Aquinas McNamara, L’amitié chez Saint Augustin (Paris: P. Lethielleux, 1961); on medieval friendship between kings, the interesting piece by C. Stephen Jaeger, “L’amour des rois: structure sociale d’une forme de sensibilité aristocratique,” Annales: Economies, Sociétés, Civilisations 3 (May-June 1991): 547-71; Barry L. Weller, “The Rhetoric of Friendship in Montaigne's Essais,New Literary History 9 (1977-78): 503-23; Ronald A. Sharp, Friendship and Literature: Spirit and Form (Durham: Duke University Press, 1986). On Montaigne's essay on friendship, see also my Divine and Poetic Freedom in the Renaissance: Nominalist Theology and Literature in France and Italy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990), 182-90.

  13. In the preface to his Livre de amytie de Ciceron … (Paris: V. Sertenas, 1537): “Laquelle chose jay entreprise dautant plus voluntiers, pource que la matiere de ce livre est conjoincte a la loy Evangelique, laquelle est toute acomplie par dilection & amytie …” (my translation, undertaken all the more willingly, since the matter of this book is connected to the evangelical law, which is accomplished by love and friendship; no pagination).

  14. De beneficiis, 1.1.9.

  15. “Nunc est virtus dare beneficia non utique reditura,” De beneficiis, 1.1.12.

  16. De beneficiis, 2.16.1.

  17. “(Liberalitatem) nec deesse oportet nec superfluere,” De beneficiis, 1.4.2.

  18. In my hasty overview of Renaissance intellectual discourses, I am neglecting two important currents in early sixteenth-century culture: Neoplatonism (Marsilio Ficino, Leone Ebreo) and the mystical tradition (e.g., Nicholas of Cusa). Neoplatonism reproduces in this instance classical accounts of friendship. In Leone Ebreo's Dialoghi d’amore (1535), the account goes something like this: If love is a desire for perfection, how can one explain the love of the more perfect for the less perfect? The answer assumes the superiority of giving over receiving—those who give favors love more perfectly than those who receive them. The inferior depends on the superior as the effect on the cause, or as the son on the father. When the superior loves the inferior, the former would like to remove the latter's imperfection so that he may be more perfect and so that they may resemble each other in their perfection. The mystical tradition, although it touches on the problem of the gratuitous through its cultivation of paradoxes, is in the end a cultivation of a translogical, silent contemplation of God, which is, I think, antithetical to the practice-oriented, thoroughly verbal and communicative fictional universe of the novel.

  19. Nicomachean Ethics, trans. David Ross and J. O. Urmson, in The Complete Works of Aristotle, ed. Jonathan Barnes (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), 2:1734 (1097a 30-35).

  20. On the problem in Aristotle of loving a person “for his own sake,” see Allan W. Price, Love and Friendship in Plato and Aristotle (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), 108-09. The solution retained by Aristotle, according to Price, is that one does love another for his or her own sake even if it is the beloved's attributes that one loves, for attributes are the product of the beloved's will. This is clearly not the case with Pantagruel and Panurge, whose relationship must be defined in a more radically abstract sense of “for his own sake.”

  21. Res ergo aliae sunt quibus fruendum est, aliae quibus utendum, aliae quae fruuntur et utuntur. Illae quibus fruendum est, beatos nos faciunt. Istis quibus utendum est, tendentes ad beatitudinem adiuvamur, et quasi adminiculamur, ut ad illas quae nos beatos faciunt, pervenire, atque his inhaerere possimus. Nos vero qui fruimur et utimur, inter utrasque constituti, si eis quibus utendum est, frui voluerimus, impeditur cursus noster.” On Christian Doctrine (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1958), 1.3.3. I have modified slightly the translation by D. W. Robertson, Jr.

  22. “Frui enim est amore alicui rei inhaerere propter seipsam. Uti autem, quod in usum venerit ad id quod amas obtinendum referre, si tamen amandum est,” ibid., 1.4.4. See also his De trinitate, 9.8.13. The distinction between fruitio and usus is the key to an analogy John Freccero makes between idolatry and autoreferentiality, in “The Fig Tree and the Laurel: Petrarch's Poetics,” in David Quint and Patricia Parker, eds., Literary Theory/Renaissance Texts (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), 20-32. This is, I believe, a misreading of Augustine, who uses the distinction only to refer to things, as we have seen. According to Freccero, “all things are signs” (28), which is contradicted by Augustine: “non autem omnis res etiam signum est” (not every thing is also a sign), 1.2.2. For Augustine, the realm of signs is by the nature of the sign a realm of use, in the sense that a sign inherently is the sign of something else, otherwise it would not be a sign. Speaking about verbal signs, Augustine states that “nemo enim utitur verbis, nisi aliquid significanda gratis” (no one indeed uses words, except to signify something), ibid.

  23. “For it is commanded to us that we should love one another, but it is to be asked whether man is to be loved by man for his own sake or for the sake of something else. If for his own sake, we enjoy him; if for the sake of something else, we use him. But I think that man is to be loved for the sake of something else. In that which is to be loved for its own sake the blessed life resides; and if we do not have it for the present, the hope for it now consoles us. But ‘cursed be the man that trusteth in man’,” 1.22.20.

  24. “The things which are to be enjoyed are the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit …” (1.5.5), since God is “thought of in such a way that the thought seeks to attain something than which there is nothing better or more sublime,” 1.7.7.

  25. “Fruitio est duplex, scilicet ordinata et inordinata. Fruitio ordinata est illa quando aliquid summe diligendum summe diligitur. Fruitio inordinata est illa qua summe diligitur et propter se quod minus et propter aliud est diligendum. Sed fruitio ordinata est duplex, quia quaedam est quietans simpliciter voluntatem, qualis dicitur esse fruitio patriae; alia non simpliciter quietat, sed permittit secum, etiam naturaliter, anxietatem et tristitiam, qualis est fruitio viae.” William of Ockham, Ordinatio, I qu 4 (“Whether only God should be the object of enjoyment”), in his Opera theologica, ed. Gedeon Gal and Stephan Brown (St. Bonaventure, N.Y.: Franciscan Institute, 1967), 2:431. My translation.

  26. “Frui itaque est amore alicui inhaerere propter se, sed ad solam voluntatem pertinet alicui inhaerere per amorem,” according to Johannes Altensteig, in his useful dictionary of scholastic theology first published in 1517, the Lexicon theologicum (rev. ed., 1617, by Johannes Tytz; repr., Hildesheim: G. Olms, 1974), 351. In his definition, Altensteig refers to Gabriel Biel.

  27. See the discussion of Valla in Charles Trinkaus, In Our Image and Likeness: Humanity and Divinity in Italian Humanist Thought (London: Constable, 1970), 1:114-16, 138-40. Erasmus uses the distinction in his Enchiridion militis christiani, 4th canon.

  28. “Dicimus nos ea re frui quam diligimus propter se, sicut est Deus {diligendus}. Unde Deus non est diligendus propter beneficia vel propter beatitudinem, sed propter se.” Altensteig, Lexicon theologicum, 351.

  29. Ordinatio, I qu 4 art 1, 434. See also Gordon Leff, William Ockham: The Metamorphosis of Scholastic Discourse (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1975), 418; Arthur S. McGrade, “Ockham on Enjoyment: Towards an Understanding of Fourteenth-Century Philosophy and Psychology,” Review of Metaphysics 34 (1981): 706-28. I am grateful to William J. Courtenay for directing me to this source and for his having pointed out the relevance of the use/enjoyment distinction.

  30. On this theme of humanist polemics, see the work of Gérard Defaux on Rabelais, especially Pantagruel et les sophistes: Contribution à l’histoire de l’humanisme chrétien au XVIe siècle (The Hague: M. Nijhoff, 1973), and Le curieux, le glorieux, et la sagesse du monde: L’exemple de Panurge (Ulysse, Démosthène, Empédocle) (Lexington: French Forum, 1985). Bakhtin's work, often brilliant as imaginative criticism, is not a reliable guide to the intellectual context and import of Rabelais' books. Amidst the large amount of work on the relationship between humanism and scholasticism, see Trinkaus, In Our Image; John F. D’Amico, “Humanism and Pre-Reformation Theology,” in Renaissance Humanism: Foundations, Forms, and Legacy, ed. Albert Rabil, Jr. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1988), 3:349-79; Alan Perreiah, “Humanistic Critiques of Scholastic Dialectic,” “The Sixteenth Century Journal 13 (1982): 3-22. The accusation of “curiosity” levelled against theologians by ecclesiastical reformers is not unique to the humanists, as we see in Gerson's Contra curiositatem studentium of 1402.

  31. Quoted from Gargantua (1534?), ed. M. A. Screech and Ruth Calder (Geneva: Droz, 1970), chap. 14, 100. See also the note by Screech on this passage.

  32. See, on the debate between Erasmus and Luther, Marjorie O’Rourke Boyle, Rhetoric and Reform: Erasmus' Civil Dispute with Luther (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983); on Erasmian prudence, see Victoria Kahn, “Stultitia and Diatribe: Erasmus' Praise of Prudence,” German Quarterly 55 (1982): 349-69.

  33. De libero arbitrio diatribe (1524); from Luther and Erasmus: Free Will and Salvation, trans. and ed. E. Gordon Rupp et al. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1969), 96.

  34. In Luther, De servo arbitrio (1552); see Luther and Erasmus, 103, 115.

  35. Luther and Erasmus, 311. Erasmus cites and comments upon this proverb in his Adagia (1.5.4).

  36. “Nec infeliciter navigat, qui inter duo diversa mala medium cursum tenet.” Hyperaspistes, Book 1, in Opera omnia, 10:1258A. My translation.

  37. In his Supputatio errorum in censuris Natalis Bedae (1527) in Opera omnia, 9:568C: “Qui medium cursum tenet, incolumis est, sed si deflectendum est, tutius est incidere in Scyllam Lutheranicam, quam in Beddae Charybdim.”

  38. In his Apologia Natalis Bedae, theologi, adversus clandestinos lutheranos (Paris: J. Badius, 1529), f. 62v: “Perpende lector, an Charybdis debeat dici hominibus contestari quod ad aeternam felicitatem nemo adultus perveniet, nisi per opera iustitiae quae humanis suis viribus dei gratia adiutis ipse fecerit.” Béda, however, typically goes on to equate Erasmus' solution to Luther's Scylla.

F. W. Marshall (essay date 1994)

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SOURCE: “Papimania, the Blessed Isle: Rabelais's Attitude to the Roman Church,” in Australian Journal of French Studies, Vol. XXXI, No. 3, September-December 1994, pp. 245-58.

[In the essay below, Marshall contends that Rabelais's allegorical treatment of Papimania in the Quart Livrereveals his loyalty to the Catholic church while supporting reform of its perceived injustices and corruption.]

In the epic journey undertaken by Pantagruel, Friar John, Panurge and their companions, there is a group of islands visited after the encounter with the Sea Monster, the Physetère, which, by the contrasts made between them, appear to deal with the religious divisions of the time. First there are the Sausage nations: the “Suysses […] que le bon Rabelais a surnommez Saulcisses”,1 which by their generic designation are Reformers; the French Sausages, Andouilles, being Calvinists, the German Boudins, being Lutheran, and the Saulcissons Montigènes, Vaudois. This identification is strengthened by reference to the Reformers' rejection of the Lenten fast epitomized by a tutelary deity which is a flying pig, crying Mardigras and dropping mustard from the sky. They are paired as mortal adversaries, with the hypocritical Lenten Observance, Quaresmeprenant whom Pantagruel shuns and condemns as contrary to nature (QL, XXXII, 11. 66ff). The piquant details of these two episodes serve to place the elements of the section in context but they are not the subject of this article.2

Our interest lies in the last pair, the Papefigues—those who thumb their noses at the Pope (QL, XL V-XL VII) and their rivals and conquerors the Papimanes, those who adulate, or rather worship the Pope (QL, XL VIII-LIV). So prima facie a Pro-Pope and an Anti-Pope faction but just who these are will have to be determined.

The visit to the island of Papimania is drawing to a close in chapter LIV of the Quart Livre. The banquet in honour of the visitors has reached the fruit course:

En fin de table Homenaz nous donna grand nombre de grosses et belles poyres, disant: “Tenez, amis: poires sont singulieres, lesquelles ailleurs ne trouverez. Non toute terre porte tout. Indie seule porte le noir ebene. En Sabée provient le bon encent. En l’isle de Lemnos, la terre Sphragitide. En ceste isle seule naissent ces belles poires. Faictez en, si bon vous semble, pepinieres en vos pays.

—Comment, demanda Pantagruel, les nommez-vous? Elles me semblent tresbonnes, et de bonne eau. Si on les cuisoit en casserons par quartiers avecques un peu de vin et de sucre, je pense que seroit viande tressalubre tant es malades comme es sains.

—Non aultrement, respondit Homenaz. Nous sommes simples gens, puys qu’il plaist à Dieu. Et appellons les figues figues, les prunes prunes, et les poires poires.

—Vrayement, dist Pantagruel, quand je seray en mon mesnaige (ce sera, si Dieu plaist, bien toust), j’en affieray et hanteray en mon jardin de Touraine sus la rive de Loyre, et seront dictes poires de bon Christian. Car oncques ne veiz Christians meilleurs que sont ces bons Papimanes.

The fruit offered are pears; they are the exclusive product of that land; they have no name; Pantagruel considers them health-giving to both sick and well; he names them Bon chretien pears, “For never did I see Christians better than these good Papimanians.” Each island on the Quest receives its word of approval or condemnation, implicit or explicit, from the good Giant. The praise given here is more outspoken and unequivocal than any other island on the quest has earned.

And yet none of the islands on which the company lands3 is subjected to such savage satire directed against so many aspects of its customs as this one. How can we reconcile the unequivocal praise given to Bishop Homenaz in the scene above with the pungent criticism in the rest of the incident? To complicate in the short term and yet ultimately bring clarity to this question there is a Lutheran pamphlet, published in 1545 in Wittenberg which Professor Screech has very kindly drawn to my attention: Wider das Bapstum zu Rom vom Teuffel gestifft, Wittenberg, 1545 durch Hans Lufft.4

Luther questions the Pope's authority to distort Christian doctrine on the basis of texts which he does not understand and, with the Decretals as his instrument, to impose heretical doctrines on the Church. The Pope claims as Vicar of Christ on Earth to be Deus in terris, particularly in the matter of binding and loosing; of saving and damning. This authority is used to drain Christianity of wealth for the benefit of Rome. He (the Pope) holds Christian beliefs as fabulis et ineptiis and Christians as stupid, credulous and easily fooled. Bon Christian is a term of mockery in papal circles.5 The content of the pamphlet resembles that of many others hurled by the Reformers at the Pope's head. Many of the same criticisms are voiced by Rabelais in this episode, in particular “Comment, par les vertus des Decretales, est l’or subtilement tiré de France en Rome”. As Professor Screech says: “Les Décrétales sont un contr’évangile; Rabelais met dans la bouche d’Homenaz un éloge satirique de toutes les institutions de la chrétienté, qui dérivent, selon lui de cette source impure.”6

But what makes the pamphlet interesting is the term Bon Christian which is reiterated in that form several times in Luther's German document and preserved in the same form in the Latin translation. It is clear that Rabelais has picked this term out here for special prominence, indeed as the key term in the final episode of the Papimania visit. Rabelais had an intimate knowledge of the Pope's Rome, better no doubt than Luther's. The pamphlet, at least in its Latin form, if not in the German, was probably accessible to him; and even if it were not, the practice which Luther alleges would have been known to him from the source. So its use here would seem to be a deliberate reference to the usage of the Curia. But does it have in Rabelais the pejorative connotation which the Lutheran pamphlet attributes to it? Saulnier suggests that it does:

[…] toute l’harmonie du monde, suivant les vues papimaniques, peut se définir sommairement par une hiérarchie de trois classes. Au sommet, l’autorité pontificale. En bas, les “bons chrétiens”, les poires. Ce sont les bigots fanatisés et consentants, et singulièrement le gouvernement de la France. Tout le chapitre consacré aux “poires de bon chrétien” […] est pour le dire […] Ces “poires de bon christian” sont faites pour être mangées par Homenaz et les siens.7

Or is Rabelais, through Pantagruel, expressing genuine approval of Homenaz's domain? It must be noted that he has the Bishop “call figs figs and a spade a spade” as Erasmus's Adage has it.8 And when Homenaz claims “Nous sommes simples gens, puys qu’il plaist à Dieu”—again in the words of the adage, “simplici & rusticana utens veritate”—is Rabelais not asserting that in this situation there are none of those rhetorical tricks which distort the truth: “figurae quaedam, quibus fit, ut turpia honeste, aspera mollita, superba modeste, mordacia blande dicuntur”? Is he not saying that like its subject, the language used to describe Homenaz is to be taken at face value? If this is so, then how are we to reconcile the satirical and laudatory sides of this story? How are we to take the Bons Christians of Homenaz's country, as a sincere evaluation or as an ironic papal sneer at the Evangelicals?

Among many brilliantly funny episodes in the Chronicles, the Papimania visit is one of the best. An obsessive, idolatrous veneration of the Pope is introduced at the outset in Ch. XL VIII. The first words spoken by the inhabitants to the newcomers is the reiterated question, “Have you seen him?” “Who?” “The one, the Unique”. “We don’t understand these terms, please explain.” “He who is, have you seen him?”. The single-minded preoccupation with the Pope blinds them to the need for any further explanation. But the reference to the Book of Exodus and God's self-given name I AM gives Pantagruel the clue that they are talking about God, and produces the clarification that the God referred to is not the one who rules over the heavens, but the other one; the God on earth, Dieu en terre, Deus in terris, namely the Pope.

As the commentaries tell us, the phrase is common in the polemical literature of the period; it occurs for example in the pamphlet referred to by Screech. It is at the centre of the controversy over papal authority. To one faction the Pope is the Vicar of Christ on earth, the successor to St. Peter, to whom all power is given to bind or to loose, and who is consequently set above all temporal rulers and over all laws. He is “God on earth”. To others, the King, and particularly the King of France, is set in his place by God and exercises divine authority over his subjects, subject himself to no other temporal human authority, least of all that of the Pope. A third view sees Christ as the Head of the Church, directing it through the hearts of the faithful without the need for an intermediary, the papal authority being therefore an unnecessary and unjustifiable imposition. The instruments of the papal authority are the Decretals. The Papimania episode is about papal authority, and ridicules by a reductio ad absurdum the Decretals and the practices which they authorize or require. There is no doubt about that.

The episode satirizes more than just the Decretals. Homenaz the bishop comes to greet the travellers, mounted on a bridleless mule, decked in green and accompanied by a procession; that is, he apes the triumphal entry of christ into Jerusalem—ridiculous in its absurd presumption and, on further reflection we see implied the role of the priest in the mass, enacting Christ's presence for the faithful (an issue of which we in our time are particularly aware because of the controversy about women priests, who are supposed, by reason of their sex, to be unable to reenact authentically the actions of the Last Supper). The Decretals are suspended as an object of veneration over the door of the Church. We and the travellers are asked to believe that as the Ten Commandments were written by the finger of God, so the Decretals were written by an angel; this obvious nonsense is compounded by Homenaz the Bishop who then associates these “miracles” with all the myths of antiquity about objects transmitted directly from the Gods to men, underlining the naïve credulity necessary to believe in any of them. Then, with great ceremony, as a special favour to those who have actually seen a Pope, or three of them as Panurge claims, after due rituals he undoes thirty-two locks and fourteen padlocks, puts a wet sack over his head, draws back a crimson curtain and reveals another divine artefact, the portrait of the archetype of a Pope, which as Marichal points out bears a close resemblance to a picture of Christ, supposedly of divine origin, which is kept in comparable conditions in St Peter's in Rome.9 The satire is obvious, pungent and very funny.

Piling absurdity on absurdity in this and the following sections of the story, Rabelais exposes a large number of the commonplaces of criticism which reformers of every persuasion were directing at the papacy: veneration of objects, relics, unnecessary rituals, confessions, holy water, monastic institutions, indulgences, the self-indulgence of prelates, warring popes, purgatory with its devils and boiling cauldrons, and finally the financial levies made on surrounding countries, especially France, to maintain the papal institution.10 When the text of the episode is read in detail against the background of history all these criticisms and more are indubitably found in it, subtended under the primary question of papal authority and the instruments of its action, the Decretals. But it must be underlined that these are commonplaces, as a comparison with the Luther pamphlet and virtually any other reformist critique of the papacy will show. We have no difficulty agreeing with Screech when he says:

Parmi les réformateurs schismatiques de son temps, il serait difficile de trouver un auteur [i.e. Rabelais] plus fondamentalement dédaigneux des prétentions attribuées à tort où à raison, au siège de Saint Pierre.11

As exposed in the Papimania episode: “La religion du Dieu en terre est une religion de farce basée sur la crédulité des hommes et défendue par des murailles de papier”.12 But can we go as far as to say: “Le pape du Quart Livre n’est riens moins que l’Antéchrist”?13 Is the Pope for Rabelais the Satanic Father, Luther's Pater Satanicissimus? The episode talks, as Screech points out, about attitudes to the Pope held in distant communities. How much does it reflect Rabelais's attitude to the papacy itself?

In his remarkably documented study Marichal sees the Crise Gallicane as central to the Papimania episode as also does Saulnier. In 1551 Henry II of France was at loggerheads with the Pope on this question of papal authority. The affair was complex; Marichal explains it in detail. The question that concerns us is, “Is our episode tied to it? Is Rabelais making himself the spokesman of the King's cause here? Rabelais the Gallican?”

It is unquestionably true that our episode is full of reformist criticisms of the papacy; it is also certain that in the climate of 1551 the critique of papal authority concurs with the historical situation. But in answer to both questions it must be asserted that it is not history that gives meaning to texts; rather the opposite. The text alone is the arbiter of its own meaning and in this text there are features that lie outside, or rather beyond, the issue of papal authority, notably the attitude of Pantagruel and his retinue, the banquet and particularly the beautiful serving-girls who pour the wine—the clérices. If we are to draw conclusions from the episode these details must also be taken into account. Critics who find a polemical intention in the passage seem largely to ignore them.

It is evident that, in a coherent work as the Great Allegory is, no episode can be interpreted in isolation. Elsewhere14 it has been shown that the Chronicles are structured in clusters of episodes, linked by formal and thematic elements. Papimania is a complex nexus of such links, too massive in its ramifications to unravel here. But it is obviously and closely linked with the preceding episode, the Island of the Papefigues. those who cocked a snook at the Pope, and the relationship between the two episodes will be briefly scanned. The allegorical methods adopted by Rabelais and the symbolism which attaches to people and things are also essential keys to understanding which will need to be explored.

The Island of the Papefigues was once prosperous and free. Its people were called Gaillardetz—The Cheerful Ones. But then, visiting Papimania on the annual feast day, one of its people gave the Papal Image the fingers; in vengeance the Papimanians, driven by the fanaticism exemplified in Homenaz, overran the country, butchered the men, humiliated the women and since that time it has been poor, wretched, subject to the Papimanians and a prey to devils. The subject of the whole episode is the background to a scratching match between a farmer and a small devil to determine ownership of a field, and the outcome of that incident.

The first thing to note is that both communities, Papimanians and Papefigues, belong in the same communion; both involve ritual—exorcism in the Papefigue incident complete with priests, stoles and holy water; confession, fasts, mass and holy water in Papimania. The Papefigues are therefore not associated with the Reformers. There is little or no reference to foreign communities in the Chronicles. On Fierce Island,—L’Ile Farouche—live the French Protestants, the Andouilles, their German cousins the Boudins, and the Vaudois—the Saulcissons montigènes—and they are all derived from the Swiss whom Rabelais calls Saucisses. There is no such indication of foreignness in our two episodes. Papefigues and Papimanes are both French and not Protestant; the Papefigues fall into the Gallican camp.

Papimania is a blessed island—la benoiste isle des Papimanes—rich and prosperous whereas its counterpart is an isle désolée. On the island of the Papefigues, Pantagruel and his band act entirely as observers, making no comment and taking no part in the action except that Pantagruel on his departure leaves a royal gift—18,000 golden royals—in the collection box for the fabric of the church, “en contemplation de la paouvreté du peuple et calamité du lieu.” In Papimania on the other hand they participate from the outset in the action of the story; their comments on the place and the people are all good:

Home de bien, dist frere Jan […] Vous en avez parlé en bons termes et en bon Christian. Ja long temps a que n’en avions veu […] C’est belle chose rencontrer gens de bien […] Home de bien respondit Panurge […]15

and particularly Pantagruel's parting accolade with which we introduced the topic. Reciprocally Homenaz recognizes them as “vrays Christians”,16 “vous aultres gens de bien”17 and as “amis”. Pantagruel's group, by their participation and their praise, are clearly more at home with the Papimanians than in any other of their island visits. The only direct criticisms that Pantagruel makes, and they are fierce, are directed, not against the people and their ways, but against the schoolmaster who whipped his pupils so that they would remember this historic visit and Friar John who committed a blasphemy.18 Even Homenaz himself, who is shown for the most part as a pretentious fool, is treated as an Home de bien by his guests and, faced with Friar John's lust, responds wisely.19

How then can one assume an anti-papal attitude from the episode? In the contrast between the Papefigues and the Papimanes Rabelais seems firmly attached to the papal camp by the praise heaped on it by the narrator and all the chief characters of the quest. It might also be noted that the expression home de bien seems reserved exclusively for the “good” characters in Gargantua and the Great Allegory. It would need a weight of evidence to displace the term from that association here.

To explain the counterpoint of praise and criticism and make sense of the episode we need to consider the symbolism of the allegory and the wider context of the work, in particular the Prologues of the Great Allegory which state its nature and intention.

There are several interlocking systems of symbols in the Chronicles, for the most part implicit. The only set which is explicitly identified is the sexual symbolism and that, almost at the end of Rabelais's life, in the second Prologue to Book IV, 1552. The male principle is the REASON—et habet tua mentula mentem says Jupiter to Priapus.20 By symmetry the female principle is the IDEA—thought, doctrine or philosophy. Couillatris, the anti-hero of the Prologue is, to translate his name exactly (you will pardon the expression; it is Rabelais's not mine) a poor little prick. He has lost his axe-head which Priapus is more than necessarily explicit in identifying as the female genitals.21 In the intellectual turmoil of the Renaissance and Reformation, the poor human reason has lost his IDEA, his traditional credo and begs God to restore it to him.22 In a transposition of the same trope Couillatris's alter-ego Panurge, the typical Man, has to go on a quest over the oceans of the world to decide whether to take a wife (i.e. to commit himself to a credo).

It is the female principle which we need first in our pair of episodes. The Papefigue farmer is not saved from the devil by the priests and the holy water in which he is immersed up to the nose, but by his wife who confronts the devil with her naked femininity, the inherent power of doctrine, and puts it to flight. It is the clérices, those apparently gratuitous additions to the banquet episode in Papimania, who carry the symbol and provide the answer to the paradox. They have a very close thematic connection with the story of the axe-heads in the Prologue. Their function in the narrative is to pour the wine during the banquet which they do on the command, “Clerice, esclaire ici”—“Light up here”. On the surface they are nuns: the Clarisses, founded by St Francis's soul-mate St Claire. They carry a double word-play on claire—“clear, light”—and clerc—“a cleric”—of which they are the female of the species. The spelling given by Rabelais underlines this double significance. They are, allegorically, doctrines: virgins (that is, unpromulgated doctrines), whose function is to pour out the grace of God represented by wine and so light up the scriptures and enlighten the Christian life. “Clerice, esclaire ici”. We will return to them.

The other symbolic cluster necessary for understanding here is the Giant's party. It has been shown23 that the book Gargantua and its sequel in the Great Allegory are about the Church. What other subject was more dominant in the humanist's mind between 1530 and 1550? All the characters in Gargantua represent aspects of Church; the Giant, the collectivity of all the faithful, the Body of Christ on earth, the ideal Church. Friar John is from the outset imperfect. He represents the Church on earth, cheerfully recognizing his inadequacies, his dependence on ritual, his breviary, his earthiness and ignorance. But he has left the monastery, refusing the supersitions of the past under the influence of the Holy Spirit and, in the retinue of the Giant, has attached himself to the real Church established under the Pauline device, “Love seeks not its own”.

One remembers the battle of the Abbey, where he left his fellow monks uselessly chanting and adopted a practical faith, laying about him with the staff of the cross until the looters were driven out. Marichal on pp. 120-121, citing a fifteenth-century text which Rabelais may or may not have known, describes a distinction between the “Catholic” (i.e. worldwide) Church and the “Apostolic” Church headed by the Pope.24 This distinction fits very closely with the functions of the Giant and Friar John which have been derived from the allegory: the giant, Pantagruel, the Universal Church, Friar John the Apostolic one; the one perfect, the other imperfect: “Et haec errare potest, et potuit falli et fallere, schisma et haeresim habere, etiam potest deficere.”—“And the latter can make mistakes, it has been possible for it to be misled and to mislead, to contain schisms and heresies and even to fail.”

Panurge, who is of course absent in Gargantua, is Everyman in the Great Allegory. Other members of the retinue are personified aspects of the Church: Gymnaste the theologian, Ponocrates diligence and hard work, Epistemon enlightened youth and so on.

Screech says: “La religion d’Homenaz, évêque de Papimanie, est une caricature de la religion chrétienne”25 and this is so. The Pope is substituted for God, the Decretals for the bible and these substitutions are worked out in the behaviour of the Papimanians and particularly in Homenaz's commentary on the Decretals. If we are to appreciate the full import of this caricature we must study the way the real Church, that is to say Pantagruel and his retinue, in its two aspects, Catholic and Apostolic, behaves relative to its deformed counterpart. Both Pantagruel and Friar John praise Homenaz and his people, as we have seen. All the members of the party make disparaging remarks about the propositions advanced by Homenaz on the subject of the Decretals, but they do not criticize Homenaz himself. They do not need to. By a splendid irony the very presence of the vrays Christians as Homenaz calls them establishes the norm against which the institutions of the Papimanian religion show themselves up. That object of veneration, the Pope, elicits from Panurge the comment, “j’en ay veu troys, à la veue desquelz je n’ay gueres profité”.26 And Pantagruel, by virtue of his size, can toy with the Holy Decretals which make his fingers tingle and give him the desire to beat a servant or two. The true Church makes the caricature evident and reduces the pretensions of Papimania to their proper dimensions. But without reproach. Not only that, and more important still, on both the Island of the Papefigues, and in Papimania, Pantagruel and his party conform to the customs of the place; holy water in the one, a low, dry mass in the other. These are, subject to correction, the only two places in the whole of the Great Allegory where the party goes into a Church and participates in its rituals. Why should this be, when those same rituals are so roundly condemned in these chapters and elsewhere in the Chronicles? The name and the person of Homenaz, the poires and the clérices are the keys to the essential meaning which the paradox of the episode is transmitting.

The person of Homenaz confirms what we have determined about the practices of the island; like Janotus de Bragmardo in Gargantua27 he is pretentious, blind to the jokes the members of the party play on him, credulous, obsessive, over-emotional and stupid. Marichal, on p. 130 and elsewhere, suggests that he is drawn from Julius III. But, as we have seen, he is praised by both Pantagruel and Friar John; he is also humble—“Nous sommes simples gens, puys qu’il plaist à Dieu”, patently sincere, and, in a way proper to his episcopal office he reproves Friar John's lust for the clérices and dispenses the Holy Pears. His name decomposes into two terms Homme and Nez: Man and Nose. In allegorical terms Homme denotes the imperfection of our humanity and Nez is associated in the allegories with the male organ, i.e. with the reason, and seems to denote wisdom. So Homenaz’s name encapsulates his dual nature, human and fallible but in his ecclesiastical function, wise. The obvious comparison to be made is with Friar John himself whose imperfections are so blithely displayed in Gargantua but whose faith is real and practical, who is totally ignorant, whose bible is his breviary as Homenaz's is the Decretals but who is full of the Holy Spirit by reason of his office. Just like Homenaz, he was not then reproached for his shortcomings, even if now, in Pantagruel's presence his tendency to offend against the dignity of God is sharply rebuked.

Measured by the norm defined by Pantagruel—Ideal Universal Church—and Friar John—actual, imperfect Apostolic Church—Papefigues and Papimanes are seen as imperfect communities, the imperfections of which the True Church reveals. In the Prologues to the Tiers and Quart Livres Rabelais notes and underlines our human imperfections which, in fact, form a leitmotiv of both allegories once the theme is perceived.28 We have seen the Giant and his party accept Papefigues and Papimanes on their own terms, accepting their imperfections and even participating in their rituals.

The first conclusion to be drawn from our text is that the imperfections of these two ecclesiastical communities are recognized but accepted by Rabelais. In the Prologue to the Tiers Livre he emphatically refuses a polemical role in the current disputes, being apt neither for attack nor defence. The Papimania episode makes it clear that despite its manifest faults, which Rabelais as an Evangelical is sharply aware of, it is in the traditional Church that his loyalty lies. He says as much in l. 317 of the Prologue to the Tiers Livre: “Je renonce ma part en Papimanie si je vous happe”. In this, I think, lies the significance of the pears. We note that the pears are available exclusively in Papimania as the characteristic of that place, in the same way as incense characterizes Saba. Papimania produces pears by its very nature; they are, indeed, so much in the order of things that they have no need of a name; and these can be transplanted into other regions to benefit both the sick and the healthy. Pears are a hapax in Rabelais so we have no other reference to fix the meaning and I can find no external source which suggests a symbolism in the medical field to fit the context. However, in a work which deserves to be better known, Rabelais and Christian initiation: Allegorical and Typological Motifs in the Works of Rabelais,29 S. B. Bushell sees the womb as a powerful and ubiquitous symbol of baptism: “the Church gives birth to her new sons by means of her parturient organ, the baptismal font” (p. 116). He suggests, with the purpose of identifying the Dive Bouteille with a uterus, that for the doctors of the new medical science the womb was shaped like a bottle or a pear. “These works on dissection, undertaken in a spirit of scientific documentation, depict the uterus, not with its horns, by which Galen understood the Fallopian tubes, but as a hollow, pear-shaped structure.” (p. 119) Is this whatour pears symbolize? The association seems far-fetched. But it is remarkably congruous with this context. Procreation with the Andouilles is a mixed-up affair since their type, the queen Niphleseth (Niphleseth, membre viril, Hebr. Briefve Déclaration) is a woman under false pretences; the caricatural baptism by total immersion of the Papefigue farmer in the stoup of holy water was quite unavailing as you will recall. It is only in Papimania, i.e. the True Church, that true baptism can be found; it is the biblical remedy for sin/sickness and the source of Christian well-being and it can be passed on to other communities, making Bons Christians of them all. If we have identified the symbol correctly, then it is among the most recondite, very much intended for those who have ears to hear. Nonetheless there is a further confirmation that it is correct in the narrative and symbolic function of the clérices, the keystone of this episode.

Rabelais is an Evangelical; the satire of the Papimanian aberrations demonstrates that clearly, but his loyalties are nevertheless with the Church of Rome. The Papimania episode on its own states this unequivocally. Because the traditional Church is more important to him than other sectarian positions he satirizes its faults more thoroughly than the others. Here is the explanation of our paradox of praise and blame. But his loyalty is not blind. Accepting the Roman Church makes its members accomplices in the atrocities of fanaticism, so thoroughly portrayed by the type Homenaz: religious wars (the Gaillardetz in becoming Papefigues, were overrun, massacred and humiliated); inquisition, torture and execution; the callous exploitation of the poor so that the princes of the church can banquet: Papimania contains all these things, which the episode patently acknowledges. But in the final analysis the Papimania episode is not about which sectarian position to adopt, but what to do about the imperfections of the Church to which one belongs. These chapters not only pose the problems, they propose some answers as well.

Rabelais declares his loyalty to the Church but he will not join combat as his contemporaries were doing to justify it, relative to other factions, nor will he condemn the Papefigues or Andouilles for that matter. Holding up their weaknesses to scrutiny and their folly to ridicule is one thing; condemning them is another. Factionalism, which by its nature is judgemental, is explicitly condemned in the episode of the three Peters in the second Prologue to the Quart Livre (Pr. ll. 171-245). To attribute the sort of polemical attitude to him which the Luther pamphlet, for example, typifies, is to fly in the face of the poignant declaration of service outside the conflict which constitutes the essential message of the beautiful Prologue to Book III.

This is the moderation, médiocrité, that he preaches to his contemporaries in the Prologue to this book. The riotous fun with which the imperfections of the various church groups are satirized illustrates another preoccupation of the Prologues—to cure the sickness, the insanity of the world with humour, “Pource que rire est le propre de l’homme” (G. Liminary poem).

Pantagruel leaves a gift to each Island at his departure. To the Papefigues he leaves a sum for the building up of the fabric of the church. For Rabelais the word église seems predominantly reserved for the building, rather than the institution, as in these two episodes. We can see why, since the institution, in its many hypostases is represented by the characters themselves. But it is a commonplace that the material building is the outward sign of the spiritual reality. It is therefore to the spiritually destitute church of the Gallicans that provision is made for its spiritual fabric to be refurbished.

From the Papimanians he accepts the pears. To them he gives two gifts: provision for a sumptuous curtain to cover the Papal Portrait (and thus hide it better perhaps), and dowries to marry off the clérices in due course. How is it possible that such a committed Evangelical as Rabelais could accept the manifest abuses of the established Church—idolatry, indulgences, the semi-pelagianism represented by superstitious rituals, the whole catalogue of abuses which his chapter contains and which produce in a Luther a tirade of invective? The answer lies in the axe-heads of the Prologue and the clérices.

When Couillatris has lost his axe-head on which his livelihood depends (IV. Pr.), he howls to Jupiter asking for it back. Jupiter sends Mercury to offer him a choice: his own, a silver one, or a golden one. If he chooses his own, he is to be given the others. If he chooses one of the others he is to have his head cut off. He chooses his own and he is made rich as a consequence. Others, seeing this, lose axe-heads on purpose, choose the precious ones, and lose their heads. The allegorical gloss is clear. Axe-heads are “doctrines”, “philosophies of life”. In the ferment of the Renaissance people are throwing away the old, grasping for the exciting new ideas, losing their heads and doing terrible things to each other, massacres, mutilations, burnings—all the concomitants of sectarian violence which the Irish troubles in our time and latterly the agony attendant on the collapse of Jugoslavia have demonstrated. The moral of the fable is equally clear. Refuse factional strife, stick to the traditional and in due course all the new ideas will come to you. The clérices are the new, unpromulgated doctrines of the Church. Friar John, the Church on earth, lusts to deflower them now. “En ce faisant, sus elles nous hanterions des enfans de Bon Christian, et la race en nos pays multiplieroit” (LIV, ll. 37-39). We note that the birth of new Bons Christians is associated through the terms with the pears (“J’en hanteray en mon jardin de Touraine […] et seront dictes poires de bon Christian” (my italics)). He is wisely chastised by Homenaz for his impatience. Pantagruel makes provision for their legitimate fecundation in due course when the Church is ready for them, as new Christians are ushered into the life of Christ from the matrix of the True Church.

Here is Rabelais's response to the tumult of his times; this is why he accepts the manifest imperfections of the traditional Church, Papimania, even the most inhuman, at the same time as he satirizes them. In due course the purposes of God for the Church will become clear. Grace (wine) will enlighten the Christian life. “Clerice, esclaire ici.” And the doubts, and the differences, and the combats, and the injustices, and the cruelties will give way to the reign of love.

As a coda, we are now able to see the significance of the term Bon Christian. If, as Luther alleges, the expression Bon Christian was a term of contempt for the Evangelicals in the papal milieu, Rabelais, in the context of the Roman Church, has restored to it its proper value, and, Evangelical himself, has applied it to those within the heart of the tradition who despite their imperfections cling to their traditional faith, like Friar John and Homenaz.


  1. QL, XXXV-XLII. Cf. J. Du Bellay, Regrets, CXXXV, and QL, XXXVIII, ll. 20-22. The edition used for the Quart Livre is that of R. Marichal, Geneva, Droz, 1945 (TLF).

  2. See Florence Weinberg, “Layers of Emblematic Prose: Rabelais's Andouilles”, Sixteenth Century Journal, to appear.

  3. Some visits are avoided, notably Quaresmeprenant and Chaneph, indicating perhaps that these topoi are beyond the pale. Those graced with Pantagruel's presence have at least the hope of reconciliation with the giant and with each other. Those avoided are a lost cause.

  4. Also used was a translation into Latin: Luther, Martin D. Doct. trs. J. Jonam, Contra Papatura Romanum a Diablo inventum, E. Germa, Latine redditum par Justum Jonam. See also M. A. Screech, “Sagesse de Rabelais; Rabelais et les ‘bons christians’”, Introduction to Etudes Rabelaisiennes, 21, Geneva, Droz, 1988, pp. 9-15.

  5. T v°: Ist auch nicht wunder / sie haltens für geucherey und lauter Narrwerck / was wir Christen gleuben / Heissen uns Bon Christian / das ist grosse Narren / die solch ding gleuben mügen.

    B r°: Der Bapst […] geschrien hat durch alle Decreten und Decretalen / er sey uber alle Concilia / uber alle welt / auch uber die Engel im Himel / Item sey Gottes Stathalter auff Erden / und ein irdischer Gott.

    Yii v°-iiir°: Weistu nicht / wer Meisen fahen wil mus ein Meisen beim pfeiffen / und wer einen Christen fahen wil / mus reden lernen wie ein Christ. Darumb müssen wir euch / Bon Christian / bey ewrem glauben ergreiffen / dabei kan man euch Deudsche Bestien halten und füren / wo und wie wir wollen / wie man die Beeren füret bei den Rinck in der Nasen / das ir uns nicht abermal uber den kopff wachset / und mit uns spielet / wie ewer vorfarn / die Gotten / Longobarden / und etlichen Keiser gethan haben / Gremmerze / Miser Asine / porlabon informatione, satanissime Pater.

  6. M. A. Screech, L’Evangélisme de Rabelais: aspects de la satire religieuse au XVIe siècle, ER, II, Geneva, Droz, 1959, p. 80.

  7. V. L. Saulnier, Rabelais II: Rabelais dans son enquête; Etude sur le Quart et le Cinquième Livre, Paris, Sedes, 1982, p. 105.

  8. Adage II.iii.5: “Ficus ficus, ligonem ligonem vocat. Quadrat in eum, qui simplici & rusticana utens veritate, rem, ut est, narrat, nullis verborum ambagibus ac phaleris obvolvens. Sunt enim apud Rhetores figurae quaedam, quibus fit, ut turpia honeste, aspera mollita, superba modeste, mordacia blande dicuntur”.

  9. R. Marichal, “Quart Livre Commentaires”, in ER, V, Geneva, Droz, 1964, pp. 116-117.

  10. Ibid., p. 113.

  11. Op. cit., p. 77.

  12. Ibid., p. 81.

  13. Ibid., p. 77.

  14. F. W. Marshall, “Worrying the Bone again: the Structure and Significance of the Prologue to Gargantua”, AJFS, XXIV, 1987, pp. 3-22; “The Allegory of Rabelais' Gargantua”, AJFS, XXIV, 1987, pp. 115-154; “The Great Allegory”, AJFS, XXVI, 1989, pp. 12-51; The Water Symbol in Rabelais: A study based on the three central books, University of Waikato, 1990.

  15. QL, XLIX, ll. 6-11, 56.

  16. Ibid., LII, l. 84.

  17. Ibid., LIII, l. 25.

  18. Ibid., XLVIII, ll. 79ff; L, ll. 28ff.

  19. Ibid., LIV, l. 40.

  20. Ibid., Prologue, l. 186.

  21. Ibid., ll. 286ff.

  22. See Marshall, “Great Allegory”, pp. 16ff.

  23. See note 14 above, esp. “The Allegory of Rabelais' Gargantua”.

  24. De modis uniendi ac reformandi ecclesiam in concilio universali Thierry de Niem, 1410, in J. Gerson, Œuvres complètes, ed. Mgr Glorieux, Paris, Desclée, 1960, vol. 1, p. 46.

    Dic, quaeso, de qua Ecclesia intelligis, cum ille Sanctus Athanasius in Symbolo dixerit Et unam, sanctam, catholicam et apostolicam Ecclesiam. Si enim idem sunt catholica et apostolica Ecclesia, superfluum fuit replicare, quod per unum potuit explicare. Si vero idem non sunt, dic, quaeso, in quo differunt.

    Revera, ut bene noscis, catholica universalis Ecclesia ex variis membris unum corpus constituentibus, sive ex Graecis, Latinis et Barbaris in Christum credentibus, ex hominibus et mulieribus, ex rusticis et nobilibus, ex pauperibus et divitibus est conjuncta et nominata Cujus corporis universalis Ecclesie, caput Christus solus est. Ceteri vero, ut Papa, Cardinales et Praelati, Clerici, Reges et Principes ac plebeii, sunt membra inaequaliter disposita […].

    In ista etiam omnes fideles, in quantum fideles sunt, unum sunt in Christo, in cujus Fide non est distantia, Judaei, Graeci, Domini et servi.

    Alia vero vocata Ecclesia apostolica, particularis et privata, in catholica Ecclesia inclusa, ex Papa, Cardinalibus, Episcopis, Praelatis et viris Ecclesiasticis compagnianata. Et solet dici Ecclesia Romana, cuius caput Papa creditur; ceteri vero Ecclesiastici, tanquam membra inferiora et superiora in ea includuntur.

    Et haec errare potest, et potuit falli et fallere, schisma et haeresim habere, etiam potest deficere etc.

  25. Op. cit., p. 77.

  26. QL, XLVIII, ll. 37-40.

  27. XVII-XIX in the Screech-Calder edition, TLF, Geneva, Droz, 1970.

  28. III Pr., ed. Screech, TLF, Geneva, Droz, 1964, p. 38ff.: “S’il [Diogenes] avoit quelques imperfections, aussi avez vous, aussi avons nous. Rien n’est, sinon Dieu, perfaict.” IV Pr. ll. 492-494: “[…] humiliez vous davant sa [de Dieu] sacrée face et recongnoissez vos imperfections.”

  29. Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina, PhD, 1979, University Microfilms International, London.

Alice Fiola Berry (essay date 1995)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4411

SOURCE: “‘Written in the Mind with an Iron Pen’: The Failure of Misogynistic Cliché; in the Rondibilis Episode of Rabelais's Tiers Livre (31-34),” in French Studies, Vol. XLIX, No. 3, July 1995, pp. 275-82.

[In the following essay, Berry considers the gender ideology behind Panurge's quest for a wife in Tiers Livre.Berry states: “Trapped between contradictory clichés about women,” Panurge is “unable to proceed with the projects of marriage and paternity he so desperately wants to undertake.”]

The consultation with the physician Rondibilis in Rabelais's Tiers Livre is one of the most shockingly misogynistic episodes in all of his four books. Panurge, we remember, wants to know if he should marry or not, a question which leads him to consult with figures representative of all known forms of wisdom, human and divine. As do all of the earthly sages, Rondibilis tells him he should. If Panurge feels ‘les poignans aiguillons de sensualité’ (p. 533),1 and if he is unable to find relief through wine, medicinal drugs and herbs, hard labour, or fervent study, the four means other than the sexual act that restrain physical desire, he should indeed marry (Chapter 31). However, Panurge has a second question: will he be cuckolded if he marries? The rub is that Rondibilis also answers this question in the affirmative (Chapter 32), and launches into a long gynophobic tirade:

Quand je diz femme, je diz un sexe tant fragil, tant variable, tant muable, tant inconstant et imperfaict, que Nature me semble […] s’estre esguarée de ce bon sens […] quand elle a basty la femme […]. Certes Platon ne sçait en quel rang il les doibve colloquer: ou des animaus raisonnables, ou des bestes brutes. Car Nature leurs a dedans le corps posé en lieu secret et intestin un animal, un membre, lequel n’est es hommes […] par la poincture et fretillement douleureux [duquel] […] tout le corps est en elles esbranlé, tous les sens raviz, toutes affections interinées, tous pensemens confonduz; de maniere que, si Nature ne leur eust arrousé le front d’un peu de honte, vous les voiriez comme forcenées courir l’aiguillette, […] parce que cestuy terrible animal a colliguance à toutes les parties principales du corps, comme est evident en l’anatomie.

(pp. 539-40)

However, as Lawrence Kritzman has argued,2 this depiction of the womb as animal avidum generandi,3 and of women as monstrous figures who both shock and frighten, has less to do with women than with men and with the mixed emotions that make up male subjectivity as it is expressed in this episode.4 On the one hand, there is attraction and dependence, for what makes a man a man in Panurge's and Rondibilis's eyes is the power to reproduce, and clearly, men need women to constitute them as fathers and patriarchal figures. On the other, there is a feeling of powerlessness and anxiety in the face of inexorable female lust. Panurge's repeated assertions of potency throughout the Tiers Livre are also expressions of his underlying fear of insufficiency and impotence, a spectre held up to him by Frere Jean in the episode of ‘les cloches de Varennes’ (chapter 28)5 and quite openly expressed in this episode by Rondibilis: ‘[N]e vous esbahissez si sommes en dangier perpetuel d’estre coquz, nous qui n’avons pas tous jours bien de quoy payer et satisfaire au contentement’ (p. 541). Above all perhaps, the anxiety derives from the unknowable nature of female sexuality, hidden in a dark and secret place, an animal with an independent life which lies beyond the grasp of men's reason and language. Women are described as an absence or a lack in this episode, as invisible as the moon when the sun shines, and with a dark, hidden life of their own.6 ‘If, as Lacan claims, woman's place is outside of language (“le sexe de la femme ne lui dit rien”), then man is inevitably fated to be incapable of taking hold of her discursively, or in any other manner.’7

It is this discursive failure which interests me above all in this episode: how the male interlocutors fail to read the text of women as they themselves speak and write it, and how they consequently become the victims of their own clichés. A change of rhetorical style occurs after Rondibilis's medico-scientific treatise in chapters 31 and 32. The remainder of the episode consists of three exemplary tales, each with a negative moral about women's nature, a moral which, to use Rondibilis's phrase, is to be written in men's minds with an iron pen: ‘escrivez ce mot en vostre cervelle, avec un style de fer’ (p. 538). But between the lines of these tales, another message emerges which contradicts and subverts the ironclad cliché. The fables of the Rondibilis episode illustrate the same crisis of exemplarity that François Rigolot discerned in another intensely misogynistic juncture of Rabelais's books, Panurge's and Pantagruel's amatory adventure with a lady of Paris (Pantagruel, chapters, 21-24).8 The stories in this episode of the Tiers Livre also strive to ‘come on top’ (venir au dessus) of the woman,9 but she eludes the prison of their words. Like the Parisian lady, women remain a blank page and an enigma to be deciphered in the Rondibilis episode, always beyond the range of men's comprehension and their language, a dark continent still unexplored.10

The first tale, recounted in chapter 33, is offered by Rondibilis as a ‘remedy’ to the fate of cuckoldry,11 a fate made inevitable, according to the theories he has just set forth, by the insatiable sexual desires of women. But this is surely the strangest and most contradictory ‘remède à Coqüage’ ever offered, for the theme of the fable is men's attraction to infidelity rather than their fear of it. First left out of Jupiter's distribution of feast days and then given a day he must share with Jealousy, Cuckoldry is depicted as a God who visits only those who worship him,12 husbands with beautiful wives:

Adjoincte feut promesse […] infallible qu’à ceulx qui […] chommeroient sa feste, cesseroient de toute negociation, mettroient leurs affaires propres en non chaloir pour espier leurs femmes, les resserrer et mal traicter par Jalousie […], [Coqüage] seroit continuellement favorable, les aymeroit, les frequenteroit, seroit jour et nuyct en leurs maisons; jamais ne seroient destituez de sa praesence.

(p. 544).

Marital faithfulness, not infidelity, is the tragedy in Rondibilis's story. If husbands do not participate in Cuckoldry's worship, if they do not spy upon, imprison, beat, and otherwise mistreat their wives, the god withdraws his ‘favours’ and leaves them eternally alone: ‘pourrir seulz avecques leurs femmes, sans corrival aulcun’ (p. 544).

We are back in the labyrinth of male subjectivity, for this tale has little to do with women. Not only does Rondibilis suggest that Cuckoldry derives from men's rather than women's desires, his allusion to the rival as a friendly enemy also brings forth the ever-apparent fact that it is men who make other men cuckolds. Carpalim recounts with pride ‘the colour’ of the rhetoric he uses with married women ‘pour les mettre aux toilles et attirer au jeu d’amours’ (p. 545), and the implications of his bragging are not lost on the would-be husband Panurge. At the end of the chapter, he insists that under no circumstances can Rondibilis come to his wedding or treat his future wife if she falls ill (pp. 548-49). This syndrome of seduction and betrayal victimizes men as well as women, a victimization both desired and feared.

And even sadder and more complex aspects of the Fable of Coqüage emerge when we consider the exemplary anecdote on which it is based, an Aesopian fable recounted by Plutarch,13 which Rondibilis has recast in a most revealing way. In Plutarch's version, Grief or Mourning, not Cuckoldry, was the god forgotten by Jupiter in the distribution of feast days, and Sorrow and Tears, not Jealousy, were the goddesses with whom Mourning shared his day. These underlying regretful emotions belie the surface insouciance of Rondibilis's text and infuse it with feelings far different from those openly expressed. But the interlocutors remain impervious to the interlinear and intertextual implications of the story, and respond with satisfied laughter, bad readers of their own natures and their own moral tales. And women, the ostensible ‘subject’ of the fable, have been left out of it almost entirely, their role in ‘le jeu d’amour’ marginalized and their feelings about it suppressed. They continue to stand beyond the range of comprehension, their enigmatic silence still unbroken.

And the silence of women begins to weigh heavily on the episode. Despite the interlocutors' apparent complacency, there seems to be a growing unease about the premisses of the long conversation that has occurred among them, an uncomfortable awareness that they have failed to ‘come on top’ of women, that women's nature and truths have eluded all their theories and stories. This uneasiness prevents the episode from concluding with the Fable of Cuckoldry. Hippothadée brings the chapter to a close by alluding to Eve and the desire for knowledge she incarnates,14 and this evocation opens onto a new chapter entitled: ‘Comment les femmes ordinairement appetent choses defendues’. As the title indicates, we are firmly in the domain of clichés about women, but here the focus changes significantly—away from the subject of sexuality that has dominated the prior chapters, to the issue of voice and language. Tales are told to illustrate that speech is the ‘forbidden thing’ that women desire, but, as with the Fable of Cuckoldry, the interlocutors are blinded to the real message of the stories they are telling. For these tales have less to do with Eve than with Adam, with the male desire to hear women speak and finally to gain knowledge of them. And this male curiosity proves to be the most forbidden and dangerous ‘thing’ of all.

The chapter consists of two exemplary tales, ‘morales comoedies’ (p. 547), to use Rabelais's term, and both are stories of imprisoned women whose voices have been suppressed. The first, recounted by Ponocrates, concerns the petition of the nuns and ‘meres discretes’ (p. 546) of l’abbaye de Coingnaufond to Pope John XXII for the right to hear one another's confessions: ‘alleguantes que les femmes de religion ont quelques petites imperfections secretes, les quelles honte insupportable leurs est deceler aux homes confesseurs: plus librement, plus familierement les diroient unes aux aultres soubs le sceau de confession’ (p. 546). The Pope responds negatively to their petition, alluding to women's indiscreet speech, and the nuns reply indignantly that they can keep secrets quite well ‘et plus que ne font les homes’ (p. 546). To test them, the Pope gives them a box which they are instructed not to open ‘sus poine de censure ecclesiasticque et de excommunication eternelle’ (pp. 546-47), a box in which he has placed a living bird, a small finch.

This image of the bird in the box explodes in many directions. It is, first, the very image of the nuns' imprisoned condition and of the suppression of their voices; it is a ‘voice box’ kept closed by male command. Further, it mirrors the image of the womb as Rondibilis described it, a container ‘posé en lieu secret et intestin’ with a living animal inside it. Women have two dangerous ‘members’ hidden within their bodies, but of the two, women's voices are far more threatening and demand stronger and more violently repressive measures. The tale of Hans Carvel's attempt to plug his wife's sexuality by always wearing her ‘ring’, told by Frère Jean in chapter 28, is referred to again in this episode as a fine joke,15 but stories of male efforts to repress women's voices are not funny at all. The bird in the box evokes Philomela, whose tongue was cut out by her brother-in-law after he had raped her and who was given voice again by her metamorphosis into a nightingale. In a similar way, the nuns’ finch threatens to break the cruel silence imposed on them, perhaps to tell of similar crimes. The prospect of such a dangerous liberation also recalls the story of Pandora who, like the nuns, was given a container she was instructed not to open. Like her, the nuns burn with curiosity as they regard the box, ‘elles grisloient en leurs entendemens d’ardeur de veoir qu’estoit dedans’ (p. 547); and also like Pandora, they open it, symbolically to loose female voices and female truths upon the world. With such a spectre in mind, the Pope consequently refuses the nuns the right to confession they have requested.

However, we must ponder the role of the Pope in this story, for to tantalize with closed boxes, especially those with living voices inside them, is covertly to encourage that the boxes be opened, that the voices be freed and heard. In fact, the Pope says that he would like to accede to the nuns' request (‘“Il n’y a rien […] que voluntiers ne vous oultroye”’ [p. 546]). and in the anecdote on which this story is based, he does so. Tradition has it that John XXII, pope of Avignon from 1316 to 1335, granted to the nuns of the abbaye of Fontevrault, near Saumur, the privilege of confessing to their abbess.16 As with the Fable of Cuckoldry, Rabelais tampers with an exemplary anecdote to change its outcome. It is thus by his hand that the nuns are silenced, he is their real oppressor. Yet the curiosity he shares with the Pope to hear what they have to say not only persists, it emerges to the surface of the episode and becomes the subject of the final tale.

Like the fable of Cuckoldry, ‘la morale comoedie de celluy qui avoit espousé une femme mute’ (p. 547) is a story of remedies that fail and of ‘bad medicine’. This ‘patelinage’ (p. 548) is a didactic play for doctors-to-be presented years before at Montpellier by a group of medical students, among them Rondibilis and one François Rabelais.17 Though we do not know what part he played (while nine physicians are named, the farce only has three characters), it is of utmost significance that Rabelais inscribes himself by name as an actor/spectator of the play, and it is also important that he presents himself as a student who has a lesson to learn from it. The writer seems to be cautioning himself against the temptation to give voice to women, a temptation that has been growing throughout the episode. This play seems written by Rabelais as a warning for himself.

Epistemon recounts the plot, and by a slip of the tongue, reveals that the wife has not always been mute. He says that ‘[sa] parole [fut] recouverte’, suggesting a recovery not a discovery of speech. The wife's tongue has been, if not cut like that of Philomela, then tied by ‘un encyliglotte qu’elle avoit soubs la langue’ (p. 547). Yet, despite this suggestion that the wife's muteness was desired and perhaps violently achieved in the past, her present silence stands as a mystery that neither the husband nor the physician can resist or endure. The men play the part of Pandora in this play. It all begins when the husband brings his mute wife to the physician because he wants her to speak: ‘Le bon mary voulut qu’elle parlast’ (p. 547). The doctor accedes to the husband's desire as if he possesses it too. He cuts the wife's tongue free, liberates her ‘mother tongue’ that was bound in the past, a transgression and act of ‘bad medicine’ for which he will be punished in the future.

However, the astonishing expression of male desire for female speech which opens the farce is simultaneously contravened by the regiment of nine physicians who, as actors and spectators, loom around the lone woman as if to usurp her voice, and the author's narrative strategy accomplishes that usurpation. Rabelais eschews the dialogic form he uses so frequently throughout the Tiers and Quart Livres, and is instead content with Epistemon's third-person plot summary. Consequently, though we are told that the wife explodes in talk (‘elle parla tant et tant’ (p. 547)), her voice is not heard, her words are not recounted. As he silenced the nuns in the previous tale, as he effaced the writing of Pantagruel's Parisian lady, Rabelais again uses his art to stifle the act of communication that his characters want to achieve. The articulateness of women, even as it is imagined, must be contained and controlled by the author and his medical confrères who desire to remain masters of public speech and spectacle. The power of language must be closely held and guarded, for a speaking or writing woman can be dangerous.18

Turning away from the temptation truly to give voice to the mute wife, the play, appropriately, moves on to develop the theme of deafness, and the mechanism of deafness to the speaking wife is a cliché. Now the author takes refuge in a series of predictable events expressed by equally predictable set phrases ‘written with an iron pen’ by the medieval misogynistic tradition: clichés first about women's incessant speech and then about their terrifying physical power. We are told that the wife spoke so much that the husband wants her tongue tied again. He returns to the physician for a second and counter-remedy ‘contre cestuy interminable parlement de femme’ (p. 548), but the physician replies that once the Pandora's box of female speech has been opened, it cannot be closed again: ‘en son art bien avoir remedes propres pour faire parler les femmes, n’enavoir pour les faire taire’ (p. 547). The only cure, he says, is ‘surdité du mary’ (p. 548), and he makes the husband deaf by magic.

Driven to rage by this development, the wife turns on her husband and beats him, becoming the violent and frightening figure of Panurge's worst nightmares, and the animalistic creature described by Rondibilis in chapter 32. At the same time, however, the validity of that portrait is undermined by the farce, for surely the wife's rage at her husband's refuge in deafness is understandable. Despite itself, this tale projects an acknowledgement that female hysteria comes not from the womb as Rondibilis suggested, but from women's linguistic imprisonment, their anger at not being listened to or heard.

As if to acknowledge this insight, the farce culminates in an act of poetic justice, for the physician learns what it is like to have his own voice fall on deaf ears. When he asks the husband for his salary, the latter replies ‘qu’il estoit vrayement sourd et qu’il n’entendoit sa demande’ (p. 548). The structure of the remedy now collapses entirely, as the physician makes his third mistake. He sprinkles a magic powder on the husband to make him crazy, but the revenge backfires. The mad husband and the enraged wife together turn on the doctor and beat him almost to death. And thus ends the didactic tale of how not to practise medicine. The moral of the story is to keep women mute, keep their voice boxes closed, else pandemonium will be loosed on the world of men. As husbands stand in danger of being ‘coqu[s]’, so do doctors stand in danger of being ‘battu[s]’ and ‘desrobbé[s]’, a fate which Rondibilis and Panurge recall and act to forestall by the elaborate ceremony of payment which occurs in the last lines of the episode.19

But, as we have seen, other and more subversive messages peep out from between the lines of this farce and of the other tales told in this episode, messages which reverse their overt exemplary meanings. These stories are as deaf as the husband, deaf to their own truths. Despite itself, the Rondibilis episode acknowledges the oppression of the phallocentric order—that women have been denied language, imprisoned in silence, have had their tongues tied. It acknowledges their desire for speech, even their right to it, and, most significantly, these stories acknowledge men's desire and curiosity to hear women speak. But this desire is mingled with fear, of the rage of women at having been imprisoned in silence for so long, and of their potential power to talk back—and to strike back. Thus, while expressing the seduction of female speech, these stories condemn it as a ‘forbidden thing’ and, with comic ferocity, punish those who are tempted to yield to its allure.

Yet underlying it all is the Mourning evoked by the Fable of Cuckoldry, sadness at ‘le jeu d’amour’ which victimizes men and women alike and at the broken communication which condemns the game to continue. If women are imprisoned in silence, men are imprisoned in ironclad habits of mind and of language which keep them from attaining their desires. Indeed, this is the crux of Panurge's dilemma in the Tiers Livre. Trapped between contradictory clichés about women, ‘sarcasmes, moqueries et redictes contradictories’ (p. 440), he is unable to proceed with the projects of marriage and paternity he so desperately wants to undertake, and those same habits of mind prevent him from seeking out the one voice that can resolve the dilemma, the voice of his prospective wife. And the desire to hear that voice does not go away; on the contrary, it becomes the dominant concern of the Quart Livre. The goal of this new voyage is precisely to hear a word pronounced by a woman's voice, one held in a container very similar to the nuns' voice box, ‘le mot de la dive Bouteille Bacbuc’.

However, if the quest for a woman's voice is generative of the Quart Livre, the prohibition against hearing it militates against the successful outcome of that quest. To the end, women remain a silence and an absence in Rabelais's four books, literally and figuratively ‘un trou à remplir’. Because he could not escape the prison of his own words and conceptualize women positively, the future stands in jeopardy at the end of the Quart Livre. A wife is not found, the oracle of the divine bottle is not heard, no child is born, and the genealogy of the giants comes to an end with this book.20


  1. Unless otherwise indicated, references to the Tiers Livre, included in parenthesis, are from Vol. 1 of Pierre Jourda's edition of Rabelais, Œuvres complètes, 2 vols (Paris, Garnier, 1962).

  2. Lawrence Kritzman, ‘Rabelais and the Representation of Male Subjectivity: The Rondibilis Episode as Case Study’, in The Rhetoric of Sexuality and the Literature of the French Renaissance (Cambridge University Press, 1991), pp. 29-44.

  3. See Plato's Timaeus, 91c ‘The animal within (women) is desirous of procreating children, and when remaining unfruitful long beyond its proper time, gets discontented and angry, and wandering in every direction through the body, closes up the passages of the breath, and, by obstructing respiration, drives them to extremity […].’ Trans. by Benjamin Jowett, in Plato: The Collected Dialogues, ed. by Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns, Bollingen Series 71 (Princeton University Press, 1961), p. 1210.

  4. Kritzman calls the Rondibilis episode a ‘case study’ in male gender identity because it ‘problematizes the quest to become a man, and with it the way in which gynophobic myths risk trapping men within the reified male/female dichotomy, rendering them angry victims of their own paranoia’ (p. 30).

  5. ‘Desja voy je ton poil grisonner en teste. Ta barbe, par les distinctions du gris, du blanc, du tanné et du noir, me semble une mappemonde […]. [Q]uand les neiges sont es montaignes, je diz la teste et le menton, il n’y a pas grand chaleur par les valées de la braguette’ (pp. 519-20).

  6. ‘Mon amy, le naturel des femmes nous est figuré par la Lune, et en aultres choses et en ceste qu’elles se mussent, elles se constraignent, et dissimulent en la veue et praesence de leurs mariz. Iceulx absens, elles prennent leur adventaige, se donnent du bon temps, vaguent, trotent, deposent leur hypocrisie et se declairent: comme la lune, en conjunction du soleil, n’apparoist on ciel, ne en terre; mais, en son opposition, estant au plus du soleil esloingnée, reluist en sa plenitude et apparoist toute, notamment on temps de nuyct. Ainsi sont toutes femmes femmes’ (p. 539).

  7. Kritzman, p. 33.

  8. ‘Rabelais, Misogyny, and Christian Charity: Biblical Intertextuality and the Renaissance Crisis of Exemplarity’, PMLA 109.2 (1994), 225-37. See also two articles by Carla Freccero: ‘Damning Haughty Dames: Panurge and the Haulte Dame de Paris (Pantagruel 24),’ Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 15 (1985), 57-67 and ‘The Instance of the Letter: Woman in the Text of Rabelais’. Rabelais's Incomparable Book: Essays on His Art, ed. by Raymond C. La Charité (Lexington, French Forum, 1986), pp. 45-55.

  9. Rigolot, ‘Rabelais, Misogyny, and Christian Charity’, pp. 229-300.

  10. It was Lacan who spoke of the ‘dark continent of sexuality’. Quoted by Kritzman, p. 33.

  11. ‘[E]scrivez ce mot en vostre cervelle avec un style de fer, que tout home marié est en dangier d’estre coqu. Coqüage est naturellement des appennages de mariage […]. [Q]uand vous oirez dire de quelqu’un ces trois mots: ‘Il est marié’ si vous dictez: “Il est doncques, ou a esté, ou sera, ou peult estre coqu” […]’ (p. 538).

  12. A point made by Kritzman, p. 43.

  13. Consolatio ad Apollonium, XIX, 112.

  14. ‘Certes (dist Hippothadée), aulcuns de nos docteurs disent que la premiere femme du monde, que les Hebrieux noment Eve, à poine eust jamais entré en tentation de manger le fruict de tout sçavoir s’il ne luy eust esté defendu’ (p. 545).

  15. ‘—Ha, ha, ha (dist Carpalim en riant), voylà un remede encores plus naïf que l’anneau de Hans Carvel’ (p. 544). He is referring to the Fable of Cuckoldry.

  16. Jourda, p. 546, n. 2.

  17. ‘Je ne vous [Rondibilis] avois oncques puys veu que jouastez à Monspellier, avecques nos antiques amys Ant. Saporta, Guy Bouguier, Balthazar Noyer, Tollet, Jan Quentin, François Robinet, Jan Perdrier, et François Rabelais, la morale comœdie de celuy qui avoit espousé une femme mute … ’ (p. 547).

  18. Ann Rosalind Jones makes these points in her Introduction to the ‘Cluster on Early Modern Women’, PMLA, 109.2 (1994), 187.

  19. ‘Puys (Panurge) s’approcha de luy et luy mist en main, sans mot dire, quatre Nobles à la rose.

    Rondibilis les print tresbien, puis luy dist en effroy, comme indigné: “Hé, hé, hé, monsieur, il ne failloit rien. Grand mercy toutesfoys. De meschantes gens jamais je ne prens rien; rien jamais des gens de bien je ne refuse. Je suys tousjours à vostre commendement.

    —En poyant, dist Panurge.

    —Cela s’entend”, respondit Rondibilis’ (p. 549).

  20. The ideas for this article were generated during an NEH summer seminar, ‘Marguerite of Navarre and Rabelais: Reading the Heptameron and the Third Book’, conducted by Professor Marcel Tetel at Duke University, Summer 1991.

Florence M. Weinberg (essay date 1995)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5546

SOURCE: “Layers of Emblematic Prose: Rabelais' Andouilles,” in The Sixteenth Century Journal, Vol. XXVI, No. 2, Summer 1995, pp. 367-77.

[In the essay below, Weinberg considers the many levels of meaning in the attack of the Andouilles in the Quartre Livre, concluding that the Andouilles represent Lutherans and the flying hog represents the folly of Martin Luther's teachings.]

The Andouilles of the Quart Livre are emblematic, signifying on at least five levels: (1) Andouilles are literally, tripe sausages; (2) visually, they resemble phalluses, eels, small sinuous animals; (3) politically and historically, they are a metaphor for the Protestant allies during the Schmalkaldic War—the Andouilles specifically are Lutherans; (4) mythically and epically, their behavior is reminiscent of ancient Greek or Roman war councils; the “truye” is a parody of the Trojan Horse; (5) on the religious level, Pantagruel's banquet (= mass) offends the Andouilles, who attack. The flying hog who halts the battle, founder and protector of the Andouillic race, is an avatar of Luther. Analysis of Rabelais' description confirms this; the twenty-seven barrels of mustard dumped on the battlefield are a covert reference to theology (the number 27). Luther's theology, therefore, according to Rabelais, = mustard, which in turn = shit in common parlance.

Rabelais' comic battle of the Andouilles presents a bewildering mass of material, which critics have confronted from widely divergent viewpoints. Michel Jeanneret, for example, believes that Rabelais is at times sleep-writing semi-formed, chaotic, oneiric images, not subject to rational interpretation.1 Jerome Schwartz believes Rabelais is deliberately subverting, even deconstructing any single message;2 Bowen, Duval, Marshall, Paul Smith, for example, attempt to understand him on many levels: stylistic, symbolic, allegorical, anagogical.3

Indeed, Rabelais can be any or all of these things: literal, subversive, and deliberately deconstructive (to throw persecutors off the track), stylistically rich, metaphorical, symbolical, allegorical, anagogical. Although some images may have been suggested by dreams, there is nothing dreamy in his treatment of them, which is purposeful and open to hermeneutical exegesis. It is this approach I intend to take. Rabelais' prose can be called “emblematic” because, like the emblems of Alciatus, Rabelais presents pictures—in words rather than in woodcuts, of course—and like the woodcut emblems, each of Rabelais' word-pictures signifies something and teaches something beyond the obvious and the literal.

Before discussing levels of meaning in particular scenes of the Andouilles episode of Rabelais' Quart Livre, chapters 35-42, I will delimit the scope of my discussion by summarizing the episode:4

Pantagruel's ships bypass Tapinois Island, where the monstrous giant Quaresmeprenant dwells, after which they battle another monster, a whale, and then anchor at Farouche Island. While the company is banqueting, they are disturbed by sly little Andouilles who are spying upon them. The Andouilles march on Pantagruel and his men, believing that they are the monster Quaresmeprenant and his allies. Pantagruel wants peace with the island's inhabitants, but Xenomanes, his expert on foreign customs, explains that he has already nearly succeeded in making peace between Quaresmeprenant and the Andouilles, although the former refused to accept the Andouilles' allies, the Savage Blood Sausages and the Mountain Sausages. However, since Chésil (the Council of Trent) has begun, their differences have become irreconcilable. Frère Jan suggests that the best soldiers to fight the Andouilles would be the cooks, so he sets up a great hollow Sow and hides his cooks inside it. The battle is going against Pantagruel's forces, when Jan and the cooks attack from their Sow and decimate the Andouilles. They are in full retreat when a huge flying pig appears, dumping vast quantities of mustard on the battlefield and crying “Mardigras, Mardigras!” Both armies cease fighting; Pantagruel then confers with the queen of the Andouilles, Niphleseth, who formally surrenders, and, as part of the peace treaty, provides 78,000 Andouilles to serve the royal table as hors d’oeuvres (or to serve hors d’oeuvres at the royal table—the text is ambiguous) for the next six months.

I will be looking at this episode as if it were written in layers, like a geological formation. I will begin at the surface, then dig further. My strata will be: (1) the literal level, (2) visual analogies—phallic and otherwise, (3) the politico-historical significance, (4) the mythic and epic dimension, (5) the religious significance and Mardi gras.

As for the first (literal) level, the word andouilles means sausages made with chopped tripe and other bits of pork, herbs, and spices, stuffed into lengths of intestine. Pondering just why Rabelais chose andouilles to people this island rather than plum puddings or carrots, one moves to consideration of level two (visual analogies). Andouilles are phallic in appearance, although the noun is feminine. Buckets of scholarly ink have been spilled on why the warlike Andouilles are females.5 It would seem that Rabelais was following the grammatical gender in assigning sex. Though similarly absurd, it seems to puzzle no one when the penis is designated as “la bitte.” Andouilles have always been phallic symbols, as exemplified by a text from 1178: “Lasse, fait elle, ou est m’andouille/Qui ci iluec vos souloit pandre.” (“Alas, said she, where is your darling sausage / that used to hang there?”).6 Rabelais demonstrates his awareness of this symbolism in his name for the queen Andouille, “Niphleseth,” which is Hebrew for “membre viril.”7 One of the Latin words for penis, mentula (also feminine) was also used in antiquity to abuse fools, something Rabelais seems to know about, since Jupiter compliments Priapus with a touch of irony in the prologue to Quart Livre, “Et habet tua mentula mentem” (“your member has mind”; 573). Andouille, meaning penis, is still used to abuse fools; for example, in Trésor we find: “Votre train est passé, andouilles. Vous êtes tous des cons” (“your train has passed, sausages. You are all idiots”). Farouche Island is inhabited by oversized, edible, irascible, phallic, female fools.

Still on the second level (visual analogies), Rabelais, by association with phalluses, connects his Andouilles with slippery eels, anguilles. The two words resemble one another, and anguille has traditionally been used metaphorically for penis. Anguille leads Rabelais to associate eel-like phalluses with Eve's serpent in Eden, then with Priapus in the garden. His associations lead to obscurity, however, for if we were to consider Quaresmeprenant to be Lent and Andouilles to be Mardi gras, we would find the sausages confused with delicacies traditionally eaten during Lent, as Barbara Bowen has shown convincingly.8

One last visual analogy before moving on to politico-historical aspects: Pantagruel mistakes the small Andouilles, who are spying on him and his retinue at their banquet, for squirrels, martens, weasels, or ermines. Why, readers ask, compare sausages to furry creatures? Because, I think, one notices the undulating motion of squirrels, weasels, and so forth, rather than their fur that cannot be distinguished at a distance. These long, sinuous mammals move in flowing, serpentine bounds, thus linking this comparison to the eels and snakes. Their mode of locomotion, not their outer covering, brings eels together with weasels, giving us an insight into Rabelais' visual imagination.

At our third stratum, Xenomanes is the bearer of politico-historical information to Pantagruel. As he relates his previous attempt to reconcile the difference between Quaresmeprenant and the sausages, he reveals that Quaresmeprenant refused to include the “Boudins saulvaiges” and the “Saulcissons montigènes” (the savage blood sausages and the mountain sausages) in the peace treaty. Rabelais himself reveals that he means the Swiss when he speaks of the Mountain Sausages; Alban Krailsheimer shows that the “Boudins saulvaiges,” or “selvaticques” as Rabelais later calls them, are inhabitants of the Black Forest, and thus adherents of Zwingli and Bucer. He demonstrates that Rabelais' entire carnal horde is a metaphor for the Protestant allies during the Schmalkaldic War that took place while Rabelais was in Metz in 1546. In that war, the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, soundly defeated all the Protestant allies: Zwinglians and Bucerites from Switzerland and the Black Forest city-states, and the Lutherans from farther north. Krailsheimer links the Schmalkaldic Lutherans to the Andouilles, furnishing another reason why Rabelais chose them rather than plum puddings: German schmal means narrow; Kaldaunen means tripe. Thus Schmalkaldaunen becomes Schmalkalden becomes Andouilles.9 Although the radical reformers might have presented a united front to Charles V, Bucer's and Zwingli's followers did not consider themselves close kin to the Lutherans in their interpretation of the meaning of faith, and least of all, in their view of the Eucharist, as we shall see.

Quaresmeprenant, then, would represent Charles V, Xenomanes a French negotiator. The emperor—menaced by the Turks and the French—tried to make peace with his German Protestant subjects before he was forced to fight them, and was commended for his efforts by Luther and Calvin, condemned for them by the pope. Xenomanes might even represent Rabelais himself, who, if Robert Marichal is correct, might have been used by Cardinal Jean du Bellay as a peace negotiator in Metz before irreconcilable differences caused hostilities to break out.10 The Andouilles had refused the peace treaty, insisting on controlling both Cacques Fortress and Sallouoir Castle. Caques are casks of salted herring, and the saloir is where salted meat is kept. In wishing to rule both herring barrel and meat safe, the Andouilles wish to arbitrate how feasting and fasting should be observed, i.e., they wish to dictate these phases of time-honored Christian practice and ritual according to their own biases. Since Chésil, the two sides have become “horrificquement aigriz, envenimez, indignez, et obstinez en leurs couraiges, est n’est possible y remédier” (“horribly embittered, envenomed, angered and hardened in their hearts, and it is not possible to remedy it,” 35, 680). Chésil probably derives from Hebrew Kessil, a fool or “nitwit.”11 It is clear that Rabelais would have preferred peace, as Pantagruel constantly demonstrates. The Andouilles, the intransigent Lutherans like the uncompromising counselors at Chésil/Kessil/Trent, are for Rabelais, all fools.

Since the differences are irreconcilable, hostilities must break out. The battle reveals a number of comically mythic and epic dimensions (and we have now arrived at stratum 4). Pantagruel's recitation of classical examples before battle is, Kinser believes, a parody of both the heroes of antiquity who take counsel and omens before fighting, and of contemporary humanist displays of erudition.12 Bowen notes that Rabelais pastiches a number of epic styles: “Greek and Latin—the great Sow where Frier Jean hides his 157 cooks recalls the Trojan Horse, and Dido and Aeneas are evoked in passing; Carolingian—Gymnaste's sword is called ‘Kissmyarse’; Arthurian—mustard is the ‘Holy Grail’ of the Andouilles.”13 Pantagruel could be seen as any great epic hero, of course, and the list of cooks corresponds to the “catalogue of ships” in the Iliad, or the roster of heroes in the Aeneid. The etymology of truye reveals an actual identity with Troye. The vulgar latin ancestor of truye was troia, as in porcus troianus, a “stuffed pig.”14 A roast pig stuffed with delicacies, or maybe a pregnant sow, was thus playfully named for the Trojan horse.

Although Guy Demerson notes that Rabelais models Frère Jan's Truye upon a similar machine described by Froissart, he misses Rabelais' close fidelity to his source. Rabelais describes the war-machine in these words:

C’estoit un engin mirificque, faict de telle ordonnance que, des gros couillarts qui par rancs estoient autour, il jectoit bedaines et quarreux empenez d’assier et dedans la quadrature duquel pouvoient aisément combattre et à couvert demourer deux cens hommes et plus.15

Here is Froissart:

[C’estoit] un grant engin que on appelle truie, lequel engin estoit de telle ordonnance que il jetoit pierres de faix, et se pouvoient bien cent hommes d’armes ordonner dedans.16

As is his wont, Rabelais inflates his model both stylistically and in the variety of weapons thrown and number of men sheltered, but the vocabulary used and the order of the description indicate a direct intertextual reference.

There is a final satirical allusion to classical epic: the battle between Pantagruel and the Andouilles is ended by the advent of a flying creature. The same is true in the Aeneid, where Turnus, on whom the enemy force depends, is halted by a flying creature, a “little bird” rather than a gigantic hog. The little bird is actually one of the Dirae who resemble the Furies, and this creature, on orders from Jupiter, takes the form of a graveyard bird in order to frighten Turnus and stop the fighting.17

The fifth stratum, the religious significance of the episode, will prove to be the richest vein of all. Bowen and Kinser have shown that although the battle between Quaresmeprenant and the Andouilles recalls the traditional battle between Carnival and Lent, a literary trope since the thirteenth century at least, neither side in Rabelais' conflict unequivocally represents Lent or Carnival.18 Quaresmeprenant has aspects of Carnival, the Andouilles are anguilles (eels), and both are associated with mustard. The Andouilles' deity seems to be Mardi gras, but Pantagruel's army's password is also Mardi gras—neither party actually represents that time of feasting, although both have much in common. Why, then, do they fight?

Pantagruel and his shipmates are viewed with suspicion and hostility from the moment they set foot upon Farouche Island. Having just narrowly escaped serving as a meal for the Physetère, the Prince and his court sit down to a thanksgiving banquet. It is Frère Jan, symbol of the earthly (and earthy) Church, the ecclesia militans, who rings the bell to begin the mass/feast. Rabelaisian feasting has elsewhere been shown to be a symbol for the mass,19 but as an informal service similar to the parting feast celebrated on board the Thalamège just before embarkation. “It is less a question … of a specifically Reformed Eucharist than of one of those agapés, or lay and non-sacramental Suppers so often practiced by the ‘holy Christians’ of the ‘early Church.’”20 This sort of practice would be (as Lucien Febvre confirms) more Evangelical than Reformed.21 As always ambiguous or multivalent in his meanings, Rabelais often portrays communion as a meeting of minds. Communing with one's fellows—an exchange of ideas, friendly discussion about essential matters—is equivalent to drinking the wine, absorbing the sustenance, and hence imbibing or assimilating the Body and the Blood. One communes with the divine spark in one's fellows, and thus with the Divine Spirit as well. The informality of Rabelais' “masses” shows his agreement with Erasmus, who denounced the formalized ritual of the Roman Church as “Judaic.” Most Humanists and reformers decried the fixed and convention-bound celebration of the Last Supper, calling it idolatry. Rabelais' masses therefore show the Pantagrueline companions communing with each other, partaking of the “bread” and the “wine.” Panurge, in the Tiers Livre, had remarked, “pain et vin. En ces deux sont comprinses toutes especes des aliments” (“bread and wine. These two encompass every type of aliment”).22

During the second course, Pantagruel observes a number of nimble little Andouilles climbing on a high tree, near “le retraict du guobelet.”23 The Andouilles spy on Pantagruel's service near the storage area for the wine, at the spot (a spring, perhaps?) where the wine is being cooled.24 Wine is the most important element of the Communion; furthermore, Rabelais does not write “le retraict du vin,” but “du guobelet,” thus focusing on the wine-glass, and therefore on the chalice used in the mass. The reader is alerted from the first contact with the Andouilles that they are somehow concerned with the Eucharist, which had caused and would cause enormous friction among the various factions of Christian belief.

The Andouilles spying on Pantagruel as he “celebrates mass” do not assume that he is Quaresmeprenant merely because of his size, as Bowen assumes,25 but also because they are so alienated from orthodox Christianity that even moderates, like Pantagruel and his company, are still viewed as hateful representatives of Rome, or at best as heretics committing sacrilege. The Andouillic forces, including the most radical Protestants, therefore attack, until it is made clear that they have assailed the wrong party.

Rabelais' account of the battle is brief. The engagement is going in favor of the Andouilles until Frère Jan and his cooks burst out of the Truye and decimate the enemy. They are in danger of extermination to the last sausage, when Mardi gras appears in the form of a giant flying pig. The Andouilles make spontaneous obeisance, kneeling and raising their joined hands in most idolatrous worship.

If Krailsheimer is correct in considering the Andouilles to be Lutherans, their founder would of necessity be a caricature of Martin Luther. There is historical evidence for identifying Martin Luther as a hog; in particular, the papal bull condemning Luther's doctrines. Widely known by its opening words, “Exsurge Domine,” the bull's first two sentences read: “Arise, O Lord, and judge thy cause. A wild boar has invaded thy vineyard.”26 This wild boar has now taken flight to save his troops from destruction by more moderate reformers. The description of the flying hog is lengthy and, in part, susceptible to interpretation:

From a northerly direction (or from across the mountains) there flew towards us a great, huge, gross, grey swine, with wings as long and broad as the sails of a windmill, and plumage as crimson red as the feathers of a phoenicopter, which in Languedoc is called a flamingo. It had flashing red eyes like carbuncles, and green ears the colour of chrysolite (a “prassine” emerald). Its teeth were as yellow as a topaz. Its tail was long and as black as Lucullian marble. Its feet were white, diaphanous, and transparent as a diamond, and broadly webbed like those of a goose, or as Queen Pedauque's were of old at Toulouse. It had a gold collar round its neck, inscribed with some Ionic lettering of which I could only make out two words: HYS ATHENAN—the hog (instructs) Minerva.27

The apparition flies “Du cousté de la Transmontane,” meaning either across the mountains, or more commonly, from the polar north. The mountains logically would be the Alps; Germany lies northeast of France, so the direction of flight would appear to strengthen the hypothesis that Rabelais has Luther in mind. The pig is “grand, gras, gros, gris,” a combination of alliterative adjectives used before by Rabelais in describing the book of Gargantua.

Although described as grey, the hog appears arrayed in a prism of colors: “les aesles … rouge cramoisy. … Les oeilz rouges … comme un pyrope” (crimson red wings; eyes as red as a ruby). Red and shades of red are traditionally used in the Church as a symbol of Charity. The ruby, because of its color a symbol of divine love, also denotes the Passion.28 The “rouge cramoisy” wings of this gigantic “dove” cover his flock with lovingkindness while he charitably regards his world. Other allusions are:

“Les aureilles verdes comme une esmeraulde prassine” (ears as green as a “prassine” emerald [chrysolite]). The emerald—and other translucent green stones confused with it—signify Hope in ecclesiastical symbolism and the emerald is a stone that actually suppresses lust as it represents the celestial Venus (i.e., divine love);29 it dispels diabolical illusions, strengthens memory, and inspires rhetoricians.30 The relevant attributes seem to be Hope and (once again) divine love.

“Les dens jaulnes comme un topaze” (teeth yellow as a topaz). The topaz, representing the Sun and intellect also,31 when dipped into liquid, dispels any poison present therein.32 By implication, then, the words that pass this mouthful of topazes must be wise and enlightening, and will never be venomous. The rancor and downright abuse that pours from Luther's (mouth and) pen—against Rabelais' beloved Erasmus, for example—would force the conclusion that this attribute of Mardi gras is highly ironic!

“La queue longue, noire comme marbre Lucullian” (a long tail, black as Lucullian marble). Black, in religious terms, symbolizes penitence and humility.33 In this case, these virtues appear to be attached to the Luther-hog almost as an afterthought, once again indicating Rabelais' opinion of the real Luther.

“Les pieds blancs … comme un diamant” (feet as white as a diamond). The diamond signifies religious Faith,34 illumination, ascension, revelation.35 The flying pig stands upon Faith; Faith is his foundation (“Hier stehe ich, ich kann nicht anders!”).

All the religious symbolism in the description is coherent, in particular the cardinal virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity. Redeeming details indeed, but the whole that unites the particulars is still a hog. Swine have few if any positive connotations in the symbolic universe. They are figures for impurity, uncleanness, unbelief, gluttony, lasciviousness, sloth, grossness, lack of sensitivity, sensuality, ignorance—and above all, swine incarnate matter as opposed to spirit.

Some of these attributes are appropriate for the celebrations at Mardi gras (gluttony, lasciviousness, sensuality, and material rather than spiritual concerns). This particular hog is airborne, signifying his elevation above the common herd—he is less impure and slothful than most. Other attributes indicate that he is not unclean—his glowing colors, and above all, his transparent and sparkling feet. Are they “largement pattez comme sont des oyes” (broadly webbed like those of a goose) because he tries to walk on water? Is there a covert reference here to Rom. 10:15, “How beautiful are the feet of them that speak the gospel of Peace”?

Queen Niphleseth explains that the hog is the (Platonic) Idea of Mardi gras, the founder of the Andouillic race. Her Andouilles are made of pork, and therefore, logically, their deity is a pig. Rabelais appears to suggest that Luther, though arrayed in spiritual colors, is essentially material and sorely lacking in spiritual understanding, as are his followers. Rabelais could be satirizing Luther's interpretation of the Eucharist, a highly controversial and widely known position, according to which it is Christ's natural body that is served to the communicant, who consumes it. The doctrine was also satirized by the Zwinglians, who called Lutherans “Fleischfresser,” with the implication that they were cannibals as well as mere meateaters.36 Luther defends himself against Swiss attackers, who like Zwingli, interpret the Supper as a spiritual, not a literal partaking of Christ's body. God is indeed everywhere, Luther asserts, although the “fanatics” sneer at this idea, attributing words such as these to the Lutherans: “If Christ's body is everywhere, ah, then I shall eat and drink him in the taverns. … Oh, how we will chew him up! Such shameful pigs are we dreadful Germans … that we have neither restraint nor reason.”37 Luther turns the tables on his opponents, deeming them to be pigs and dogs for attributing such nonsense to him and his followers. After all, we humans can only touch God where he bids us seek him, namely at the sacramental table. Zwingli and Oecolampadius also rely on John 6:63, “Flesh is of no avail,” in arguing that the body of Christ is present only spiritually at the Supper. Luther points out that John does not necessarily speak of Christ's body in this passage. “Indeed, it might also mean a pork roast. …”38 Given the Lutherans' fleshly reputation—already well established—such porcine imagery probably added fuel to the fire, instead of making converts to Luther's side. Luther seems to have recognized this, since he later disparaged the book.39 Rabelais, at least, makes outrageous fun of the whole Lutheran complex, envisioning his followers as tripe sausages, only one step removed from the basest matter, “matière fécale.”

The most telling detail, and one that sums up the meaning of the flying swine, is the golden collar bearing the inscription “hus Athenan,” “the hog (teaches) Minerva,” an Erasmian adage.40 Erasmus explains: “This was usually said when some ignorant and silly person attempts to teach the one by whom he ought rather to be taught.” Thus “Luther” is attempting, in his materialistic and uncouth way, to teach truths of faith to his spiritual betters in the Church (Minerva), and his doctrines fall to earth in the form of twenty-seven barrelsful of mustard. This condiment is compared by Queen Niphleseth to the “Sangréal et Bausme céleste” (holy grail and celestial balm) which cure the wounded and resurrect the dead Andouilles. Duval demonstrates that “Sangréal” is a Rabelaisian coinage, never before written in this form, designating both sanguis regalis (Christ's royal blood) and sanguis realis (his real blood). This “Sangréal” is the sacramental wine in which the blood is truly present during the communion service. This meaning is confirmed by the further comparison “Bausme céleste,” falling like the manna which, in the Old Testament, prefigured Christ's sacrificed flesh, the “bread of life,” “bread of God.” Niphleseth confirms its real efficacy, since it heals and resurrects, just as the Eucharist is supposed to do in the Roman Church. Duval concludes that Rabelais' portrayal of the entirely carnal Andouilles and the mustard that heals the flesh is an attack on the Church that “wallows in the flesh” of the Eucharist and neglects its spiritual and symbolic aspect.41 The shocking nature of the parody is not meant to strike at the mystery of the Last Supper, but as we have seen, it aims at the Lutherans'—even more than at the Church's—misinterpretation of it, since both believed in the Bodily Presence at the Eucharist.

Further scrutiny of the mustard symbolism leads to yet greater shock: “the mustard-barrel” is an expression designating the lower abdomen, bowels, and their contents.42 Hence, to quote a letter by Fred Marshall, the Andouilles' flying pig “shits mustard like an incontinent sea gull”—twenty-seven barrels worth.43 The Andouilles, “[où] plustoust l’on trouvoit merde que fiel” (“in whom one finds more turds than bile”),44 are healed, even born again, by means of a doctrine Rabelais considers to be barrels of airborne fecal matter; in modern parlance, “the shit flies high”! What more logical “Sangréal” and “Bausme céleste” could there be for a folk composed of bits of tripe stuffed into lengths of intestinal wall?

The number 27 is used here because it bears a heavy load of religious symbolism. It is 3 × 9, and therefore signifies the Trinity multiplied by theology (for Dante and succeeding interpreters, 9 is the number of theology). 2 + 7 = 9; therefore, 27 again proves to be a number signifying theology. There can be no doubt that the mustard spread over the battlefield is theological, and that it most likely stands for Luther's doctrines and teachings.

Why, we still ask ourselves, is Rabelais at such pains to show that Pantagruel and his men have so much in common with the Andouilles by claiming commonality in Mardi gras? Gymnaste's attempt to abort the battle hinges upon this similarity. Rabelais, despite his biting satire, clearly has more sympathy for the Andouilles than for Quaresmeprenant. The Andouilles' problem, however, is the same as that of Quaresmeprenant and the Physetère: Excess. Quaresmeprenant is excessively dogmatic, bigoted, ascetic; the Physetère excessively large, aggressive, overblown; the Andouilles, bulging with meat and fat, exemplify the “material bodily lower stratum,” to borrow a phrase from Mikhail Bakhtin. Panurge had characterized his and his companions' situation as “between the hammer and the anvil” when discussing possible battle against Quaresmeprenant as allies of the Andouilles. Between radical reformers and arch conservatives in the Church, moderation is in danger of being crushed, and yet Pantagruel will maintain his ideals regardless of risk. To quote his earlier remark: “Médiocrité est en tous cas louée” (“Moderation is to be praised in all cases”).45 And herein lies the lesson that this series of verbal emblems has taught us.


  1. Michel Jeanneret, “Rabelais, les monstres et l’interprétation des signes” (Quart Livre 18-42) in Raymond C. La Charité, Writing the Renaissance: Essays on Sixteenth-Century French Literature, in Honor of Floyd Gray. Lexington, Ky.: French Forum, 1992, 65-76, here 74-75.

  2. Jerome Schwartz, Irony and Ideology in Rabelais: Structures of Subversion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 1-6 passim.

  3. Barbara Bowen, “L’Episode des Andouilles (Rabelais, Quart Livre, chapitres XXXV-XLIIII), esquisse d’une méthode de lecture,” Cahiers de Varsovie 8 (1981): 111-26; Edwin M. Duval, “La messe, la cène, et le voyage sans fin du Quart Livre,Etudes rabelaisiennes 21 (1988); F.W. Marshall, “The Great Allegory,” Australian Journal of French Studies 26 (1989): 12-51; Paul J. Smith, Voyage et écriture: Etude sur le Quart Livre de Rabelais (Geneva: Droz, 1987).

  4. François Rabelais, Oeuvres complètes, ed. Guy Demerson (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1973), chaps. 29-42.

  5. See, e.g., Jeanneret, “Rabelais, les monstres,” 42; Samuel Kinser, Rabelais' Carnival: Text, Context, Metatext (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), 109-18.

  6. Trésor de la langue française: dictionnaire de la langue du XIXe et du XXe siecle (1789-1960).

  7. François Rabelais, “Brièfve déclaration,” Oeuvres complètes, ed. Demerson, 778.

  8. Barbara Bowen, “Lenten Eels and Carnival Sausages,” L’Esprit créateur 21 (1981): 12-25.

  9. Alban Krailsheimer, “The Andouilles of the Quart Livre,” in François Rabelais: Ouvrage publié pour le 4e centenaire de sa mort, 1553-1953 (Geneva: Droz, 1953), 231.

  10. Marichal, Robert, “Rabelais et les Censures de la Sorbonne,” in Le Quart Livre de 1548, Etudes rabelaisiennes, 9 (1971): 138-41.

  11. Kinser, Rabelais' Carnival, 95, n. 6.

  12. Ibid., 100-101.

  13. Bowen, “L’Episode des Andouilles,” 112-13; my trans.

  14. Larousse étymologique.

  15. Oeuvres complètes, ed. Demerson, 40.690: “It was a marvelous invention, arranged in such a way that it hurled cannon balls and steel feathered bolts from the great bombards in rows around it, and within its confines more than two hundred men could shelter and fight.”

  16. See Dictionnaire de la langue française, ed. E. Littré (Paris, Hachette, 1873-1877), s.v. “truie”: “It was a great invention called a Sow, arranged in such a way that it hurled heavy stones, and within its confines at least a hundred men could be accommodated.”

  17. Virgil, Aeneid, book 12.

  18. Bowen, “Lenten Eels,” passim; Kinser, Rabelais' Carnival, 67-101.

  19. Weinberg, Florence, The Wine and the Will: Rabelais' Bacchic Christianity (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1972), 45-66.

  20. Duval, “La messe,” 138; translation mine; “Il s’agit moins d’une Cène spécifiquement réformée que d’une de ces agapés, ou cènes laïques et non-sacramentelles, tant pratiquées par les ‘saincts Christians' de l’Eglise primitive’ …”

  21. Ibid.

  22. Rabelais, Oeuvres complètes, ed. Demerson, Le Tiers Livre, 4:387.

  23. Ibid.

  24. Ibid., 35.678, n. 6.

  25. Bowen, “Lenten Eels,” 23.

  26. Exsurge Domine is dated June 15, 1520: “Arise, O Lord, and judge thy cause. A wild boar has invaded thy vineyard. Arise, O Peter, and consider the case of the Holy Roman Church, the mother of all churches, consecrated by thy blood. Arise, O Paul, who by thy teaching and death hast and dost illumine the Church. Arise, all ye saints, and the whole universal Church, whose interpretation of Scripture has been assailed. We can scarcely express our grief over the ancient heresies which have been revived in Germany. We are the more downcast because she was always in the forefront of the war on heresy. Our pastoral office can no longer tolerate the pestiferous virus of the following forty-one errors. [They are enumerated.] We can no longer suffer the serpent to creep through the field of the Lord. The books of Martin Luther which contain these errors are to be examined and burned. As for Martin himself, good God, what office of paternal love have we omitted in order to recall him from his errors? Have we not offered him a safe conduct and money for the journey? [Such an offer never reached Luther.] And he has the temerity to appeal to a future council although our predecessors, Pius II and Julius II, subjected such appeals to the penalties of heresy. Now therefore we give Martin sixty days in which to submit, dating from the time of the publication of this bull in his district. Anyone who presumes to infringe our excommunication and anathema will stand under the wrath of Almighty God and of the apostles Peter and Paul.” Bulla contra errores Martini Lutheri et sequacium, quoted in Roland H. Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1950), 147.

  27. The English is from François Rabelais, The Histories of Gargantua and Pantagruel, trans. J. M. Cohen (Baltimore: Penguin, 1955), 41.538. See Rabelais, Oeuvres complètes, 41.695: “Du cousté de la Transmontane advola un grand, gras, gros, gris pourceau, ayant aesles longues et amples, comme sont les aesles d’un moulin à vent. Et estoit le pennaige rouge cramoisy, comme est d’un Phoenicoptère, qui en Langue-goth est appelé flammant. Les oeilz avoit rouges et flamboyans, comme un pyrope; les aureilles verdes comme une esmeraulde prassine; les dens jaulnes comme un topaze; la queue longue, noire comme marbre Lucullian; les pieds blancs, diaphanes et transparens comme un diamant, et estoient largement pattez, comme sont des oyes et comme jadis à Tholose les portoit la royne Pédauque. Et avoit un collier d’or au coul, autour duquel estoient quelques letres Ionicques, desquelles je ne peuz lire que deux mots: HYS ATHENAN, pourceau Minerve enseignat.”

  28. J. E. Cirlot, A Dictionary of Symbols. 2d ed. (New York: Philosophical Library, 1971).

  29. Camille Leonard, Speculum Lapidum (Paris, 1610); J. P. Valeriano Bolzanii, Hieroglyphica, sive de Sacris Aegyptiorum Literis Commentari (Basel, 1556).

  30. Leonard, Speculum Lapidum.

  31. Cirlot, Dictionary of Symbols.

  32. Leonard, Speculum Lapidum.

  33. Cirlot, Dictionary of Symbols.

  34. Leonard, Speculum Lapidum.

  35. Cirlot, Dictionary of Symbold.

  36. Martin Luther, “This Is My Body,” in Works, vol. 37, ed. Robert H. Fisher and Helmut T. Lehmann (Philadelphia, Muhlenberg Press, 1961), 80, n. 135.

  37. Ibid., 67.

  38. Ibid., 79

  39. Ibid., 7.

  40. Adagia, 1.1.40.

  41. Duval, “La messe,” 136-37.

  42. Cotton, Charles. Scarronides, or, Virgile travestie (London: Cotes for H. Brome, 1664), 54, 10.

  43. Fred Marshall, Letter to the author, Feb 14, 1992; quoted by permission.

  44. Rabelais, Oeuvres complètes, 4.696.

  45. Rabelais, Oeuvres complètes, Tiers livre, 13.417.

Gérard Defaux (essay date 1995)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 11694

SOURCE: “Rabelais and the Monsters of Antiphysis,” in Modern Language Notes, Vol. 110, No. 5, December 1995, pp. 1017-42.

[In the essay below, Defaux maintains that in the battle between humanism and scholasticism in the sixteenth century, Rabelais was the most powerful and effective advocate for humanism.]

“Cy n’entrez pas, hypocrites, bigotz,
Vieux matagotz, marmiteux, boursouflez,
Torcoulx, badaux, plus que n’estoient les Gotz
Ni Ostrogotz, precurseurs des magotz,
Haires, cagotz, caffars empantouflez …”

Rabelais, Gargantua

“Pourveu que cettuy cy frappe, il ne luy
chaut combien il se descouvre.”

Montaigne, Essais, III, 8

Fundamentally, the form taken by the sixteenth-century “querelle des Anciens et des Modernes,”1 that is the struggle we have all heard about between humanism on one side and scholasticism on the other, is that of a “Battle of the Arts.” It focuses primarily on language and the relative role and importance of the artes sermocinales of the trivium, Grammar, Rhetoric and Logic, in the curriculum. As such, it is indeed an old quarrel, a quarrel already flourishing in medieval universities before the middle of the thirteenth century, when Henri d’Andeli wrote his witty Bataille des VII ars.2 We might say that the cultural revolution which characterizes both the Italian and the Northern Renaissance is a kind of reversed Battle of the VII arts. What Henri d’Andely describes to us in his book is the crushing victory of the invincible Parisian champion, Lady Logic, over Dame Grammar, crestfallen champion of the university of Orléans. It is this glorious victory which we find for example proudly expressed in the “Tractatus primus” of Petrus Hispanus's vastly influential Summulœ Logicales toward the middle of the thirteenth century: Dialectica est ars artium, scientia scientiarum, ad omnium methodorum principia viam habens. […] Et ideo in acquisitione omnium aliarum scientiarum Dialectica debet esse prior. [“Dialectic is the art of arts and the scienceof sciences, the art having access to the principles of all other disciplines. […] Accordingly, in the acquisition of all disciplines, Dialectic must come first”].3 The main characteristic of this powerful tradition is that it relies heavily on Aristotelian dialectic and philosophy for its concepts as well as its methodology, and that it does not hesitate to use both of them in matters of biblical exegesis and Christian doctrine. Its audacity in the domain of speculative theology is so great, and its rationalism and intellectualism so fundamentally arrogant, says Lorenzo Valla, that pagan philosophy has been finally granted complete dominance over the “intelligence of faith.”4 The scholastic theologians are of such temerity and presumption, deplores H. C. Agrippa in his De incertitudine, that they may only be compared to those giants of ancient mythology who, in their blind arrogance, wanted to overcome Jupiter and lay their hands on his celestial kingdom. “They prefer the schools of philosophers to the Church of Christ and attach more or equal importance to their own opinions than to the Holy Word.” [tam temerarii gigantes […] quanta etiam temeritas, quanta arrogans prœsumptio, Philosophorum scholas prœferre Ecclesiœ Christi, opinionesque hominum prœponere, aut adœquare verbo Dei].5

It is the same blindness and arrogance which the humanists find in the deliberate obscurity of the language used by those so-called guardians of the “Christian mystery.” They have in fact, claims Vives in his Adversus Pseudodialecticos, created a language within the language, a kind of private idiom that nobody understands but them. They have painstakingly invented for themselves certain meanings of words “contrary to all civilized custom and usage” [contra omnem hominum consuetudinem et usum];6 and the jargon they have coined, while pretending to be Latin, has absolutely nothing to do with it. It is this very jargon that, in his Conclusiones nongentœ of 1486, Pico della Mirandola calls the norma dicendi parisiensis, or the celebratissimorum Parisiensium disputatorum dicendi genus;7 it is also this “Parisian style” that he so eloquently defends in one of his letters against the criticisms of his friend the humanist Ermolao Barbaro.8 And it is to satirize and deride this very hermetic and obscure “style” that, in chapter VI of his Pantagruel, Rabelais introduces us to the “devilish language” [“diable de languaige”] of his escholier Limousin—himself defined as “some sort of heretic”—and that the said escholier, through his meeting with the giant, finally learns to “speak naturally” [“parler naturellement”]. “Seigneur,” says one of his men to Pantagruel, “sans doubte ce guallant veult contrefaire la langue des Parisians; mais il ne faict que escorcher le latin, et cuide ainsi pindariser, et luy semble bien qu’il est quelque grand orateur en françoys, parce qu’il dedaigne l’usance commun de parler.”9 [“My Lord, this fop is trying to counterfeit the language of the Parisians; but he does nothing but flay Latin, and thinks he is Pindarizing this way; and it really seems to him that he is some great orator in French, because he disdains the common way of speaking.”]

I think it would be a costly mistake to take the humanists at their own word, accept what they say without further examination, and from that assume the barbarity and obsolescence of medieval education. We are not here simply to repeat and endorse the beliefs and prejudices of the humanists, but to evaluate them for what they are, in a critical way. As readers of Erasmus, Vives or Rabelais, we undoubtedly have the right to have a good laugh at those scholastic magistri, and to ridicule their “garrulous ignorance and invincible loquacity” [garrula quœdam imperitia, et loquacitas invicta], their “coarseness,” “grossness,” “vulgarity” [rusticitas] or “detestable barbarism” [fœda barbaries].10 As intellectual historians or literary critics however, it is our responsibility to realize that laughter, and especially satirical laughter, rarely represents a sufficient and legitimate answer to the problems we examine. It is certainly not because Erasmus and Rabelais are piling up illos veteres libros of medieval auctores for the mere pleasure of making fun of them—Alexander, Grœcisma, Ebrardus, Modista, Breviloquum, Compost, Mammotreptus [sic], Catholicon, Donatus, Florista, Facetus, Alanus in Parabolis, Joannis Garlandini disticha, De moribus in mensa servandis, Quid est, Dormi secure, Supplementum, Passavantus cum commento, De modis significandi, etc11—that we necessarily have to follow them without even having taken the elementary precaution of looking at those very books ourselves.12 Nor is it because Rabelais, in his famous Catalog of the Library of Saint Victor, attributes a Demodo faciendi boudinos to John Major, a De differentiis soupparum to Thomas Bricot, a De optimitate triparum to Noël Beda, a De modo cacandi to Tarteret, or an Ars honestle petandi in societate to Magioster Ortunius Gratisu of Cpologne,13 that Major, Bricot, Beda, Tartaret,Ortuinus Gratius and the other scholastic dialecticians or theologians who appear side by side with them in this list were necessarily all not respectable scholars, philosophers, thinkers and writers in their own right, but unredeemable simpletons, archetypal blockheads or mega morons, who—and here I quote Vives again14—“should either be forced to devote themselves to other and better disciplines, or be expelled by public edict as corrupters of both character and learning” [aut cogi ut aliis melioribus se se dederent disciplinis, aut edicto publico expelli tamquam corruptores et morum et eruditionis].

In their efforts to dismantle what they themselves call the scholastic “citadel of ignorance” [arcem ignorantiæ],15 Renaissance humanists use an overall strategy which certainly deserves consideration. They all see and define themselves as fighters engaged in a kind of holy war. For example, in the Proemium to the first book of his De vero falsoque bono, Valla introduces himself to his reader as a young David, fighting “in Christ's honor, under the shield of faith and with the sword that is the word of God;” and at the beginning of his second book, he likewise compares the rhetorical order, the ordo and dispositio of his discourse, to that of an army masterfully deployed on the battlefield, and disposed by its commander “according to the location, the occasion, and the condition of the enemy” [et pro loco, pro tempore, pro conditione hostium aciem instruat].16 Budé is so profoundly and passionately devoted to the cause of bonæ litteræ that he speaks of the Ancients and of those who defend them as other Herculeses, incomparable “heroes of the nation of Letters” [heroes quidam nationis literariæ].17 And when, in his carnavalesque Gargantua, Rabelais decides to annihilate symbolically the Goths, Ostrogoths, Cagots and Matagots of the old world, he creates Frère Jean, themartial anti-monk, and puts in his hand the “baston de la croix” [“staff of the Cross”]. Nothing, in fact, could be more justified than these warlike metaphors and allegories.18 Indeed, the issue at hand, the crux of the matter, is simply to know who, in the end, is going to be heard and followed; who is going to win. Indeed, the game that is played there between the scholastics and the humanists is a game of wits and power, that is a game that cannot be played alone; a game whose basic rule and principle is that the Ancients need the Moderns as badly as the Moderns need them; or to put it another way, that the same could not exist without the other; that, just as there can be no other without the same, there likewise can be no same without the other. Each one of the decisions the humanists take, each move they make, is precisely determined and dictated by the very nature of the opposition they wish to destroy. It is not an exaggeration, I believe, to say that they are what the others make them out to be. The terrain they want to conquer and occupy is simply the very terrain that the others, the scholastics, have, for whatever reason, left unconquered and unoccupied. Their noble ideology and spiritual values, their moral slogans, the truth they brandish and proudly wave like a banner in the wind, everything they say or do, is nothing but the direct consequence of a cause located outside of them—this cause being, as Valla understood it so well, the very existence, composition, disposition and configuration of their adversaries. Strictly speaking, the sacred principles guiding them in their choices, the irreproachable reasons justifying and dignifying their action to the world, are at least as much in themselves by-products, epiphenomena, as they are phenomena. Just because they have to fight for it, the truth, in their hands, cannot remain purely an end in itself, it also becomes unavoidably a means to an end, a means of proclaiming their difference and defining their identity, of saying: ‘I am here, I exist, I am right and I want to be heard.’ Each time we read their books today, enlightened as we are by what is happening in the world around us, the same question cannot help but come up in our mind: why did they really say what they said, why did they do what they did? Was it simply because they sincerely believed in their cause—and they did, no doubt about that; or was it also because, given the nature of the opposing forces, the strengths and weaknesses of each side, and the motives in play, they could not speak otherwise?

It is fascinating to see for example how, and with what insistence and determination, Valla, Erasmus, Budé and the others promote in their writings the first two artes de sermone, grammar and rhetoric. Clearly, they have the best reasons in the world for doing so. Latinitas in general and the usus communis loquendi in particular are certainly a worthy cause in sixteenth-century Europe. After all, as imperfect as it may be, language exists primarily to be understood. Its main raison d’être undoubtedly resides in the possibility it gives us to understand each other a little better. Whether we like it or not, it is, as Montaigne puts it,19 the only “truchement” [“interpreter”] of our soul, the only “instrument” we have at our disposal to communicate our thoughts and feelings and make them known to the world. And as such, it certainly deserves all the attention it can get. Verba have a history of their own, they have their etymology and their meaning, and it is only through them that we have access to res, that we are able to understand, to learn, and to know. Consequently, nothing could make more sense, nothing could be more legitimate, than granting precedence to grammar and rhetoric over all the other disciplines of the cursus studiorum—all the more so becausethis cursus studiorum is devoted to and structured almost exclusively at the time by the study of human (and humane) letters; because in fact there is at the time no other science than the “science of letters” [scientia litterarum]. As the humanists constantly remind us, the solidity of the whole encyclopædia of learning depends on the mastery with which we handle those two artes sermocinales. Both are the key, the corner stone of the circular and harmonious edifice that Budé, in his De studio, calls the chorus or orbis disciplinarum. Without them, no life of the mind, no science, no knowledge would even be conceivable, let alone possible. This is why Valla and Erasmus recommend so forcefully a pedagogical reform that would substitute the study of languages and “human letters,” the study of texts, for that of Aristotelian logic and philosophy: because grammar, grammar conceived not only as a set of normative rules, but as a science of language, as a philology, a grammatology, is unquestionably, in the humanist perspective, disciplinarum omnium fundamentum,20 the “foundation of all disciplines.”

All this being said, and eloquently said, the fact remains, however, that we, as readers, are never permitted to lose sight of the strategic and polemical component which, concurrently with the ideological one, structures this type of epideictic and forensic discourse. We are in fact witnessing something that looks exactly like a premeditated and systematic enterprise of dismantling the opponent's positions. As we have just said, for the medieval schoolman, reader of Petrus Hispanus, the “art of arts and science of sciences” was Aristotelian logic and dialectic. For the sixteenth-century grammaticus, reader of Quintilian, it will consequently be grammar, a grammar whose domain has been so widely expanded that it now includes rhetoric and the whole spectrum of studia literarum. The scholastic theologian borrowed the tools and concepts of his inquiry from Aristotelian logic, metaphysics and ethics. The humanist theologian not only excludes pagan philosophy from his study of the sacred Word, butalso declares war—see for example Valla—on all forms of philosophical speculation. His sources are not “scholastic,” but “classical” and “patristic.” He no longer finds his inspiration and methodology in Boethius, Petrus Lombardus or Thomas Aquinas—all nimis philosophiæ amatores—but in Saint Paul and Saint John. In more ways than one, we could say that he moves from a theory to a practice of language, and from verba to res. Since the medieval theologian had no quarrel with the Vulgate and was extremely respectful of everything that had to do with tradition and auctoritas, the humanist exegete will use his knowledge of Greek, and in some rare instances his knowledge of Hebrew, to emend the text of the Vulgate, undermine the concept of human auctoritas, and propose a reform of the ecclesiological tradition.

The conclusion that can be drawn from these few observations is quite a simple one. It amounts to saying that if we decide to look at the sixteenth-century “quarrel” in a more objective, more balanced and more critical perspective, listening for example to the orthodox theologian Martin Dorp as much as we spontaneously listen to Lorenzo Valla, Erasmus or Thomas More, things begin to change, they take on a different look and a new shape. What finally slowly emerges, what comes to light, is the definite possibility of a radical questioning, of what we might call a systematic and thorough deconstruction. The humanist credo easily reveals the weaknesses and contradictions on which it is built. Its belligerent stance and overall strategy jeopardize its credibility to a considerable extent. Its truth and values are more a means to an end than an end in themselves. By way of consequence, the so-called quarrel itself, the quarrel as we usually see and read it, does not bear scrutiny. The clear-cut opposition which is its very raison d’être and which strictly speaking defines it, the reassuring and handy polarity we all know, Renaissance / Middle Ages, humanism / scholasticism, light / darkness, knowledge / ignorance, reason / superstition, Greek and Latin civilization / Gothic barbarity, becomes suddenly problematic, more and more suspect, and so untenable that it eventually collapses under our very eyes like a house of cards. What we are dealing with here is not at all, in fact, a static set of binary oppositions, a series of antitheses, but a kind of agonistic drama, a play and a game at the same time, an interaction of conflicting forces, a dialectical process in which each contestant exists only in and through his relation to the other. And what is true of this sixteenth-century quarrel is equally true of any quarrel of this sort. All intellectual and ideological quarrels are myths that we fabricate to justify our needs and greeds, a kind of noble and elegant attire, a costume we put on before going on stage and under which we try to dissimulate our various appetites, our thirst for power and glory, the desire we have to exist and to be recognized.

In the picture thus created, Rabelais himself acquires a renewed importance and exemplarity. This importance and exemplarity are above all due to the exhilarating and vibrant violence of his satire, and to the remarkable depth and acuity of his critical intelligence. Where Valla, Erasmus, More, Vives or Agrippa do their best to explain why they deride and condemn, try to justify their attitude by philosophical, ethical or religious arguments, and have sometimes a tendency to weaken their demonstration through the abundance and minute profusion of their analysis, Rabelais pulls no punches. He hits hard, and he generally aims for the heart. It is not that he refuses to argue, or that the idea of entering a dispute in utramque partem frightens him. On the contrary, he is quite able, like the great Pico, or the great Thomas More, to make a show of his dialectical or oratorical skills—as great and accomplished an orator in his vernacular as Christophe de Longueil, Etienne Dolet or Guillaume Budé in their Latin and Greek. But his real talents, his truly outstanding achievements, the things that really make him what he is, that is unique, priceless, irreplaceable, are to be found elsewhere, in the domain of what Quintilian and all rhetors call the genus demonstrativum.21 Rabelais's favorite weapon, his most offensive one, is in fact vituperatio, vituperatio in all its possible guises and forms, fromthe endless string of insults, to invective, via malediction and diatribe, or even, when wrath and hatred really inspire him, anathema and fulmination. With him, laughter, satirical laughter, is at once a cleansing and a homeopathic process. He treats evil with evil, answers vulgarity with vulgarity—usually a greater one—and never hesitates to shit and piss on [“conchier,” “compisser”] those who, because they have personally attacked him or viciously calumniated his writings, are by way of consequence automatically categorized as filth, garbage and excrement, brutally cursed as maniacal, demoniacal and rabid “Cagotz, Burgotz” and “Matagotz,” “Botineurs” and “Papelars,” “Imposteurs,” “Misantropes” and “Agelastes,” “Briffaulx, Caphars, Chattemites, Canibales, et aultres monstres difformes et contrefaicts en despit de nature” [“and other monsters deformed and misshapen in despite of Nature”].22 In this domain, his violence, and the sheer pleasure, the raw, intense jubilation he feels at biting, spitting his own venon and inflicting pain, are absolutely unmatched. Nobody, I believe, has ever unleashed as fiercely as he the magical energy, the rhythm and power, which are embedded in language. When Rabelais lets loose, when he joyfully abandons himself to his demons, what we hear is pure incantation. Words in his mouth are not words anymore. They explode like grenades. Underhis pen, the doctors of the Sorbonne, the venerable Theologians of the University of Paris, undergo every imaginable alteration and degradation. When they are not yelled at and vilified as “Goths and Barbarians,” “Sarrabovites, Cagots, Escargots, Hypocrites, Cafards, Frappars, Botineurs,” scourged as “Sophistes, Sorbillans, Sorbonagres, Sorbonigenes, Sorbonicoles, Sorboniformes, Sorbonisecques, Niborcisans, Borsonisans, Saniborsans,”23 Rabelais inscribes them in his book of infamy, pins them up on the great gate of the Abbaye of Thélème and, when he does not kindly provide them with the rope at the end of which they will soon hang, he sends them directly to Hell. “Arriere mastins! Hors de la quariere, hors de mon soleil, cahuaille au Diable! Venez vous icy culletans articular mon vin et compisser mon tonneau? Voyez cy le baston que Diogenes par testament ordonna estre pres luy posé apres sa mort pour chasser et esrener ces larves bestuaires et mastins cerbericques. Pourtant arriere, cagotz! Aux ouailles, mastins! Hors d’icy, caphars, de par le Diable hay! Estes vous encore là? Je renonce ma part de Papimanie, si je vous happe. Gzzz. gzzz. gzzz. Davant davant! Iront ilz? Jamais ne puissiez vous fianter que à sanglades d’estrivieres, jamais pisser que à l’estrapade, jamais eschauffer que à coups de baston!” [“Back off, you scum! Get out of my way, get out of my sight and out of my sun, you hooded devils! You dragged your ass here to screw up my wine and piss in my barrel, did you? Look, here is the stick that Diogenes ordered in his will to be placed next to him after his death to clobber and drive away these coffin-haunting spooks and Cerberian curs. Out of here, you hypocrites! Get back to your sheep, you dogs! in the name of the Devil, out! Are you still here? I give up my share of Papimania, if I get my hands on you. Grr. Grrr. Grrrr! Out of here, move it! Won’t they get out of here? May you never be able to take a shit without being whipped, never piss without being strung up, never get aroused without a good beating!”]24 Nothing more than this deserves to be called a “cri,” a cri that comes directly from the guts:

Cy n’entrez pas, hypocrites, bigotz,
Vieux matagotz, marmiteux, boursouflez,
Torcoulx, badaux, plus que n’estoient les Gotz
Ni Ostrogotz, precurseurs des magotz,
Haires, cagotz, caffars empantouflez,
Gueux mitouflez, frapars escorniflez,
Befflez, enflez, fagoteurs de tabus:
Tirez ailleurs pour vendre vos abus.(25)

The medieval commentators of the Bible like Nicolas of Lyra had not hesitated to identify the Barbaric invaders of the fifth century, the Goths, Ostrogoths, Wisigoths, conquerors and last predators of the Roman Empire, with the enemies of God symbolized in Ezekiel, 38-39 and in Apocalypse, 20:7-8, by Gog, and Magog. Rabelais exploits here this tenuous identification to the fullest. His personal enemies, the Gotz, Ostrogotz, bigotz, magotz, matagotz, cagotz, etc., all those he hates so intensely, the scholastic “theologastres,” the monks, the priests and the warlike popes, all the Pharisees, sophists and impostors who are sitting in Moses's chair, are also God's eschatological archenemies. He does not need another argument to buttress the “demonstration” he is making. This one is strong and convincing enough to satisfy him.

What Rabelais's crude and powerful rhetorical strategies help us see clearly here, what he lays bare for us, is the fundamental mechanism at work in any ideological and cultural “quarrel” of this sort, that is the brutal violence, the inaugural and founding gesture of rejection around which the agon is built, and to which it owes its very existence. Simply put, Rabelais re-enacts in his fiction what we might call an internal Western version of the drama of “Ethnocentricity” such as it is for example so eloquently presented to us by Claude Lévi-Strauss at the end of the second book of his Structural Anthropology.26 In the history of mankind, says Lévi-Strauss, cultural diversity has always been perceived not as the natural phenomenon it unquestionably is, but as “a sort of monstrosity or scandal.” When brought face to face with the other, man's first reaction is generally one of repulsion, indignation and denial. His most common attitude consists of “the pure and simple repudiation” of all cultural forms which differ from his own. Obviously, Rabelais and his fellow humanists do just that. They reactivate the fundamental prejudice of Classical Antiquity according to which, culturally speaking, the world was clearly and naturally divided between the Greek (or the Greco-Roman) on one side, and the Barbarian on the other. Only my culture is really a culture; the culture of the other is not, has never been, and never will be one. In his Moria, Erasmus makes fun of the Italian humanists's propensity to believe, just because they prided themselves on their mastery of literature and eloquence, that “they alone, of all mortals, were not barbarians” [quod soli mortalium barbari non sint].27 If Rabelais teaches us something in his writings, it is that this laughable buteminently useful cultural arrogance spread north all over Europe and blurred the vision and judgment of the French sixteenth-century humanists as well. In his De studio of 1532, Budé, looking back at what we still today call the “Middle Ages,” ascertains that those infelicitous times brought such devastation and misery with them as to totally destroy all forms of literary life and all possibility of any significant intellectual achievement on this earth. [At multorum sæculorum infelicitas, quæ rei literariæ calamitosam vastitatem importaverat, nihil non aliquando tolerabile facit.]28 Those centuries, he says, were centuries during which letters and eloquence fell into the dark and dense silence of oblivion; during which mortals themselves, overwhelmed by all sorts of disasters and calamities—Budé goes as far as speaking of a “great flood,” diluvium—had to live in the impenetrable and Cimmerian darkness of ignorance. And we find exactly the same kind of apocalyptic statements in the letter written the same year by Gargantua to his son Pantagruel; so much the same, in fact, that Rabelais seems to have been satisfied with merely translating word for word Budé's ornate latin prose in his vernacular: “le temps,” says Gargantua, evoking the past, “le temps estoit encores tenebreux et sentant l’infelicité et la calamité des Goths, qui avoient mis à destruction toute bonne literature.” [“The time was still dark, and smacked of the infelicity and calamity ofthe Goths, who had brought all good literature to destruction”].29 Clearly, for Budé and Rabelais, the other, l’autre, is exactly what he already was for the Greek in ancient times, a Barbarian, a Goth, a Magot, a Cannibal, somebody, or rather something—and here I am quoting Rabelais again30—that “hates” and “flees the company of men,” has the “face of a dog,” and “barks instead of laughing.” In so doing, they all fall prey to Lévi-Strauss's devastating indictment. By placing the scholastic ages not only outside civilization, outside humanity and culture, but also outside nature itself, by seeing them as “savage,” “Gothic” and “barbaric,” the only thing they achieve, without even realizing it, is to show that they are nothing but “savages,” “Goths” and “Barbarians” themselves. As Lévi-Strauss puts it, “le Barbare, c’est d’abord l’homme qui croit à la barbarie”31—“the Barbarian is first of all the man who believes in barbarity,” the one who believes that mankind, culture, civilization, stop at the frontiers of his tribe.

What, in their blindness, Rabelais and his contemporary Budé also help us understand is the dialectical process at work in the agon, the fact that this agon is essentially a rapport de forces, and not at all that set of static binary oppositions both of them—like all those of the same ilk and ideological persuasion—would like us to believe it is. The fundamental gesture we just described has clearly a double purpose. On the one hand, it is meant to repudiate and degrade the other, to make him look like some “monster of Antiphysis” (Quart Livre, XXXII). On the other hand, and concurrently, it is meant to establish on unshakable ground the unquestionable cultural superiority of the one who makes it. What I do when I reject the other, when I bring him down to the level of pure animality, is perhaps less expressing my contempt for him than the love, the deep and absolute love, I have always felt for myself and for those of my kind. It is mainly to look taller and stronger than I really am that I belittle and disparage the other with such brutality. His ugliness makes me look all the more handsome; and his crass ignorance and abysmal stupidity add fresh luster to my own superior learning and intelligence. How could we, us, readers of Rabelais, hesitate, if only for a second, between the “children of Beauty and Harmony” on one side, and those of “Amodunt and Discord” on the other, especially since the former's main raison d’être—they look exactly like us, and are made just the way we are—is clearly to offer us an idealized and flattering representation of ourselves, a comforting proof of our own normality? But, by the same token, how could we not see, when reading Pantagruel's enlightening “apologue,”32 that this idealized and flattering representation of ourselves owes, at least in part, its very existence andmeaning to the ugliness of Antipysis's progeny? And that vice versa Antiphysis's progeny would not be what it is—that is, properly monstrous, offensively ugly—without the harmonious Beauty of Physis's fortunate children? How could we not see that each one of them is essentially nothing but the perfectly reversed image of the other? The mirroring effect, in fact, is inescapable. It is inscribed in the text in the most unequivocal way. Neither Physis nor Antiphysis have either an identity, or an independent life of their own. Like the enemy brothers of the Greek myth, they need each other in order to exist. It is in fact the other which makes them what they are. But, unlike Etéocle and Polynice, what brings them together, what sets one against the other, what puts the game of mimetic desire in motion, is not their uncanny likeness, but their difference, not their resemblance, but their absolute dissemblance, the fact that one—Antiphysis—because she lacks everything, because she also comes second and not first, is doomed to “envy” and imitate the other perpetually:

Je vous en diray, respondit Pantagruel, ce que j’en ay leu parmy les apologues antiques. Physis (c’est Nature) en sa premiere portée enfanta Beaulté et Harmonie sans copulation charnelle: comme de soy mesmes est grandement feconde et fertile. Antiphysie, laquelle de tout temps est partie adverse de nature, incontinent eut envie sus cestuy tant beau et honorable enfantement: et au rebours enfanta Amodunt et Discordance par copulation de Tellumon. Ilz avoient la teste sphærique et ronde entierement, comme un ballon: non doulcement comprimée des deux coustez, comme est la forme humaine. Les aureilles avoient hault enlevées, grandes comme aureilles d’asne; les oeilz hors la teste, fichez sus des os semblables aux talons, sans sourcilles, durs comme sont ceulx des Cancres: les pieds ronds comme pelottes, les braz et mains tournez en arriere vers les espaules. Et cheminoient sus leurs teste, continuellement faisant la roue, cul sus teste, les pieds contremont …

[I’ll tell you, replied Pantagruel, what I have read about them in old stories. Physis (that's Nature) in her first brood bore Beauty and Harmony without carnal copulation, since of herself she is richly fecund and fertile. Antiphysis, who from all time has been the party adverse to Nature, was immediately envious over so fair and honorable a delivery, and contrarywise, gave birth to Amodunt and Discord by copulation with Tellumon. They had heads which were spherical and completely round, like a balloon, not gently compressed on each side, as the human shape is. Their ears were raised up high, big as donkey's ears; their eyes, sticking out of their heads, on bones like heel bones, without eyebrows, as hard as Crabs' eyes; their feet round as balls of wool; arms and hands turned around backwards toward the shoulders; and they traveled on their heads, doing continuous cartwheels, head over heels, with their legs in the air …]33

If Rabelais's motives for borrowing this story from Calcagnini are quite obvious, what he finally achieves in telling it is perhaps more than what he had initially planned. At the mid-point of his book, just before the epiphanic and highly symbolical moment of Pantagruel's fight against the monstrous “Physeter”—new “Diable Sathanas,” other “Leviathan,” and patent incarnation of the Antichrist—he introduces this “apologue antique” in his fiction to make us understand where the “maniacal Pistols, the demoniacal Calvins, impostors of Geneva, the rabid Putherbeuses,” in short all his personal enemies, come from. They are all, as we have already seen, grotesque and ugly children of Antiphysis, “monstres difformes et contrefaictz en despit de Nature.” But, all things considered—and here certainly lies the part of the story Rabelais would have preferred not to tell—as grotesque and as repulsive as they may be, Rabelais's children of Antiphysis have a lot in common with the humanists themselves. First, they occupy in fiction a position strangely similar to the one Renaissance humanists occupy in history. Just as in history the scholastics have definite precedence over their humanist opponents—for the good reason that they appeared on stage long before them—in Pantagruel's apologue Physis has likewise a definite advantage over her antagonist. She is the one who, having been given everything, necessarily transforms the other—her “partie adverse”—into a creature of resentment and envy, a creature of greed.Second, and by way of consequence, the roles played by the humanists and the children of Antiphysis in their respective universes are likewise strangely similar. Both are condemned to be intruders, trouble-makers, eternal opponents. The fact that Physis acted first, made the first move, places the one who comes after in a position where the only thing she can do is simply to react. Antiphysis does not play the leading role in the show, but she in fact transforms it. If Physis could, that is if her authority were not challenged, she would offer us a dazzling but somewhat monotonous “grand spectacle.” Antiphysis's intrusion metamorphoses this “grand spectacle,” this medieval pageantry, into a kind of Elizabethan drama. Finally, the children of Antiphysis in Pantagruel's “apologue” and the Renaissance humanists of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, probably because of the similarity existing between the roles both are invited to play on stage, have recourse in their acting—in their agon—to the same type of strategy. That of the children of Antiphysis is clearly one born out of necessity and despair, out of the fact that Physis's presence seems to condemn them indefinitely to playing the supporting role. The only possible choice they have is to try to steal the show, to make spectators believe in the superiority of their performance. From the moment her children are born, Antiphysis's only concern is to “praise their shape,” to convince the world around her that this shape, as grotesque and monstrous as it may seem, is in reality “more beautiful and attractive that that of the children of Physis,” to try to “prove” and to “demonstrate,”34 against all odds, that her own children are the normal ones, when the others are not. Here again, the passage is so rich that it deserves to be quoted in full:

Et cheminoient sus leurs testes, continuellement faisant la roue, cul sus teste, les pieds contremont. Et (comme vous sçavez que es Cingesses semblent leurs petits Cinges plus beaulx que chose du monde) Antiphysie louoit et s’efforçoit prouver que la forme de ses enfans plus belle estoit et advenente que des enfans de Physis: disant que ainsi avoir les pieds et teste sphæriques, et ainsi cheminer circulairement en rouant, estoit la forme competente et perfaicte alleure retirante à quelque portion de divinité: par laquelle les cieulx et toutes choses eternelles sont ainsi contournées. Avoir les pieds en l’air, la teste en bas, estoit imitation du createur de l’univers: veu que les cheveulx sont en l’home comme racines, les jambes comme rameaux. Car les arbres plus commodement sont en terre fichées sus leurs racines que ne seroient sus leurs rameaux. Par ceste demonstration alleguant que trop mieulx et plus aptement estoient ses enfans comme une arbre droicte, que ceulx de Physis: les quelz estoient comme une arbre renversée. Quant est des braz et des mains, prouvoit que plus raisonnablement estoient tournez vers les espaules, parce que ceste partie du corps ne doibvoit estre sans defenses:

attendu que le davant estoit competentement muny par les dens, des quelles la persone peut, non seulement user en maschant, sans l’ayde des mains, mais aussi s’en defendre contre les choses nuisantes. Ainsi, par le tesmoignage et astipulation des bestes brutes, tiroit tous les folz et insensez en sa sentence, et estoit en admiration à toutes gens escervelez et desguarniz de bon jugement et sens commun. Depuys elle engendra les Matagotz, Cagotz et Papelars …

[Now, just as mother monkeys—as you know—think their little monkeys are the prettiest things in the world, so Antiphysis praised her children's shape and tried to prove that it was more beautiful and attractive than that of the children of Physis. A spherical head and spherical feet, she said, were the nicest possible shape; and a circular motion, like that of a cartwheel, was not only the most proper and perfect means of traveling, but smacked somewhat of the divine. For the heavens and all things eternal were made to revolve in just that way. To have one's feet in the air, and one's head down, therefore, was to imitate the creator of the universe, seeing that hair in man was like their roots, and their legs were like branches. For trees are more conveniently attached to the ground by their roots than they would be by their branches. By this demonstration she claimed that her children were far better off and far better designed than Physis's, being formed like standing trees, while her rival's offspring resembled trees upside down. As for their arms and hands, she proved that it was more reasonable to have them reversed, turned towards the shoulders, since their backs ought not to be left without defense and their fronts were sufficiently guarded by their teeth. For a man can use his teeth not only for chewing, which requires no help from his hands, but also to defend himself against harmful things. Thus by the testimony and witness of the brute beasts, she attracted every fool and madman to her side and won the admiration of every brainless idiot, of every one, indeed, who lacked good judgment and common sense. Since that time she has engendered the Matagotz, Cagotz and Papelars …]

(ibid., 391-92, l. 85-115)

What makes this “apologue” particularly significant is the fact that it clearly exposes Antiphysis's belligerent and sophistical stance. Those she finally convinces are “fools,” “madmen” and “brainless idiots” because they accept her rhetoric of reversal without looking closely and seriously at the ground on which it stands. Perhaps her greatest sophism is to be found not so much in the pure extravagance of the “demonstration” itself, but rather in the motives which apparently nurture it. The way her children are made, the spherical shape of their head and feet, “smacks somewhat of the divine.” The way they stand up, or rather stand upside down, with their “feet in the air” and their “head down,” and the way they walk, with this “circular motion” comparable to “that of a cartwheel,” are likewise “an imitation of the creator of the universe.” In a word, their countless and miraculous perfections, the fact that they alone look like “une arbre droite” [a “standing tree”], make them divine and celestial beings rather than terrestrial ones. If we were to believe what we see and hear on stage—if we were to believe it to the point of accepting it as true—nothing would look more natural and justified, nothing would in fact be less of an act than Antiphysis's acting. She would simply incarnate for us what we might call the archetypal mother. She would apparently come on stage to say what all parents—be they monkeys or humans—unavoidably end up saying. And consequently nothing could be more touching and more interesting, for us, spectators, than to witness the performance of a mother who, like all mothers, cannot help thinking that her children are the most handsome, the most intelligent and the most divine creatures in the world. But, unfortunately for Antiphysis, the overall credibility of her performance is weakened to a considerable extent by what Pantagruel tells us at the very beginning of his “apologue.” We know from the start, long before she even begins to speak, that her motherly feelings are more acted out than really felt by her; or that, if they are really felt, felt to some degree—after all, she is also a mother—they are not the only motive she has for doing what she does. We know for certain that her feelings, like the ideological component of the humanists's agonistic discourse, are no more than a means to an end—Antiphysis's end being in this particular instance to “prove” and “demonstrate” her definite superiority over her rival Physis. We know that what really drives her, what deep down inspires her falsely paradoxical line of argument, is not love—in any case, not love alone—but “envy,” pure hatred. We know that the only thing she really wants to achieve is to kick her rival off stage, to play the leading role, to convince us once and for all that she, and she alone, is the best. Less, in the end, a perfect mother than a perfect sophist, and a totally shameless counterfeiter.

Therefore, we might say that it is mainly because of its very violence, its intensity and its natural propensity for the extreme, that Rabelais's fiction is exemplary to such a degree. Its greatest virtue undoubtedly lies in its ability to make us witness the creation of the cultural myth of Renaissance humanism in its most basic form. No humanist, not even Budé, has in fact represented more vividly this myth than Rabelais himself. But, by the same token, and for the very reason that he pushes things to the limit, no one has also more lucidly “de-constructed,” “de-sedimented” the very myth he himself uses in his fiction and to whose creation he has contributed. As we have just seen, Pantagruel's “apologue” of Physis and Antiphysis is a case in point. In fact, it says it all: the agonistic structure, the cultural gesture of aggression and its hidden motives, the binary opposition Physis-Antiphysis and its mirroring effect, the dialectical process and its polemical and ideological components. Everything is there, so clearly there, in fact, that this story could and should be looked at as perfectly emblematic of the cultural phenomenon we are trying to describe. But we could invoke other passages or episodes as well. For example, at the beginning of the Fourth Book, the series of violent confrontations between Panurge and Dindenault, François Villon and Friar Estienne Tappecoue or the Lord of Basché and the “scoundrelly Chiquanous” give us invaluable indications about what we might call Rabelais's agonistic brutality. Dindenault and the shepherds who work for him are mercilessly drowned at sea with the sheep; Friar Tappecoue is literally smashed to bits and pieces by his “poultre” [“filly”], “dragged on his ass” [“traisné à l’escorche cul”] for miles, his skull bashed in and his brains trickling out, his arms, legs and bowels spread all over the bushes, hedges and ditches soaked with his blood; and Basché's servants treat the imprudent Chiquanous to such a lusty hammering with their gauntlets that“they turn one of his eyes into an egg poached in black butter, fracture eight of his ribs, break his breast-bone, crack both his shoulder-blades in four places, smash his jaw-bone in three pieces”—et le tout en riant [“and laughing all the while”].35 We can also look, in chapter VIII of Pantagruel, at the letter written by Gargantua to his son, letter which encapsulates in a few pages the whole spectrum of binary oppositions through which the sixteenth-century humanists expressed their cultural credo, their optimistic and polemical stance and their unshakable certainty that their enterprise constituted indeed a “Renaissance.” In fact, Rabelais's prose in these pages is so dense and so rich, so exemplary, that intellectual historians and literary critics still consider them today as the founding text and triumphant hymn of Renaissance humanism. And rightly so. Again, everything is there, stated once and for all and in such a complete and convincing way that it was through its very mediation that nineteenth-century scholars like Jacob Burckhardt

Le temps estoit encores tenebreux et sentant l’infelicité et la calamité des Gothz, qui avoient mis à destruction toute bonne literature. Mais, par la bonté divine, la lumiere et dignité a esté de mon eage rendue es lettres, et y voy tel amendment que, de present, à difficulté seroys receu en la premiere classe des petitz grimaulx, qui, en mon eage virile, estoys (non à tord) reputé le plus sçavant du dict siecle. […] Maintenant toutes disciplines sont restituées, les langues instaurées: Grecque, sans laquelle c’est honte que une personne se die sçavant, Hebraïcque, Caldaïque, Latine. Les impressions tant elegantes et correctes en usance, qui ont esté inventées de mon eage par inspiration divine, comme à contrefil l’artillerie par suggestion diabolicque. Tout le monde est plein de gens savans, de precepteurs tres doctes, de librairies tres amples, qu’il m’est advis que, ny au temps de Platon, ny de Ciceron, ny de Papinian, n’estoit telle commodité d’estude qu’on y veoit maintenant, et ne se fauldra plus doresenavant trouver en place ny en compaignie, qui ne sera bien expoly en l’officine de Minerve.

[Indeed the time was still dark, and smacking of the infelicity and calamity of the Goths, who had brought all good literature to destruction. But, by God's goodness, in my day light and dignity have been restored to letters, and I see such improvement in these that at present I would hardly be accepted into the lowest class at school, I who, in my prime, was reputed (not wrongly) the most learned man of my century. […] Now all branches of learning are re-established, languages restored: Greek, without which it is shameful for a man to call himself learned; Hebrew, Chaldean, Latin. Elegantly printed and accurate books are now readily available, thanks to the art of printing, which was invented in my time by divine inspiration, as, conversely, was artillery thanks to the Devil's suggestion. The whole world is full of educated people, of learned teachers, of well-stocked libraries; and, in my judgment, neither in Plato's time, nor Cicero's, nor Papinian's, were there such facilities as we see now for intellectual pursuits; and henceforth no one should appear in public or in company if he is not well polished in Minerva's workshop.]

What Gargantua's letter to his son also helps us understand is that the learning process is deeply rooted in man's desire to outlive himself in a son fashioned ad imaginem & similitudinem suam [“in his own image and likeness,” Genesis 1:26]. In fact, if the whole beginning of this difficult and illuminating letter teaches us something important, it is certainly that, in their very essence, not only all cultural revolutions, but all cultures, are nothing but the direct consequence of the fears and dreams of fathers; of fathers who, because they are afraid of dying, want, “in their mortal state,” to “acquire a form of immortality” [“acquerir une espece de immortalité”], the masculine privilege of “perpetuating their name and seed” [“perpetuer son nom et sa semence”]—so that, explains Gargantua in all earnest, “by this means of seminal propagation, there remains in the children what was lost in the parents, and in the grandchildren what perished in the children, and so on in succession until the hour of the final judgment, when Jesus Christ will have restored to God the father His kingdom, peaceful, free of danger and contamination of sin.” [“Mais par ce moyen de propagation seminale demoure es enfans ce que estoit deperdu es parens, et es nepveux ce que desperissoit es enfans, et ainsi successivement jusques à l’heure du jugement final, quand Jesuchrist aura rendu à Dieu le pere son royaulme pacifique hors tout dangier et contamination de peché”] (155-57, l. 11-26). Clearly the humanist, like Narcissus, is in love with his mirrored image.What he wants is not only to contemplate this image, to be mesmerized by it, but to reproduce it, to be to himself, so to speak, his own source, his own origin. If Gargantua exhorts so eloquently his son “to employ his youth to profit well in studies and virtues,” to become “an abyss of knowledge,” [un abysme de science], it is simply because he himself wants to be absolutely certain that, when God decides to call him back to Him, when his soul departs from its “human habitation”—from his body—he shall not, as he says, be “totally dying,” but simply “passing from one place to another.” I shall not really disappear, explains the father to his son, since “in you and through you I’ll remain in my visible image in this world, living, seeing and frequenting honorable people and my friends as I used to.” [“Car quand par le plaisir de luy, qui tout regit et modere, mon ame laissera ceste habitation humaine, je ne me reputeray totallement mourir, ains passer d’un lieu en aultre, attendu que en toy et par toy, je demeure en mon image visible en ce monde, vivant, voyant, et conversant entre gens de honneur et mes amys, comme je souloys”] (157, l. 35-41).

It is precisely this belief in the father's presence in his son, in the son as the living image of the father, and this distinction between the physical generation and the spiritual one—the second being granted a much greater importance than the first—which constitutes the very foundation of humanist culture. Our true fathers are those who nourish our minds and souls, rather than those who engender our bodies. Spiritual generation is of a higher order than physical generation. All Renaissance humanists agree on that point. What really matters is not giving birth to the body—anyone can do just that—but to the mind. Budé, following Cicero, says it forcefully in his De studio. For him, to make a man, fingere hominem, is first of all to help him cultivate his intellectual and spiritual faculties, literally seed his mind, fecundate it with the “semen” of good letters. The humanist's main task, what we might call his labor of love, is mind-birth, conceptus mentium.36 Like Socrates, he is an obstetrician of sorts. He does for the soul what midwives do for the body: thanks to his “maïeutic art,” he brings it to life. In his Essays, toward the end of the century, Montaigne, speaking of “the children of our mind,” will say that they are “produced by a nobler part than the body,” and “more our own.” “We are,” will he state proudly, “father and mother both in this generation” (II, 8, 400). In his fictional letter of 1532,Gargantua reminds Pantagruel that he wants him to be much more the child of his mind than the child of his body: “Parquoy,” he writes, “ainsi comme en toi demeure l’image de mon corps, si pareillement ne reluysoient les meurs de l’ame, l’on ne te jugeroit estre guarde et tresor de l’immortalité de nostre nom, et le plaisir que prendroys, ce voyant, seroit petit, considerant que la moindre partie de moy, qui est le corps, demoureroit, et la meilleure, qui est l’ame, et par laquelle demeure nostre nom en benediction entre les hommes, seroit degenerante et abastardie.” [“Wherefore, if the qualities of my soul did not likewise shine out in you since the image of my body abides in you, you would not be judged the guardian and treasure-house of the immortality of our name, and the pleasure I would take in seeing this would be small, considering that the lesser part of me, which is the body, would remain, and the better part, which is the soul, and by which our name is held in the highest esteem among men, would be bastardized and degenerate”].37 And in the real letter Rabelais sends to Erasmus at the end of the same year, letter which he writes to express his gratitude and profound admiration, he addresses his illustrious correspondent as both his “father,” and “mother:” Patrem te dixi, matrem etiam dicerem, si per indulgentiam mihi id tuam liceret [“I called you ‘father,’ I would even call you ‘mother,’ if your kindness would permit me to say so”]. And he adds the following illuminating words:

Quod enim utero gerentibus usui venire quotidie experiemur, ut quos nunquam viderunt foetus alant ab aërisque ambientis incommodis tueantur, αυτο τοτο sυγ’ επαθεs, qui me tibi de facie ignotum, nomine etiam ignobilem sic educasti, sic castissimis divinæ tuæ doctrinæ uberibus usque aluisti, ut quidquid sum et valeo, tibi id uni acceptum ni feram, hominum omnium qui sunt, aut aliis erunt in annis ingratissimus sim. Salve itaque etiam atque etiam, pater amantissime, pater decusque patriæ, literarum adsertor αλεξíκακοs, veritatis propugnator invictissime.

[Experience teaches us daily that women who bear a child feed these beings they have never seen and protect them from the harmfulness of the surrounding atmosphere; the very same thing happened to you. You had never seen my face, you had not even heard my name, and you have educated me, you have ceaselessly fed me with the immaculate and rich milk of your divine wisdom. What I am, what I am worth, I owe it to you alone. If I did not let the world know this, I would be the most ingrateful of all men present and future. This is why I hail you again and again, you, most loving father, you, father and glory of your homeland, you, protector and defender of good letters, you, invicible champion of truth.]38

For the humanist, then, the learning process, the process of acculturation, is clearly a family affair. Contrary to what we might believe, it does not simply involve a teacher and a student, a master and a disciple, but rather a father and his son, a son who one day will become a father. If the transmission of knowledge is thus compared with and assimilated to the spiritual and physical transmission of life, if it thus becomes the reproduction of the same by the same, it is because, like any other culture, humanist culture is a closed space—an Abbaye de Thélème. A space which the children of Antiphysis, all Barbarians, Cannibals, and Goths, will never be permitted to enter. But, those who today denounce humanism and its so-called “universal culture,” those who put it on trial, are simply repeating the same questionable gesture of aggression made by the sixteenth-century humanists against scholasticism or, one century and a half later, the tactics of Perrault in his frontal attack against Boileau and Racine. They must by now have realized the fate that is in store for them. One day, their time will come. For whatever one does, one is always either an “Ancient” for someone, or a “Modern” for someone else. And eventually the oppressed always becomes the oppressor, and the oppressor, the oppressed. These terms, in fact, have no real, no essential meaning. They are nothing but words we use to judge and condemn those who are not like us; who think and speak differently. Convenient tropes we invoke to dissimulate, as from behind a smokescreen, the pure violence of the agon.


  1. As an introduction to this topic, see C. Vasoli, “La première querelle des ‘Anciens’ et des ‘Modernes’ aux origines de la Renaissance,” in Classical Influences on European Culture A.D. 1500-1700 […], ed. R. R. Bolgar (London-New York-Melbourne, Cambridge University Press, 1974), 67-80. My warmest and most sincere thanks to Lance K. Donaldson-Evans and Raymond C. La Charité for their invaluable corrections and comments. Sans eulx m’estoyt le cueur failly, et restoit tarie la fontaine de mes esprits animaulx …

  2. See L. J. Paetow's edition, Two Medieval Satires in the University of Paris, La bataille des VII ars of Henri d’Andeli and the Morale Scolarium of John of Garland (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1927).

  3. Petri Hispani Summulœ Logicales, cum Versorii Parisiensis expositione. Parvorum item Logicalium eidem Petro Hispano ascriptum opus, nuper in partes & capita distinctum […] (Venetiis: apvd F. Sansovinvm, MDLXVIII, Bryn Mawr College, Rare Book Room), f. 2 v: “Tractatus primus. Quid Dialectica, & eius ad cæteras artes utilitas.” Modern edition, Petri Hispani Summulœ Logicales, by I. M. Bochensky (Torino, 1947). On Aristotelian Logic and its importance in the medieval curriculum, see my Pantagruel et les Sophistes. Contribution à l’histoire de l’humanisme chrétien au XVIe siècle (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1973), especially 22-42 and 94-125; the excellent Cambridge History of Later Medieval Philosophy. From the Rediscovery of Aristotle to the Disintegration of Scholasticism, eds. N. Kretzmann, A. Kenny and J. Pinborg (Cambridge, 1982); Philotheus B. Boehner, Medieval Logic. An Outline of Its Development from 1250 to 1400 (Manchester University Press, 1952); W. and M. Kneale, The Development of Logic (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1962); Joseph Mullaly, The Summulœ Logicales of Peter of Spain (Notre Dame, Indiana, 1945); Eleanor Stump, Dialectic and Its Place in the Development of Medieval Logic (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989). See also Aristotle, Organon, ed.-tr. Jean Tricot, 6 vols. (Paris, J. Vrin, 1936-39); Johannes Major [Mair], Quœstiones Logicales Magistri Iohannis Maiorici […] (Paris, 1528); William of Ockham, Summa Logicœ, ed. Ph. Boehner, 2 vols. (New York, 1951 and 1962); Nicolai de Orbellis, Summule philosophie rationalis: seu logica: excellentissimi artium et theologie professoris Magistri Nicolai Dorbelli: secundum doctrinam doctoris Subtilis Scoti (Basel: M. Furter, 1493); Francesco Sanchez, Il n’est science de rien. Quod nihil scitur, ed.-tr. Andrée Comparot (Paris: Klincksieck, 1984); English ed.-tr. Douglas F. S. Thomson, with Introductionby Elaine Limbrick, That Nothing is Known (Cambridge University Press, 1988). Etc. The first two treatises of the Organon, the Categoriae vel Predicamenta and the De interpretatione (or Perihermenias), with works by Porphyry (Isagoge), Boethius (In Isagogen Porphyrii commenta, In categorias Aristotelis libri IV, In librum Aristotelis de interpretatione, Introductio ad categoricos syllogismos, De syllogismis categoricis, De syllogismis hypotheticis, De differentiis topicis, De divisionibus), and Gilbert de La Porrée (De sex Principiis), form together what is known as the Logica vetus. The last four treatises of the Organon, Analytica priores and posteriores, Topica, De sophisticis elenchis, and their commentaries, form the Logica nova. Together, the Logica vetus and the Logica nova are called the Logica antiquorum. To this corpus (twelfth century) is added a seventh treatise, the Parva Logicalia of Petrus Hispanus on Proprietates terminorum (“De suppositionibus, De relativis, de ampliationibus, de appellationibus, de restrictionibus, de distributionibus”)—known as the Logica Modernorum of the so-called Terministae. Concerning those distinctions, see Juan Luis Vives, Against the Pseudodialecticians. A Humanist Attack on Medieval Logic, ed. Rita Guerlac 1979, De causis corruptarum artium, Liber tertius, Caput V, [112]-113: “et pro illa vetere divisione Logicam esse aliam de inventione, aliam de judicio, novam ipsi divisionem adduxerunt, esse logicam veterem, et logicam novam; cur ita nominetur, non magis scias dicere, quàm cur digestum novum, et digestum vetus: logicam appellant veterem (in qua de simplicibus agitur terminis, vel pronuntiatis) Prœdicabilia, Categoriœ, et de Interpretatione: logicam novam, Priora, Posteriora, Topica: tum huic addunt septimum tractatum, quem recentes adjecerunt … ”

  4. On Lorenzo Valla and the “theological crisis” of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in Italy and northern Europe, see especially Delio Cantimori, Eritici italiani del Cinquecento: Ricerche storiche (Florence, 1939); Mario Fois, Il pensiero cristiano di Lorenzo Valla […] (Rome, 1969); Charles Trinkaus, In Our Image and Likeness: Humanity and Divinity in Italian Humanist Thought, 2 vols. (London, 1970); Salvatore I. Camporeale, Lorenzo Valla: Umanesimo e teologia (Florence, 1972); “Da Lorenzo Valla a Tommaso Moro: lo statuto umanistico della teologia,” Memorie Domenicane, n.s. 4 (1973), 9-102; and, more recently, “Renaissance Humanism and the Origins of Humanist Theology,” in Humanity and Divinity in Renaissance and Reformation. Essays in Honor of Charles Trinkaus, eds. John W. O’Malley, Thomas M. Izbicki and Gerald Christianson (Leiden-New York: E. J. Brill 1993), 101-124 (invaluable synthesis); Guy Bedouelle, Lefèvre d’Étaples et l’intelligence des Écritures (Geneva: Droz, 1976); Marjorie O’Rourke Boyle, Erasmus on Language and Method in Theology (Toronto, 1977); Gérard Defaux, “Rabelais contre les Églises,” Études Rabelaisiennes, XXX (Geneva, 1995), 137-202.

  5. Agrippa, De incertitudine, “Præfatio ad Lectorem,” f. * 8 r.

  6. Vives, Adversus pseudodialecticos, [56]-57. See also [52]-53: “jam de quo quæso sermone est ista vestra dialectica? De Gallico’ne an de Hispano? an de Gothico? an de Vandalico? Nam de Latino certe non est”; [66]-67, etc.

  7. Conclusiones nongentœ, in omni genere scientiarum: quas olim Io. Picus Mirandula Romœ disputandas proposuit. […] Adiectum est Panepistemon Angeli Politiani, hoc est omnium scientiarum, cum liberalium, tum mechanicarum, brevis descriptio (Nuremberg: John. Petreius, 1532), 56: “De adscriptis numero noningentis, Dialecticis, Moralibus, Physicis, Mathematicis, Metaphysicis, Theologicis, Magicis, Cabalisticis, cum suis tum sapientum Chaldæorum, Arabum, Hebræorum, Græcorum, Ægyptorum, Latinorumque placitis, disputabit publice Johannes Picus Mirandulanus, Concordiæ Comes. In quibus recitandis non Romanæ linguæ nitorem, sed celebratissimorum Parisiensium disputatorum dicendi genus est imitatus, propterea quod eo nostri temporis philosophi plerique omnes utuntur.” See also the Opera omnia Ioannis Pici, Mirandulœ Comitis, Theologorum et Philosophorum, sine controversia, principis […] (Basileæ, 1557); and my study, “Un ‘extraict de haulte mythologie’ humaniste: Pantagruel, Picus redivivus,Études Rabelaiisiennes, XIV (Geneva, 1978), 219-64.

  8. See Pico, Opera omnia, 1557, 351-358: “Eloquence must not come from the tongue, but from the heart. Muses dwell in the soul, not on the lips […] What interests us is what we write, not how we write it; or rather what interests us is that what we write be written in plain style and without any rhetorical ornament” [Non in lingua, sed in pectore Mercurium. Musas in animo & non in labris. […] Quœrimus nos quidnam scribamus, non quœrimus quomodo, imo quomodo quœrimus, ut scilicet, sine pompa & flore ulla orationis]. Or Ph. Melanchthon, Elementorum Rhetorices Libri duo: Recens regoniti ab autore […] His adiecta sunt Epistolœ contrariœ, Pici et Hermolai Barbari (Witebergæ, M. D. LXXIII), 168 ff. On this letter, see also Defaux, “Pantagruel, Picus redivivus,” 245-48. French translation and helpful commentary by A. J. Festugière, “Studia Mirandulana. La formation intellectuelle de Pic de La Mirandole,” in Archives d’Histoire Doctrinale et Littéraire du Moyen Age, 7 (1932), 160-64. English translation of Pico's, Barbaro's and Melanchthon's letters by Q. Breen, “Giovanno Pico della Mirandola. On the Conflict of Philosophy and Rhetoric,” Journal of the History of Ideas, 13 (1952), 384-426. A very illuminating “quarrel,” indeed.

  9. François Rabelais. Pantagruel. Édition critique sur le texte de l’Édition publiée en 1534 à Lyon par François Juste, ed. G. Defaux, “Bibliothèque Classique,” “Le Livre de Poche” (Paris, 1994), chap. VI.

  10. Vives, Adversus pseudodialecticos, [46]-47, [96]-97, [112]-113, etc.; Guillaume Budé, L’Étude des lettres. Principes pour sa juste et bonne institution. De studio litterarum recte et commode instituendo, ed.-tr. Marie-Madeleine de La Garanderie (Paris, “Les Belles Lettres,” 1988), 38-39, l. 19, 58-59, l. 341, etc.

  11. I borrow this list respectively from Erasmus's Antibarbaroum Liber primus, in Opera omnia, ed. Johannes Clericus, LB IX, 1701 C, and François Rabelais, Gargantua. Édition critique sur le texte de l’édition publiée en 1535 à Lyon par François Juste, ed. G. Defaux, “Bibliothèque Classique,” “Le Livre de Poche,” (Paris, 1994), XIII, 185.

  12. Without even realizing that perhaps—see the apparently unpremeditated (and Erasmian) distinction Grœcisma/Ebrardus, which reminds us of the facetious one consciously made by Rabelais between Ovidus and Naso in his Pantagruel, Ch. I, 97, l. 71—neither Erasmus nor Rabelais themselves ever took a serious look at them.

  13. Pant., VII, 143-153.

  14. Vives, Adversus pseudodialecticos, [48]-49.

  15. Vives, ibid.

  16. Lorenzo Valla, De vero falsoque bono, ed. M. de Panizza (Bari: Adriatica, 1970); ed.-tr. M. Lorch, On Pleasure. De Voluptate (New York: Abaris Books, 1977, 50-51 (Book I), and 132-133 (Book II). See also Letizia A. Panizza, “Lorenzo Valla's De vero falsoque bono, Lactantius and Oratorical Scepticism,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 41 (1978), 76-107, and Lisa Jardine, “Lorenzo Valla and the Origins of Humanist Dialectic,” in The Skeptical Tradition, ed. M. Burnyeat (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983), 253-286.

  17. Budé, De studio, 48-51: “Tales ferme Hercules sunt, Princeps illustrissime, atque præstantissime, aut Heraclidæ certe hodie, eius philosophiæ alumni quam antiqui græci eruditionem circularem appellaverunt …”

  18. See also, of course, Erasmus's Enchiridion Militis christiani, in Opera omnia, LB V. Title of Chapter I: “Vigilandum esse in vita”; of Chapter II: “De armis militiæ christianæ,” etc. Erasmus exhorts his readers to become, like Saint Paul, soldiers of Christ: “the life of mortals,” he warns them, “is nothing but a kind of unending warfare” [nil aliud esse vitam mortalium, nisi perpetuam quamdam militiam].

  19. Montaigne, Essais, ed. P. Villey (Paris: PUF, 1978), II, 18, 666-67. Cf. also, I, 9, “Des menteurs,” 36: “En vérité, le mentir est un maudit vice. Nous ne sommes hommes et ne tenons les uns aux autres que par la parole” [“In truth lying is an accursed vice. We are men, and hold together, only by our word”].

  20. Erasmus, Ecclesiastes, in Opera omnia, LB V, 851 B. On the importance of grammar and the grammaticus in Valla, Erasmus and Renaissance humanism, see Jacques Chomarat, Grammaire et Rhétorique chez Érasme (Paris, “Les Belles Lettres,” 1981), I, 150-264.

  21. M. Fabi Qvintiliani Institutionis Oratoriæ Libri duodecim, recognovit […] M. Winterbottom, Tomus I, Libre I-VI (Oxonii, e typographeo Clarendoniano, MCMLXX) 3.4.12-16.

  22. François Rabelais. Le Quart Livre. Édition critique sur le texte des éditions publiées en 1548 à Lyon par Pierre de Tours et en 1552 à Paris par Michel Fezandat, ed. G. Defaux, “Bibliothèque Classique,” “Le Livre de Poche” (Paris, 1994), chap. XXXII, 393, 1. 114-119.

  23. Pantagruel, respectively 423, 1. 105-107, and 281, 1. 179-181.

  24. François Rabelais. Le Tiers Livre. Édition critique sur le texte publié en 1552 à Paris par Michel Fezandat, ed. Jean Céard, “Bibliothèque Classique,” “Le Livre de Poche” (Paris, 1995), 31, l. 293-304. I thank Raymond La Charité for his translation of this passage.

  25. Gargantua, 453, l. 1-8.

  26. Claude Lévi-Strauss, Structural Anthropology. Volume II, tr. Monique Layton (New York: Basic Books, 1976), Chapter XVIII, “Race and History,” 323-332.

  27. Erasmus, Moriæ encomium id est Stultitiæ lavs, ed. Clarence H. Miller, in Opera omnia Desiderii Erasmi Roterodami. […] Ordinis quarti, Tomus tertius. Amsterdam-Oxford, MCMXXIX, 128, l. 58-66.

  28. Budé, De studio, 52-53, l. 230-232.

  29. Pantagruel, VIII, 159, l. 74-77. My translation. Compare this statement with Budé's, De studio, 52-53, l. 230-232: “At multorum sæculorum infelicitas, quæ rei literariæ calamitosam vastitatem importaverat, nihil non aliquando tolerabile facit.”

  30. Rabelais, Quart Livre, “Briefve Declaration,” 629: “Cannibales, peuple monstrueux en Africque, ayant la face comme chiens, et abbayant en lieu de rire.”

  31. Lévi-Strauss, op. cit., 330. Cf. the Erasmian adage: “Simile simili gaudet, dissimile respuit.”

  32. On Rabelais's debts to Celio Calcagnini in this “apologue antique” of the Quart Livre, see especially M. A. Screech, “Celio Calcagnini and Rabelaisian Sympathy,” in Some Renaissance Studies. Selected Articles 1951-1991 […], ed. Michael J. Heath (Geneva: Droz, 1992), 278-300. And read Calcagnini's version of this “Apologus, cui titulus Gigantes”, in Cælii Calcagnini Ferrariensis Protonotarii Apostolici, Opera aliquot […] (Basileæ, Froben, M D XLIIII), 622-23: “Natura, ut est per se ferax, primo partu Decorem atque Harmoniam edidit nulla opera viri adiuta. Antiphysia vero semper naturæ adversa tam pulchrum foetum protinus invidit: usaque Tellumonis amplexu duo ex adverso monstra peperit, Amoduntem ac Discrepantiam. Si formam indicaro, excitabo risum legentibus.” Etc.

  33. Quart Livre, XXXII, 391, l. 67-85. The translation is mine.

  34. These words—“prouver,” “demonstration”—already appear in Calcagnini's “apologus,” 622: “Defendebat tamen (placent enim sui simijs catuli) natorum formam Antiphysia: prœstigiatorijs rationibus ostendebat capillos esse quasi hominum radices. Et si quid exempla persuadent: arbores omnes inferius radicibus, commodius & pulchrius teneri: in quarum ramusculis gemmulæ quasi oculi inhærent, quorum instar pedes gerunt divaricati. Se igitur longe potiorem imaginem eligisse quàm natura comprobabat: quom illa plantam inversam, ipsa rectam prorsam effigiarit. Addebat circularem eorum incessum habere quid divinius, quod cælorum absides æternaque omnia circumagantur. Manus etiam prudentius ad occiput verti contendebat […] Itaque ferarum testimonio ferè omnes, qua erat argutia, in sententiam suam traxerat, atque in sui admirationem excitarat … ” (my italics).

  35. Quart Livre, V-VIII (Dindenault), XII-XVI (Chiquanous and Tappecoue). apprehended the past and its heritage and dutifully opposed the “darkness” of the “Middle Ages” to the “light” of the “modern era.” In the old days, when your grandfather Grandgousier was still alive, says Gargantua to his son Pantagruel, things were not as favorable for learning as they are today:

  36. Budé, op. cit., 76-77, l. 645-47.

  37. Pant., VIII, 157-58, l. 45-53.

  38. François Rabelais, Œuvres complètes, ed. P. Jourda, “Classiques Garnier” (Paris, 1962), II, 497-98. Erasmus uses exactly the same vocabulary when speaking of his masters Rudolph Agricola and Alexander Hegius. See his adage I, I, 39, Opera omnia, LB II, 166-167, “Quid cani & balneo?”: “Itaque in hanc digressionem non temere sum expatiatus: non quo gloriose Germaniæ laudes jactarem, sed ut grati discipuli vicibus fungerer, & utriusque memoriæ debitum officium utcunque persolverem: propterea quod alteri, velut filii debeam pietatem, alteri tanquam nepotis charitatem.”-“So it was not without thought that I plunged into this digression; not to boast of the glory of Germany, but to perform the duty of a grateful pupil, and acquit myself of the debt I owe to the memory of both these men, because I owe one the loving respect of a son, and to the other the affection of a grandson.” The translation is Lisa Jardine's. See her study, “Inventing Rudolph Agricola: Cultural Transmission, Renaissance Dialectic, and the Emerging Humanities,” in The Transmission of Culture in Early Modern Europe, eds. Anthony Grafton and Ann Blair (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1990), 39-86. Her translation of Erasmus's adage, “What has a dog to do with a bath?”, appears in “Appendix I,” 66-68.

François Rigolot (essay date 1995)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 8128

SOURCE: “The Three Temptations of Panurge: Women's Vilification and Christian Humanist Discourse,” in François Rabelais: Critical Assessments, edited by Jean-Claude Carron, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995, pp. 83-102.

[In the following essay, Rigolot discusses the relationship between Rabelais's apparent misogynist treatment of the lady from Paris in Pantagruel and the evangelic humanist ideology which he embraced.]

Là vous verrez … petites
joyeusettez toutes
veritables; ce sont beaux textes d’évangilles

—Rabelais, Pantagruel

For several decades now, the interpretation of Rabelais's works has been greatly influenced by scholarship on Christian humanism and the revival of evangelical thinking in the early sixteenth century. For the last thirty years, serious critical work has been done to establish a horizon of expectation that removes our author from anachronistic libertine or rationalist suspicions and places him squarely, though not exclusively, within the Erasmian brand of humanist culture (Defaux, Duval, Screech, Weinberg). Few Rabelais scholars today, even those who question the validity of reconstructing authorial intentionality, disagree with the need for sound historical recontextualization.1

Yet problems do arise when we turn to the interpretative reading of specific passages and characters, especially in Rabelais's first book, Pantagruel. For there is always the danger of “reducing the text either to a single ideological reading, or to a reading that posits an author having at all times recoverable intentions and meanings to convey” (Schwartz, J. 1992, 2). For example, what are we to make of the innumerable antisocial, immoral, disruptive elements that seem to interfere with the positive valuation of a humanist new order? Although Mikhail Bakhtin's approach may often sound grossly over-stated today, the significance of folk and popular culture must still be retained to a large extent for the proper understanding of Rabelais's early fiction.2 As modern social historians have amply shown, upper-class participation in popular culture was an important fact of sixteenth-century European life.3 Even Richard Berrong, who has undertaken a systematic refutation of Bakhtin's carnivalesque interpretation, agrees that folk culture is given a prominent role in Pantagruel, although not to the exclusion of learned humanist culture (Berrong, 121).

In the context of the times, the systematic vilification of women was the prevailing attitude, practiced routinely by monks to blunt their natural desires; the Franciscans and later the Capuchins were particularly noted for it. This was paradoxically reinforced by the newly revived Platonism, which identified woman as the changeable, fickle, and treacherous luna as opposed to the constant, proud, and dependable masculine sun.4 As a former Franciscan himself, Rabelais must have been well acquainted with the particular brand of misogynous clichès that loomed large in many of the types of works he must have known: Jean de Meung's Romance of the Rose, the fabliaux, and various antifeminist satires written from the thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries (Bloch, 37-58).

The question I would like to raise here is, how can unbridled male sexual aggression, as exemplified in many episodes of Pantagruel, together with humiliation and degradation of the female, coexist with the evangelical doctrine of caritas, so dear to Rabelais's friends, which says “Love thy neighbor like thyself”? In other words, what happens to the exemplarity of Christian humanist discourse when it is expressed with the simultaneous presence of profoundly disturbing elements in moral behavior? More specifically, if we take the characteristic patterns that emerge from Rabelais's first book, to what extent can the recurrence of trickery, obscenity, and violence against women still qualify, in the Rabelaisian narrator's words, as “beaux textes d’évangilles en françoys” [fine Gospel texts in French]?5

In the following pages, I propose to concentrate on the single episode of Pantagruel devoted to Panurge's and Pantagruel's twin amatory adventures with a lady of Paris.6 Although the episode has been the object of some probing critical scrutiny (Freccero), I do not think enough attention has been paid to the evangelical intertext that must have been easily recognized by the Christian humanist entourage of Rebelais. First, I will try to reconstruct the horizon of expectation for the episode on the basis of direct biblical allusions and contemporary evangelical commentaries. I will then offer a set of possible interpretations that may problematize the modern evangelical readings of the episode and question the exemplary status of Rabelais's and, more generally, Renaissance fiction.

Few modern readers may fail to interpret the attitude of Panurge toward the Parisian lady as a classic case of sexual harassment. Here, the usually ambivalent figure of the rogue appears at its basest and most vile; he becomes the repugnant “figure of phallologocentrism par excellence” (Freccero 1986b, 47). Although his offensive attempt to seduce a woman may be seen as a replay of Genesis as well as an attack on the conventional language of love in civilized society, the implications of the episode go much further. Recent critics have presented radically opposite views, which can be summarized as follows: Is Panurge subverting the foundations of social order by “dissolving all respect for hierarchy, feminine honour and marriage” (Schwartz, J. 1990, 39)? Or, in a more positive way, is he humbling a rich, haughty, pharisaical character, who sinned against caritas, thus serving the larger “redemptive design” of Rabelais's “Christian epic” (Duval 1991, 75, 119, 140)?

Before addressing these questions, let us turn to chapter 21, “Comment Panurge feut amoureux d’une haulte dame de Paris” (1:326) [How Panurge was smitten by a great lady of Paris]. The narrative of Panurge's sexual advances is divided into three neatly distinct parts, corresponding to three consecutive seduction scenes: the initial declaration (1:327-28) is repeated twice the next day, at church (1:329) and after dinner (1:330-31). Most sixteenth-century learned readers would have recognized a scenario familiar to them, namely the three temptations of Christ in the Gospels. Although the narrative is available from two of the four evangelists, Matthew and Luke, with only slight variations, I will concentrate on Matthew's version for reasons that will become clear. As we shall see, a parallel reading of Matthew 4:1-11 and Pantagruel 21 is revealing.

In the first temptation, Satan the tempter says to Jesus: “If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.” But Jesus, quoting Deuteronomy 8:3, replies, “It is written Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:1-4). In Pantagruel, from his very first appearance in chapter 9, Panurge is portrayed as a famished rogue who “lives by bread alone.” He manages to seduce Pantagruel by begging for bread in several languages. His obsessive urge to feed on bread alone is reflected in his own name, Pan/urge (in need of bread), as he himself playfully indicates to his newly found master: “Seigneur … mon vray et propre nom de baptesme est Panurge … car pour ceste heure j’ay necessité bien urgente du repaistre” (1:269-70, my emphasis) [My Lord … my true proper baptismal name is Needbread … for right now I have very urgent need to feed].7

During his first attempt to seduce the Parisian lady, Panurge the tempter uses food metaphors, especially manna, as he mixes obscene language with hyperbolic clichés of Petrarchan love to taunt his victim: “Ce n’est que miel, ce n’est que sucre, ce n’est que manne celeste, de tout ce qu’est en vous. … Doncques pour gaigner temps, bouttepoussenjambions” (1:328, my emphasis) [All that is in you is nothing but honey, nothing but sugar, nothing but celestial manna. … So, to save time, let's push-thrust-straddle (204)].

In Christ's first temptation, the complete Old Testament verse from which Jesus quotes to Satan also talks about celestial manna: “And He [the Lord] humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that He might make that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live” (Deut 8:3, my emphasis).

The lesson is clear. If man does not only live by bread alone, he certainly should not live either by the kind of manne celeste (i.e., sex) that Panurge has in mind. Biblical language has been twisted by the lecher to serve his own purpose, but the reader who knows the Gospel narrative will know the difference.8

Panurge's second seduction attempt happens the following day at church: “Au lendemain il [Panurge] se trouva à l’eglise à l’heure qu’elle [la dame] alloit à la messe” (1:329) [The next day he was in the church at the time when she was going to mass].

Interestingly enough, in Matthew's version, the second temptation of Christ also happens in a holy place. The devil takes Jesus to Jerusalem and places him “on a pinnacle of the Temple” (Matt. 4:5). Here again Satan plays the game of biblical quotations, using a truncated verse of Psalm 91 to justify his claims: “And [Satan] saith to Him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning Thee: and in their hands they shall bear Thee up, lest at any time Thou dash Thy foot against a stone” (Matt. 4:6, my emphasis).

Likewise Panurge literally urges his lady to “cast herself down” by yielding to his sexual desire. She should not worry because he will protect her as a guardian angel; he makes a deep bow and kneels close beside her. He tells her that his “cousteau” (i.e., his penis) is entirely at her service: “il est bien à vostre commendement, corps et biens, tripes et boyaulx” (1:329) [it is at your command, body and gods (sic), tripes and bowels (205)]. And lest she hurt herself with the precious stones of her rosary (“ses patenostres”), he cuts them off and sends them to the pawn shop [“les couppa très bien, et les emporta à la fryperie” (1:329)]. One could hardly find a more devious and self-serving transposition of Psalm 91. Panurge has obviously learned much from Satan about the art of textual manipulation. But the Parisian lady rejects the second temptation by retorting to Panurge, “Allez (dist elle), allez … laissez moy icy prier Dieu” (1:329) [Go away, go away … leave me alone here to pray to God]. This is a direct echo of Christ's response to Satan as he rejects the second temptation. Undaunted by his enemy's textual mastery, Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:16 and says: “It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God” (Matt. 4:7).9

Panurge's third and final attempt to seduce the Parisian lady probably offers the clearest parallel with the narrative of Christ's encounter with the devil. In Matthew's version (Matt. 4:8-11), the devil takes Jesus to a high mountain and shows him “all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them.” Then he says to him, “All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.” In Rabelais's transposition, Panurge shows his lady a great purse which she believes is full of money: “Après disner, Panurge l’alla veoir, portant en sa manche une grande bourse pleine d’escuz du Palais et de gettons” (1:330) [After dinner Panurge went to see her, carrying in his sleeve a big purse full of law-court counters and tokens (205)].

The trickster uses these valueless tokens to lure her, promising to buy her much richer rosary beads than the ones he has stolen from her. By displaying a cornucopia of precious stones in front of her eyes, he hopes to arouse her desires. The tempter's verbal virtuosity is just as dazzling as the gorgeous turquoises, sapphires, and diamonds he promises her:

“En aymerez vous mieulx d’or bien esmaillé, en forme de grosses spheres ou de beaulx lacz d’amours, ou bien toutes massifves comme gros lingotz? ou si en voulez de ebene, ou de gros hyacinthes, de gros grenatz taillez, avecques les marches de fines turquoyses, ou de beaulx topazes marchez, de fins saphiz, ou de beaulx balays [rubis] à tout grosses marches de dyamans à vingt et huyt quarres?

Non, non, c’est trop peu. J’en sçay un beau chapellet de fines esmerauldes, marchèes de ambre gris coscotè et à la boucle un union Persicque gros comme une pomme d’orange! elles ne coustent que vingt et cinq mille ducatz. Je vous en veulx faire un present, car j’en ay du content.”


[Will you like some better in nicely enameled gold in the shape of great spheres or nice love-knots, or else all massive like gold ingots? Or do you want them of ebony, or big hyacinths, great cut garnets, with markers of fine turquoise or of lovely marked topazes, fine sapphires, or beautiful rubies with great markers of twenty-four carat diamonds? No, no, that's too little. I know of a beautiful chaplet of fine emeralds, with markers of dappled ambergris, at the clasp a giant Persian pearl as big as an orange! It costs only twenty-five thousand ducats, and I want to make you a present of it, for I have enough ready cash for it.]


The temptation is great indeed and, we are told, makes the lady's mouth water: “Par la vertus desquelles parolles il luy faisoit venir l’eau à la bouche” (1:331). Nevertheless, she does not give way. Her moral strength is clearly demonstrated when, politely but categorically, she refuses the offer: “Non, je vous remercie; je ne veulx rien de vous” (1:331).

In the Gospel narrative, Christ's last reply to the tempter is just as categorical. It is the famous Vade [retro] Satana [Get thee hence, Satan].10 We can see an echo of this imperative command in the lady's earlier plea to her tormenter: “Je vous ay, (dist elle), jà dict tant de foys que vous ne me tenissiez plus telles parolles … Partez d’icy” (1:330, my emphasis) [I’ve already told you ever so many times, said she, not to talk to me that way any more … Get out of here (205)].

To Satan, Jesus then quotes from Deuteronomy 6:13: “for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.” It would be out of character for the Parisian lady to quote the Scriptures. In her response to Panurge, she nevertheless refers to God's commandment of caritas: “Quant est de moy, je ne vous hays poinct, car, comme Dieu le commande, je ayme tout le monde” (1:330) [As far as I am concerned, I don’t hate you, for, as God commands, I love everyone (205)].

And just as Matthew's narrative of the Three Temptations ends with the vanquished Satan leaving the scene, Rabelais's chapter 21 ends with the defeated Panurge running away for fear of a beating.11

At this juncture, one more textual detail should be pointed out that adds considerable credibility to the biblical intertext. At the beginning of chapter 21, Rabelais's narrator contrasts Panurge with “ces dolens contemplatifz amoureux de Karesme, lesquelz poinct à la chair ne touchent” (1:327, my emphasis) [those doleful and contemplative Lent lovers who never tamper with the flesh]. This allusion to the season of Lent must have functioned as an interpretative signal to sixteenth-century readers. Quaresme, also spelled Karesme (modern French Carême), comes from Latin Quadraqesima, the ordinal form of the word for forty. It denotes the fortieth Sunday (Dominica Quadragesima), the day on which Lent, the forty-day period of fasting before Easter, was to begin (Kinser, 277-78). Therefore, properly speaking, Quaresme designates the first Sunday in Lent. Interestingly enough, Matthew's narrative of Christ's Three Temptations was the major liturgical reading of the mass for Quadragesima Sunday. There was a logical reason for it, since Jesus had fasted for forty days and forty nights before being submitted to temptation.

Moreover, in the edition he provided of the Evangile for the “Premier Dimenche de Quaresme,” Jacques Lefèvre d’Etaples had written a rich commentary on Matthew's version of the Three Temptations (121-24). Lefèvre's text was, of course, compulsory reading in Christian humanist circles. Between 1525 and 1533, his elaborate commentary enjoyed considerable success, at at time when Rabelais was busy writing his Pantagruel. It is not surprising to find echoes not only of Matthew's text but of Lefèvre's own “Exhortation” in the three temptations of Panurge. Take, for instance, Lefèvre's uses of the double metaphor of the sword and the stick as powerful weapons to resist the sin of despair in adversity: “Pour nous monstrer où c’est que nous debvons en temps d’adversité cercher consolation, il (le Christ) a prins ung bon appuy, ung bon glaive et baston contre luy (Satan), c’est assavoir la parolle de Dieu” (122, my emphasis) [In order to show us where we should look for solace in time of adversity, Christ took a good aid, a good sword and a good stick against Satan, that is the Word of God].

In Rabelais's first seduction scene, the Parisian lady tries to deflect Panurge's advances by threatening him twice, first with “ung bon glaive” of her own invention: “Meschant fol, vous appartient il me tenir telz propos? A qui pensez vous parler? Allez, ne vous trouvez jamais devant moi; car, si n’estoit pour un petit, je vous feroys coupper bras et jambes” (1:327, my emphasis) [You crazy wretch, have you any right to talk to me that way? Whom do you think you are talking to? Go away, never come near me again; for but for one little thing, I’d have your arms and legs cut off (203)].

Then, as Panurge remains undeterred by these threatening words and keeps harassing her, she threatens him with a good “baston”: “Allez, meschant, allez. Si vous me dictes encores un mot, je appelleray le monde, et vous feroy icy assommer de coups” (1:327, my emphasis) [Go away, you wretch, go away. If you say one more word to me, I’ll call for help and have you beaten on the spot].

In a typical stylistic twist, Rabelais has literalized Lefèvre's double metaphor. In his hands, the spiritual meaning of the “bon glaive et baston” has been displaced to retrieve its original, physical sense. Is Rabelais telling us that stark, unmediated violence must sometimes be used against the dark powers of Satan? Is he drawing a clear parallel between Panurge and the devil, based on recognizable allusions to the Gospel narrative and the liturgical reading of the First Sunday in Lent? Or is he lightly musing about Lefèvre's evangelical commentary, much in the spirit of his book, offering his readers “petites joyeusettez” [little jollities], which his narrator wishes to pass off as “beaux textes d’èvangilles en françoys” (Saulnier, 177) [fine Gospel texts in French]? Before proposing an interpretation, let us continue our reading of the evangelical intertext in the same episode.

The portrayal of Panurge, mutatis mutandis, after Satan's model, as a devilish tempter with no redeeming value in his harassment of the Parisian lady, should not come as a surprise. Much information has already been given about the rogue's “meurs et condictions” (1:300) and his obsessive interest in “mille petites diableries” (1:304). The question can be raised, however, whether Panurge becomes totally diabolical in Rabelais's fiction. To be sure, the narrator never conceals his contempt for the vain “glorieux” (1:326) whose masterfully hidden deception is betrayed by his “faulx visaige” (1:331). Yet, at the same time, Panurge is presented as a wonderful storyteller, a dazzling word player, and a great punster whose verbal resourcefulness seems to have no limits. Can Panurge be condemned as satanic by Rabelais, the embodiment of linguistic virtuosity?12

Here the evangelical commentary on the Second Temptation of Christ may be helpful again. In Matthew's narrative, Lefèvre remarks, Satan misquotes the Bible and uses Psalm 91 out of context to serve his purpose: “En la maniere d’ung trompeur, d’ung faulx prophete et seducteur, il [Satan] sincopoit et laissoit aucuns motz du texte. … Et ce voyant, nostre seigneur l’a derechief confondu par l’escripture non sincopée ou changée, mais purement et veritablement alleguée” (122-23, my emphasis) [In the manner of a cheater, a false prophet and a seducer, he (Satan) would syncopate (cut off) some words and leave others in the text. … And seeing this, our Lord confounded him again, not through syncopated or adulterated Scriptures but through pure, truthful quotations].

Like Satan, Panurge is a great “sincopeur” of texts. In an earlier chapter, we recall, he had tried to justify his petty larcenies by playing with another passage from Matthew: Centuplum accipies (1:309) [“You shall receive a hundredfold” (Matt. 19:29)]. In the second temptation, he embarrasses the respectable lady with shocking double entendre, playing on “A Beaumont le Vicomte” and the obscene meaning of his “cousteau” (1:329).13 But the narrator himself shares his taste for equivocation: “Panurge commença estre en reputation en la ville de Paris … si bien qu’il entreprint venir au dessus d’une des grandes dames de la ville” (1:326, my emphasis) [Panurge began to get a reputation around the city of Paris … so much that he decided to come on top of one of the great ladies of the city].

The erotic meaning of “venir au dessus” is obvious.14 But the narrator's point of view is interesting here. If, in the light of evangelical caritas, Rabelais wants to condemn Panurge as Satan, how can he afford to have Alcofribas share Satan's deceitful language? One possibility would be to consider the sentence “il entreprint venir au dessus” as a form of free indirect discourse (“discours indirect libre”), that is, a discourse in which the narrator adopts his character's voice. In terms of historical stylistics, such a usage might be viewed as anachronistic (Genette, 194). It may be simpler and safer to allow for the narrator's own playful space and recognize the participative role of Rabelais's persona in Panurge's delight for “satanic verses.”

Such an interpretation is confirmed by Pantagruel's attitude in the episode. Far from distancing himself from Panurge's dirty tricks, he shows unequivocal approval of what he considers to be his friend's creative genius. When Panurge urges him gleefully to watch how he took revenge of the Parisian lady, he gladly accepts the invitation and acknowledges his enjoyment of the show: “‘Maistre, je vous prye, venez veoir tous les chiens du pays qui sont assemblés à l’entour d’une dame, la plus belle de ceste ville, et la veullent jocqueter.’ A quoy voluntiers consentit Pantagruel, et veit le mystere, qu’il trouva fort beau et nouveau” (1:334, my emphasis) [‘Master, I beg you, come and see all the dogs in the land gathered around a lady, the fairest in this town, and they want to ride her.’ To which Pantagruel readily agreed, and saw the show, which he found very fine and novel (208)].

If the Christian law of caritas (“Love thy neighbor like thyself”) is the central issue of Rabelais's epic, then the eponymous hero has obviously forgotten his mission. As a Good Samaritan, he should have rushed to the lady's rescue. Instead, by siding with the devil and forsaking an innocent victim, Pantagruel has become a problematic hero, fascinated by and acquiescent to the antisocial instincts of his friend in an offensive way.

Panurge is not, however, the triumphant Satan of Genesis who was able to lure Eve and make her eat the forbidden fruit; he is cast, rather, as the Satan of the Gospel, thrice defeated by the Word of God. If this is true, then his victim, the Parisian lady, should be seen as a Christlike figure. Such an interpretation runs counter to the traditional view, which holds that the “haughty dame” somehow deserves the degradation Panurge inflicts upon her (Duval 1991, 140-41). As we shall soon see, however, further evidence can be found to reconstruct the lady's character as an unexpected example of imitatio Christi.

Rabelais's portrayal of the lady as a Christlike figure is particularly striking in the second part of chapter 22, “Comment Panurge feist un tour à la dame Parisianne qui ne fut poinct à son advantage” (1:332) [How Panurge played a trick on the Parisian lady that was not to her advantage (207)]. In a most humiliating scene, Panurge, who had promised to avenge himself, has all the dogs of Paris run up to the lady, mount her, and piss all over her: “Tous les chiens qui estoient en l’eglise accoururent à ceste dame, pour l’odeur des drogues que il avoit espandu sur elle. Petitz et grands, gros et menuz, tous y venoyent, tirans le membre, et la sentens et pissans partout sur elle. C’estoyt la plus grande villanie du monde” (1:333, my emphasis) [All the dogs that were in the church ran up to this lady, for the smell of the drug he had sprinkled over her. Great and small, stout and tiny, they all came, freeing up their members, and sniffing her and pissing all over her. It was the dirtiest mess in the world (208)].

This time, the narrator shows unequivocal disapproval. Indeed we are asked to witness the most dreadful thing in the world, a spectacle that paradoxically may also have reminded sixteenth-century readers of an equally dreadful passage in the Gospel narrative.

In the text of Christ's Passion, the paradigmatic scene of degradation is known in the Vulgate as the “Flagellatio et Coronatio” scene. It takes the form of a mock homage staged by Roman soldiers before the Crucifixion. A comparison between Pantagruel 22 and Mathew's version is revealing. Following Pilate's orders, a band of soldiers, like Panurge's dogs, gather around Jesus to humiliate him (“Tunc milites … congregaverunt ad eum universam cohortem”). They smite him, mock him, and spit on him (Matt. 27:27-31; Mark 15:16-20; John 19:1-3). Allowing for Rabelais's proper style, could the transposition of soldiers into dogs be conceivable? “Ces villains chiens compissoyent tous ses habillemens, tant que un grand levrier luy pissa sur la teste, les aultres aux manches, les aultres à la croppe” (1:333) [Those nasty dogs pissed all over her clothes, to the point where a big greyhound pissed on her head, the others in her sleeves, the others on her crupper (208)].

In Matthew's text, the soldiers wrap Jesus in a scarlet robe (“chlamydem coccineam”) and place a crown of thorns on his head. We may note that, in Rabelais's version, the Parisienne is also dressed in red: “ladicte dame s’estoit vestue d’une très belle robbe de satin cramoysi” (1:332, my emphasis) [the said lady had put on a very beautiful grown of crimson satin (207)]. Although she wears no headgear, her “cotte de veloux blanc bien precieux” may be seen as a semantic inversion of the crown of thorns; the rich white velvet serves as a foil to the dark prickly twist placed on Christ's head. But the crucial clue is given by Rabelais's narrator in the first line of the chapter. In the editio princeps we read, “Or notez que le lendemain estoit la grande feste du Corps-Dieu” (Saulnier, 122) [Now note that the next day was the great holiday of Corpus Christi (207)].

Rabelais may have felt that the allusion to the feast of Corpus Christi did not fit with the liturgical calendar he had in mind. At any rate, he later amended this line, presumably changing the wording slightly to give a clearer sense of his intentions. In the definitive edition, we read, “Or notez que le lendemain estoit la grande feste du sacre” (1:332, my emphasis) [Now note that the next day was the great feast of the Coronation].

In sixteenth-century usage sacre, as a substantive noun, could refer both to the Holy Sacrament and the crowning of the king.15 This fully attested ambivalence may highlight Rabelais's correction as it now allows for an allusion to the mock-coronation ceremony of both Jesus and the “Dame de Paris.”

In Rabelais's rewriting of the Ecce homo scene (John 19:5), the Parisian lady has thus taken the place of the humiliated Christ; she has become the Woman of Sorrows. Perhaps this is the most unexpected example of imitatio Christi one could find in the literature of the period. As we shall see later, Rabelais was also keen on hinting at the lady's ambiguous attitude toward her sexual harasser; his deliberate portrayal of her coyness and of the masculine view of woman as “saying no but meaning yes” cannot be ignored. Yet, at the same time, the lady-as-Christ figure fully conforms with the normal expectations of Rabelais's humanist readers. In his commentaries on the Epistles, Lefèvre d’Etaples had done much to establish the notion of Christiformité (Rom. 8:26, Rom. 13:14, Gal. 4:19, and Col. 3:1): “cette finalité de la vie chrétienne qui nous conduit à revêtir le Christ, à l’imiter, à nous assimiler à lui” (xxxii). Similarly, in his letters to Marguerite d’Angoulème, Guillaume Briçonnet, the leader of the evangelical “groupe de Meaux,” had exhorted the queen to patient resignation in the face of suffering. To imitate Christ was above all to suffer with him and in him the pains of his Passion. The goal of a religious woman like Marguerite was thus to realize the opportunity to merge her own painful flesh with that flesh whose agony was salvation, in Briçonnet's words, “puisque toute la vie du chrestien doibt tendre à mort et plus en approche, plus est christiforme” (1:72, my emphasis). A case might even be made for Rabelais's recognition of Christ's feminine side. The motif, which could be traced back to the Fathers of the Church, was closely linked with the theme of the indignitas hominis.16

Although it would be exaggerated to see Marguerite as a model for the Parisian lady, some aspects of Rabelais's fictional character may have reminded the readers of the queen's religious fervor. To be sure, the Parisian lady offers a lesson of caritas to Pantagruel. Her words to Panurge in chapter 21 are suffused with Christiformitas: “Je ne vous hays poinct, car, comme Dieu le commande, je ayme tout le monde” (1:330) [As far as I’m concerned, I don’t hate you, for, as God commands, I love everyone (205)].

Like Christ mocked by the soldiers, she was abjectly humiliated: “She looked for some to have pity on her, but there was no man, neither found she any to comfort her” [Psalm 68(69):20]. Not even Pantagruel, whose identity as a type of Messiah is promoted through the mock-epic fiction, showed the slightest pity on her. He simply abandoned her to the dogs in heat. To Pantagruel, the lady's degradation is simply a good show, a fine and original “mystere” (1:334). The word mystere may serve here as a reminder of the biblical text. Although it generally translates as show (spectacle), its religious meaning (“mystery”) may be more relevant to the present situation. The three great mysteries of Christianity are Christ's Incarnation, Passion, and Resurrection. Here, Rabelais may play on the ambiguity of the word to refer to the second mysterium fidei as well as to the most famous of all mystery plays, the “mystère de la Passion.” But Pantagruel is totally blind to the implications of his religious vocabulary.

Finally, the narrator's detached comment on Pantagruel's attitude may be read as another sign pointing to the ambivalent flavor of the whole dramatic episode. Just as blind as his hero, Master Alcofribas gleefully stresses the comic aspect of the climactic dog scene with total disregard for the lady's tragic distress: “Mais le bon feut à la procession: en laquelle feurent veuz plus de six cens mille et quatorze chiens à l’entour d’elle, lesquelz luy faisoyent mille hayres: et partout où elle passoit, les chiens frays venuz la suyvoyent à la trasse, pissans par le chemin où ses robbes avoyent touché” (1:334, my emphasis) [But the good part was the procession, in which were to be seen over six hundred thousand and fourteen dogs around her, giving her a thousand annoyances, and everywhere she passed, newcomer dogs followed in her tracks, pissing along the roadway where her clothes had touched (208)].

Yet, as we shall see, Pantagruel will soon receive a message from another Parisian lady, making him understand that he has forsaken her and sinned against Christ's New Commandment of caritas.

The thematics of the Passion narrative can be traced even further in the second part of the episode, the one dealing with Pantagruel's own love story (ch. 23 and 24). As he is about to set sail for Utopia, the giant hero receives a diamond ring from “une dame de Paris” of whom we hear very little except that he has courted her for some time (“laquelle il avoit entretenue bonne espace de temps” [1:337]). After examining the ring carefully, the companions find Hebrew words engraved inside: “LAMAH HAZABTHANI (1:339),” which means “Why hast thou forsaken me?” As an expert in reading rebuslike devices, Panurge is able to decipher the lady's message: “J’entens le cas. Voyez vous ce dyament? C’est un dyamant faulx. Telle est doncques l’exposition de ce que veult dire la dame: ‘Dy, amant faulx, pourquoy me as tu laissée?’” (1:339) [I understand the case. Do you see this diamond? It's a fake diamond. So this is the explanation of what the lady means: “Say, false lover, why hast thou forsaken me?” (212)].

Pantagruel then remembers that, on leaving from Paris, he did not bid his lady farewell: “et luy souvint comment, à son departir, n’avoit dict à Dieu à la dame” (1:339-40) [and he remembered how, on leaving, he had not said farewell to the lady (212)]. For a while he is so depressed that he considers returning to Paris to ask for her forgiveness: “et s’en contristoit, et voluntiers fust retourné à Paris pour faire sa paix avecques elle” (1:340) [and it saddened him, and he would have been inclined to return to Paris to make his peace with her (212)]. But he is reminded of Aeneas's conduct toward Dido and decides to press forward, sacrificing his individual preference to higher ideals. He must set off to defend his fatherland and fulfill his epic destiny (1:340).

Although much critical attention has been given to the ring episode, including interesting comments on an Italian parallel story (Freccero 1986, 48 ff), no one seems to have noticed the profound meaning of this message in the context of Rabelais's transposition of the Passion narrative. Most sixteenth-century humanist readers knew that the Hebrew words engraved on the ring came from the first line of Psalm 21(22), “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” From the Gospel narrative, they knew that Christ had uttered these words in their Aramaic form (“Eli, Eli, lamma sabacthani”) before expiring on the Cross (Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:34).

They also knew that, according to ancient practice, by quoting the incipit one meant to refer to the entire psalm. Last but not least, they knew that Psalm 21(22) talked about mockery by ugly creatures named dogs:

Omnes videntes me, deriserunt me.
[All they that see me laugh me to scorn]
Quoniam circumdederunt me canes multi
Concilium malignantium osedit me
[For many dogs gathered around me
An assembly of wicked creatures closed in on me]
Erue a framea, Deus, animam meam:
Et de manu canis unicam meam.
[Deliver my soul from the sword:
And my darling from the power of the dog.](17)

When Pantagruel finds the Hebrew inscription on the ring, he immediately establishes a textual connection between the line he reads and his own situation.18 This was common practice in applied allegorical readings of the Bible. As in the case of Augustine's “Tolle, lege,” a scriptural fragment could open the reader's eyes and make a powerfully revealing statement about his own destiny. Unlike Pantagruel, Panurge is totally blind to the implications of the message he has deciphered. Ironically, he is the one who discovered the literal meaning of the rebus, proudly claiming his victory (“J’entens le cas” [1:339]) [I understand the case]. Yet he misses the tropological sense that the biblical quotation obviously has for himself. In the horrible dog scene he has just engineered, he behaves as the worst possible false lover (“amant faulx”). He humiliates the person he was supposed to love. He fails to realize that Pantagruel's “dame de Paris” is speaking to him in unambiguous terms when she quotes Psalm 21(22). No matter how great a decipherer of texts he may be, he never recognizes himself as the one who “laughed her to scorn” when “the dogs gathered around her” and submitted “his darling to their wicked power.” As a typical sexual harasser, he remains unable to realize that the psalm bears a special meaning to him, nanely that he has sinned against the law of caritas.

At this point, several questions of interpretation should be raised that problematize the evangelical reading I have offered. As we have seen, reconstructing a Christian humanist horizon of expectations is an essential step in the hermeneutical process. Just as modern readers must be acquainted with philology to understand the meaning of Rabelais's words, they must also be able to recognize biblical intertexts in order to grasp the meaning of Rabelais's staging of Panurge's misogyny. Yet the interpretative reading of a Renaissance work does not stop here. Contextual fluency is only a prerequisite for a fuller textual understanding of humanist fiction.

In Rabelais's hands, the evangelical scenario is submitted to stylistic manipulations that destabilize the normal relationship between text and ideology. This may involve extratextual satire, intertextual parody, and intratextual irony (Hutcheon, 142-43). By stuffing his narrative with half-recognizable biblical motifs, Rabelais goes beyond the norm of allegorical motivation. His book welcomes all forms of excess, including the overabundant use of evangelical references. This is where Bakhtin's notion of dialogism may be useful in a Christian humanist perspective (Bakhtin 1986). We can see it at work in the case of Panurge. In many ways his character is patterned after Satan's, but Rabelais's playful style lends its redeeming power to the rogue's “diableries” (1:304). Otherwise, how could Pantagruel, the good Christian hero, keep Satan in his company? We soon learn that, no matter how lecherous and roguish Panurge may be, he remains ‘au demourant le meilleur filz du monde” (1:301) [for the rest the best fellow in the world]. This is a radical departure indeed from strict moral exemplarity.

As several critics have pointed out, Panurge is “a sign of ambivalence” that cannot be reduced to a single dimension (Schwartz, J. 1990, 210, n. 63). To be sure, the sexual harassment scene is the most gratuitous and loathsome of his pranks. It offends our modern sensitivity to a greater extent than his cheating the priests or whipping the kids. The Parisian lady seems to be cast as an allegory of the suffering Christ. Yet her character also carries certain marks of ambivalence. In the first temptation, she tricks Panurge by making believe that she will call for help: “Et [Panurge] la vouloit embrasser, mais elle fist semblant de se mettre à la fenestre pour appeller les voisins à la force” (1:328, my emphasis) [And (Panurge) tried to embrace her, but she made as if to go to the window to call the neighbors for help (204)].19

“Faire semblant” [make as if] is an expression often used in the sixteenth-century to characterize female duplicitous attitudes toward sexual advances.20 Similarly, in the third temptation, as Panurge tries to kiss the lady, she is not at all determined to call for help and makes sure to keep her voice down: “elle commença à s’escrier, toutesfoys non trop hault” (1:331) [she started screaming, however not too loud]. Her attitude thus involves some degree of complicity, which adds to the realism of the story but contradicts her portrayal as an innocent victim and Christlike figure (Schwartz, J. 1990, 39).

The utopian plenitude of a lofty ideal, like evangelism, cannot be neatly separated from the cornucopian movement of a proliferating fictional text (Cave). Many disruptive elements do interfere with the essentially positive valuation of a Christian humanist new order. To be sure, in Rabelais's creative language, abundance and excess are not easily distinguishable (Jeanneret 1991, 107). The French words très [much] and trop [too much] are amazingly close cognates, and the most seriously committed evangelical message is not exempt from excessive free play, because it must also be part of the book's regenerative process. One thing is sure: Pantagruel will love Panurge for ever. Paradoxically, a thoroughly undisciplined pattern of life must coexist, even though it be based on humiliation and degradation, with the luminous evangelical doctrine of caritas.

In more general terms, this complex episode could be read as a striking illustration of what modern critics have come to recognize as the Renaissance crisis of exemplarity. In the sixteenth century, the rhetoric of example went through a major epistemological change (Hampton; Lyons). Humanist education opened up a more mobile space into a rather sclerotic concept and, despite much early reluctance, marked a clear move away from older didactic certainties. Medieval imitation essentially posited fictional texts as extensions of a unique source of undifferentiated truth and an infinitely expandable master text, the Holy Scripture. By contrast, Renaissance imitative theory became essentially metaphoric (Greene). It posited the relationship to paradigmatic figures as strictly one of analogy. Rabelais's early fiction seems to partake of this new brand of epistemology. His characters can no longer bridge the human time and historical difference that separate them from their models. Panurge may be similar to Satan in some ways, but he is essentially worthy of Pantagruel's love. The same can be said in reverse of the Parisian lady who, although patterned after a Christlike figure, exhibits a radical departure from her holy model. Many humanist readers were undoubtedly familiar with the long literary tradition which, through Origen's influential commentary on The Song of Songs, had stressed woman's identity as the bride of Christ. The archetypal tale was that of the beautiful lady who refuses blandishments and threats and accepts physical degradation in the name of chastity and wifely fidelity. It was recast many times in medieval literature. The most famous and probably oldest exemplary text in the vernacular is The Sequence of Saint Eulalia (ca. 880). But there were numerous similar stories, like Wace's Life of Saint Margaret (ca. 1145?) and the Old Provençal La Chanson de sainte Foi. Obviously, Rabelais's Parisian lady both reminds us of the medieval women saints’ Lives and vigorously contrasts with that traditional source of exemplarity.

In his classic article strikingly entitled “L’Histoire comme exemple, l’exemple comme histoire” [in English: “History as Example, Example as (Hi)story], Karlheinz Stierle draws our attention to the problematic moral character of Boccaccio's novelle: “Le caractère exemplaire ne disparaît pas totalement,” he writes, “il devient susceptible du réflexion” (Stierle, 187). Much like Boccaccio, Rabelais is still in many ways a profoundly medieval author.21 Yet his works also usher a new process that may subtly make his readers reflect on and perhaps question the validity of exemplarity in Renaissance fiction.

Strangely enough, because our modern critical sensitivity is more finely attuned to problems of misogyny in our daily lives, we can better understand some of the semantic conflicts Rabelais so brilliantly built in his Pantagruel. At any rate, it is no longer possible to read Panurge's harassment scene as Wayne Booth and his young wife once did when, at an earlier stage, they were “transported with delighted laughter.” Like the older Booths, we are forced to “draw back and start thinking rather than laughing” (Booth, 68).22 In so doing, we may paradoxically become closer to Rabelais's own humanist readers who interpreted his early fiction for what he claimed it to be: a puzzling mixture of “beaulx textes d’évangilles en françoys” [fine Gospel texts in French] and “mille aultres petites joyeusetez toutes veritables” (1:385) [myriad other little jollities, all true (244)].


  1. I wish to thank Howard Bloch and Florence Weinberg for their careful reading of this paper and many invaluable suggestions.

    To quote one of Edwin M. Duval's compelling statements from his The Design of Rabelais' Pantagruel: “Only to the degree that we are able to enter the community of intended readers by bringing to the Pantagruel the Christian humanist culture it presupposes in will we be successful in making sense of its design” (Duval 1991, xvii).

    Recontextualizing the literary text, however, always remains problematic. As Samuel Kinser remarks, “Context is the bane of criticism. Everyone uses it; no one knows how to encompass it. Context cannot be connoted or defined because its boundaries themselves depend on context” (Kinser, 265).

  2. Like Bakhtin, Saulnier also insisted on Rabelais's down-to-earth humor in the vein of the Goliard tradition (1946, xxxv).

  3. See, for instance, the studies of Peter Burke (quoted in Berrong, 14), Natalie Z. Davis, and Robert Muchambled.

  4. Rabelais writes, “Quand je diz femme [dist Rondibilis], je diz un sexe tant fragil, tant variable, tant muable, tant inconstant et imperfaict, que Nature me semble (parlant en tout honneur et reverence) s’estre esguarée de ce bon sens par lequel elle avait créé et formé toutes choses, quand elle a basty la femme” (1:539) [When I say woman [said Rodibilis], I mean a sex so fragile, so variable, so mutable, so inconstant and imperfect, that Nature (speaking in all honor and reverence) seems to me to have strayed from that good sense by which she had created and formed all things, when she built woman (356)].

  5. Quoted from Saulnier's edition of Pantagruel (Saulnier, 177). In subsequent editions, Rabelais replaced this expression with a less provocative one: “Ce sont belles besoignes” (1:385) [These are fine works (my translation)].

  6. This episode can be found in chapters 21-24 of the definitive edition of the book. In the editio princeps, the episode is recorded in chapters 14-15 (Rabelais 1946, 115-32).

  7. All translations are my own except when Frame's version is noted with a page reference.

  8. Gargantua had used the same expression in the context of his praise for educated women: “Que diray je? Les femmes et les filles ont aspiré à ceste louange et manne celeste de bonne doctrine” (1:260; my emphasis) [What am I to say next? Women and girls have aspired to this praise and celestial manna of good learning].

  9. In the passage quoted by Jesus from Deuteronomy, Moses, who has just revealed the Ten Commandments to the children of Israel, exhorts his people to keep God's covenant. Transposed in Rabelais's text, the exhortation to keep the Commandments may correspond to the lady's willingness to let Panurge keep her patenostres. When Panurge begs her to part with her rosary beads, she answers, “Tenez, et ne me tabustez plus” (1:329) [Here you are, and do not pester me any more].

  10. The Vulgate text simply gives “Vade Satana” (Matt. 4:10) 955.

  11. “Et ce dict, s’en fouit le grand pas, de peur des coups, lesquelz il craignoit naturellement” (1:331) [And, that said, he ran away at a good pace, for fear of blows, of which by nature he was afraid].

  12. Several parallels between Panurge's seductive language and the narrator's captatio benevolentiae can be found especially in the first two books. The tempter's alluring display of precious objects in front of the lady's eyes is echoed in the implied author's praise of his own book in the Prologue: “Trouvez moy livre … qui ayt telles vertus, proprietés et prerogatives, et je poieray chopine de trippes. Non, Messieurs, non. Il est sans pair, incomparable et sans parragon” (1:217) [Find me a book … that has such virtues, properties, and prerogatives, and I shall treat you to a pint of tripes. No, gentlemen, no. It is peerless, incomparable, and beyond comparison].

  13. “But,” said he, “play inversions with A creek rises for a handsome punt [A Beaumont le Vicomte].”

    “I couldn't do that,” said she.

    “That,” said he, “makes A prick rises for a handsome cunt [A beau con le vit monte].” (205)

  14. Frame ingeniously translates: “so much that he tried to give her comeuppance to one of the great ladies” (203) and notes, “venir au dessus de means ‘get the better of, dominate,’ but literally ‘come over’ or ‘come on top of,’ as is clearly meant here” (note 2, 833).

  15. See Jean Bouchet's expression: “Ilz ont le sacre en leur eglise,” quoted in Huguet under “sacre.”

    Emile Littré mentions examples ranging from Froissart: “Ceux de la cité de Reims doivent le sacre du roi,” to Marot: “De son bon gré ta gent bien disposée / Au jour très sainct de ton sacre courra” (Littré 6: 1807).

  16. Bynum 1982, 110-69 and 1987, 246; Sturtz, 42 ff. Rabelais also knew that Christ's humanity was symbolized by the hen who, as a good mother seeks to protect her offspring: “quemadmodum gallina congregat pullos suos sub alas” (Matt. 23:37, my emphasis). In Pantagruel 32, the eponymous hero puts his tongue out to cover his troops from the rain “comme une geline faict ses poulletz” (1:378) [as a hen does her chickens (239, my emphasis)].

  17. Psalm 21(22) “Petitio et laudatio Christi,” 21:8, 17, 21.

  18. Such deciphering is, of course, made clear by the address on the letter sent to Pantagruel: “Au plus aymé des belles, et moins loyal des preux, P.N.T.G.R.L.” (1:337) [To the best beloved of the fair, and the least faithful of the valiant, P.N.T.G.R.L. (210)].

  19. J. M. Cohen incorrectly translates: “And he would have embraced her, had she not struggled to get to the window” (Rabelais 1955, 240).

  20. One can find numerous examples of this usage in Marguerite de Navarre's Heptaméron.

  21. See Cave's similar conclusions on Rabelais's use of the “old,” above.

  22. See Freccero's paper on Booth's laugh above.

Max Gauna (essay date 1996)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 12973

SOURCE: “Gargantua,” in The Rabelaisian Mythologies, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1996, pp. 69-102.

[In the excerpt that follows, Gauna explores the classical influences on the prologue and Abbey of Theleme passage in Gargantua.]

There is no doubt that Rabelais wished the appellation of mythologies Pantagruelicques to cover his second chronicle as well as the others, despite the absence in it of both Pantagruel and Panurge, for the author refers back to his first book in the first chapter of this one, and was surely as much as the printer responsible for the title page of the second edition (the page is lacking in the only example of the first edition), which describes the Gargantua as a livre plein de pantagruelisme. Nevertheless the second book is in some wise set apart by that absence: the sense of tension between the one and the many, the philosopher and the sophist, the attraction and the dangers of the Platonic worldview, are, if not missing, then very much less prominent than they will become in the subsequent books or than they were in the first. Moreover, while there is doubtless still much scope for critical interpretation in the Gargantua, its general import is on the whole much clearer than that of the other books, with the notable exceptions of the prologue and parts of the episode of Theleme. This is because rather than deal with the hidden depths of the individual soul or the complexities of its relationship with the divine, the other sections of this book address primarily the relative clarities of public life: education, kingship, and the prosecution of a just war.

Gargantua, however, is even more evidently and consistently than Pantagruel the work of a learned humanist: appeal to classical and biblical authority lies thickly on most pages. Nevertheless, the import of most of the allusions is not in the least obscure. The book also is perhaps the most obviously religiously orthodox of the chronicles, consistently purveying the kind of fervent yet tolerant and humane Erasmian evangelical Christianity with which the work of scholars like Febvre, Saulnier, and Screech has ensured that the name of Rabelais is now mainly associated. In spite of the use in the prologue of the Sileni Alcibiadis topos from the Symposium, largely via the Erasmian essay on the adage, and despite Screech's assertion that from the outset Rabelais places his novel under the aegis of the divine Plato, there is less Platonism, as distinct from simple reverence for the name of Plato, in this book than in any of his other ones: this is the case even with the episode of Theleme, as we shall see, where the inspiration, although classical, is preponderantly Stoic rather than Platonic. The commentary on the Gargantua that follows here is concerned in detail only with those parts of it where there seems to me some remaining obscurity that reference to classical sources may help to remove: the poème liminaire, the prologue, a few minor details from the Education and the Picrocholine War, and the central passage of the Abbey of Theleme.


This little poem is so short that it may conveniently be quoted in full:

Amis lecteurs, qui ce livre lisez,
Despoûillez vous de toute affection,
Et, le lisants, ne vous scandalizez:
Il ne contient mal ne infection.
Vray est qu’icy peu de perfection
Vous apprendrez, si non en cas de rire;
Aultre argument ne peut mon cueur elire
Voiant le deuil qui vous mine et consomme:
Mieulx est de ris que de larmes escrire,
Pource que rire est le propre de l’homme.
[Friends and readers who read this book
Strip away all your passionate emotion
And in reading it, do not be scandalized:
It contains neither evil nor infection.
It is true that little that is perfect
Will you learn here, except in the case of laughter:
No other argument suggests itself to my heart
Seeing the sorrow which undermines and consumes you.
It is better to write of laughter than of tears
Because laughter is the faculty unique to man.]

The Aristotelian maxim was celebrated enough to be used by sixteenth-century theoreticians of comedy, in particular by Joubert. It is, of course, particularly apposite to Rabelais's purpose in that as an author writing under a Christian dispensation, and who was intent on putting across his ideas about religion and other aspects of life governed by religion in a comic framework, he could defend himself against the traditional Christian distrust of laughter by appealing to the authority of the one classical philosopher the Church had made particularly her own. The first four lines, however, are equally worthy of attention.

Readers are there urged to strip away all affection—that is, adfectio, passion, prejudice, trouble in the soul: the word is typical of Stoic usage, and it is an appeal to Stoic serenity of soul at least as much as it is to simple impartiality. They are also enjoined that if they read on with that serenity, there will be no chance of them finding anything which will be a scandalon, a stumbling block in the New Testament (and especially Pauline) meaning of something that will disturb the faith of the believer in Christ—an accusation that Rabelais knew full well would fall upon him, as of course it did, from both sides of the religious divide. It is especially tempting to imagine that Calvin may have been making ironic reference to the specific exculpation of this ad lectorem when including Rabelais's works among the targets of his treatise warning the faithful to beware of scandales. The bringing together of Stoic serenity, Pauline Christianity, and the justification of laughter as a cathartic remedy for sorrow is a pretty good encapsulation of the “Pantagruelism” of this book.


The prologue to Gargantua is among the best-known passages of all French literature, due primarily to its celebrated reference to the essential message of the book as its substantificque mouelle. It also is one of the most controversial, owing to the immediately subsequent apparent denial of the existence of such a message in the condemnation of the allegorizers of Homer, who himself had no idea of what subsequent exegetes would read into his stories. Obviously, this question is bound to be a kind of critical touchstone. The “friends of the One” in this matter—the seekers after meaning, the critics with a historical or philosophical method—will tend to give critical priority to the first formulation, the formalists/structuralists/deconstructionists/lovers of the Many, to the second. Contrast the interpretation of a historically orientated critic—say, Screech—who glosses over the condemnation of the allegorizers of Homer in a couple of sentences, with the capital importance of that condemnation for moderate deconstructionists like Cave, or Jerome Schwartz, who bases his whole exegesis of the prologue upon it. In the same way Rabelais himself, while no doubt persuaded that he is simply observing physiological fact, chooses his scientific orientations with regard solely to his philosophical options, passing over or pouring scorn upon any data that happen to conflict with them: thus Galen's theory that sperm is manufactured in the testicles rather than in the brain is savagely satirized because it seems to indicate that nature places no value on individual spirituality, which Rabelais prizes, and much on blind survival of the species, which he deplores. Not a lot has changed in the way our personal options influence our thinking, and it behooves the reader to be aware of the critic's orientation. Taking as its starting point Rabelais's description of his books as mythologies, this study makes the assumption that they convey messages, some of which it tries to elucidate while not losing sight of the rhetorical rather than discursive nature of philosophical myth.

Alcofrybas opens the second prologue as he did the first one, with an apostrophe to his readers, but this time his form of address is rather less conventionally polite: the “trèsillustres et trèschevalereux champions, gentilz hommes et aultres” [most illustrious and chivalrous champions, noblemen and others] of the first prologue have become “Beuveurs trèsillustres, et vous, Verolés trèsprecieux” [Most illustrious drinkers, and you, most precious poxy ones] to whom the author insistently and exclusively addresses himself: “car à vous, non à aultres, sont dediez mes escriptz” [for to you, and to no others, are my writings dedicated]. It must be acknowledged that this is an unconventional opening to a captatio benevolentiae, and it is seized on by Schwartz, who sees it as setting up at the outset “a disjunction between the burlesque fictive readers addressed by Alcofrybas and empirical readers outside the text,” a strategy designed to disorient and confuse the empirical reader, who is thus bound to “assume metaphorically the socially marginal fictional status—as drunk and syphilitic—that is the only one the text makes available” (IIR, 43). This strategy works via the grotesquely ironic connections between the drunken fictitious readers and the drinkers of the Symposium, and between the fictitious syphilitics and the speeches in praise of Eros that form the matter of that dialogue.

It is worth following out the prologue according to Schwartz's ingenious deconstructive reading here, since it is an excellent example of its genre. In the key example of the Sileni Alcibiadis story from the Symposium, largely calqued on the Erasmian treatment in the Adagia, Socrates is supposedly described in terms that emphasize especially the duplicity of his irony. After having proposed Socrates as moral exemplar, Alcofrybas gives his interpretation of the Silenus story: the box is similar to his book. However, he then backs this up with two proverbs “which impute other motives to this discrepancy between container and contained.” These are l’habit ne faict point le moine” [the habit does not make the monk] and “tel est vestu de cappe Hispanole, qui en son courage nullement affiert à Hispane” [some wear Spanish capes who have far from Spanish courage]. They reverse the aim of the Silenus metaphor: the image is of an admirable outer shell and an inner worthlessness. “In its addresses to a fictitious reader, whose proverbial expressions are inversions of the Silenus image with which the prologue began, the text thus begins to undermine its own rhetorical authority” (IIR 44).

Schwartz then addresses the clear and “pivotal” instruction to the reader:

Et, posé le cas qu’au sens literal vous trouvez matieres assez joyeuses et bien correspondentes au nom, toutesfois pas demourer là ne fault, comme au chant des Sirenes, ains à plus hault sens interpreter ce que par adventure cuidiez dict en guayeté de cueur.

(Prologue, 55-59)

[And, supposing you find in the literal sense fine jolly matter, just as the title states, you must not however stop there as if stopped by the Sirens’ singing, but interpret in a higher sense what you may think was said in a frivolous spirit.]

Not a lot that is deconstructive can be done with this command, qualified as “the point which he seems to be making in all seriousness—that everything in his book, even the comic material, is to be given a more than literal sense.” Nevertheless, obviously frivolous comic passages and names are quoted to show the unsatisfactory nature of such a proclamation, in support. It is first alleged that Alcofrybas is “alluding to the allegorical interpretation of the Homeric epic … a tradition employed in the late medieval period and into the early sixteenth century to justify secular or even licentious elements in a text by the supposed ‘moelle’ of a higher allegorical sense” (IIR 45).

Nevertheless, “After this apparent invitation to the empirical reader to read Gargantua in the tradition of allegorical interpretation, the narrator will, however, undermine his own authority in the next pivotal passage in the prologue, where Alcofrybas openly mocks the tradition of Christian allegorizing of pagan texts”: there follows the quotation of the paragraph in which it is denied that Homer had any idea of what his interpreters would have him say. This passage of the text is taken quite straight: no irony is supposed here. After a good deal of material reinforcing this view, the conclusion is that the text of the prologue “proceeds deliberately to subvert its own coherence, preferring to confuse and disorient the reader than to convey strictly coherent messages.”

Difficult, then, to imagine what on earth Rabelais meant when, as a happy and successful old author, he called his books mythologies, claiming that through them he could afford for the sick soul such healing and relieving power as his exercise of medicine vouchsafed to the sick body. The doctor who confuses and disorients his patient with no medical aim is unworthy of his calling, and if we are to take Rabelais's logotherapeutic claims at all seriously, it follows that we shall have to assume that if indeed he seeks to confuse and disorient, such a process will not be gratuitous.

Returning to the form of address to the readers, Rabelais surely thought it appropriate, for he chose to use it again almost word for word—“Beuveurs trèsillustres. et vous Goutteux trèsprecieux”—in the prologue of the Tiers Livre, the matter of whose comedy is patently philosophical even if, as Schwartz maintains, any definite signification of such comedy will with the connivance of the author be rendered inconclusive “by virtue of the signifier's power to mock and refuse the apparent signified.” Why should he deem it so appropriate? At least three constructive as opposed to deconstructive reasons suggest themselves. First, it fits in pretty well with Alcofrybas's jolly persona: affectionate insult is a universal token of intimacy that, when used appositely, reinforces friendly bonding, gives no offense, and certainly does not disorient. Second and alternatively, the doctor and Platonist Rabelais is about to compare his method of composition with that of vinosus Homerus; moreover, as a doctor he will have viewed wine as a civilizing, convivial, and health-giving beverage that heightened the admixture of the fiery element, and, given the otherwise often unpalatable and dangerous composition of Renaissance drinking water, must have both made a pleasure of basic necessity and reduced morbidity to the extent of saving countless lives, while cathartic laughter and philosophy would afford much comfort to the poxy, at least during the long remission periods characteristic of their disease. Third, it a contention, which following pages will attempt to justify, that Rabelais the logotherapist is very much concerned with promoting the supreme medical virtues of sωφροsυνη, temperance, and the μετριον or μεsον, measure, in the interest of the correct balance of humors of the body and desires in the soul—and for the Renaissance doctor, of the two the soul was by far the most important. Drinking can be abused, like anything else, but:

Where could we find cheap and very innocent testing and training of the qualities of character, if not in the merry touchstone of wine: what pleasure could be more fitting, if a little care be taken in its use?

Thus Plato in the Laws (649D-E): and as for syphilis, in the absence of any theory of the microbial origin of this or any disease it was pretty universally thought that the pox originated from repeated overindulgence in venery: moderation, although no cure, was a good medical prophylactic. It is worth noting here that the formula occurs a third time to inaugurate the prologue to the 1548 Quart Livre, where Rabelais also makes the longest and most explicit of his claims for the medical purpose and value of his books. Finally, in the Charmides Plato has Socrates affirm that he learned from a physician of the Thracian god-king Zamolxis that

all good and evil, whether in the body or in human nature, originates, as he [sc. Zamolxis] declared, in the soul; that is the first thing. And the cure, my dear youth, has to be effected by the use of certain charms, and these charms are fair words; and by them temperance is implanted in the soul, and where temperance is, there health is speedily imparted, not only to the head but to the whole body.


The Rabelaisian mythologies are the medical charms consisting of fair words that, if properly understood and acted upon, will cure the soul first, and consequently the body, of that intemperance of which gross drunkenness and sexual excess are the coarsest symptoms.

Rabelais's use of Alcibiades’ image of Socrates as a Silenus box has been interpreted well enough by Screech and others to need little comment here, except on Schwartz and Rigolot's contention that the use of l’habit ne faict point le moyne and tel vestu de cappe Hispanole are inversions of the Silenus image and deconstruction of the idioms of French by which the text “begins to undermine its own rhetorical authority.” About this two observations may be made. First, both proverbial locutions mean “it pays to distrust first appearances,” are part of the general Renaissance obsession with the topos of the mask and the face, être and paraître, and have long lost what negative value they may ever have had. Second, Rabelais was no lover either of monks or of Spaniards, and not being either one would for him have carried positive value! It is worth noting, too, that Rabelais's original adaptation of the Platonic and Erasmian Silenus statuette opening to reveal a figurine representing a god to an apothecary's box containing a precious drug is strictly consistent with his logotherapeutic pretensions.

Comparing one's book to a Socratic Silenus box is putting a pretty high value on it: there is no instance of Rabelais using Socrates’ name in anything but basically serious and highly positive contexts. Erasmus—who was far more chary about many aspects of the Platonic tradition than was Rabelais—had said that he almost felt he could say “Saint Socrates, pray for us,” and it is banal to remark that Socrates, for any humanist, was the greatest of pagan moral exemplars. It is therefore quite misleading to state, as does Schwartz, that by the end of the invitation to the readers to look beyond the literal meaning and interpret in a more elevated way what first seemed merely light-hearted, “thus far Rabelais's narrator has simply implied that the fictive reader should look for an ironic doubleness in his book, a mixture of the comic and the serious, and perhaps, too, the dissimulating tactics of a Socrates.” As if Alcibiades was praising Socrates because he was a Silenus, and not explaining that he was in love with Socrates in spite of his ugliness because he was a soul worth loving for his strength and heroism, or as if Erasmus was near to praying to him because of his irony! Of course he was ironic, and so is Rabelais: but that is an accessory, not an essential, attribute; it is a technique of his philosophical rhetoric, a means to an end.

The following two paragraphs, in which Rabelais runs together Plato, Plutarch, a couple of Latin proverbs, and a great deal of original verve to form the celebrated passage of the substantificque mouelle are another perfectly clear instruction from Alcofrybas to look for the meaning of what he now calls his “Pythagorean symbols.” In his essay in the adage Pythagorae symbolae—quoted by Screech in the TLF edition—Erasmus tells us how to look at such symbols and what we would discern them to be if we followed his instructions: if we explore the allegory [si quis allegoriam eruat], we will see nothing else but a precept teaching us how to live well [nihil aliud esse quam recte vivendi praecepta]. We are then informed by Alcofrybas in a far from obviously serious tone—rather, in the inflated language of the fairground huckster—of the holy and terrible mysteries the book contains concerning religion, politics, and family life: “tant en ce qui concerne nostre religion que aussi l’estat politicq et vie oeconomicque” [concerning our religion as much as political and private life].

Regarding this singular hyperbole it has been suggested that Alcofrybas is alluding to the tradition of allegorizing Homer that had been used for centuries to justify secular or even licentious elements in a text by their supposed kernel of a higher allegorical sense.1 However, this seems unlikely, since the reference to Homeric exegesis comes in the next development, not this one. Moreover, in an allusion to Erasmus's adage Rabelais speaks of his stories as Pythagorean symbols, which Erasmus tells us are really hints on how to live the good life. Finally, Gargantua does indeed contain sections dealing with education, kingship, and the preparation for a happy and blessed family life, in all of which religion plays a large part, to say nothing of the second enigma, which contains explicit encouragement for the persecuted evangelicals. As for the hyperbolically arch tone, we may note that in his book Rabelais is going to say some very pointed and dangerous things about his enemies, and if he does not start blurring the picture a little, the censors are going to take a fine toothcomb to his text from the very beginning. You could not in an obviously serious manner proclaim you were going to say important things about religion—which would be evangelical and therefore very perilous things—and not expect very big and very rapid trouble, and Rabelais was not a foolish man.

The tracks are covered more effectively, of course, in the following section, and there is no denying that it is apparently a pivotal passage, as Schwartz claims—although it is always amusing to see the deconstructors accepting the meaning of conveniently selected passages at face value. In it, Alcofrybas openly mocks the tradition of Christian allegorizing of pagan texts.” Well, yes: of pagan allegorizing of such texts, too. The interpretation of this part of the prologue is crucial enough to warrant fairly lengthy quotation and translation:

Croiez vous en vostre foy qu’onques Homere, escrivent l’Iliade et Odyssée, pensast es allegories desquelles de luy ont beluté Plutarche, Heraclides Ponticq, Eustatie, Phornute, et ce que d’iceulx Politian a desrobé? Si le croiez, vous n’approchez ne de pieds ne de mains à mon opinion, qui decrete icelles aussi peu avoir esté songez d’Homere que d’Ovide en ses Metamorphoses les sacremens de l’Evangile, lesquelz un Frere Lubin, vray croquelardon, s’est efforcé demonstrer, si d’adventure il rencontroit gens aussi folz que luy, et (comme dict le proverbe) couvercle digne du chaudron.

(Prologue, 87-97)

[Do you genuinely believe that when he composed the Iliad and Odyssey Homer ever thought of the allegories that Plutarch, Heraclides Ponticus, Eustathius, and Phornutus winkled out of him?2 If you do believe it, you are nowhere near my own opinion, which is firmly that these allegories were as little dreamed of by Homer as Ovid in his Metamorphoses dreamed of the mysteries of the Gospel, which one Friar Randy,3 a real bacon-muncher, tried to demonstrate he did, hoping that he might chance to convince people as crazy as himself and find proper lids for his saucepan, as the proverb says.]

So there is actually no reference at all to Christian allegorizing of Homer, but of Ovid—although that hardly removes the contradiction. Alcofrybas continues, this time with genuine obscurity:

Si ne le croiez, quelle cause est, pourquoy autant n’en ferez de ces joyeuses et nouvelles chronicques, combien que, les dictant, n’y pensasse en plus que vous, qui par adventure beviez comme moy? Car, à la composition de ce livre seigneurial, je ne perdiz ny emploiay oncques plus, ny aultre temps que celluy qui estoit estably à prendre ma refection corporelle, sçavoir est, beuvant et mangeant. Aussi est la juste heure d’escrire ces hautes matieres et sciences profundes, comme bien faire sçavoit Homere, paragon de tous philologes, et Ennie, pere des poëtes Latins, ainsi que tesmoigne Horate, quoy qu’un malautru ait dict que ses carmes sentoyent plus le vin que l’huile.

(Prologue, 98-110)

The obscurity lies in the sense of the first three lines: how may the apparent meaning of the two conditional clauses be reconciled with the concessive? It is obvious that “if you do not believe it, why don’t you do the same—that is, discount any allegorical intention—with these joyous new chronicles, even though while dictating them I gave no more thought to the process than did you, who may well have been drinking at the time, like me?” is incoherent. Schwartz gives a little history of the difficulty, which translators have generally fudged by sacrificing the concessive sense of combien que, before adopting the solution formulated by André Gendre (IIR 47-48). This is to construe the equivocal autant in a different way, so that the sense comes across as “if you do not believe it for Homer, is that any reason why you should not do the same thing—that is, believe it—in my case?” The translation would now read:

[If you do not believe it, is that any reason for you not to do so in the case of these joyous new chronicles, even though while dictating them I gave no more thought to it than did you, who may well have been drinking at the time, like me? For I lost no more time at all over the writing of this lordly book than that which I set aside for my bodily sustenance—for eating and drinking. Moreover, that is the right time for writing about elevated matters and deep knowledge, as Homer, the greatest of all philologers, knew and did so well, and Ennius, the father of Latin poets, too—although some bumpkin said that his poems smelt of the wine bottle rather than of the lamp.]

This seems about the best that can be done, but it still remains doubtful and it is probably prudent not to base interpretations too firmly on it. Schwartz concludes thereby that Rabelais/Alcofrybas “distinguishes between allegory, on the one hand, as an inbuilt structure of authorial intention, an element of writing (allegoresis), and on the other hand, allegory as a form of reading or of glossing that is independent of allegoresis.” Rabelais would then be attacking the systematic fourfold method of interpretation typical of the late Middle Ages and “applied with relentless rigidity in, for example, the preface to Roman de la Rose,” because “it makes no provision for a method of reading that would place the reader in the position of an active participant.” Now leaving aside the fact that the preface cited, while it gives a fourfold interpretation, by no means distinguishes between the allegorical layers—the usual hierarchy is literal, allegorical, moral/tropological, anagogical—one may go along with this, up to a point.4

We have seen in some detail what Rabelais says: he personally condemns overelaborate interpretations of Homer that Homer would never have thought of, uses that example to attack Lavin's version of the Ovide moralisé, and—probably—says that the reader can think what he likes about a book that was tossed off casually between mouthfuls of food and swigs of wine, like Homer's and Ennius's. The comparison of himself with Homer and interpretation of his book with Homeric interpretation is insistent.

Homer is an author of fiction and a prime source of myth, and myths as understood by Plato and Platonists are much vaguer things than medieval allegories: in the terms of Dante's classification, they lend themselves rather to the higher and less precise layers of interpretation—moral, which aimed at the inculcation of a general ethical attitude, and anagogical, which led the reader upward by modifying his spirit in a mystical and unanalyzable way. The Middle Platonist Plutarch is a major source for Rabelais, who exploits details from his essays in often startlingly original ways in his later books, and who almost always mentions him as a positive authority: his inclusion in this list is fairly surprising, although to some extent justified objectively. Plutarch is prolix on the art of hermeneutics, and one of his best-known works is on how to read the poets: Quomodo adolescens poetas audire debeat. It is very unlikely indeed that Rabelais was not familiar with it, and if he was familiar with it, inconceivable that he did not have it in mind at this point, for in it Plutarch has a good deal to say about the interpretation of Homer.

Especially, he attacks the interpretation of those who interpret the Homeric stories of the gods in a forced and “allegorical” manner—he probably means the Stoics, whose hermeneutics he attacks specifically in another essay. The main failing of such exegesis, he says, is to do violence to the text, subverting its sense by ignoring the hints given by the author himself. Homer himself reveals what he means to the attentive reader: interpretation is the business of the reader and the poet. The first things to look for in an apparently obscure passage are the interpretive keys that may be given by the author: “Homer has best employed this method: for he in advance discredits the mean and calls our attention to the good in what is said.” Above all, then, are to be rejected those interpretations which Homer never dreamed of: the interpretation of the author requires active cooperation from the reader, but according to instructions that the author himself—not a Stoic exegete, nor, a fortiori, a Frere Lubin—will have placed in the text. The tales of the poets are not allegories to be interpreted according to any rigid scheme originating outside the text, but myths aiming to teach philosophical and ethical lessons in a nondiscursive way:

Philosophers indeed teach and admonish using examples drawn from established data: poets do this by themselves inventing things and by speaking in myths.


By speaking in myths: μνθoλoγoυντεs, literally by mythologizing. I think Rabelais had this passage precisely in mind when he called his books mythologies. As for Plutarch's respect for his own instructions, it is at the very least inconsistent: an invitation, indeed, to hoist him with his own petard while using it to blow one's own opponents out of the water.

Something like the following, I suggest, is the import of Rabelais's discourse in this most controversial of prologues: “It is always necessary to look beyond appearance to find reality: so it is with my writings: I am a very major author and I have important things to say about all the main facets of human life, which since I am a poet and since it is sometimes dangerous to say them openly, I must perforce often convey obliquely: but do not attempt to constrain my meaning by adopting rigid and far-fetched hermeneutical systems, and above all, if you would understand what I have to say, listen to me and not to those who would ignore the indications that I myself will give you in my own book.”


For the expected genealogy of Gargantua the reader is simply redirected to the Pantagruel: the author then moves from satire on the genealogical pretensions of the nobility to a compressed account of the translatio imperii theory, according to which legitimacy passes from the Assyrians down through Byzantium to the French—and not, of course, to Charles V, contrary to his claims—and thence to another ironic dig at the various theories of the origins of nobility before setting up, via a return to Gargantua's genealogy and an attack on the Sorbonne for condemning it, the introduction of the first enigma of the book. It is possible to see this first chapter either as straight-forward royalist propaganda or as an ironic subversion of any claims to the legitimacy of earthly power, including François I's.5 I think Rabelais certainly casts a quizzical eye on the institution of nobility: such questioning was fairly commonplace. It is far from inconceivable that the translatio imperii schema should also have ironical overtones: one thinks of the way du Bellay openly twits the grandiose pretensions of Ronsard's Franciade in sonnet 23 of the Regrets.

As for the fanfreluches antidotées, it must in all honesty be said that no one understands them, nor has an adequate reason to account for their inclusion. Screech admits as much in his edition, while noting that certain lines seem evidently to refer to the pope, and opines that the whole thing may satirize Charles V. Schwartz remarks that “the propaganda aspect recedes into the background as the play of signifiers emerges at the surface of the text.” Guy Demerson opines that while the words themselves are full of monsters and obscenities, we seem to catch hints of the shadowy presence of the pope and the emperor, and that the chapter is designed to thwart any overbold exegesis.6

Screech further remarks, “We can be reasonably certain that the fanfreluches were not all that obscure for the readers of the time.” I think it quite possible that they were totally impenetrable for them as for us, and deliberately so. While the French Renaissance delighted in enigmas and anagrams, most of them are not all that difficult to solve, and contemporaries were in fact remarkably bad at solving them: no one noticed the very obvious and quite incendiary anagrams of the Cymbalum Mundi's dedication—which give “doubting Thomas to Peter the believer”!—until Eloi Johanneau called attention to them centuries later. I suggest as a possibility that this insoluble enigma is there above all as a counterweight to the very soluble one with which the book ends, and whose last lines certainly contain dangerous material quite unacceptable to the religious authorities and, be it said, maybe to the political ones too, insofar as they offer comfort to the victims of the purge consequent on the affaire des placards: the first reading of the not always very bright censorship may well not have bothered too much with a second enigma, having spent fruitless time making nothing whatsoever of the first.7

Gargantua's miraculous birth and near elephantine gestation period of eleven months have been elegantly and convincingly interpreted by Screech as a evangelical satire of the Sorbonne's idea of faith—which we have already seen Rabelais parodying mercilessly in the prologue to Pantagruel. This reading has been recently questioned by Schwartz's deconstructive approach.

I do not believe, for reasons that will be fully set out in dealing with the Tiers Livre, that Rabelais is, as Screech affirms with reference to this chapter, a “full Christian sceptic much earlier than scholarship normally allows such a philosophy to flourish.” Rabelais's attitude here has very little to do with the anti-intellectualistic Christian use of ancient skepticism characteristic of Gianfrancesco Pico, Francisco Sanches, and—ambivalently—Montaigne. It is moderately characteristic of quite another, Erasmian, Christian skepticism, with a small s, in that word's meaning not of doubt regarding any logical or sensory proof, but of doubt regarding whatever is not susceptible of reasonable or sensory proof—always excepting what is contained in the Gospels. Rabelais's gist, again, is something like this: “The Sorbonne makes money out of unreasonable and unbiblical tall stories like Purgatory, while justifying itself with a warped and cynical version of Gregory the Great's dictum that faith has no merit where sustained by reason. I, on the contrary, say that you should not believe unlikely tales like Purgatory or modern miracles attributed to relics, since God has provided no justification for them in His Word, which we are alone obliged to believe, and since they are also thoroughly objectionable to God-given reason.”

The chapters dealing with Gargantua's emblematic device and with the heraldic signification of the colors blue and white have been extensively analyzed by the critical literature. The device's motto is very typical of Ficinian Platonism as expressed in the Commentary on the Symposium, with its seemingly willful assimilation of wholly exclusive Platonic Eros in its most earthbound manifestations to universal and undifferentiated Pauline agape, refusing even to consider the physical and emotional sexual connotations, or even the comedy, of the Platonic Aristophanes' myth. Schwartz, whose examination of the Renaissance history of the myth is extensive and interesting, concludes from Rabelais's alteration of the position of the original's heads that the subversively coarsened image ironically subverts the unjustifiably spiritualized motto (IIR 59-65). He may be right: I would add that in any event the Androgyne exemplifies an aspect of life well understood by Plato, but in which Rabelais seems to have had little genuine interest. Nowhere does he show any sympathy either for the absolute exclusivity or for the kind of emotional and spiritual content inherent in the lust for physical union of those deeply in love, which is what the Platonic Aristophanes' funny and profound myth is talking about.



The description of the abbey occupies six chapters of the editio princeps. The episode is almost entirely serious, and in the chapter containing the versified inscription on the abbey's great gate, grimly so: comic writing is limited precisely to two satirical puns made by Frere Jan in the first chapter. Its sustainedly serious tone, its lack of narrative incident, and the absence of any of the principal characters—even the monk, after the first chapter—make it seem ill-integrated into the picaresque comic structure of the book as a whole, despite the obvious care taken in the often highly wrought descriptions. Manifestly, the thing is a myth, important enough to the author for him to shatter the artistic unity of his book in order to include it: but it is a myth about whose import there is little critical agreement. Screech sees in it the synthesis of a Platonic alliance between goodness and beauty, and the traditional Christian idea of synderesis, the joint contribution to our salvation of God's grace and that part of the human will which was not corrupted at the Fall: in the TLF edition he also suggests the influence of the famous Lutheran paradox of the free man subject to none under God and the servant of all for love of Christ. Other interpretations are legion. Thus Per Nykrog, basing himself on the biblical sense of the Greek θελημα, considers that the message is that the desires of the good are naturally in harmony with the desires of God; Michaël Baraz sees echoes of the Platonic elitism of the Republic's guardians; and Jerome Schwartz opines that it owes much to St. Augustine's ideal of universal charity before suggesting that the author deconstructs his own message by the exaggeration of its anti-monastic detail and the stress on the passage of time.8

Theleme, Tελημα; Nykrog is certainly right to pay close attention to the word, for it must surely symbolize in some basic way the ideal of Frere Jan's abbey. It is rare in classical Greek, where it signifies the appetitive will: desire, even, sometimes sexual. It is frequent in the Bible, especially in the Septuagint, expressing the will of God: it is the word translated as voluntas, will, occurring in the Lord's Prayer. Nykrog suggests that it is deliberately chosen to convey divine will because as opposed to other words available—βονλε, in particular—it stresses the unforced and natural force of God's will as “une émanation de son Etre, et non pas le résultat d’une réflexion,” and as such opposed rather than allied to self-control. This is a highly doubtful proposition: while it is true that βονλε has the specific meaning of counsel, and specifically the counsel of the Athenian Senate, its root meaning is “what is wanted.” Much work has been done on the distinction between the root verbs εθελω and βουλομαι, and the truth appears to be that they are used to express much the same meanings. In most authors where they both occur, they are used interchangeably, although the fashion for the one or the other varies over time: εθελω predominates in Homer, βουλομαι from the time of Herodotus to the end of the classical period, θελω then making a comeback. Moreover, if the Septuagint uses θελειν for God's will, it would seem to stress unbending resolution rather than any other nuance. As for the rigid opposition between θελημα as irrational desire and βονλε as rational decision, it is simply untenable: one has only to think of Kinesias in the Lysistrata (934), driven frantic by unaccustomed frustration of his overdeveloped sexual drive and finally howling at his wife's insistence on an unending succession of preliminary niceties—βινειν βουλομαι! [I want to fuck!]

Nykrop's semantic weighting of θελημα as an emanation of God's being sounds Plotinian rather than biblical, and indeed it occurs in this sense in the Greek title of Plotinus' great essay “On free will and the will of the One”: Περι του εκονsιον και θελεματοs του ενοs, to my mind the most profound of all philosophical discussions of the problem of free will. There are interesting correspondences between the conclusions and vocabulary of that treatise and the Thelemites' rule of life which will be touched on below: it nevertheless seems very unwise to base Rabelaisian interpretation too closely on the sense of θελημα as opposed to other words for will: it is not used at all in the text of the Ennead referred to, which is concerned precisely with different types of divine and human will. Here βουληsιs occurs interchangeably with θεληsιs and τò θελειν, just as there is no perceptible difference between the verbs βουλομαι and θελω, and when Plotinus wishes to stress the freedom of the will he uses τò εκουsιον. Plotinus was available to Rabelais both in Greek and in Ficino's Latin, and it is in any event possible that the Frenchman chose the Greek word rather than voluntas or volonté because he wished to include in the name of his abbey—rather than to exclude, as Nygrop would have it—the intellectual element present in all the Greek terms conveying the idea of will, including θελημα; it is, for example, a lingustic truism to observe that the term νουs unites the notions of intellect and will. However, he surely had the New Testament's usage in mind, and what may be more genuinely significant for the interpretation of Rabelais than anything else about New Testament use of θελημα is that it occurs almost exclusively in the context of salvation: in every case save one (and that one is the highly marginal case of Rev. 4:11) it means specifically God's will to save mankind.

Frere Jan's first reaction to Gargantua's proposal to make him the abbot of his old monastery is revealing. He wanted no government of other monks:

Car comment (disoyt il) pourroys je gouverner aultruy, qui moymesmes gouverner ne sçayroys? Si vous semble que je vous aye faict et que puisse à l’advenir faire service agreable, oultroyez moy de faire une abbaye à mon devys.


[For how (said he) could I, who cannot govern myself, govern other people? If it appears to you that I have rendered you good service and can do the same in the future, allow me to found an abbey according to my own notion.]

From the outset we are placed under the aegis of the Platonic and Stoic topos concerning the self-control necessary for the king and natural to the philosopher, which has already been writ large in the preceding episode. Gargantua's reaction is to offer the monk as seat of his new abbey the pays—country, district, canton, village—of Theleme. Here we should remark that the name of the abbey is not arbitrary but according to normal practice that of the locality in which it is situated; the institution does not direct its inmates down a radically new path but exploits an already existing place, whose spirit, expressed in the name, will be congenial to the enterprise.

That enterprise is then defined by Gargantua with minimal interventions from Frere Jan and the narrator, who imperceptibly edges his characters right out of his story: there are four mentions of Gargantua and four of Frere Jan in the first chapter of the episode, after which the monk disappears entirely. Gargantua is referred to briefly once in the second and once in the penultimate chapter; that is all. Whatever this myth is about, it seems to have so little to do with the world of burlesque epic and popular comedy—of any comedy, rather—that the monk's foul-mouthed ignorance can find no place in it despite his redeeming active virtue, nor even can a giant, however philosophical, fit easily within its grave and courtly ambit.

Such smiles as there are come right at the beginning with the standing on their heads of the monastic rules of life: as ritual cleansing took place (and still does, in some Orthodox communities) if any female crossed the threshold, so will it in Theleme if a monk chances to enter. Walls are banished with a pregnant pun: murs lead to murmures, quarrels. The anti-monastery, however, is much more restrictive than its orthodox counterpart:

Item, par ce que en icelluy temps on ne mettoyt en religion des femmes si non celles qui estoient borgnes, boyteuses, bossues, laydes, defaictes, folles, insensées, maleficiées et tarées: ny les hommes, si non catarrhez, mal nez, niays et empesche de maison … fut ordonné que là ne seroient repceues si non les belles, bien formées et bien naturées; et les beaulx, bien formés, et bien naturez.


[Item: that because in that time the only women to be placed in religious orders were one-eyed, lame, hunchbacked, ugly, deformed, mad, insane, bewitched and congenitally defective, and the only men sniveling, ill-born, stupid and good for nothing … it was decreed that there should be admitted only women who were beautiful, well-formed, and of a good nature: and men who were handsome, well-formed, and of a good nature.]

So the recruits of conventional monastic institutions, made up of women too ugly and senseless to find husbands and men too unhealthy, stupid, and illborn to earn a decent living, will be replaced by the beautiful and the goodnatured. Health, intelligence, and mental equilibrium are easy positive values to understand and to insist upon, but it is worth while pausing over beauty, and more especially over the matter of good or ill birth and nature.

In the sections concerning this episode of both his book and his edition, Screech lays stress on Rabelais's “platonising concern with beauty” and “a platonic alliance of beauty with goodness,” and it is true that monks and nuns are thought of as bad and ugly, so the Thelemites are to be good and beautiful; and the inscription on the great gate excludes the corrupt in mind and body, welcoming noble knights—noble and gantilz—and high-born, beautiful, and modestly upright women:

Fleurs de beaulté à celeste visage
A droict corsaige, à maintien prude et saige
[Flowers of beauty with heavenly faces
With straight bodies, with honest and modest bearing]

“Flower of beauty” is certainly an interesting expression, for it is very precisely a Neoplatonic term, ανθοs του κάλλονs, but Plotinus applied it to the One itself, in the sense of the origin of all beauty, and not to the physical beauty of women except insofar as that may be thought, like all beauty, to exhibit the trace of its origin: as used here it seems a simple flower of rhetoric.9

Moreover, the abbey is certainly described as a beautiful place: an elaborate palace of the Renaissance. Rabelais surely loved beauty and richness as a man of his time, but simply to equate physical beauty and goodness is such a caricature of Platonism as not to be truly Platonic at all, and Rabelais was certainly a man who saw deeper than that: should we suppose that the young Socrates or Theaetetus were not good, even if on anti-monkish physical criteria alone they would have been refused entry to the abbey? The Greek word for beautiful also means noble, which should never be forgotten when discussing Platonic beauty: moreover, physical beauty is a good in that it partakes of the good, but it is not coterminous with beauty of soul, nor is it the good itself, although the good is beautiful. It may be thought to play some Platonic role in this episode in that in life as in the myth of the Phaedrus it excites desire in the lover of beauty, and according to Plato such desire can be harnessed to draw the soul upwards beyond the beauty of the body; but of such Platonic love there is no overt hint in Rabelais's Thelemite couples.

However, there may be other reasons why beauty is stressed in key points of the episode. First, we may note that good and beauty are nearly inseparable in the Greek mind and the Greek language. If Plotinus avoids calling the One the Beautiful, he refers to it as the flower of beauty, as we have seen, and as the essence of beauty itself: η καλλονη. The Stoic end of goods, which the Romans called the honestum, the honorable, the Greek Stoics called τò καλον, in the sense of the morally beautiful or the noble: Zeno as reported by Diogenes Laërtius identifies the good and τò καλον in a way more radical than Plato ever does. Even in Latin the honestum, Cicero's chosen translation of τò καλον, can carry overtones of physical beauty.

It is time to look a little more closely at the terminology of this key passage.

En leur reigle n’estoit que cette clause, Faictz ce que voudras, par ce que gents liberes, bien nez et bien instruictz, conversans en compaignies honestes, ont par nature un instinct et aguillon, qui tousjours les pousse à faictz vertueux et retire de vice, lequel ilz nommoient honneur. Iceulx, quand par vile subjection et contraincte sont deprimez et asserviz, detournent la noble affection, par laquelle à vertuz franchement tendoient, à deposer et enfraindre ce joug de servitude: car nous entreprenons tousjours choses defendues et couvoytons ce que nous est dénié.


[In their rule there was but this clause: Do what you will, for people who are free, wellborn and well educated, moving in honest company, have by nature an instinct and spur, which always impels them towards virtuous deeds and away from vice, and this they called honor. If such people are oppressed and enslaved by vile subjection and constraint, they divert the noble impulse that made them incline to virtue, so that it drives them to throw off and break that yoke of servitude; for we always try to do forbidden things and covet what is denied us.]

Faictz ce que voudras: action follows will, which must more or less equal choice or desire. Choice sounds rational, but rational will is simply the use of discursive reason to make a choice of action that will further one's desire. However one defines will, whether as dependent on reason and effort or directly on passion, desire is the bottom line, as Plato knew so well. The philosophical question is, can we modify desire by reason? And if so, why should we, if not because we desire to do so? Plato's answer is that if we rightly analyze our desire, which is very difficult, we will see that we desire only the good, which is sometimes difficult for us to recognize but which dialectic will enable us to discern. Unhappiness and evil result from our failure to perceive it. This sort of dialectic will be the very matter of the next book: but for the moment, Rabelais is thinking along a different line.

Another Platonic influence may be present, however, in that certain features of the life prescribed by Socrates in the Republic for the guardians of the polis seem to find echoes here. While the notorious community of family relationships could not have been recommended even if Rabelais had thought it worthwile, that, along with the community of property, certainly had results akin to those achieved by Theleme. All will say together “it is well” or “it is ill,” and

They will truly deserve their name of guardians, because they do not tear the city apart by each of them calling “mine” not the same but different things, the one carrying off into his own house for himself alone whatever he can acquire from the others, the next doing the same into his own house, and by their having their own different wives and children, giving rise to private pleasures and pains; but rather, being of one single mind, they all strive for the same end and as far as possible experience the same pleasures and pains.


However, while the exposition of the rule of life certainly uses a set of notions directly dependent on ancient moral philosophy, the vocabulary used is characteristic more of Stoicism than of Plato himself. The summum bonum of the Stoics was defined and discussed in a whole series of very repetitive late source texts that were almost all available and well known to the scholars of the Renaissance: of the Greeks, what there was in Diogenes Laërtius on Zeno and Epictetus; of Latin writers, especially Seneca and Cicero's philosophical dialogues. In all these the supreme good lies in acting according to nature, κατα φυsιν, secundum naturam, nature being defined as the will of God as expressed in the workings of the universe. This action is in turn accomplished by a will—in Latin, voluntas—freely choosing to harmonize itself with God's will so expressed. When it does so it will follow the dictates of reason, ratio, which means the reasoning faculty unique to man and in essence divine; if uncorrupted it will enable him to guide his will in the right way. Action thus accomplished is called virtuous, and constitutes the morally beautiful: in Latin, what is honorable, the honestum. Thus the concepts of virtus, ratio, natura, and the honestum are practically interchangeable and are commonly defined in terms of each other. What must be stressed here is the key role played by the will, volontas, in the achievement of virtue: an act not willed in the sense of freely chosen cannot by definition partake of the honestum: cannot, then, be virtuous. Conversely, what is accomplished by compulsion is bound to be vicious. The chapter on the rule of life begins by stressing that there were no laws, statutes, or rules beyond what the inmates freely wished to do: they acted scelon leur vouloir et franc arbitre [according to the free exercise of their will]. Franc arbitre, indeed, has a theological ring to it. No one ever forced them—les parforceoyt—to do anything: the stress is constant from the beginning to the end of this section. Why might this be?

The question is both put and answered for us, very precisely, by Seneca himself in a well-known letter:

Quare? Dicam quia nihil honestum est quod ab invito, quod coactum fit. Omne honestum volontarium est. Admisce illi pigritiam, querelam, tergiversationem, metum: quod habet in se optimum, perdidit, sibi placere. Non potest honestum esse, quod non est liberum: nam quod timet, servit.

(Epistulae morales, 66, 14)

[How so? I tell you: because no act is honorable that is done by an unwilling agent, that is compulsory. Every honorable act is voluntary. If it is tinged with reluctance, complaint, irresolution, or fear, it loses its own best characteristic, namely, self-approval. What is not free cannot be honorable: for fear means slavery.]

I have so far translated the honestum as “the honorable” because that is now the most commonly used equivalent: a more old-fashioned one is “moral worth.” Although those French and Italian translations of the sixteenth century that I have seen use simply l’honneste and l’onesto, I think we must see in the spur to virtue that the Thelemites, conversans en compaignies honestes … nommoient honneur, a conscious reference to the moral beauty of the Stoics, along perhaps with a thought for the Republic's precept that “knowledge acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind” (537), and an affectionate recall of the idealized feudal chivalry embodied by Grandgousier in the Picrocholine war.

Yet another pointer to the Stoic reference is the insistence on the spur: the goad, properly, un instinct et aguillon. Rather than recalling the synderesis of the Schoolmen—who were not normally inspirational for Rabelais, despite his monastic training—I think what we have here is a reference, made particularly clear by the reinforcing aguillon, to what the Latin Stoics called the impetus animi or motus animi, by which they translated the original Greek concept of the ορμή, the first instinctive impulse to self-preservation, which if uncorrupted and shaped by reason, will lead to the doing of the good. As Seneca put it:

Bonum est quod ad se impetum animi secundum naturam movet et ita demum petendum est cum coepit esse expetendum. Iam et honestum est: hoc autem est perfecte petendum.

(Epistulae morales, 118, 8)

[That is good which rouses the soul's impulse towards itself in accordance with nature, and is worth seeking only when it begins to be thoroughly worth seeking. It is by this time an honorable thing, for that is what is completely worth seeking.]

The instinct et aguillon was not enough when left to itself, though: it needed the association of honorable people—compagnies honnestes—and it needed to be bien instruict, so that it would know how to recognize the good. Stoics laid considerable stress on education; the wise man's virtue depended on his understanding. Here we are brought again back to the Greek θέλημα, for the confusion in Greek thought and vocabulary between knowing and willing is considerable and pretty nearly inextricable, and the consequent stress on the necessity for education is easily explicable: if one knows the good, one will will it, and knowing can be taught. The Roman voluntas is more an innate thing than its Greek equivalents: velle non discitur, one cannot be taught to will, says Seneca. However, that will, uneducated, remains inchoate. Seneca ends his ninetieth letter thus:

virtus non contingit animo nisi instituto et edocto et ad summum adsidua exercitatione perducto. Ad hoc quidem, sed sine hoc nascimur et in optimis quoque, antequam erudias, non virtus est. Vale.

(Epistolae morales, 90)

[virtue only occurs in a soul that has been educated and subject to discipline, and that has acquired it by continual exercise; our essence is suitable for receiving it, but we are born without it, and even the best natures in the world the raw matter of virtue is found, but not virtue itself. Farewell.]

Reference to Stoic doctrine can help us further still in understanding Theleme. The very fact that the episode turns around a paradox is significant, for of all the ancient philosophers, the Stoics were proverbially associated with the use of paradox in the illustration of their precepts, of which many were startling and apparently outrageous, such as the pleasure taken by Regulus in the pain of his hand shriveling in the flame. Relevant ones here are that the sage will subject his own will to that of others for the general good, and—important in that Theleme is a school for successful marriages—that the instinct of self preservation is extended to impel the sage to take a wife and have children by her. (That the Thelemites leave when they marry may be very simply explained by Rabelais's Christian refusal of Plato's community of wives and children: the first duty of parents is to look after their own children. Suckling them and changing their diapers—or even admitting wet-nurses—would fit ill with the Thelemites' lifestyle.) In any event, the most pertinent paradox here, I think, is that thus illustrated by Seneca in the De Beneficiis:

Hoc ex paradoxis Stoicae sectae mimime mirabile, ut fert mea opinio, aut incredibile est, enim qui libenter accepit beneficium, redidisse.


[Of all the paradoxes of the Stoics, this is the least strange and incredible in my opinion: that he who accepts a benefit willingly has already repaid his debt.]

A benefit is defined as an unforced, voluntary good deed bringing joy to the receiver as to the doer. Again in the same context:

Itaque negamus quemquam scire gratiam referre nisi sapientem: non magis quam beneficium dare quisquam scit nisi sapiens, hic scilicet, qui magis dato gaudet quam alius accepto. Hoc aliquis inter illa mumerat, quae videmur inopinata omnibus dicere, παραδοξα Graeci vocant.

(Epistulae morales, 81, 10)

[So we deny that anyone save the wise man knows how to return a favor; moreover, only the wise man knows how to confer a benefit: that is to say, the man who enjoys the giving more than the receiving. Now some people will think this remark to be one of those generally surprising statements that the Greeks call paradoxes.]

Spelling it out very simply, the good man pushes the concept that it is better to give than to receive one stage further: given that by giving one accomplishes a better action than by receiving, it is better to receive joyfully—that is, to give one's fellowman the opportunity to give, and thus to accomplish a virtuous action and to feel the accompanying happiness—than it is to give, and thus to take that satisfaction for oneself. When the Thelemites' total liberty of choice results in everyone spontaneously doing what the first person to speak suggests, we must understand that what they are all doing is accomplishing what we might call the Stoic “second-order virtue” which consists in allowing each other the opportunity to accomplish something virtuous, and hence pleasurable. A similar conception of mutual gratification certainly underlies the most poignant passages of Montaigne's De l’Amitié, and seems to me to be an enduring component of the deepest kind of human love.

Overlapping with this nexus of Stoic notions are the central tenets on free will expressed by Plotinus in Ennead 6:8: namely, that the only true freedom is the knowledge of the good, which is inseparable from the desire for it: nothing borne towards the good can be under compulsion, and desire for the good may be termed voluntary. However, a key question remains: why then should some people know naturally, and hence desire, what is good, and others be entirely deceived, so that they will and accomplish what is evil? The answer suggested by Rabelais, in this episode at least, is too pessimistic and elitist to be Plotinian and is certainly the reverse of the facile optimism about the perfectibility of human nature that many critics have seen in Theleme's rule of life. It is because they are well born: bien nez.

The meaning of this term has nothing to do with social rank except insofar as rank may be deemed to reflect a good disposition. The literal Greek equivalent is ευγενήs, which implies either aristocratic lineage or an innate disposition toward the good, or both. [b.gamma ]ενναιοs, which carries an etymological reference to birth, means simply “innately noble” (it must be borne in mind that the noble, the beautiful, and the good are intimately connected and sometimes cognate notions not just for Plato but for any ancient Greek). The Latin equivalent of ευγενήs, bene natus, is first recorded applied to fertile fields, as can also be the Greek word, and the standard usage seems to have the meaning of a nature tending spontaneously toward the good. In a.d. 250 St. Ennodius uses it along with religiosus, apparently in the same sense, and when Dante composed the Commedia in the thirteenth century, he regularly used the terms mal nato and ben nato in a very strong sense indeed. The damned souls subject to the terrible punishments meted out by Minos are qualified collectively as l’anima mal nata, while both Dante and the inmates of Paradise are called ben nati. This meaning betrays considerable, even heretical, theological fatalism at the level of popular usage; it is seemingly assumed by the poet, for Beatrice proclaims that her blessed state is God's handiwork, not hers:

Io son fatta da Dio, sua mercè, tale
che la vostra miseria non mi tange

(Inferno 1:91-92)

[I am made by God, and I thank him for it, in such wise
that your wretchedness does not touch me]

she says to Virgil, the good pagan deprived of the beatific vision eternally and through no fault of his own. Piccarda, another of the blessed, is called ben creata, which puts the responsibility squarely on the potter rather than the vessel he has made to honor, as here, or to dishonor (Paradiso 3:37).

In Rabelais's time and in his language, Calvin, faced with his own particular theological imperative of consigning to eternal torment non-Calvinists who happen to be naturally good people, ties himself into extraordinary dialectical knots while nevertheless offering a perfect dictionary definition of the meaning of our term:

Au reste, c’est bien la plus certaine et facile solution, de dire que telles vertus ne sont pas communes à la nature, mais sont grâces spéciales du Seigneur, qu’il distribue même aux méchants, selon la manière et mesure que bon luy semble. Pour cette cause, en notre langage vulgaire nous ne laissons point de dire que l’un est bien né et l’autre mal né, l’un de bonne nature et l’autre mauvaise; et néanmoins nous ne laissons point d’enclore l’un et l’autre sous la condition universelle de la corruption humaine, mais nous signifions quelle grâce Dieu a donnée particulièrement à l’un, qu’il a dénié à l’autre.

(Institution, 2:3)

[Moreover, it is surely the easiest and most certain solution to say that such virtues are not common to human nature but are special graces of the Lord, which he distributes even among the wicked, as and how it seems good to him. Hence in our vernacular we are accustomed to say that the one is wellborn and the other ill-born, the one of a good nature and the other of a bad; and nevertheless we continue to include the one and the other within the universal condition of human corruption, but we mean to indicate which grace God has given particularly to the one, and which he has withheld from the other.]

Now this sort of fatalism may seem to conflict with the Stoic doctrine of the universality of the instinct to self-preservation, which, rightly educated, would produce the virtuous soul of the sage, and of course the conflict is real, theoretically speaking. Nevertheless Stoicism is a philosophy conceived to help people preserve self-control and serenity in the midst of evil times, and in practical discussion the Stoics admitted the existence of individuals whose natures appeared so incurably perverted that nothing could be done with them. They are inherently unable to do the good: indeed, they will distort objects, possibilities, or actions that may be neutral or even predisposed to the encouragement of virtue in such a manner as to produce only evil. Seneca thus compares them to the sick stomach that corrupts good food, turning it into poison:

Ideo nemo illi potest (sc. beneficium malo dare) quia quicquid ad illum pervenit, pravo uso corrumpitur. Quemadmodum stomachus morbo vitiatus et colligens bilem, quoscumque accepit cibos, mutat et omne alimentum in causam doloris trahit, ita animus aeger, quicquid illi commiseris, id onus suum et perniciosem et occasionem miseriae faci … Ergo nihil potest ad malos pervenire quod prosit, immo nihil quod non noceat; quaecumque enim illis contigerunt, in natuream suam vertunt et extra speciosa profuturaque, si meliora darentur, illis pestifera sunt. Ideo nec beneficium dare non possunt, quoniam nemo potest, quod non habet, dare; hic bene faciendi voluntate caret.

(De Beneficiis 5:12.5-7)

[Therefore, no one can do good to him (sc., the evil man), for whatever good reaches him is vitiated by his evil use of it. Just as the stomach, when it is impaired by disease, gathers bile and, changing all the food that it receives, turns every sort of sustenance into a source of pain, so, in the case of the perverse mind, whatever you entrust to it becomes a source of disaster and wretchedness. … Therefore nothing that would be to them good can come to evil men—indeed, nothing would not do them harm. For whatever good falls to their lot, they change into their own nature, and seemingly attractive gifts that would be beneficial if given to a better man become baneful to them. Nor, therefore, are they able to give a benefit, since no man can give what he does not have: such a man lacks the will to do the good.]

We can see clearly why such insistence is laid, both in the initial chapter and more brutally in the inscription on the great gate, on the absolute necessity of keeping such people—the mal nez—out of Theleme. They will corrupt all they touch, and the abbey is restricted to the uncorrupted. It is in no sense a proclamation of the general perfectibility of human nature; quite the reverse, in that only the bien nez—the vessels made to honor, the sheep and not the goats—may pass its portals. It is in that very fundamental sense that the episode is elitist.


The import of Rabelais's manipulation of Saint-Gellais's allegorical description of a game of “real” tennis is not in serious doubt. It seems established that the additions enable the solution of the riddle to be read as an apocalyptic encouragement to the persecuted faithful after the affaire des placards, reminding them in precisely biblical language of the joys of paradise awaiting those who perservere unto the end, and evoking the confusion and conflagration of the last days. Frere Jan's contrary interpretation—which is the genuine solution of the original enigma—is simply a faux-fuyant providing at least some cover after Gargantua's authoritative and explicit exegesis. Jerome Schwartz, however, provides a deconstructive alternative, maintaining that Frere Jan's contribution “deflates the whole idea of an altior sensus” and “empties the allegory of meaning and thus destroys allegory through an ironic collapse of the allegorical elements … Rabelais contradicts his own prologue, gives us an example of the very kind of allegory he had condemned, and which seems convincing, then seemingly destroys that interpretation with a burlesque parody.” Rabelais is attacking “the notion of allegory as a mode which points to meanings outside, or other than, the literary work itself” (IIR 87-89).

This wholly typical insistence upon the absolute autonomy of the text, reduced to the play of “signifiers” floating free of any bound “signified,” let alone historical referent, is particularly inappropriate to a passage like this one, and it is worth pausing over because in it the nihilistic and sophistical antecedents of deconstructional method show through with singular clarity. The salient feature of the discourse to which extratextual meaning is being denied by the critic is, incontrovertibly, the following.

The author has seen fit to twist an elaborately harmless riddle in order to include comment on the pain, exile, imprisonment, blood, scorched flesh, and execution of a not inconsiderable number of his contemporaries, some of whom were certainly his friends, and in so doing has increased significantly the physical risk to his own person. To do such a thing gratuitously, or for the mere pleasure of leading his readers up the garden path, would be the action either of a man both masochistic and wantonly suicidal, or of one who had taken leave of his senses, and it is entirely obvious that Rabelais was neither of these.

The above statement is true both as a logical tautology and empirically and inductively, in the same way that it is true to say that fire burns and that incarceration and torture, other things being equal, are to be avoided. When authors are prepared to lay their lives on the line in order to be heard, to gainsay the existence of authorial voice is to condemn as deluded all those who have ever died or made sacrifices for any cause at all. It is wholly inapposite to deny extratextual validity to inclusions such as the one at issue, since given its nature and consequences, to do so is tantamount to saying “What is truth?” not just with Derrida and de Man in the senior common room, but with jesting Pilate and vengeful Callicles in the jeu mortel where life and death turn on their words.


  1. In his deconstructive analysis of the prologue, Schwartz limits his treatment of this famous positive statement to seven lines out of eight and a half pages. Irony and Ideology, 42.

  2. Beluté = sieved out of: replaced in later editions by calfreté = caulked up, squeezed into, doubled over with.

  3. Frère Lubin: comic name associated with randy friars, made famous by a satirical poem by Marot: here Rabelais means the Dominican Pierre Lavin.

  4. Regarding this passage Schwartz, quoting Cave who maintained that the Gargantua prologue “institutes a perpetual suspension of judgment on the allegorical question,” goes on to proclaim that it “moves from an invitation to read allegorically to a subversion of allegory, which is not a denial but a paradox, both contesting and affirming the reader's privilege to allegorize even when such allegorizing would not be supported by authorial intention.” Duval, on the other hand, accepts the sense proposed by Gendre, while seeing in Rabelais's adoption of the Horatian tags about the wine-swilling Homer and Ennius a proclamation that the altior sensus of his book was the result not of thought but of divine—here, Bacchic—inspiration, and that the reader should indeed look for it. Schwartz, Irony and Ideology, 42-50; André Gendre, “Le prologue de ‘Pantagrue,’ le prologue de ‘Gargantua’: Examen comparatif,” RHLF 74 (1974): 3-19; Cave, Cornucopian Text, 111.

  5. These are the positions of Schwartz and Screech, respectively.

  6. Schwartz, Irony and Ideology, 42-50; Guy Demerson, François Rabelais (Paris: Fayard, 1991), 44.

  7. For a discussion of the Cymbalum's anagram, see Max Gauna, Upwellings: First Expressions of Unbelief in the Printed Literature of the French Renaissance (London and Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1992), 117, 160.

  8. Per Nykrog, “Thélème, Panurge, et la dive bouteille,” RHLF 65 (1965): 385-97; Baraz, Rabelais et la joie de la liberté,” 250-54; Schwartz, Irony and Ideology, 72.

  9. Plotinus, Enneads 6.7.32; on this expression, see J. M. Rist, Plotinus: The Road to Reality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1967), 59.


Works of Rabelais

Reference is made to the following editions:

Pantagruel. Edited by V. L. Saulnier. TLF Series. Geneva: Droz, 1965.

Gargantua. Edited by M. A. Screech. TLF Series. Geneva: Droz, 1970.

Le Tiers Livre. Edited by M. A. Screech. TLF Series. Geneva: Droz, 1964

Le Quart Livre. Edited by R. Marichal. TLF Series. Geneva: Droz, 1947.

Oeuvres. Edited by A. Lefranc, J. Boulanger, H. Clouzot, P. Dorveaux, J. Plattard, and L. Sainéan. Vols. 1-5. Paris: Champion, 1911, 1913, 1922, 1931. Vol. 6. Geneva: Droz, 1955. Generally known, and referred to in the text, as the Critical Edition.

Oeuvres Complètes. 2 vols. Edited by Pierre Jourda. Paris: Classiques Garnier, 1962.

The Histories of Gargantua and Pantagruel. Translated by J. M. Cohen. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1955.

Classical Authors

These are referred to and cited in the editions of the Loeb Classical Library unless otherwise specified.

Aristophanes. Lysistrata.

Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics.

Augustine. De Civitate Dei.

Aulus Gellius. Noctes Atticae.

Cicero. Academica, De Divinatione, De Fato, De Natura Deorum, Somnium Scipionis.

Diogenes Laërtius. Lives of the Philosophers.

Dionysius the Areopagite. Oeuvres Complètes (in French and Greek). Translated by M. de Gandillac. Paris: Aubier, 1943.

Epictetus. The Discourses as reported by Arrian, Manual, and Fragments. The Discourses of Epictetus. with the Encheiridion and Fragments. Translated by George Lang. London: George Bell and Sons, 1877.

Epicurus. The Extant Remains. Text with critical apparatus, translation, and notes by C. A. Bailey. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1926.

Horace. Opera.

Iamblichus. De Mysteriis as Les Mystères d’Egypte, Greek and French. Paris: Belles Lettres, 1966.

Lucian. Works.

Lucretius. De Rerum Naturae.

Macrobius. In Somnium Scipionis. Edited by J. Willis. Leipzig: Teubner, 1963.

Marcus Aurelius. Pensées. Edited by A. I. Traunoy. Paris: Presses Universitaries de France, 1944.

Ovid. Fasti and Metamorphoses.

———. La Bible des Poetes de Ovide Methamorphose. Translatee de latin en Francoys. Paris: Philippe Le Noir, 1531.

Plato. Dialogues and Letters.

———. The Dialogues of Plato. Translated by B. Jowett. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1875.

———. Divini Platonis opera omnia quae extant. Marsilio Flcino interprete. Frankfurt: Marnium and Aubrii, 1602.

Pliny. Historia Naturalis.

Plotinus. Enneads; Ennéades (in Greek and French). Paris: Bude, 1968.

———. Plotini … de rebus philosophicis libri LIIII in Enneades sex distributi a M. Ficino e Graeca in Latinam versi et ab eodem commentaria illustrati. Basle, 1540.

Plutarch. Lives and Moralia.

———. Les Oeuvres Morales et Meslées. Translated by J. Amyot. Paris: M. de Vascosan, 1575.

Proclus. Elements of Theology. Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1963.

———. Theologie Platonicienne (in Greek and French). Paris: Budé, 1968.

Seneca. Moral Essays and Epistulae Morales.

Sextus Empiricus. Outlines of Pyrrhonism (Hypotyposes)

———. Against the Professors (Adversus Mathematicos).

Authors to 1800

Erasmus, Desiderius. Opera. Lugduni Batavorum: Petrus van der Aa, 1703-6.

Estienne, Henri. L’Apologie pour Herodote. Geneva, 1566.

Ficino, Marsilio. Commentaire sur le Banquet de Platon ou de l’amour. Edited by Raymond Marcel. Paris: Belles Lettres, 1956.

Authors from 1800

Baraz, Michaël. Rabelais et la joie de la liberté. Paris: Librairie José Corti, 1983

Cave, Terence. The Cornucopian Text. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979.

Demerson, Guy. François Rabelais. Paris: Fayard, 1991.

Gauna, Max. The Dissident Montaigne. New York: Peter Lang, 1990.

———. Upwellings: First Expressions of Unbelief in the Prlnted Literature of the French Renaissance. London and Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1992.

Gendre, André. “Le prologue de ‘Pantagruel,’ le prologue de ‘Gargantu.’ Examen comparatif,” RHLF 74 (1974): 3-19.

Nykrog, Per. “Thélème, Panurge, et la dive bouteille.” RHLF 65 (1965): 385-97.

Rigolot, François. Les langages de Rabelais. Etudes Rabelaisiennes 10. Geneva: Droz, 1972

———. “Rabelais et la scolastique: une affaire de canards (Gargantua 12).” In Rabelais's Incomparable Book: Essays on his Art, edited by Raymond La Charité, 102-23. Lexington, Ky.: French Forum 1986.

Rist, M. J. Plotinus: The Road to Reality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1967

———. Stoic Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969.

Schwartz, Jerome. Irony and Ideology in Rabelais. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Screech, M. A. L’Evangelisme de Rabelais. Aspects de la satire religieuse au XVIe siècle. Etudes Rabelaisiennes 2. Geneva: Droz, 1959.

———. “The meaning of Thaumaste (A Double-Edged Satire of the Sorbonne and of the Prisca Theologia of Cabbalistic Humanists.” BHR 22 (1960): 62-72.

———. Rabelais. London: Duckworth, 1979.

Gerard Ponziano Lavatori (essay date 1996)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 12387

SOURCE: “Gargantua and Pantagruel,” in Language and Money in Rabelais, Peter Lang, 1996, pp. 23-57.

[In the following excerpt, Lavatori contends that characters in Gargantua and Pantagruel “deliberately infringe upon the principles of good communication and use language and money to influence others in non-communicative ways.”]

What strikes a reader most about patterns of communication in Rabelais is their repeated deviance. There is a constant disregard for the limits to which signs function effectively in communication and little evidence of a clear distinction between levels of meaning or significance. The problem of interpretation is thematic throughout the works and memorably coined in the metaphor of the “substantial marrow” of the prologue to Gargantua. There the reader is instructed to pass beyond the superficial meaning of the narrator's discourse, the literal meaning, as a dog would break through the shell of a bone to extract its marrow, a more sublime sense. However, the duplicity of signs is not only posited; it is problematized. The narrator adopts another pose soon after, establishing a program for reading which denounces interpretation through allegory. He adds,

Croiez-vous en vostre foy qu’oncques Homère, escrivent l’Illiade et Odysée, pensast ès allégories lesquelles de luy ont calfreté Plutarche, Heraclides Ponticq, Eustatie, Phornute, et ce que d’iceulx Politian a desrobé? Si le croiez: vous n’approchez ne de pieds ne de mains à mon opinion. …1

By setting up and then destroying a pattern of communication, the narrator refuses to establish a consensus with the reader as to the function and meaning of the verbal signs they share. No stable reading of the passage is possible.

Jean Paris has identified another pattern of miscommunication typical of Rabelais's works: the practice of deliberately confusing two meanings of a word by taking proverbs literally.2 The narrator and the other characters participate voluntarily in this type of deliberate confusion. In the debate through gestures between Panurge and Thaumaste,

Panurge mist le doigt indice de la destre dedans la bouche, le serrant bien fort avecques les muscles de la bouche. Puis le tiroit, et le tirant, faisoit un grand son, comme quand les petits garsons tirent d’un canon de sulz avecques belles rabbes, et le fist par neuf foys. Alors, Thaumaste s’escria: “Ha, Messieurs, le grand secret! Il y a mis la main jusques au coulde.” (II, 19, 297)

In this example, two meanings of “mettre la main jusques au coulde” are equally relevant: a literal one and a figurative sense meaning to commit oneself to a long and complicated explanation.3 The context of the dispute motivates the figurative meaning while the fact that it is a debate through gestic signs makes the original sense equally plausible. Neither meaning is directly annulled by the interaction.

This kind of ambiguity is especially notable in Rabelais where fixed forms of speech are employed. Chapter 11 of Gargantua, devoted to the giant's childhood, is typical of this practice. Gargantua “se mouschoyt à ses manches … retournoyt à ses moutons … mettoyt la charrette devant les beufz … saultoyt du coq à l’asne” (I, 11, 72-73). As Rigolot has indicated, in this chapter the proverb is surreptitiously inserted into a list of literal infractions of social norms. We do not understand the sentences “se mouschoyt à ses manches” and “saultoyt du coq à l’asne” in the same way according to a single standard of decoding. In this context, however, the proverb itself becomes strangely literal through “contagion.”4 Several systems of reference are relevant and the normal sense of the fixed formula is no longer secure. The reader cannot be sure when or if the figurative meaning is intended because several alternate codes of communication are possible and relevant.

In his study on “Logic and Conversation,” Grice defines the terms upon which good communication can be said to be grounded. He bases these terms upon a principle of cooperation. Grice states it as the maxim: “Make your conversational contribution such as is required, at the stage at which it occurs, by the accepted purpose or direction of the talk exchange in which you are engaged.”5 The principle's maxims concern (1) quantity—in making the contribution no more or less than required (2) quality—in making the contributions true and genuine (3) relation—in making the contribution appropriate at each stage of the transaction and (4) manner—in making it clear what the contribution is, avoiding obscurity and ambiguity and in carrying it out in an orderly fashion and within a reasonable period of time. Grice's stated intention is to place talking in a general sphere of rational, purposive behavior. He sees that these maxims may have analogues in other transactions which are not speech exchanges as well.6

According to Grice, participants in communicative acts can fail to meet the requirements of a cooperative principle necessary for mutually directed activity for a variety of reasons. One can blatantly violate a maxim of good communication in order to generate implicature or one can violate the communicative principle unostentatiously and deliberately deceive the interlocutor. In other non-verbal exchanges, as in talk exchanges, the cooperative principle functions in excluding operations which are not suited to the acknowledged direction of a given exchange.7

Like Grice, Jurgen Habermas classifies social action according to whether or not it involves cooperation between two subjects.8 The distinction is essential to Habermas in that it constitutes for him the very definition of communication.9 Exchanges which deviate from this principle can be thought of as being designed to mislead. Habermas distinguishes between these two types of action with the aid of Austin's typology of the levels of acts accomplished in speaking. For Habermas, the illocutionary act refers to an original mode of language which may produce parasitic perlocutionary effects when it is embedded into a context of interaction. When speakers intend to produce a perlocutionary effect, it can be said that they use a speech act as a means to an end rather than for a communicative purpose. Speech acts are always self-identifying, according to Habermas. They manifest themselves to the hearer as commands, promises, greetings or otherwise in readily recognizable ways. However, the perlocutionary aims of speakers often remain hidden. In this sense, the instrumental use of a speech act can be seen as deceitful. In order to succeed in accomplishing a concealed perlocutionary goal, speakers must get the hearer to accept the manifest force of their speech act while hiding from the hearer their true aim in the interaction. Habermas concedes that certain perlocutionary effects appear fortuitously in any talk exchange. However, he affirms that in order to maintain the communicative nature of the exchange, speakers must disavow those effects as intended results. In this way, Habermas defines as communicative exchanges those linguistic interactions in which speakers pursue only illocutionary aims.10

However, Habermas's goal is not only to categorize linguistically mediated interaction. Through his typology, Habermas plans to provide a means for understanding all acts of communication. He states his goal as being “to grasp structural properties of processes of reaching understanding, from which we can derive general pragmatic presuppositions of communicative action.”11 In this way, linguistic interaction can serve as a model for understanding other types of communicative and non-communicative exchanges.

In my study of Gargantua and Pantagruel, I aim to show that the characters of Rabelais's novels, like the narrator himself, deliberately infringe upon the principles of good communication and use language and money to influence others in non-communicative ways. The result of this ostentatious and deliberate infraction of the principle of cooperation is to attribute problems in communication to moral concerns, rather than explicitly identifying causes at the societal level.

Numerous examples of infractions of conversational logic can be found in Pantagruel in the chapters concerning the debate between Baysecul and Humevesne. The case was reputedly irresolvable. Hearing of the case and wishing to display his knowledge, Pantagruel decides to test his wits and settle the dispute himself. Upon learning that the litigants are both still alive, he insists that they be brought together in person to present their arguments out loud, each in his own voice (II, 10, 258-259). Pantagruel's position on legal procedures and documents is in many ways typical of that of sixteenth century humanist legal scholars who attempted to clarify documents by eliminating the medieval glosses which had obscured their literal meaning.12 In his instructions to the litigants, Pantagruel attempts to clarify the pattern of communication.

As it is presented by the litigants, the reason for the dispute is almost entirely incomprehensible; yet Pantagruel insists on adhering to proper form. A semblance of order is maintained throughout in Pantagruel's concern that the participants speak in turn, as if there were an underlying logic to the dispute. Baisecul is allowed to speak first to present his complaint (II, 11, 260-261). Yet his argument proceeds without presenting any recognizable instance of wrongdoing. It is impossible to determine for what crime he is demanding restitution. He provides detailed information about the attendant circumstances involving a woman carrying eggs who seems to be important to the case. Yet, despite the assurance of relevance (the information is “à propos” according to Baisecul), the discourse seems to revolve around the presentation of insignificant facts. Baisecul mentions that there is sedition among the Balivernes, a rebellion of the Swiss and that Flemish painters use a kind of cloth mentioned to shoe cicadas. He pulls from a store of background information that is only potentially relevant to his case. Although he does later recall the focus of the argument, “ladicte bonne femme,” the information he next presents bears no explicit relation to the event he is attempting to describe. The argument proceeds in a “du coq à l’ane” manner as Baisecul arbitrarily arrives at the absurd proposition that eggs should be laid. It is not clear what event Baisecul is presenting. He violates Grice's maxim of manner through the obscurity and length of his discourse. In fact, after hearing both cases, the members of the audience comment that, “Nous l’avons [the dispute between the two lords] véritablement ouy, mais nous n’y avons entendu, au diable, la cause” (II, 13, 266). They have heard the case presented without understanding much of it. It is clear that for the fictional audience, as well as for the reader, the meaning of the argument is inaccessible.

Nevertheless, explicit references are made in the text to the apparent coherence of the discourse in Pantagruel's mind. He moderates the dispute addressing comments to the litigants to insure that proper form is maintained. At one point, he interrupts Baisecul's speech when the latter's tone becomes too inflamed with emotion. He advises: “Tout beau, mon amy, tout beau, parlez à traict et sans cholère. J’entends le cas, poursuyvez” (II, 11, 261) (my emphasis). Pantagruel's directions indirectly validate Baisecul's argument. In correcting only the manner in which the speech is enunciated, he posits its coherence: “j’entends le cas.” Similarly, when Humevesne attempts to interject at the point where Baisecul advocates the laying of eggs, Pantagruel reminds him of the proper format and further validates the proceedings.

Icy voulut interpeller et dire quelque chose le seigneur de Humevesne, dont luy dist Pantagruel:

“Et, ventre sainct Antoine, t’appartient-il de parler sans commandement? Je sue icy de haan pour entendre la procédure de vostre différent, et tu me viens encores tabuster? Paix, de par le diable, paix! Tu parleras ton sou quand cestuy-cy aura achevé. Poursuyvez, dist-il à Baisecul, et ne vous hastez point.”

(II, 11, 261-262)

Pantagruel's moderation of the dispute appears to assure that it adheres to the norms of an established form of communication. Furthermore, each litigant offers a declaration of sincerity and of completeness either explicitly or through compliance to the procedure Pantagruel proposes. When Humevesne has presented his case,

Lors dist Pantagruel:

“Mon amy, voulez-vous plus rien dire?”

Respondit Baisecul:

“Non, Monsieur, car je ay dict tout le tu autem, et n’en ay en rien varié, sur mon honneur.

—Vous doncques (dist Pantagruel), Monsieur de Humevesne, dictes ce que voudrez, et abréviez, sans rien toutesfoys laisser de ce que servira au propos.”

(II, 11, 263)

Each party is aware of the kind of conversational demand made upon him and consents to regulate his discourse accordingly. The resulting confusion for the reader and for those in attendance at the dispute cannot be attributed to a misunderstanding of the context of interaction. Humevesne's response to Baisecul's plea, in fact, begins with the affirmation that he has grasped the meaning of his opponent's argument. He concedes that:

combien que tout ce que a dit partie adverse soit de dumet bien vray quant à la lettre et histoire du factum,—toutefoys, Messieurs, la finesse, la tricherie, les petitz hanicrochemens sont cachez soubz le pot aux roses.

(II, 12, 263)

While stating that the facts have been presented in total, Humevesne protests that Baisecul's argument has somehow unfairly prejudiced the audience. In warning them, Humevesne presupposes that the superficial meaning of the speech is clear to all. As a result, two different “lifeworlds” are posited: that of the reader (and the spectators) and that of the litigants and Pantagruel, for whom the debate is comprehensible.13 The pattern continues as Humevesne begins to expose the apparent deceit he sees in the argument of his opponent. This appears in a form which is no clearer than what had preceded (II, 12, 263-264). Although he mentions the woman, “ladicte femme,” to establish semantic relevance, this information connects in no way to the scene Baisecul had evoked. This effect tends to negate the reference itself. For the reader, the discourse is only apparently pertinant. Yet for the ligitants, the conversational demand is clear, and the components of each argument are considered relevant. The exchange takes place in a fictional lifeworld whose norms conflict with those established in the world of the reader.

The pattern continues with Pantagruel's conclusion. The doctors and counselors in attendance all agree to confer upon him the authority to pronounce a binding judgement. They respond unanimously, “… nous vous prions una voce et supplions par grâce que vueilliez donner la sentence telle que verrez, et ex nunc prout et ex tunc nous l’avons aggréable et ratifions de nos pleins consentemens” (II, 13, 266). With this unconditional authority, Pantagruel is free to pronounce his own verdict. Yet his findings are as ambiguous as the testimony had been. He declares:

[E]n ce qu’il [Baisecul] met sus au défendeur qu’il fut rataconneur, tyrofageux et goildronneur de mommye, que n’a esté en brimbalant trouvé vray, comme bien l’a débastu ledict défendeur, la court le condemne en troys verrassées de caillebottes assimentées, prelorelitantées et gaudepisées comme est la coustume du pays, envers ledict défendeur, payables à la my d’oust, en may;

Mais ledict défendeur sera tenu de fournir de foin et d’estoupes à l’embouchement des chassetrapes gutterales, emburelucocquées de guilverdons, bien grabelez à rouelle.

Et amis, comme devant, sans despens, et pour cause.

(II, 13, 268-270)

The sentence Pantagruel offers is as undecipherable as it is impossible to carry out. The conditions of the sentence (to be effective at mid-August in May) rule out any possibility of its realization. In response to the non-conformity of the testimony, Pantagruel issues a non-verdict.14 He accepts his role while making his contribution non-conventional.

However, Pantagruel's judgement becomes appropriate and even laudable in its context. Normally, the type of ambiguity he employs would constitute an infraction of a norm of good communication. Berrendonner sees such violations as an offense to the sense of decorum implicit in any verbal act of communication. In his view, there are certain locutionary practices which norms of propriety prohibit, such as: injurious enunciations whose content designates an unfavorable quality of the person to whom they are addressed and enunciations which are ambiguous to the point that they are difficult to decipher. However, the value of an utterance in a given conversational exchange is not absolute. It depends not only on the institutional norms in force but also partly on the context of interaction in which it is situated. Therefore, an ordinarily inappropriate enunciation can become contextually appropriate if it is a response to an utterance which is itself in violation of the established norms. For example, it is generally considered permissible to answer an insult with an equally injurious remark.15 Thus, although in itself too ambiguous for good communication in ordinary circumstances, Pantagruel's pronouncement is contextually justified by the sequence of speeches which precede it. It should function as a means of criticizing the ambiguous nature of the previous exchange. However, all concerned are entirely satisfied with his settlement of the case: “laquelle sentence pronuncée, les deux parties départirent toutes deux contentes de l’arrest …” (II, 13, 270). The case is even portrayed as a landmark of sound judgement in legal history. Rabelais implicitly criticizes the legal procedures of his days. Lefebvre points out that the transition from medieval to authentic Roman law produced great confusion which is reflected in this unintelligible case. The litigants speak without a lawyer and rely on local proverbs to build their cases as was the medieval custom. Yet they frequently make attempts to conform to humanist style and add Latin formulas to give an air of authority and credibility to their arguments.16 The readers of Rabelais's times would have appreciated the irony in this treatment of sixteenth-century justice.

Yet Pantagruel justifies the type of aberrant interaction the litigants put into practice. Despite the institutional crisis, an agreement is reached through mutual consent to accept the attempt at communication as valid. The differences between the two lords are resolved through the litigants' confidence in Pantagruel's prudence and justice rather than through rationally motivated arguments. According to Duval, “Pantagruel does not judge the great controversy between Baisecul and Humevesne at all. He literally resolves it by absolving and reconciling the opposing antagonists.”17 This is a personalized form of justice whose basis is purely mutual consent and goodwill. Justice appears in the form of a philosopher-king rather than as an institution with fixed laws. In this context, it is not the intrinsic value of the language used which settles the case but rather the value it is assigned through mutual consent in the context provided.

The debate between Pantagruel and Thaumaste provides another instance of Rabelais's exploration of the modes in which signs make meaning. Having heard of the renowned wisdom of Pantagruel, Thaumaste arrives in Paris from England for the sole purpose of debating philosophy with the giant. However, the Englishman proposes a peculiar form of discussion.

[V]oicy la manière comment j’entends que nous disputerons. Je ne veulx disputer pro et contra, comme font ces sotz sophistes de ceste ville et de ailleurs; semblablement, je ne veulx disputer en la manière des académicques par déclamation, ny aussi par nombres, comme faisoit Pythagoras et comme voulut faire Picus Mirandula à Romme; mais je veulx disputer par signes seulement, sans parler, car les matières sont tant ardues que les parolles humaines ne seroyent suffisantes à les expliquer à mon plaisir.

(II, 18, 290-291)

In his proposition, Thaumaste evokes the theme of the inability of human speech to represent divine truths. In the early sixteenth century, a crisis was brewing over language's potential to represent reality. Many thinkers attributed the supposed loss in potency of language to the Biblical Fall and the experience of Babel described in Genesis. According to this view, in the beginning, the Divine Word was considered to have ontological status and God's original naming of things brought about their existence. Even Adam's denominations were thought to have enjoyed a direct relation to being, as if the name he attributed to an object communicated its essence. However, it was believed that the immediate connection of language to reality had been taken away from Adam's race as divine punishment for the attempts to construct the Tower of Babel. Sixteenth-century linguists regretted this assumed lost plenitude in language and saw that, as a result, there was no longer a guarantee that the signs used in human speech bore any relation to the true essence of things.18 They dreamed of recovering an ideal language where names would reveal the nature of the objects they represented. In this mode of communication, “ne se parlera plus par paraboles, mais par les choses mêmes.”19 Thaumaste follows this thinking in proposing his own ideal mode of communication. He posits the insufficiency of human speech and believes that gestic signs are more adequate. Pantagruel, in accepting the proposition, validates the view. He responds: “(je) loue grandement la manière d’arguer que as proposée, c’est assavoir par signes, sans parler; car, ce faisant, toy et moy nous entendrons” (II, 18, 291). They agree to abandon the scholastic form of disputation and to establish between themselves what they see as a more direct means of communication. Pantagruel's acceptance carries the presupposition that the means proposed are feasible in his lifeworld.

The debate rests on the premise that there are alternate modes of communication as complete as, and even more complete, than speech. The form the participants choose appears to work adequately for them. Panurge, who eventually replaces Pantagruel in the debate,

baissa contre terre l’une et l’aultre main; finablement les tint on mylieu, comme visant droict au nez de l’Angloys.

“Et si Mercure …” dist l’Angloys.

Là, Panurge interrompt, disant: “Vous avez parlé, masque!”

(II, 19, 295)

The gestic communication functions so well that Thaumaste is completely absorbed in Panurge's argument. The Englishman forgets the terms of the dispute and slips into ordinary speech. He mentions the god Mercury as if he were beginning to cite information which could potentially be damaging to Panurge's case. Panurge sees the verbal interjection as inappropriate because of the form in which it appears and not because of the irrelevance of the proposition it makes. Thaumaste's response is accepted as pertinent to Panurge's “discourse.” The reader is thus lead to believe that, through hand gestures, Panurge had produced a statement concerning mythical figures. In this manner, the validity of gestures as an effective means of reaching understanding is posited. The gestures the two participants exchange are to be taken as equivalent to speech acts.20 In the special context of the debate, Thaumaste and Panurge appear to be able to create functional illocutionary acts through gestures.

The effects involved in the successful accomplishment of an illocutionary act are that it secures uptake, invites a response and takes effect.21 According to these criteria, Panurge's gesture is a valid illocutionary act. Since Thaumaste's interjection acknowledges the proposition Panurge profers, it is evident that it has secured uptake and invited a response. Although the means employed are non-conventional to the mind of the reader, an illocutionary act is apparently carried out in the life-world of the characters. They seem to interact in a realm outside of the standard norms of communication.

In fact, it is often impossible for the reader to determine which illocutionary acts have been accomplished. For example, Panurge makes a waving gesture understood by Thaumaste yet whose meaning is undecipherable if it is to be taken as relevant to the philosphical debate.

[Panurge] leva les mains et en feist tel signe. De la main gausche il joingnit l’ongle du doigt indice à l’ongle du poulse, faisant au meillieu de la distance comme une boucle, et de la main dextre serroit tous les doigts au poing, excepté le doigt indice, lequel il mettoit et tiroit souvent par entre les deux aultres susdictes de la main gausche. … Puis mettoit le poulce de la main gauche sus l’anglet de l’oeil gausche, estendant toute la main comme une aesle d’oyseau ou une pinne de poisson, et la meuvant bien mignonnement de czà et de là; autant en faisoit de la dextre sur l’anglet de l’oeil dextre. Thaumaste commencza paslir et trembler. …

(II, 19, 296)

By waving his fingers placed at the level of his eyes, Panurge makes a statement which in some way threatens Thaumaste. It would be evident that the sign was meant as a mockery if the premise of the debate were not to discuss philosophy. The content of the act is ambiguous. Strictly following the context of the debate, the reader is meant to see Panurge's gesture as putting forth a proposition which produces a perlocutionary effect. It frightens Thaumaste. However, there is no way available to interpret the sign as an illocutionary act which triggers the effect.22 By seeing the act as a non-locutionary means of intimidating, one can only negate the premise of the debate that philosophy can be discussed through gestures.23 Therefore, the readers are forced to concede that the characters of Rabelais's novels are operating in a lifeworld unlike our own.

The members of the fictional audience present at the debate share the readers' inability to perceive the illocutionary acts which the opponents appear to produce, except where the gestures are conventional. Further in the debate,

[Thaumaste] mist le doigt indice de la dextre en pareille boucle de la senestre, mais il le mist par dessoubz non par dessus comme faisoit Panurge.

Adoncques Panurge … met encores le doigt indice de la dextre en la boucle de la gauche, le tirant et mettant souvent. Puis estendit le menton regardant intentement Thaumaste.

Le monde, qui n’entendoit rien à ces signes, entendit bien que en ce il demandoit sans mot dire à Thaumaste:

“Que voulez-vous dire là?”

(II, 19, 296)

The narrator makes reference to the obscurity of most of the signs exchanged. The audience comprehends only what can be grasped through understanding standard popular gestures. By repeating the same hand movement Panurge had made, which was seemingly obscene, Thaumaste is visibly establishing a kind of relevance to his response. Similarly, Panurge produces the same sign again in such a way that it is evident he is requesting clarification: after making the gesture, he extends his chin and looks at Thaumaste with an air of expectation. The doctors and counselors in attendance perceive the gesture as an illocutionary act—as a request for an explanation. What is clear to them is merely the conventional mechanism for attempting to re-establish communication, not the content of the propositions disputed. When the signals produced are standard or representational, the audience is able to generate meaning through inference or implicature.24

Panurge's means of communicating with Thaumaste can be seen as deliberately obscure. He violates Grice's maxim of manner because his contribution is ambiguous; his gesture could be seen as obscene. However, the premise of the debate is precisely that gestures are a superior form of communication, ultimately producing a greater understanding between the participants in the exchange. The participants and spectators are expected to be able to interpret the signs produced as having meaning. Thus, in another instance, Panurge:

faisoyt son tel que font les ladres en Bretaigne avecques leur clicquettes, mieulx toutesfoys résonnant et plus harmonieux, et de la langue, contracte dedans la bouche, fredonnoyt joyeusement, toujours reguardant l’Angloys.

Les théologiens, médicins et chirugiens pensèrent que par ce signe il inféroyt l’Angloys estre ladre.

Les conseilliers, légistes et décrétistes pensoient que, ce faisant, il vouloyt conclurre quelque espèce de félicité humaine consister en estat de ladrye, comme jadys maintenoyt le Seigneur.

(II, 19, 295)

The spectators cannot know the intended meaning of the sign Panurge creates. Yet they can attempt to reconstruct its relevance to the debate, utilizing what they know to be norms of good communication. They assume that in producing signs Panurge is attempting to communicate something. Following Saint Augustine's analysis, they believe that conventional signs are created for the purpose of demonstrating a meaning. “Nor is there any other reason for signifying, or giving signs, except for bringing forth and transferring to another mind the action of the mind in the person who makes the sign.”25 In other words, they believe Panurge is obeying Grice's cooperative principle. The first group of theologians and doctors believes that Panurge is inferring that Thaumaste is a leper. They consider Panurge's gesture to be mimetic. The second group generates a hypothesis from this interpretation and attempts to relate this inference to the thrust of the pretended argument. To them, Panurge's representation of leprosy is a disavowal of wordlyways. Their interpretation credits Panurge's act with a relevance to the topic proposed. In each case, the only meaning which can be extracted from Panurge's attempt at gestic debate is derived from what appear to be mimetic gestures. However, the greater part of the exchange is unintelligible to the observers.

At one point, even Thaumaste affirms his inability to follow the meaning of the signs. “Ha, j’entens, dist Thaumaste, mais quoy” (II, 19, 297)? The exclamation problematizes the notion of understanding. Thaumaste has the impression that he understands but cannot explain this understanding rationally. In other words, he expresses his desire to participate in a cooperative debate and his belief that Panurge does also; yet he cannot define the content of the communication. This makes clear the fact that there is no standard of reference in the debate. The gestures are taken alternately as mimetic signs whose pejorative meaning is clear and then as elements of a code sophisticated enough to convey philosophical matters. The reactions of the participants signal that some communication truly has taken place but very few of the signs produced can be deciphered by the audience. The observers can only make conjectures about the content of the debate while assuming that there is substance to it.

Nevertheless, the system of communication is ultimately validated by the satisfaction each participant acclaims in the knowledge he has attained through it. Thaumaste affirms that “il [Panurge] m’a ouvert le vray puys et abisme de encyclopédie, voire en une sorte que je ne pensoys trouver homme qui en sceust les premiers élémens seulement: c’est quand nous avons disputé par signes, sans dire mot ny demy” (II, 20, 298). However, Thaumaste then continues his evaluation of the experience and addresses a doubt remaining in the mind of the audience as to the authenticity of the communication he acclaims. He declares, “Mais à tant je rédigerai par escript ce que avons dict et résolu, affin que l’on ne pense que ce ayent esté mocqueries, et le feray imprimer à ce que chascun y apreigne comme je ay faict” (II, 20, pp. 298-299). Conceding that some might doubt the validity of this debate, Thaumaste assures the reader of its quality by indicating that the information conveyed through gestures in the debate can be presented in an orderly and socially validated fashion, in writing.26 The narrator adds that such a book has since already been printed. He dismisses the reader's doubts with the following disclaimer:

Au regard de l’exposition des propositions mises par Thaumaste et significations des signes desquelz ils usèrent en disputant, je vous les exposeroys selon la relation d’entre eulx-mesmes, mais l’on m’a dict que Thaumaste en feist un grand livre, imprimé à Londres, auquel il déclaire tout sans rien laisser. Par ce, je m’en déporte pour le présent.

(II, 20, 299)

Toying with the reader's credibility, Rabelais opts out of having to reveal the substance and the code of the communication which the debaters employed. The private mode of communication of Thaumaste and Panurge remains inaccessible to the readers.

The code fails to achieve universal validity since there is no way of communicating the “truth” of the substance of the debate to the fictional audience, or eventually to the readers. This experience reflects the attempts of sixteenth-century linguists to overcome communicative barriers and their failure as well. It reveals the lack of a stable communicative code. Inevitably, the pretended communicative potential of the gestic signs is reduced to foolish mimetics and obscenity. Beyond this level, one has only the word of the narrator to rely on.

Rabelais applies this deflationary view of sophisticated signs to religious images through the character of Friar John. The monk deflates the mystic importance of religious language by instrumentalizing it. Thus he advises Gargantua to treat his insomnia through prayer, revealing:

“Je ne dors jamais bien à mon aise, sinon quand je suis au sermon ou quand je prie Dieu. Je vous supplie, [Gargantua] commençons, vous et moy, les sept pseaulmes pour veoir si tantost ne serez endormy.”

L’invention pleut très bien à Gargantua et, commenceant le premier pseaulme, sus le poinct de Beati quorum s’endormirent et l’un et l’aultre.

(I, 41, 163)

A perlocutionary effect is achieved through the reading of the psalms: it cures Gargantua's and Friar John's insomnia. In this way, prayers are reduced to purely phonic acts. This is made clear in the reference to the speaking of the Latin phrase Beati quorum which, as part of another linguistic system, would require a special decoding to become a valid rhetic act. Although we may suppose that each of the characters is familiar with Latin, the scene is presented as if the words were meaningless to them. The words of the prayer are uttered purely instrumentally, not as signs used intentionally for communication. This unusual use of speech acts—as physical exercise—is typical of Friar John. He systematically instrumentalizes signs.

In his view, words, independent of a context, have no magical or intrinsic meaning of their own. Addressing his comrades before the Picrocholine battle, he offers this encouragement:

Enfans, n’ayez ny paour ny doubt, je vous conduiray seurement. Dieu et sainct Benoict soient avecques nous! … Je ne crains rien fors l’artillerie. Toutefoys, je sçay quelque raison que m’a baillé le soubsecrétain de nostre abbaye, laquelle guarentist la personne de toutes bouches à feu; mais elle ne me profitera de rien, car je n’y adjouste poinct de foy. Toutefoys, mon baston de croix fera diables.

(I, 42, 165)

In this instance, Friar John denies the efficacy of prayers in and of themselves, apart from the meaning they carry for the true believer. This is to say that in his view, words are only worth the value the speaker assigns to them. He criticizes the belief in the potency of verbal signs to achieve lofty effects on their own. Rather, his use of linguistic and other signs emphasizes both their purely phonic or brute physical nature and an entirely subjective meaning attributed to them by the participants in the talk exchange. What he rejects, then, is the meaning words acquire conventionally through a code or system.

In other spheres as well, Friar John mocks the conventional or allegorical meaning of signs. He uses the Christian cross as a weapon and not as an object of religious devotion. When he encounters Tyravant on the battlefield, he strikes him with what is ordinarily used only as a symbol. “Le moyne avec son baston de croix luy donna entre col et collet sus l’os acromion si rudement qu’il l’estonna et feist perdre tout sens et mouvement, et tomba ès piedz du cheval” (I, 43, 168). The means Friar John uses to bring about changes in his world are conventional: language, a cross, etc., but his goals are attained independently of the significance attributed to them by tradition. He uses psalms, prayer books and crosses not for inspiration or communication but as sleeping aids, weapons and purgatives. He explains that the reading of his prayer book better prepares him to drink.

[T]out ainsi que les faulconniers, davant que paistre leurs oyseaux, les font tyrer quelque pied de poulle pour leurs purger le cerveau des phlegmes et pour les mettre en appétit, ainsi, prenant ce joyeux petit bréviaire au matin, je m’escure tout le poulmon, et me voy là prest à boyre.

(I, 43, 164)

The reciting of the prayers is presented not as an act of devotion, nor even as an act of communication, but as a purely phonic act designed to clear the throat for drinking. The desired result is achieved regardless of the conventional illocutionary force of the utterance.27 This situation reflects the crisis in the institution of language and in traditional modes of communication in the sixteenth century. In the absence of stable norms, the characters appear free to make use of signs in whatever ways they choose.

Panurge in particular makes ample use of parasitical effects of conversation. One of his tricks is to praise the fabric of the clothes of the ladies he meets, while actually soiling them with the touch of his greasy fingers. Having first dipped his fingers in a flask of oil, Panurge manipulates the fabric of his interlocutor's attire specifically in order to ruin it: “en gressoit et guastoit tous les plus beaulx endroicts soubz le semblant de les toucher et dire: ‘Voicy du bon drap, voicy bon satin, bon tafetas, Madame’” (II, 16, 283). His act of destruction actually passes for praise. He misleadlingly engages his interlocutors in polite conversation only in order to distract them:

quand il [Panurge] se trouvoit en compaignie de quelques bonnes dames, il leur mettoit sus le propos de lingerie et leur mettoit la main au sein, demandant: ‘Et cest ouvraige, est-il de Flandre, ou de Haynault?’ Et puis tiroit son mouschenez [which he kept in a bag of sneezing powder], disant: ‘Tenez, tenez, voyez-en cy de l’ouvraige; elle est de Foutignan ou de Foutarabie”, et le secouoit bien fort à leur nez, et les faisoit esternuer quatre heures sans repos.

(II, 16, 284)

Panurge directs the conversation to the topic of cloth as the cooperative goal of the exchange. However, the thematic content of the talk exchange is, in fact, irrelevant to Panurge's purpose. Instead, the act of talking is a diversion. For Panurge, conversation can be used instrumentally to further success-oriented action while he appears to act according to the cooperative principle.

Rabelais's characters also manipulate the parasitical effects of economic exchanges. In his seminal work, Mauss coined the term “potlach” for the practice of using generosity used instrumentally as a means of creating a ruinous obligation to reciprocate on the part of the recipient.28 Daniel Ménager has identified the use of this principle in Grandgousier's excessive generosity toward the conquered potentate, Alpharbal, in Chapter 50 of Gargantua. Rather than exacting punishment upon his former enemy, Grandousier chooses to lodge him at his palace and sends him home bearing gifts, “chargé de dons, chargé de grâces, chargé de toutes offices d’amytié” (I, 50, 184). Grandgousier's generosity is repeatedly presented as a burden to Alpharbal. As a result, Alpharbal's subjects become the tributaries or even the slaves of Grandgousier. According to Ménager, “par l’exercice d’une générosité excessive et ‘déplacée’ il [Grandgousier] contraint à une reconnaissance éternelle et ruineuse ce roi barbare.”29 What Grandgousier hopes to have recognized as a purely charitable act is really a concealed attempt to achieve a success-oriented goal.

Panurge similarly manipulates economic exchanges. He relates that he once found himself in the hands of Turkish captors; he was tied to a spit and prepared for roasting. While his guard was sleeping, Panurge managed to pull a burning ember from the flames to set his captor and the chief's house ablaze. Upon discovering the fire, the master of the house immediately executes Panurge's guard and attempts suicide out of utter despair. However, the spike with which he tries to pierce his own heart proves insufficient. Panurge offers his assistance. The Turk accepts Panurge's offer as a service and begs to be killed. In return, he pledges diamonds, rubies and gold. “‘Ha, mon amy (dist-il), je t’en prie! et, ce faisant, je te donne ma bougette. Tien, voy-la là. Il y a six cens seraphz dedans et quelques dyamans et rubiz en perfection’” (II, 14, 273). In this highly unusual scene, the verbal and economic exchanges which occur are incongruous with the normative significance of the context. Panurge's offer is presented and considered as a promise. However, by definition, a promise must be an act the hearer wants the speaker to perform.30 In this case, Panurge is able to momentarily satisfy the conditions for a legitimate promise. He manipulates the context until what would be perceived as a threat functions legitimately as a promise. Panurge can thus promise to kill the Turk. In typically carnivalesque style, the trickster takes pleasure in confusing an act of aggression and an act of charity.31

The changing of money also gives him an opportunity to accomplish two separate acts under the guise of operating only on acknowledged principles. While actually stealing money from a money changer, Panurge gives the impression that he is purely exchanging money.

quand il changeoit un teston ou quelque aultre pièce, le changeur eust esté plus fin que Maistre Mousche si Panurge n’eust faict esvanouyr à chascune foys cinq ou six grands blancs, visiblement, apertement, manifestement, sans faire lésion ne blessure aulcune, dont le changeur n’en eust senty que le vent.

(II, 16, 284)

The narrator presents Panurge's manipulation of the exchange as a mysterious event, as if Panurge had made the coins vanish through magic. This would seem to be the inevitable conclusion if Panurge had conducted the exchange overtly and in full view of the money-changer without the latter having detected any impropriety. On one level, the passage refers to Panurge's sleight of hand. However, there was another way of stealing money without appearing to do so: through a manipulation of the terms of exchange. De Malestroict discussed the possibilities of deception through credit, inflation, deflation and exchange in his “Paradoxes.” He posited that through exchange and inflation “il y a beaucoup à perdre sur un escu, ou autre monnoye d’or & d’argent, encores qu’on la mette pour mesme pris qu’on la reçoit.”32 Rabelais's text is reminiscent of this type of exchange. Panurge is as skillful as the money changers who profited from confusion over rates and values and secretly extracted money from their clients. Like them, he pretends to exchange currencies while his concealed goal is theft. In Rabelais's presentation of Panurge's transactions, emphasis is placed on the individual's moral responsibility. Like the money lender in popular and religious tradition, Panurge is seen as evil and diabolical. Yet the circulation of notes of credit cannot be considered immoral unless the responsibility for the transaction can be assigned to an immoral individual. Rabelais's text participates in such an individualization and personalization of the mechanisms of exchange. The implicit condemnation of Panurge reflects French society's concerns about the morality of credit.

Panurge not only makes money disappear, he also creates signs of wealth. Through another paradoxical procedure, he accumulates wealth while maintaining the appearance of giving alms to the Church. The narrator relates:

[Nous] nous transportasmes à Nostre Dame, à Sainct Jean, à Sainct Antoine, et ainsi des aultres églises ou estoit bancque de pardons. De ma part je n’en gaignoys plus; mais luy [Panurge], à tous les troncz il baisoit les relicques et à chascun donnoit. Brief, quand nous fusmes de retour, il me mena boire au cabaret du Chasteau et me monstra dix ou douze de ses bougettes pleines d’argent. A quoy je me seignay, faisant la croix et disant: ‘Dont avez-vous recouvert d’argent en si peu de temps?’

(II, 17, 285-286)

The narrator crosses himself, sensing heresy or a diabolical influence in Panurge's ability to accumulate money while having apparently only donated it. He believes Panurge has either damned himself in stealing from the Church or in illicitly creating money out of nothing. Panurge settles the question by confessing that his act of donation was a pure pretext and a deception. He admits:

en leur [to the sellers of pardons] baillant le premier denier … je le mis si souplement que il sembla que feust un grand blanc; ainsi d’une main je prins douze deniers, voyre bien douze liards ou doubles pour le moins, et de l’aultre troys ou quatre douzains: et ainsi par toutes les églises où nous avons esté.

(II, 17, 286)

Although the donation is momentarily real, its effect is cancelled out by the context of the more important, yet concealed, act of aggression it permits. Despite the mutually acknowledged and conventional force attributed to the exchange, Panurge has really taken, not given. Like Panurge's conversations with the ladies of Paris, his economic exchanges with the sellers of pardons are mere pretexts. They are acts used instrumentally to further the success-oriented goals he conceals.

Nevertheless, Panurge construes his action as an appropriate response to an invitation from a seller of pardons. At the request of the narrator who poses the question of the morality of Panurge's behavior, the latter explains:

les pardonnaires me le [money] donnent, quand ilz me disent en présentant les relicques à baiser: Centuplum accipies, que pour un denier j’en prene cent: car accipies est dict selon la manière des Hébreux, qui usent du futur en lieu de l’impératif, comme vous avez en la loy: Diliges Dominum et dilige. Ainsi quand la pardonnigère me dict: Centuplum accipies, il veult dire: Centuplum accipe, et ainsi l’expose Rabi Kimy et Rabi Aben Ezra, et tous les Massoretz, et ibi Bartolus. Dadvantaige, le pape Sixte me donna quinze cens livres de rente sur son dommaine et thésor ecclésiasticque pour luy avoir guéry une bosse chancreuse qui tant le tormentoit qu’il en cuida devenir boyteux toute sa vie. Ainsi je me paye par mes mains, car il n’est tel, sur ledict thésor ecclésiasticque.

(II, 17, 286)

Through his interpretation, Panurge changes the illocutionary force of the pardoner's utterance. He makes an imperative or direction out of a prediction. Habermas specifies: “With a prediction the speaker commits himself to the truth of a statement, whereas with a direction it is a claim to put forward imperative requests that is made.”33 Panurge changes “You will receive” to “take.” As as a prediction, the pardoners’ claim in some way obliges them to offer money, in Panurge's view. The prediction they intend to make commits them to the proposition that Panurge will enjoy a return of a hundredfold on his donation. Panurge makes his action appear consistent with the Gospel in such a way that justifying his action becomes equivalent to affirming a Christian faith. Indeed, it is difficult not to see that the truth of “centuplum accipies” cannot be affirmed while denying the meaning of “centuplum accipe.” Therefore, if Panurge is not allowed to take the money, it is the validity of the Gospel that is put to question along with the morality of Panurge's behavior. Panurge's interpretation of the pardoner's words is only as abusive as the promise “centuplum accipies.” In this way, Panurge relates his theft to a dubious normative context; he justifies himself by implicating medieval authorities to support his interpretation. In this way, he distances himself from moral responsibility for the act.34 Furthermore, he evokes the principle of reciprocity in believing that one inappropriate interaction justifies another. To this end he recalls a service he once rendered to Pope Sixtus for which he was promised a reward. In this context, Panurge can be seen to merely carry out the pope's promise to pay him duly. In each case, Panurge evokes a relationship which is as or more binding than the simple validity claim he believes the pardoner is making. Through the extension of these contexts, Panurge seeks to have his taking of money recognized as a valid response.

For Panurge, an economic act is often merely the pretext for another type of interaction. In this way, he offers money to pages only to be repaid in laughter. He explains:

Cependent que ces paiges bancquetoient, je garde leurs mulles et couppe à quelc’une l’estrivière du cousté du montouoir, en sorte qu’elle ne tient que à un fillet. Quand le gros enflé de Conseillier, ou aultre, a prins son bransle pour monter sus, ilz tombent tous platz comme porcz devant tout le monde, et aprestent à rire pour plus de cent francs. Mais je me rys encore dadvantage, c’est que, eulx arrivez au logis, ilz font fouetter Monsieur du paige comme seigle vert. Par ainsi, je ne plains poinct ce que m’as [sic] cousté à les bancqueter.

(II, 17, 288-289) [my emphasis]

Panurge pays to banquet local pages. Yet while they are eating, he cuts the stirrups of their mules so that the owners (the pages' masters) fall flat on the ground when they attempt to mount them. He is first amused by the master's consequent disgrace and then by the beatings the pages receive because of it. Thus Panurge inscribes the circulation of money into non-economic contexts. His gift to the pages is instrumentalized, goal-oriented behavior. Although recognized as a pure gift, the donation is ultimately repaid. Panurge is paid back in the pleasure he takes in the pages' beatings. He uses money as an instrument of power. Significantly, when he is asked where most of the money he gained from the pardoners has gone, Panurge answers: “‘[d]ont ilz [the florins] estoyent venuz … ils ne feirent seulement que changer maistre’” (II, 17, 286) [my emphasis]. The coins returned to where they had come, they only changed masters. In Panurge's view, whoever holds money is its “master.” He personifies currency as a servant which can serve one master and then another. Money is the univeral equivalent through which relations of superiority and subordination can be expressed in infinite series of combinations. Although the institution of money de-personalizes interactions, Rabelais's texts portray monetary transactions as operations made by one person through another. Through Panurge's donation, the feasting pages serve his ends temporarily; Panurge becomes a master by right of the money he spends. In his view, the circulation of money and economic exchange are not divorced from personal relations of service or exchange. He refuses to reduce economic exchanges to the recognized goal of payment. In fact, it is significant that he confuses donation with payment. Donation implies an affective exchange while payment is purely rationally and objectively motivated. Thus the affective exchange is the model for all exchanges in Panurge's view.

Thus he uses the circulation of money to create relations between people. He immediately returns the money he had stolen from the pardoners into circulation, refusing to accumulate personal wealth for his personal benefit. Of the florins he gained, Panurge relates:

[J]’en emploiay bien troys mille à marier, non les jeunes filles, car elles ne trouvent que trop marys, mais grandes vieilles sempiterneuses qui n’avoyent dentz en gueulle, considérant: “Ces bonnes femmes icy ont très bien employé leur temps en jeunesse, et ont joue du serrecropière à cul levé à tous venans jusques à ce que on n’en a plus voulu; et, par Dieu, je les feray saccader encores une foys devant qu’elles meurent! … d’autant qu’elles estoyent plus horribles et exécrables, d’autant il leur [to the men he pays] failloyt donner dadvantage; autrement le diable ne les eust voulu biscoter.

(II, 17, 286-287)

Panurge attempts to repay a collective, yet not impersonal, debt to the women who served his gender in their youth. He reintroduces the stolen money into circulation in the form of prostitution. In essence, he seeks to justify his theft by showing that it allows him to perform charitable acts. In so doing, he enacts an infringement of a maxim of the moral code of his age. In his treaty on money, Oresme specifically rejects the notion that a prince can justify dishonest and self-interested economic practices with the excuse that they serve the common good. Oresme affirms:

[q]uelconque chose, dit Aristote, que le Prince face ou préjudice ou dommaige de la communaulté est injustice et fait tyrannique et non pas réal, et s’il disoit, comme soullent les Tyrans mentir, qu’il convertit iceluy gaing [from the alteration of coins] en l’utitlité publique, il n’est à croire à luy ne à son seul dit, car par ceste mesme raison, il me pourroit oster ma robbe, ou autre chose, et dire qu’il auroit mestier ou besoing d’icelle, pour le commun proffit; car, selon ce que dit l’Apostre, il n’est licite de mal faire affin que bien en adviengne. Ainsi donc, par ceste raison, nulle chose ne se doit laidement oster d’aucun, pour icelle faindre despendre en usaige pitoyable et ausmones.35 [my emphasis].

Contrary to the thought of his relative contemporary, Panurge does believe the end justifies the means. His theft appears as one element in a circuit of exchange designed to benefit the community of prostitutes.

Panurge uses money for social purposes and as a means of unifying the isolated elements of the universe. In this way, debt and love are closely related. In reference to Panurge's praise of debts, Henri Lefèbvre explains that according to this view “la circulation de l’argent établira le règne de l’amour car elle institute une sorte de mariage entre les parties contractantes.”36 The idea is a perversion of the Protestant ethic. In Calvinist doctrine, commerce is considered part of the interdependence of God's creatures and its success, a sign of His favor. The mutual exchange of goods was seen as a concrete image of this universal solidarity.37 In this sense, then, Panurge is a Calvinist because his use of money shows the interdependence of isolated individuals and heterogenous categories of experience and creates relations between them. However, the kinds of exchanges he creates would have been considered illicit. Oresme specifically linked the practice of prostitution to parasitical monetary practices:

Aucunesfoiz, affin que pis n’en aviengne et pour éviter scandalle, on permect en la communaulté aucunes choses inhonnestes et mauvaises, si comme, bordeaulx publiques. Aucunesfoiz aussi, pour aucunes necessitez et opportunitez, on permect aucunes négociations villes, si comme est l’art de changer, et encores pire, si comme usure; mais de telle mutacion de monnoie pour y prandre gaing, il n’appert aucune chose du monde nécessaire, ou autre, pour quoy le mauvais gaing se puisse ou doive permectre. …38

Oresme conceives of prostitution, credit and changing money as vile carryings on but concedes that they may be potentially beneficial or necessary to the community. In the Tiers Livre, Panurge defends his use of credit just as he promotes prostitution in Pantagruel. He encourages the selling of women and of money because in his view it stimulates the circulation of goods and services. More importantly, Panurge's use of money is typified by his willingness to sacrifice accumulated wealth for the good of the principle of social interaction. Panurge acts against capitalist principles in not making rational use of his gains and instead turns his efforts into means of promoting the “wellbeing” of the community. His use of the means of economic exchange is characteristic of a pre-capitalist mentality: he uses wealth for non-economic gain and refuses to profit from it individually.

Yet in other instances, he applies a capitalist concept of money to his dealings in money. This occurs when he meets the lady of Paris and attempts to court her. Offering gifts of precious stones, Panurge intentionally misrepresents his financial status, promising the woman:

“un beau chapellet de fines esmerauldes, marchées de ambre gris coscoté et à la boucle un union Persicque gros comme une pomme d’orange! Elles ne coustent que vingt et cinq mille ducatz. Je vous en veulx faire un présent, car j’en ay du content.” Et ce disoit, faisant sonner ses gettons comme si ce feussent escutz au soleil. … “Voulez-vous chaisnes, doreures, templettes, bagues? Il ne fault que dire ouy. Jusques à cinquante mille ducatz ce ne m’est rien cela.” Par la vertus desquelles parolles il luy faisoit venir l’eaue à la bouche. …

(II, 21, 305) [my emphasis]

Panurge attempts to persuade the lady of his great worth through a show of signs. He sounds the coins as if they were valuable attempting to mark his wealth. Yet it is purely a sign of means; the lady never sees the money Panurge implies he has, but only thinks she hears it jingling in his pockets. The sign is without real substance because he merely possesses worthless tokens, not valuable coins. In a sense, Panurge is a counterfeiter. He fabricates the appearance of ecus, specifically their sound in his pockets. For Panurge's purposes, it is only important that the lady recognize the signs as he hopes. He does not seek to exchange the money but only to imply its presence. To be effective, his promises need only be accepted at face value momentarily. His seduction succeeds in part “par la vertus desquelles parolles” which initially entice the woman who “waters at the mouth.” Ultimately, however, Panurge fails to engage the lady in an exchange of her affection for the promised jewels and stones. She wants nothing from him. Panurge replies: “‘Par Dieu … si veulx bien moy de vous; mais c’est chose qui ne vous coustera rien, et n’en aurez rien moins’” (II, 21, 305). In abandoning the idea of exchange, Panurge attempts to elicit a donation of love by suggesting to his hoped-for lover that one neither loses nor gains anything in giving one's affection. According to his argument, because love is free and thus outside the realm of economics, there is no reason why she should refuse him, since she would lose nothing. When she once again rejects him, he conceives of a cruel trick to avenge himself.39 He presents her with a poem in which he reminds her of her cold responses to his admiration. Yet, the poem is once again a mere pretext. In giving the paper to the woman, Panurge is able to soil her garments with a special powder designed to attract dogs. Eventually she is forced to run home and hide from a pack of neighborhood dogs which pursues her. Although Panurge pretends to act communicatively in addressing the written response to the lady, the relating of the message is only a means of achieving a success-oriented goal, just as he had flaunted his money as a means of achieving her seduction.

In Rabelais's texts, signs of wealth can also enter into linguistic circuits of exchange. In Honfleur, Pantagruel receives a message from a Parisian lady. It is a letter in which a diamond ring is enclosed. Since there appears to be no inscription on the page, Pantagruel is perplexed by the case and calls on Panurge for assistance. Panurge is sure that the letter is, in fact, inscribed but not in ink. He holds it up to the fire, dips it in water, passes it under a candle, rubs it with oil, milk, ashes, vinegar and grease in attempting to make supposedly hidden letters visible. However, his efforts prove useless. Finally, upon a closer examination of the ring, he discovers an inscription in Hebrew: LAMAH HAZABTHANI. With a translation from the Hebrew, Panurge solves the riddle. He explains: “J’entens le cas. Voyez-vous ce dyament? C’est un dyamant faulx. Telle est doncques l’exposition de ce que veult dire la dame: Dy, amant faulx, pourquoy me as-tu laissée’” (II, 24, 311)? When Pantagruel remembers he had left Paris without properly taking leave of the lady, the meaning of the message becomes clear. The diamond in the envelope is intended not as a sign of wealth nor as a means of exchange but purely for the phonic value of its linguistic representation “diamant.” It sounds like “dis, amant,” or “do tell, lover,” in French. Panurge shows his awareness of the variety of means of signification and interpretation through his efforts to extract meaning from the blank page. It is not a single code which yields the meaning of the message. Panurge relies on translation and puzzle dechiphering. The message's purpose can only be determined through the interaction of all these codes. The diamond's most apparent function as a gift becomes irrelevant in this context. In this case, it is wealth that is used instrumentally to further linguistic goals.

The final chapters of Pantagruel involve a voyage to a world which is entirely lingual, inside Pantagruel's mouth. As Pantagruel and his army enter the territory of Dipsodie, they encounter a drenching downpour. Pantagruel extends his tongue and protects the army from the rain with it as the narrator relates what he sees in the giant's mouth. He describes mountains, which he supposes to be the giant's teeth, forests, villages and finally villagers. He meets a peasant planting cabbage, who tells him that he earns his living selling his produce at the market. The narrator deems the region another “nouveau monde,” making reference to the contemporary discovery and exploration of the American continent (II, 32, 345). In his famous study, Eric Auerbach points out that the world in Pantagruel's mouth is in many ways a representation of sixteenth-century France. He observes, however, that in a way typical of Rabelais, the universe inside Pantagruel is not presented from a single perspective. It is both totally unfamiliar to Panurge and yet very much like most of France during the Renaissance. These categories of experience alternate and are entwined in the narration.40 Thus, the narrator discovers he can earn a living in a way unimaginable in the real France of the sixteenth century. He relates that:

trouvay une petite bourgade à la dévallée (j’ay oublié son nom), où je feiz encore meilleure chère que jamais, et gaignay quelque peu d’argent pour vivre. sçavez-vous comment? A dormir: car l’on loue les gens à journée pour dormir et gaignent cinq et six solz par jour.

(II, 32, 346)

The passage is anticipatory of the Chiquanous episode in the Fourth Book and represents a carnivalesque never-never land where unimaginable exchanges take place, where one is payed for resting rather than for working. The episode presents various irrational exchanges. In this land, the relationship between employer and employee expressed through payment is not a rational trade of money for services but something idiosyncratic and non-capitalist. Significantly, the land represented in the episode is both a mirror image and the opposite of the real world of sixteenth-century France. Although the narrator is payed for sleeping, in a totally unusual reversal of reality, the mere fact that he is paid monetarily is a reflection of the budding capitalist era already present in France.

The pattern continues in Epistemon's visit to the Underworld. In many aspects, it resembles the society of early France as well. Epistemon reports that he witnessed a conversation between François Villon and Xerxes I while in the netherworld. Xerxes is selling mustard when Villon arrives and reproaches him for the high price he is asking. Villon remarks: “‘Tes fièvres quartaines, villain! La blanchée n’en vault qu’un pinard, et tu nous surfaictz icy les vivres’” (II, 30, 339)? His remark reflects a concern that many of Rabelais's contemporaries would have had over the inflation in prices during the sixteenth century. Yet the Underworld also appears as pure fantasy or an inverted image of the real world of Rabelais's contemporaries. Epistemon sees a Persian prince begging for deniers from the Greek stoic philosopher, Epictetus (II, 30, 338). The reference accentuates the otherworldiness of the scene in that deniers could not be begged; they had been a purely imaginary money for some time before Rabelais. The term did not refer to a real coin in circulation.41 The Underworld in this portrait participates in the realms of fantasy and the carnival. It not only flaunts its unreality; it reverses the hierarchy existing in the real world and redresses its inequalities. All those who during their life enjoyed privilege, rank and wealth are reduced to vile servants in the next world: “ilz gaignoient pour lors leur vie à vilz et salles mestiers” (II, 31, 342). Usurers are seen searching street gutters for rusty pins and nails which they sell to earn their miserable living, going weeks without food (II, 30, 339-340). This is apparently compensation for the the easy profits they once enjoyed from lending on credit. Pathelin contributes to the uncrowning of a pope. He sees Pope Jules selling meat pies and asks how much a dozen would be. “‘Troys blancs, dist le Pape.—Mais (dist Pathelin) troys coups de barre! Baille icy, villain, baille, et en va querir d’aultres!’ Le pauvre pape alloit pleurant” (II, 30, 338-339). Instead of being rewarded, Pope Jules is doubly pained by being repaid for the loss of his merchandise with blows. Pathelin establishes an equivalence between three “blancs” and three blows as if they were interchangeable means of payment. On the contrary, Lemaire de Belges is rewarded for his sober living since he serves as a pope in the Underworld. Epistemon hears him crying: “‘Guaignez les pardons, coquins, guaignez; ilz sont à bon marché. Je vous absoulz de pain et de souppe, et vous dispense de ne valoir jamais rien’” (II, 30, 339).Lemaire abuses the term “absolve” as Pathelin abuses the act of payment. For a price, Lemaire offers to deprive his clients of food, water and livelihood. By definition, an absolution can only be appropriate when it sets one free from an unpleasant or undesired obligation. Lemaire uses the term infelicitously as Pathelin abuses the term of payment. Yet, in the upside-down world Epistemon presents, such abuses are appropriate and consistent with the carnival mode which reigns. The concept of the carnival world is in itself indicative of a pre-capitalist mentality. Rather than seeking to redress inequalities in rational ways in the material world, it provides an imaginary escape from the pressures and realities of that world. Thus, Rabelais's characters overrule the order of accepted exchanges and realize patterns of deception and idiosyncracy.

Through the manipulation of contexts, Panurge enacts the carnival principle and perverts the traditional relationship between an act and its consequences and thus creates new relations. He instrumentalizes language, money and signs in general to further success-oriented goals often unrelated to the content or acknowledged force they traditionally hold. Other characters from Pantagruel down to Friar John similarly apply these principles. These manipulations are made possible by, and reflect the instability of, social institutions of the Renaissance. Inflation, the confusion in the monetary system and the competition among linguistic and legal systems all contributed to the changing nature of sixteenth-century French society. In the absence of rigidly fixed, immutable norms, Rabelais's characters experiment with means of signification and circuits of exchange. Thus according to Auerbach, “Rabelais's entire effort is directed toward playing with things and with the multiplicity of their possible aspects; upon tempting the reader out of his customary and definite way of regarding things, by showing him phenomena in utter confusion; upon tempting him out into the great ocean of the world, in which he can swim freely, though it be at his own peril.”42 Rabelais's novels explore, at a pre-theoretical level, the basis for exchange and its abuses in sixteenth-century France. Yet many of the abuses seen are attributed to individual misappropriations and misapplications rather than to faults within the system. In this way, Rabelais's texts present individual will and intelligence (or morality) as the basis for progress and abuse. This preoccupation with the individual is indicative of a Renaissance, humanist, capitalist society. Rabelais does not directly attribute problems to the society at large but rather presents individuals, or even groups of individuals such as the theologians of the Sorbonne, as originating all the beneficial and negative developments in his world. Thus, although Rabelais promotes such progressive ideas for his period as credit, Reform theology, and humanism, his inability to conceive of his society in terms other than those of good and bad individuals gives evidence of his period's epistemological limitations. Rabelais describes certain innovations in his society, yet he is unable to attribute those innovations and changes to impersonal societal shifts which transcend individuals.


  1. François Rabelais, Gargantua in Rabelais: Oeuvres Complètes, ed. Guy Demerson (Paris: Seuil, 1973), pp. 38-40. All further citations from the works of Rabelais were taken from this edition and will be listed parenthetically in the text.

  2. Jean Paris, Rabelais au futur (Paris: Seuil, 1970), pp. 81-82.

  3. Guy Demerson, ed., Rabelais: Oeuvres Complètes, p. 297, n. 12.

  4. François Rigolot, “Sémiotique de la sentence et du proverbe chez Rabelais.” Etudes Rabelaisiennes, 14 (1977), 283.

  5. H. P. Grice, “Logic and Conversation,” Syntax and Semantics, 3, (1975), 41-58.

  6. Grice, pp. 46-47.

  7. H. P. Grice, “Logic and Conversation,” Syntax and Semantics, 3 (1975), 45-50.

  8. “Social actions can be distinguished according to whether the participants adopt either a success-oriented attitude or one oriented to reaching understanding.” Jurgen Habermas, The Theory of Communicative Action, trans. Thomas McCarthy (Boston: Beacon Press, 1981), I, 286.

  9. “I shall speak of communicative action wherever the actions of the agents involved are coordinated not through egocentric calculations of success but through acts of reaching understanding.” Habermas, pp. 285-286.

  10. Habermas, pp. 288-295.

  11. Habermas, p. 286.

  12. Jean Plattard, The Life of François Rabelais, trans. Louis P. Roche (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1931), p. 109.

  13. “Subjects acting communicatively always come to an understanding in the horizon of a lifeworld. Their lifeworld is formed from more or less diffuse, always unproblematic, background convictions. This lifeworld background serves as a source of situation definitions that are presupposed by the participants as unproblematic. … The world-concepts and the corresponding validity claims provide the formal scaffolding with which those acting communicatively order problematic contexts of situations, that is, those requiring agreement, in their lifeworld which is presupposed as unproblematic.” Jurgen Habermas, The Theory of Communicative Action, trans. Thomas McCarthy (Boston: Beacon Press, 1981), p. 70.

  14. Berrendonner posits in this way a law of discourse: “Si une énonciation inconvenante E remplit une fonction interactive par rapport à une énonciation antérieure X, elle-même inconvenante, alors, E doit être considérée comme convenante.” Alain Berrendonner, Eléments de pragmatique linguistique (Paris: Minuit, 1981), pp. 231-233.

  15. See above, n. 14.

  16. Henri Lefèbvre, Rabelais (Paris: Les Editeurs Français Réunis, 1955), pp. 197-199.

  17. Edwin M. Duval, The Design of Rabelais's ‘Pantagruel ‘(New Haven, Yale University Press, 1991), p. 60.

  18. Claude-Gilbert Dubois, Mythe et langage au seizième siècle (Paris: Editions Ducros, 1970), pp. 11-41.

  19. G. Postel, L’interprétation du candelabre de Moyse, p. 394. cited in Dubois, p. 39.

  20. According to Austin, speech is an act with three distinguishable levels of action. A speech act is minimally a “locutionary act” or the uttering of certain words in a sentence with a particular meaning. Ultimately, it is a “perlocutionary act” or the producing of an effect on an audience by the saying of something. The illocutionary act is an intermediate act distinguishable from the locutionary act in that although the latter entails the proferring of sounds with meaning, the former refers to the act that the producing of those words accomplishes in the language or culture in question. Illocutionary acts are conventional. Even when they are accomplished by non-verbal means, e.g., when the waving of a hand is used as a warning, the means involved must be conventional. Yet the means of achieving a perlocutionary act, such as surprising, frightening or convincing, are not conventional by nature. One can always determine what illocutionary acts are performed by hearing what is said but not which perlocutionary effects are achieved. J. L. Austin, How to do Things with Words (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1975), pp. 94-122.

  21. Austin, How to do Things with Words, pp. 117-118.

  22. Some perlocutionary effects such as the pointing of a gun to persuade are secured through non-locutionary means. Austin, pp. 118-119.

  23. M. A. Screech sees the confusion over gestures and arbitrary signs as the essence of the episode. “Natural physical gestures can only be misunderstood by fools-including learned ones: hence the happy laughter at the expense of Thaumaste.” Screech, p. 414.

  24. See Grice, pp. 49-50 on conversational implicature. Grice affirms that implicature involves the speaker's belief that the hearer can decode the message implied. Panurge uses non-verbal communication and his audience's knowledge of the context to generate plausible meaning.

  25. Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, trans. D. W. Robertson, Jr., (New York: The Liberal Arts Press, 1958), p. 35.

  26. Luther also saw the value of language in its ability to be translated in order to spread the Word. See Claude-Gilbert Dubois, pp. 52-56.

  27. In his instrumentalization of signs in later books, Panurge continues the pattern initiated by Friar John in Gargantua. See, for example, his reading of the papal decretals in the Quart Livre (IV, 52, 718).

  28. “L’obligation de rendre est tout le potlach-tout don doit être rendu de façon usuaire.” Marcel Mauss, “Essai sur le don,” in Sociologie et Anthropologie (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1968), p. 212.

  29. Daniel Ménager, “La politique du don dans les derniers chapitres du Gargantua,The Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 8, No. 2 (Fall 1978), 179-191.

  30. John R. Searle, Expression and Meaning (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1979), p. 144.

  31. This combination is characteristic of the popular carnival tradition. Official culture is based on strict hierarchy and excludes such unstable couplings. See Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World, trans. Helene Iswolsky (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984), p. 166.

  32. De Malestroit, “Deuxième Paradoxe,” in Paradoxes Inédits: Collezione di Scritti inediti o rari di Economisti diretta de Luigi Einaudi, ed. Luigi Einaudi (Torino, 1937), III, 91.

  33. Habermas, p. 306. Habermas explains that “[a] speech act may be called ‘acceptable’ if it satisfies the conditions that are necessary in order that the hearer be allowed to take a ‘yes’ position on the claim raised by the speaker. These conditions cannot be satisfied one-sidedly, either relative to the speaker or to the hearer. They are rather conditions for the intersubjective recognition of a linguistic claim, which in a way typical of a given class of speech acts, grounds a specified agreement concerning obligations relevant to the sequel of interaction.” Habermas, pp. 296-298.

  34. The reader is meant to see this process as comic. Erasmus and other humanists Rabelais would have read condemned etymologies which involved crossing from one language to another. See M. A. Screech, Rabelais (London: Duckworth, 1979), p. 32.

  35. Nicole Oresme, “Traictié de la première invention des monnoies,” in Traicitié de la première invention des Monnoies de Nicole Oresme et Traité de la Monnoie de Copernic, ed. M. L. Wolowski (Geneva: Slatkine Reprints, 1976), 15, xlvi.

  36. Henri Lefèbvre, Rabelais (Paris: Les Editeurs Français Réunis, 1955), p. 133.

  37. Andre Bieler, La pensée économique de Jean Calvin (Geneva: Librairie de l’Université, 1961), p. 18.

  38. Oresme, 18, liv.

  39. For a psychoanalytical interpretation of this episode see Carla Freccero, “The ‘Instance’ of the Letter: Woman in the text of Rabelais,” in Rabelais's Incomparable Book Essays on His Art, ed. Raymond C. La Charité (Lexington, Kentucky: French Forum, 1986), 45-55.

  40. Eric Auerbach, Mimesis, trans. Willard R. Trask (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1974), pp. 267-270.

  41. Demerson, p. 338, n. 69.

  42. Auerbach, pp. 275-276.

Margaret Broom Harp (essay date 1997)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 17371

SOURCE: “The Chimeric Communities of the Quart Livre,” in The Portrayal of Community in Rabelais's Quart Livre, Peter Lang, 1997, pp. 13-54.

[In the excerpt below, Harp outlines the ways in which the encounter with the Ennasins in the Quart Livre reflects Rabelais's beliefs about evangelic humanism.]

Throughout the many episodes of the Quart Livre, Pantagruel and his crew visit twelve islands. With each landing, the crew of the Thalamège not only encounters a new community, but reaches a haven. In Christian art, ships seeking a harbor may symbolize souls in search of Heaven (Cirlot 294-95). Rabelais, from the outset of his book, presents his protagonists as Christian travelers. The crew, for example, sings Psalm 114, a description of the Exodus, immediately before the Thalamège sets sail. While the Dive Bouteille serves as an unlikely Promised Land, a parallel does seem to exist between the Pantagruelists' quest and the wanderings of the Elect.1

The Thalamège rarely finds a comfortable haven in the course of its voyage, as most of the islands are homes to communities with values alien or even antithetical to those espoused by the Pantagruelists. In turn, the communities themselves vary dramatically in character and outlook. While previous research has already examined some of the insular communities individually—usually within a study of a particular episode—little effort has been made to determine the resemblances and distinctions among the Quart Livre communities. One must not overgeneralize about these communities, as this would distort a text whose appeal lies precisely in its multifarious episodes, but, nonetheless, fundamental groupings among them can be made.

The five initial insular communities presented in the Quart Livre—those first seen in the 1548 edition of the Quart Livre, along with the introductory Medamothi community—fall generally under the rubric of divertissement. These comic and often grotesque communities epitomize Rabelais's preoccupation with flights of thematic and verbal fancy: inhabitants of the Ennasin and Chicanou communities offer examples of a broad comedy which at times evokes the medieval fabliaux. While these communities may offer an oblique critique of human foibles, they function primarily as inventive backdrops for the crew's own exchange of tales.

In contrast, with the exception of the Macraeons, the subsequent six insular communities—those seen only in the 1552 edition—constitute pointed satirical caricatures of Rabelais's society. While revealing, to an even greater degree, the fantastic and comical elements already in evidence in the initial communities, the subsequent communities, beginning with Quaresmeprenant (Lentkeeper) and his adversarial neighbors the Andouilles (Chitterlings), offer in addition transparent caricatures of different political and religious groups known to Rabelais. In the case of Quaresmeprenant and the Andouilles for example, Rabelais offers his version of the conflict between the followers of Lent, or Roman Catholics, and the Swiss Lutherans. Appropriately, the last insular community of the Quart Livre—Gaster's island—serves as a composite of both the mimetic and the non-mimetic characteristics found in the previous communities.

The present chapter will discuss the initial insular communities while providing a review of the community central to the Quart Livre, that of the Thalamège. It is the community of Pantagruel and his companions which at once links and contrasts with the insular communities.

Pantagruel and his companions constitute the main community presented by Rabelais in the Quart Livre: it is they who will serve as a standard to which the reader may compare the insular communities. Pantagruel has eleven fellow voyagers, several of whom have been seen in previous chronicles. By providing Pantagruel with specifically eleven companions, Rabelais evokes the twelve apostles, underscoring the pastoral nature of Thalamège journey. Like the apostles, the Thalamège crew members have different personalities but share, to varying degrees, an ardor for evangelical concerns. While rarely mentioned, eleven ships accompany the Thalamège, offering an echo of Pantagruel's crew.

Panurge, Pantagruel's companion who first appeared in Pantagruel, becomes in many respects the protagonist of the Quart Livre, as it is Panurge's attempt to determine whether he should marry which leads Pantagruel to undertake a voyage to the sage Dive Bouteille. Whereas Panurge's consultation of oracles constitutes the majority of episodes in Rabelais's previous chronicle, the Tiers Livre, in the Quart Livre it serves principally as the rationale for the Pantagruelists to embark upon a nautical, and hence adventuresome, voyage.

The debilitating indecision of Panurge, highlighted in the Tiers Livre, is overshadowed in the Quart Livre by his debilitating cowardliness. During the voyage, Panurge is in a state of transition, for his refusal to wear a braguette sets him apart from the other crew members. At the most fundamental level, Panurge represents an individual unable to decide on the community to which he should belong. At their first meeting, Pantagruel instinctively identifies Panurge as being “curious” and it is this curiosity, distinct from a sense of purpose, which seems to place Panurge in harm's way. Although Pantagruel is convinced of Panurge's riche et noble lignée, Panurge has been, since his introduction to the chronicles, a person with no apparent family or obligations: he depends entirely upon the generosity of Pantagruel.2 François Rigolot has claimed that Panurge is in fact an alter-ego of Pantagruel, at least on the onomastic level, but this interpretation is perhaps overworked.3 The two characters are profoundly different throughout Rabelais's oeuvre and most markedly so in the Quart Livre. Panurge continues to be a comic character, but his overall function in the Quart Livre is problematic, and his crucial but admittedly enigmatic role will be considered as individual episodes are discussed.

Frère Jean, introduced in Gargantua, plays a prominent role in the Quart Livre, particularly in the first half of the chronicle. Still the epitome of vigorous and active bravery, the monk frequently serves as a foil to Panurge's timorous behavior.4 Disputes between the two provide the Quart Livre with some of its more comic passages. Yet, as the narrative proceeds, it becomes evident that at times the bawdy Frère Jean also puts himself at odds with Pantagruel by provoking the giant's anger. After receiving a sharp rebuke from Pantagruel while visiting the Papimanes—Chapter 50 of the chronicle—Frère Jean is rarely mentioned again until the last chapters, when good humor is restored among the crew at the expense of Panurge. Epistémon continues to be one of Pantagruel's more learned and reflective companions. Presented in Pantagruel as the young giant's tutor, he has now become Pantagruel's friend and companion. Other childhood and adolescent acquaintances become members of the Thalamège crew: Ponocrates, Pantagruel's teacher; Gymnaste, his squire; Eusthenes and Rhizotome, his soldier friends; and Carpalim, his footman.

Two new characters, integrally linked with the voyage, make their appearance. These are Jamet Brayer, the chief pilot; and Xenomanes, a seasoned explorer. While Jamet Brayer plays only a small role in the Quart Livre, Xenomanes regularly appears throughout the chronicle, often providing the crew with details of the various islands encountered. His very name, meaning “lover of foreign lands and peoples,” epitomizes the spirit of the Thalamège crew as it begins its voyage. Interestingly, it is Panurge who has chosen Xenomanes to establish the ship's itinerary. Because the voyage has been undertaken for his benefit, Panurge apparently has control over who will supervise it. Despite his cowardly and often odious behavior throughout the chronicle, he does show good judgment in choosing and surrounding himself with skilled and praiseworthy companions. An intriguing dynamism operates among Panurge, Xenomanes, and Pantagruel. Panurge instigates the voyage but remains glaringly inactive once in contact with other peoples. Pantagruel, for his part, leads the exploration, choosing which islands he wishes to visit by relying on the information provided by Xenomanes. Although Xenomanes has plotted a course on his Hydrographie for the Thalamège, the ship's route ultimately remains Pantagruel's decision. Each of the three characters is, to some extent, the driving force behind the voyage.

While Rabelais chooses to put his own name as author on the Tiers and Quart Livres, it is M. Alcofribas Nasier who continues to serve as narrator, just as he had been in Rabelais's previous chronicles. Whereas his role is minimized in the Tiers Livre, it becomes central in the Quart Livre. Alcofribas is an integral participant in the actions of the Thalamège community, frequently being addressed directly in the various episodes by Pantagruel and the other companions. As Raymond La Charité has noted, Alcofribas is no longer an outsider looking in but rather an “eye-witness reporter.” Considering him “tame, subdued and solicitous” in comparison with his behavior in the previous chronicles, La Charité deems Alcofribas the most “pliable and engaging character in the Quart Livre.5 It is more to the point that he is the most influential, as Alcofribas relates only those episodes and details which he prefers to emphasize. By means of Alcofribas, the reader, too, becomes a member of the Thalamège community.

Alcofribas is also, arguably, the most problematical character of the Quart Livre. Ostensibly the author of both Pantagruel and Gargantua, the Abstracteur de Quinte Essence—as the title pages of the first two chronicles describe Alcofribas—shifts in the chronicles from author to narrator to character. As the name is an anagram for François Rabelais, his representation of Rabelais is possible. François Rigolot sees a mens/corpus dichotomy in Alcofribas's very name: the narrator's first name, based on that of an Arab abstracteur, or prognosticateur (Ali-ben-el Abbas), suggests a learned astronomer. “Nasier,” on the other hand, evokes one who sniffs or snivels. Hence, Alcofribas, by virtue of his name, unites the mind and body, or as Rigolot puts it, “Par la physionomie de son nom composé, le narrateur allie Socrate et Bacchus, le Banquet et Fessepinte, le rire et la moelle. Il est un prologue en miniature que le texte saura expliciter (By the physiognomy of his full name, the narrator links Socrates and Bacchus, the Banquet and Fessepinte, laughter and marrow. He is a small-scale preview of what the text will clarify. Onomastique 84, my translation).

As observed in the case of Alcofribas, Rabelais's use of onomastics not only reveals the degree of interest which language held for him but also provides insights into the personalities of the characters. Such a use of names maintains a literary convention dating from antiquity and dominating allegorical works of the Middle Ages. With the Quart Livre, Rabelais's onomastic games have become finely honed and more evident than in his earlier chronicles. Most significantly, they play a crucial role in the characterization of the insular communities. The majority of the members of the Thalamège community carry a Greek-derived name of onomastic significance: Pantagruel signifies “inspiring thirst”; Panurge, both “good for all” and “wily”; Carpalim, “quick”; Epistémon, “the wise”; Ponocrates, “the worker”; Rhizotome, “root-slicer”; Gymnaste, “trainer”; Eusthenes, “the strong”; Xenomanes, “lover of the foreign.” Invariably, one of the first important details that the reader learns concerning any of the islands is its name.

The name of Pantagruel's ship, the Thalamège, is of particular significance as it refers to the temporary home for Pantagruel and his crew. Just as the islands' names in the Quart Livre provide a clue to the nature of their inhabitants, so should this name. For Rabelais, the communities are defined not only by the nature and character of their inhabitants but also by their names. On initial investigation, the name Thalamège appears surprisingly unimpressive. In fact, it has a rather generic quality: in Greek the name signifies a ship with individual chambers. Naming a ship a “Ship” in another language surely appears uninspired in the notably imaginative works of Rabelais.

When “Thalamège” is considered from another perspective, however, the term becomes more evocative for the reader. A ship with individual rooms conjures up the design of Frère Jean's abbaye de Thélème, Rabelais's best-known model of an ideal community, described at the end of Gargantua:

Le dict batiment estoit cent fois plus magnificque que n’est Bonivet, ne Chambourg, ne Chantilly, car en ycelluy estoient neuf mille troys cens trente et deux chambres, chascune guarnie d’arrière-chambre, cabinet, guarde-robbe, chapelle et yssue en une grande salle (The said building was a hundred times more magnificent than is Bonnivet, or Chambord, or Chantilly, for in it were nine thousand three hundred and thirty-two rooms, each one furnished with an inner chamber, study, garde-robe … chapel, and opening into a great hall. 194-195; 118-119; ch. 53).

The Quart Livre does not provide a similarly elaborate description of the Thalamège, but, for Rabelais's readers, to whom the abbaye de Thélème was well known, no details were necessary.

The most apparent similarity between Frère Jean's abbaye and Pantagruel's ship lies in their names, Thélème and Thalamège. The word thélème is also of Greek origin, and it means volonté, or “will.” Although dissimilar in meaning, the two terms are nonetheless homonymic. It is just such wordplay that dominates Rabelais's oeuvre. In this case, on both the structural and semantic levels Rabelais pointedly establishes a parallel between Thélème and the Thalamège. They are the centers, the former fixed and the latter mobile, of activity among Pantagruel and his companions. While Thélème is the domicile for the adherents of Gargantua's evangelism, the Thalamège is the actual home, albeit temporary, of Gargantua's son, Pantagruel. Most significantly, they both serve as model communities to Rabelais's readers. Their joyful atmospheres stand in contrast to the funny but often chaotic milieux Rabelais describes surrounding them.

Two further observations may be made when comparing Thélème and the Thalamège. First, Rabelais introduces the two centers in opposing positions in his two works, thereby offering two different types of narrative perspective and balance in Gargantua and the Quart Livre. Gargantua concludes with the description of the abbaye de Thélème, which spans the last seven chapters. Thélème, aside from being a reward for Frère Jean, serves little purpose on the narrative level. On the other hand, Alcofribas describes the Thalamège for his readers at the outset of the Quart Livre. It remains central to the chronicle and becomes, literally, the vehicle for all narrative development.

Second, a transformation of Rabelais's image of the boîte de Silène, which appears in the prologue of Gargantua, occurs with the presentation of these two physical structures. Like the boîte, Thélème and the Thalamège both contain choses précieuses—young Pantagruelists and Pantagruel himself. Unlike the odd boîte, however, these receptacles themselves are aesthetically pleasing and attractive. The contrast between content and container has become muted, with the exterior no longer misleading the viewer as to the value of its content, but rather announcing and emphasizing it.

It is possible that contemporary readers made another association with the name Thalamège, as the Greek word, talame, signifies “nuptial chamber” (Huguet 7: 176).6 Specifically, Rabelais's literary contemporaries would be most aware of the term from its presence in the Greek name for a nuptial song, the épithalème. Evocation of this inherently joyous genre complements nicely both the celebratory narrative tone found in the opening chapters of the Quart Livre and the cheerful outlook of Pantagruel's community in general throughout the entire work. As the ultimate goal of the voyage is to determine whether or not Panurge will ever reach a nuptial chamber, the deliberate etymological link between the two terms underscores the leitmotif of marriage first established in the Tiers Livre. The theme of marriage, in turn, introduces that of union and community at large.

The significance of Pantagruel's group being found on a ship is also crucial to the very concept of community as it is illuminated in the present study. As a vessel in motion with no fixed position, the Thalamège becomes a model community which passes from one static community to another on its way to find the final “word” of the Dive Bouteille. A paradigm of model and anti-model communities establishes itself throughout the narrative with each insular encounter.

Edwin Duval argues convincingly that the Quart Livre's ending without the Thalamège's having reached its ostensible goal corresponds perfectly to the metaphorical voyage of a Christian's life. Rabelais establishes this metaphorical connection in the text's narrative (‘La messe’). Duval maintains that the incomplete journey in fact does not signify automatically that the Quart Livre is either unfinished or that it requires a sequel—namely the Cinquième Livre—as critics have assumed. Rather, the voyage necessarily can have no end. Duval's argument may be considered in a broader context: the voyage can have no end because it is also a voyage of education. Already in the Tiers Livre, Pantagruel is described as an amateur de pérégrinité et desyrant toujours veoir et tousjours apprendre (Oeuvres 536; ch. 47). As such, his ideal community, the Thalamège, must continue to be a traveling, evolving one. This technique is not unique to Rabelais. Geoffrey Chaucer's used much the same narrative design in his Canterbury Tales, as the pilgrims do not reach Canterbury in the narrative.

A description and characterization of the communities found on each island will familiarize the reader with the numerous groups visited by the Thalamège and provide a point of reference for remarks and analyses of some of the communities developed in the following chapters of this study. The Thalamège's first insular encounter is with the island of Medamothi. Three days’ voyage away from the port of Thalasse, this island, whose name in Greek means nul lieu, or “nowhere,” is attractive and welcoming. It is a large island, with a circumference “… qui n’estoit moins grand que de Canada” (… which was no less great than that of Canada. 38, 439; ch. 2). With its lighthouse-dotted coastline, Medamothi provides an impressive sight for arriving ships. The island appears to be a major trading post for voyagers. Pantagruel and his crew arrive at the time of an annual fair for which all the best Asian and African merchants have come. Pantagruel is struck by the resulting exotic flavor of the island:

… diverses tableaulx, diverses tapisseries, diverses animaulx, poissons, oizeaulx et aultres marchandises exotiques et pérégrines … estoient en l’allée du mole et par les halles du port (… divers tapestries, divers animals, fish, birds, and other exotic objects for sale … were … in the open markets of the harbor. 38, 440; ch. 2).

The crew takes advantage of the numerous markets: Frère Jean, Panurge, and Epistémon buy paintings, while Pantagruel buys a tapestry and three unicorns. Alcofribas provides fanciful and absorbing descriptions of unicorns and reindeer throughout the episode.

Pantagruel receives an unexpected farewell letter from Gargantua while visiting the island and immediately responds. Both letters appear in the text, taking up much of the Medamothi episode. Their eloquence rivals that of Gargantua's earlier letter to Pantagruel, in Chapter 8 of Pantagruel, which describes an enlightened education.7

Interestingly, Medamothi is the one island in the Quart Livre whose inhabitants are not the focus of Pantagruel's visit. No guide escorts him, nor does the island's sovereign receive him as will those on most island visited later, for the King, Philophanes, is away at his brother Philotheamon's wedding. This slight reference to marriage is the first of many instances throughout the Quart Livre in which Rabelais subtly alludes to Panurge's dilemma in deciding whether or not he should marry. By making such references, Rabelais prevents the reader from losing sight of the purpose of the voyage during the complicated narrative of the crew's various adventures and ports of call. Just as the large island's name is paradoxical—“nowhere”—so too are the names of the royal family. Derived from Greek, each name suggests “wanting to see and to be seen.” And yet, the two remain notably out of the sight of their distinguished visitors. As is perhaps appropriate for the inhabitants of a place called “nowhere,” the character of the Medamothians is only suggested, not revealed; apparently, it is of little importance to Pantagruel.

Nevertheless, the visit to Medamothi is crucial to the narrative's development as well as to the tone of the remainder of the Quart Livre. This opening episode did not appear in the 1548 Quart Livre, and I would argue that it serves primarily as an introduction to Rabelais's more thematically significant final version, one in which the notion of community becomes the central theme. Medamothi is not only a crossroads for international merchants but also represents the threshold to adulthood for Pantagruel. Medamothi is his final link with a familiar world: it is here that Pantagruel last receives word from his father—there will be no further communication between the father and son for the remainder of the voyage. Alice Berry, indeed, sees the entire voyage as an attempt on Pantagruel's part to escape his father Gargantua, a person inextricably linked with the past. Berry maintains that the voyage is a “centrifugal itinerary”—future-oriented—away from Gargantua, but that Pantagruel's gifts for Gargantua, purchased at Medamothi, are a means of giving back to the past. With the exchange of gifts, Pantagruel acknowledges the past while advancing into the future.8 Her argument perhaps casts Gargantua in an overly negative light but does underscore the crucial role of the Medamothi episode. At this island, the Thalamège, like all well-functioning communities, depends on exchange and communication with other communities, both familiar and exotic. Pantagruel gratefully, not dismissively as Berry claims, recognizes the close link between his itinerant community and Gargantua's Utopia.

Pantagruel's letter to Gargantua contains a serious description of the principle of exchange and sharing. Feeling incapable of repaying his father's generosity, Pantagruel resolves his filial debt:

Ainsi pourray je dire que l’excés de vostre paternelle affection me range en ceste angustie et necessité qu’il me conviendra vivre et mourir ingrat. Sinon que de tel crime soys relevé par la sentence des Stoïciens, lesquelz disoient troys parties estre en benefice: l’une du donnant, l’aultre du recepvant, la tierce du recompensant; et le recepvant tresbien recompenser le donnant quand il accepte voluntiers le bienfaict, et le retient en soubvenance perpetuelle. Comme, au rebours, le recepvant estre le plus ingrat du monde, qui mespriseroit et oubliroit le benefice (Even so I say to you that the excess of your paternal affection reduces me to the straits and plight of having to live and die an ingrate. Unless I am acquitted of such a crime by the dictum of the Stoics, who used to say that there were three parts in a good turn: one, of the giver; another, of the receiver; the third, of the recompenser; and that the receiver recompenses the giver very well when he willingly accepts the good turn and retains it in his memory forever; even as, on the contrary, the receiver would be the worst ingrate in the world who should despise and forget a good turn. 47, 445; ch. 4).

A symbiotic rapport between donor and recipient, as Pantagruel presents it, exists between individuals. However, readers of the Quart Livre will recall Pantagruel's notion of reciprocity while reading of subsequent examples of exchange, not only between individuals but between whole groups of individuals or communities. By means of Gargantua's letter, the initial episode of Medamothi thus provides a standard of behavior among communities for all succeeding episodes.

Rarely do the communities of the Quart Livre (acceptent) voluntiers le bienfaict et le retient en soubvenance perpétuelle (willingly) [accept] the good turn and [retain] it … forever) however. A selfishness permeates the atmosphere of most of the islands, and the arrival of Pantagruel, championing the values of generosity and magnanimity, highlights the islanders' vices to the reader. The transaction between givers and receivers as espoused by the Stoics and cited by Pantagruel will only be fully realized on the Thalamège. The communities ultimately disappoint the reader by failing to attain the same level of charitable commerce that Pantagruel has described.

Pantagruel's disillusionment is muted. Rabelais ultimately leaves any overt judgment of the communities to his reader. He recognized that a striking example without commentary could be more thought-provoking than an impassioned sermon. During a period when Jean Calvin and Catholic theologians railed openly against each other, Rabelais maintained a deliberate and forceful but less inflammatory stance. Unexpected details seen in the Medamothi episode reinforce this relatively moderate position. The painting which Panurge buys is a copy of a work by Philomela depicting her rape by her brother-in-law, who then had her tongue cut out so that she could not tell of the crime. Though limited to a dramatic portrayal free of copious explanations and commentaries, Philomèle is able to reveal the truth. Her painting establishes the pattern of representation as opposed to explanation advanced by Rabelais throughout his Quart Livre, as the communities found on the islands visited are rarely analyzed by the crew. Alcofribas tells only what has been seen and learned during the Thalamège's stay.

Rabelais is perhaps suggesting that the islanders lack the necessary Christian ethics. In considering the role of the recipient as celui qui recompense, Pantagruel explains that he can never repay his indebtedness to Gargantua but can only acknowledge it:

Estant doncques opprimé d’obligations infinies toutes procreées de vostre immense benignité, et impotent à la minime partie de recompense, je me saulveray pour le moins de calumnie en ce que de mes espritz n’en sera à jamais la memoire abolie: et ma langue ne cessera confesser et protester que vous rendre graces condignes est chose transcendente ma faculté et puissance (So being oppressed by infinite obligations all created by your immense benignity, and incapable of even the tiniest share of recompense, I will at least save myself from calumny, in that the remembrance of them shall never be blotted from my memory; and my tongue will not cease to confess and protest that to render you condign thanks is something transcending my faculty and power. 47-48, 445; ch. 4).

Pantagruel's description of his gratitude has all the attributes of a prayer. A reader might assume from this passage, if it is taken out of context, that Pantagruel is addressing the Heavenly Father rather than his actual father, Gargantua. Rabelais has taken a Stoic tenet and imbued it with Christian overtones.

In referring to the constant praise he will offer his father, Pantagruel echoes the advice Gargantua had given to him as a student in Paris in Pantagruel:

… il te convient servir, aymer et craindre Dieu, et en lui mettre toutes tes pensées et tout ton espoir, et par foy formée de charité, estre à luy adjoinct en sorte que jamais n’en soys desamparé par péché … Soys serviable à tous tes prochains et les ayme comme toy-mesmes (… it behooves you to serve, love, and fear God, and in Him put all your thoughts and all your hope; and by faith formed of charity, be adjoined to Him, in such wise that you will never be sundered from Him by sin … Be helpful to all your neighbors, and love them as yourself. Oeuvres 248, 162; ch. 8).

These remarks suggest that the community of Christians is a close one where, due to the strength of their faith, no real ill can befall its members.

Pantagruel continues his discussion of giving, receiving, and recompense with a more direct reference to Christianity. Assuring Gargantua that the perils of a voyage do not frighten him, Pantagruel explains in his written response that he has … ceste confiance en la commiseration et ayde de nostre Seigneur … (… this confidence in the commiseration and help of Our Lord … 48, 445; ch. 4). In exchange for his constant faith, Pantagruel will receive the protection of the Lord.

After the plethora of ambiguous signs and premonitions described in the Tiers Livre, the clarity of meaning represented in this opening episode of the Quart Livre demonstrates an unexpected shift. The chameleon and the tarande, the exotic animals discovered by the crew on Medamothi, clearly indicate their paour et affections by changing the color of their skin. Surroundings determine their affections:

(La renne) change de couleur selon la varieté des lieux es quelz il paist et demoure. Et represente la couleur des herbes, arbres, arbrisseaulx, fleurs, lieux, pastiz, rochiers, generalement de toutes choses qu’il approche ([the tarande] changes color according to the variety of places where it feeds and stays. And it takes on the color of the plants, trees, shrubs, flowers, places, meadows, rocks, and generally everything it comes near. 40-41, 441; ch. 2).

Here again, Rabelais provides an example of a visual, non-verbal, largely unambiguous sign. Whereas the first two signs, the painting and the ribbon, were objects, the reindeer, the chameleon, and the other creatures mentioned, which supposedly change color, are obviously animate beings and, as such, their role as sign-givers acquires multiple, even symbolic connotations. First of all, the reindeer and the chameleon offer instances of an individual adapting itself to its environs, that is to say, its community. Whether or not such conformity is advantageous remains unknown: Rabelais does not indicate why the animals alter their color and indeed does not imply that any reason exists. Most scholars have concluded that this passage merely emphasizes the exotic nature of newly discovered regions during the sixteenth century. To some extent, this interpetation is valid. Explorers were recounting similar oddities in their voyage journals, and there is little doubt that Rabelais intended for his Quart Livre to share the exotic flavor of the diaries. Yet, the actual behavior of the animals clearly has an allegorical meaning. Presented at the beginning of a narrative concerning the encounter with many different environs, the story of the reindeer and chameleon adumbrates one resolution to such encounters: allowing oneself to be absorbed into and transformed by the community. Whether or not the crew of the Thalamège will integrate itself with the various islanders it encounters remains to be seen.

Second, the chameleon epitomizes the character of Panurge, a character easily influenced by any opinion or milieu with which he is confronted. His vacillating behavior in the Tiers Livre establishes his capricious nature, and the example of the chameleon reinforces this.

The non-verbal means of communication presented in the opening Medamothi episode are not simply examples of exoticism. Rather, they suggest that clarity of meaning is sometimes possible, but that ambiguity will always exist when interpretation comes into play. The changing colors of the reindeer and the chameleon further reflect upon the dynamics of a community and its influence upon an individual. Both factors dominate the subsequent episodes in the Quart Livre.

Upon leaving Medamothi, the Thalamège sights a ship of French merchants from Saintonge. The encounter between the Thalamège and the other ship comprises four chapters of the Quart Livre (Chapters 5-8), one of the better-known passages of the work. Because most scholarship has emphasized the dispute between Panurge and the merchant Dindenault in the Lanterners episode, other interesting aspects of this episode have remained unexamined. The narrative emphasizes the pleasure that the two crews take in seeing each other; this is one of the few times when the crew responds enthusiastically to meeting others:

La joye ne feut petite, tant de nous comme des marchans: de nous, entendens nouvelle de la marine, de eulx, entendens nouvelles de terre ferme (There was no little joy, both on our part and on the merchants': on ours, to get news of the sea; on theirs, to get news of terra firma. 50, 447; ch. 5)

An immediate and spontaneous exchange occurs between the two groups of Frenchmen. Alcofribas goes on to say that Pantagruel is particularly pleased when he learns that the Saintongeois are returning from Lanternland where the inhabitants offer belle, honorable et joyeuse compaignie (beautiful, honorable and joyful company. 50; ch. 5).9 The crews conclude that the Thalamège could easily visit the Lanterners:

… ayans advertissement que, sus la fin de juillet subsequent, estoit l’assignation du chapitre general des Lanternes, et que, si lors y arrivions (comme facile nous estoit), voyrions … des Lanternes … (… learned that for the end of the forthcoming July was set the general meeting of the Lanterns, and they were making great preparations there, and that if we were to arrive there at that time (as it was easy for us), we would see … some Lanterners … 50, 447; ch. 5).

On the way, the crew of the Thalamège would discover another kingdom:

Nous feut aussi dict que, passans le grand royaulme de Gebarim, nous serions honorifiquement repceuz et traictez par le Roy Ohabé, dominateur d’icelle terre. Lequel et tous ses subjectz pareillement parlent languaige François Tourangeau (We were told that, when we stopped at the great kingdom of Gebarim, we would be honorifically received and treated by King Ohabé, ruler of that land, who speaks Touraine French, as do all his subjects likewise. 51, 447; ch. 5).

The passage which tells of the Lanterners and of the kingdom of Gebarim is short: presented in the first paragraph of chapter 5, it has no apparent relevance to the subsequent altercation between Panurge and the sheep merchant, Dindenault, which constitutes the principal event of the episode. Moreover, despite Pantagruel's professed enthusiasm for visiting these two peoples, the Thalamège never goes to their lands.10 Lanternland and Gebarim are two communities which remain unvisited for unknown reasons. Guy Demerson notes that the general meeting of the Lanterners is a reference to the 1546 session of the Council of Trent (Rabelais, Oeuvres 595). Rabelais does not highlight this allusion, however; if he did, Pantagruel's failure to attend would be more comprehensible. The Council's hard-line position against reform within the Church would be at odds with the Pantagruelists' stance against extremist viewpoints. The name evokes a previous Church Council, the Third Lateran Council of 1179, during which Innocent III, like his successor at the Council of Trent, was obliged to consider individuals, such as Peter Waldo of Lyon, who were choosing to interpret the Bible for themselves without benefit of Church doctrine. If this is one of Rabelais's references, it is obviously an obscure one, and intended primarily for students of the Church.

If one has followed Rabelais's works carefully up to this episode, he might suspect that the Lanterners are to play a notable role in the Quart Livre. Toward the end of the Tiers Livre, Panurge makes a direct reference to the country. In response to Pantagruel's call for a guide on their proposed voyage, Panurge responds that his friend Xenomanes would serve well; the navigator, passing by Lanternland, would find a Lanterness who would prove useful as a guide during the voyage.11 Lanternland is once again evoked at the beginning of the Quart Livre. At the beginning of Chapter 1, a description of one of the ships accompanying the Thalamège features a large lantern, which, according to Alcofribas, suggests that the Thalamège will pass by the Lanternoys.12

Yet, these indications eventually become false leads, for the Lanterners will not appear in the Quart Livre. The omission was probably not an oversight on Rabelais's part. It is more likely that he did not intend to write of the journey's end and consequently did not include all the projected stops in his narrative. References in the Quart Livre to intriguing yet ultimately unseen lands are curious and emphasize the vast quantity of unfamiliar areas and peoples awaiting discovery. On the textual level, these allusions underscore the chronicle's open-endedness and lack of closure.

The fictional Lanternland did not originate with Rabelais. Inspired by the aerial city of Lamptown in Lucian's True History, Rabelais first alluded to this mythic land in Pantagruel where we learn that the polyglot Panurge is fluent in lanternois (253, 164; ch. 9).13 The Lanternland theme was further developed in an anonymous pastiche of Rabelais's work, le Disciple de Pantagruel ou la Navigation du Compagnon à la bouteille of 1537 (Oeuvres 536-537). By not actually depicting Lanternland, but rather referring to it throughout the Quart Livre, Rabelais highlights the etymological significance of the name.14

The word lanterne carried at least five different, indeed opposing, connotations during the sixteenth century. Lanterne might signify a type of toy lantern, dans laquelle un mécanisme faisait mouvoir des figures grotesques, called a lanterne vive (Huguet 4: 766). Such a toy corresponds well to the Rabelaisian sense of play and distortion. A vain or unimportant matter also could be called a lanterne (Huguet 4: 766). Lanterne has an architectural, and by extension, secretive connotation: it refers to a sorte de tribune d’où l’on peut voir et entendre sans être vu (a sort of platform from where one can see and hear without being seen. Huguet 4: 766). There is, too, the inevitable slang connotation, meaning “copulation”; the term in medieval French could refer to a woman's genitalia. Lastly, a type of fish with an iridescent head which purportedly could guide sailors during storms at sea is called une lanterne (Huguet 4: 767). The term appeared in several common expressions of the sixteenth century, including radouber la lanterne, meaning to gossip. The verb lanterner means to say des choses vaines, des niaiseries (foolishness, silly remarks) and, by extension, to waste one's time or to delay fulfilling an obligation.15 Most important is the word's reference to a source of light or to a lamp, and hence the allusion to enlightenment and learning. Rabelais may have been once again acknowledging Erasmus: the Adages discuss the expression “the Lamp of Aristophanes and Cleanthes” which refers to these men's renowned diligence in study and writing (110). The multiple connotations which lanterne carries makes it an ideal addition to the Rabelaisian vocabulary; it would have made an entertaining entry to the Briefve Déclaration. It would not be unreasonable to suppose that, in addition to the possible references to Church Councils suggested above, Rabelais mentions Laternland several times due to the etymological variety of its name. Each meaning evokes a different community which shares either religious, intellectual or professional goals and which serve in subtle contrast to the Thalamège community.

The Thalamège next lands at a triangular-shaped island, resembling Sicily, called “Ennasin” or nez-coupé. The island's name denotes the physiognomy of its inhabitants: they all have noses in the shape of an ace of clubs or as de treuffles (64). As Guy Demerson has indicated, this physical feature not only lends an exotic air to the islanders by evoking the best known physical trait of the Inuits, but it also, by alluding to the punishment of having lawbreakers' noses cut off, establishes the island as a sinister milieu (Rabelais, Oeuvres 605). On a broader level, the motif of the nose introduces the theme of the grotesque. Mikhail Bakhtin explains:

… the theme of the nose itself, which occurs throughout world literature in nearly every language … always symbolizes the phallus … (there is) a popular belief that the size and potency of the genital organs can be inferred from the dimensions and form of the nose … Such is the usual interpretation of this image in the literature of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance … (Rabelais 316).

For Rabelais's readers, then, a whole community of nez-coupés would have been comical.

Aspects of the island Ennasin establish a thematic pattern apparent in the islands that Pantagruel and his companions will subsequently visit. First, a play on language, names and remarks by the crew based on bawdy double-entendres prevails throughout the episode. In this episode Rabelais emphasizes sexual exchange as a basis for this community. Because couples on the island identify themselves chiefly as inanimate objects which are often used together, the crew cannot resist making broad interpretations of these pairings. Alcofribas describes these alliances in terms of sexual innuendo:

Un autre salua une siene mignonne, disant: “Adieu mon bureau.” Elle luy respondit: “Et vous aussi, mon procès.” Par sainct Treignan, dict Gymnaste, ce procès doibt estre soubvent sus ce bureau … Un autre salua une sienne alliée, disant: “Bon di, ma coingnèe.” Elle respondit: “Et à vous, mon manche.”—Ventre beuf, s’escria Carpalim, comment ceste coingnée est emmanchée? Comment ce manche est encoingné? Mais seroit ce poinct la grande manche que demandent les courtisanes Romaines (Another greeted a cutie of his, saying: “Good-bye, my desk.” She answered: “And the same to you, my lawsuit.” By Saint Ninian! said Gymnaste, that lawsuit must often lie upon the desk … Another man, greeting a female relative of his, said “Morning, my hatchet!” She answered: “And the same to you, my helve!” Odsbelly! cried Carpalim, how is this hatchet helved? How is this helve hatcheted? But mightn’t this be the great helve that the Roman courtesans asked for? 66, 455-56; ch. 9)?

Only Pantagruel does not participate in the verbal gymnastics. On Ennasin, as well as on the other islands, Alcofribas relates how Pantagruel closely observes but only rarely comments on the communities he is visiting. His reflective stance is consistent. Throughout the Chroniques, Rabelais portrays Pantagruel as an active but less audacious giant than his father Gargantua. From the opening chapters of Pantagruel, his role has been that of a prudent observer who is nonetheless capable of decisive action. In Chapter 5 of Pantagruel, we see him touring France, viewing the customs and events of the various regions, much as he will do on his voyage with Panurge. Like his father, Pantagruel could be incited to use physical force in his early youth. Upon seeing some vauriens prevent a youth from dancing, for example, Pantagruel became angry: “Quoy voyant, Pantagruel leur bailla à tous la chasse jusques au bort du Rosne, et les vouloit faire tous noyer; mais ils se mussèrent contre terre comme taulpes bien demye lieue soubz le Rosne” (Seeing which, Pantagruel gave chase to them all right up to the edge of the Rhône, and tried to get them all drowned; but they took cover like moles in the ground, a good half league under the Rhône. 234, 148; ch. 5). This episode is one of the few where Pantagruel reveals the overzealous exuberance of his father Gargantua, who in his youth was prone to drown Parisians in his urine and to steal the bells from Notre Dame.

Despite his youth, the Pantagruel of the Tiers Livre and of the Quart Livre demonstrates the forebearance that Gargantua has gained only with age and experience. In short, Pantagruel possesses the probity needed in a time of political unrest. He serves as an example to Rabelais's contemporaries, living in a period in which reactionary behavior in both religious and governmental realms reigned. Now as leader of the Thalamège community, Pantagruel's discretion and wisdom become central to the Quart Livre.

Whether or not Pantagruel reveals his opinion concerning a group of islanders, Alcofribas usually provides a detailed portrait of them. The presentation of every island contains either a direct or a veiled commentary on aspects of mid-sixteenth century French institutions and society. By presenting the various political, religious and intellectual partisans as discrete communities, Rabelais underscores the disruption of European Renaissance society at large. His social critique constitutes the secondary and yet more serious and profound element of each insular episode.

Multiple interpretations of the Ennasin episode are possible, and satirical allusions may not be immediately evident. Emile Telle considers the Ennasin episode to be an indictment of monastic life, with the Ennasins constituting a veritable anti-Thélème.16 However, Richard Berrong's interpretation of the island Ennasin differs radically from Telle's.17 Because of their very unified society, the Ennasins, according to Berrong, would appear to constitute Rabelais's ideal society, an ideal against which one can perceive the problems of the other “real” societies that the author presents in the Tiers Livre and especially the Quart Livre.

But Berrong's premise that the Ennasins represent an ideal social order is not convincing: the Ennasins kindly but frivolous natures lack the profundity which he attributes to them. Nonetheless, Berrong does highlight an important aspect of the Ennasin community: its distinctness from the islands later visited by the Thalamège. For all practical purposes, Ennasin is the first insular community that Pantagruel visits; as suggested above, Medamothi serves primarily as a decisive juncture for the Thalamège, one in which the crew is impressed by the island's unusual opulence rather than its inhabitants. Medamothi and the islands encountered after Ennasin, despite various strange attributes, have at the very least a social order which is comprehensible to Pantagruel and his crew. For example, it becomes apparent that the Andouilles on the island Farouche do not seem particularly alien to the crew; led by a queen and unified by a deeply ingrained mistrust of their adversary, Quaresmeprenant, these insular inhabitants demonstrate the same motivations and even live under the same monarchical system as do the majority of sixteenth-century European countries. In short, their non-human status becomes a mask for societies quite familiar and comprehensible to the crew, as they are, after all, caricatures of political and religious groups from Rabelais's day.

The portrait of the Ennasins, however, is less readily decipherable, as the caricature, if indeed it is one, remains obscure. Consequently, interpretations as diverse as Berrong's and Telle's develop. Physically, the islanders resemble “Poitevins”; socially, however, they have no precedent:

… estans ainsi tous parens et alliez l’un de l’autre, nous trouvasmes que persone d’eulx n’estoit pere ne mere, frere ne soeur, oncle ne tante, cousin ne nepveu, gendre ne bruz, parrain ne marraine de l’autre (… for while all were kith and kin and related to one another, not one of them was father or mother, brother or sister, uncle or aunt, cousin or nephew, son-in-law or daughter-in-law, godfather or godmother, to another. 66, 455; ch. 9).

Appellations among the islanders and by extension the “alliances” which they signify consequently become arbitrary:

… un grand vieillard enasé, lequel, comme je veidz, appella une petite fille aagée de trois ou quatre ans: mon père; la petite fillette le appelloit: ma fille (… one tall old denosed man, to be sure, who, as I watched called out to a little girl of four: “My father”; the girl called him: “My daughter.” 66, 455; ch. 9).

Numerous critics have sufficiently established the Ennasin episode as another example of Rabelais's mocking the monastic way of life. By calling the islanders Ennasins, Rabelais makes an oblique reference to the Essenian people, an austere Jewish sect described by Flavius Josephus (Telle 161). Rabelais continues the literary tradition of humanists such as Erasmus and Lefèvre d’Etaples, who protested against the vast variety of religious orders by referring to the Essenians in order not to mention specifically monks or religion (Telle 164).18 Both allusions suggest a general corruption of a static, isolated community.

The Ennasins' unfamiliarity to the crew has yet to be thoroughly studied, however. Pantagruel and his crew discover in the course of their visit that not only do the Ennasins maintain nonsensical designations among themselves, they in a sense become their sobriquets. Alcofribas says:

Nous presens, feut faict un joyeulx mariage d’une poyre … avecques un jeune fromaige à poil follet … En une aultre salle, je veids qu’on marioit une vieille botte avecques un jeune et soupple brodequin … je veids un jeune escafignon espouser une vieille pantophle (In our presence was performed a merry marriage of a female pear … to a young cheese with a downy chin … In another room, I saw that an old boot was being married to a supple young buskin. 69-70, 457; ch. 9).

Whereas the crew initially discovers the inhabitants calling each other objects, further encounters reveal that the Ennasins emerge as objects.

The crew of the Thalamège recognize only two social conventions supported by the Ennasins: marriage and the maintenance of a podestà. Both institutions constitute poor imitations of the original. The podestà possesses no authority. Once again, only a title distinguishes him from his compatriots: he is called a podestà and hence becomes one. Further, Ennasin marriages appear to be founded on lasciviousness and avarice rather than on mutual love and admiration. They certainly do not offer Panurge promising examples of the conjugal union he fears and yet desires. Indeed, they possibly mirror contemporary French marriage customs. This refusal of strong community rule should be considered principally in the context of Pantagruel's voyage, however, and not viewed solely as a critique of one aspect of Rabelais's contemporary society, the monastic life.

The isle of Cheli is the third stop for the Thalamège. A virtual land of milk and honey, Cheli, whose name resembles a Hebrew word for “peace,” exemplifies a land of plenty or, as it is called in the French tradition, “le pays de Cocagne.” Having just visited ces mal plaisans Allanciers, avecques leur nez de as de treuffle (the unattractive Kith-and-Kinners [Allianciers], with their ace-of-clubs noses), the crew of the Thalamège finds this lush and rich land with its charming inhabitants a welcome stopover (70, 458; ch. 10). Their visit at Cheli is a brief one, both in terms of the voyage—less than a day—and in terms of the narrative—two short chapters. It would seem initially that the Cheli episode serves primarily as an opportunity for Frère Jean, Epistémon, Pantagruel and Panurge to exchange humourous but seemingly inane tales. The stories' lack of a central theme, however, in turn reflects both on the crew of the Thalamège and on the community glimpsed on the island of Cheli.

Cheli's king, Panigon, or “easy going fellow,” heartily greets Pantagruel and his companions and then escorts them to his castle:

Sus l’entrée du dongeon se offrit la royne, accompaignée de ses filles et dames de court. Panigon voullut qu’elle et toute sa suyte baisassent Pantagruel et ses gens. Telle estoit la courtoisie et coustume du pays. Ce que feut faict, excepté Frère Jan, qui se absenta et s’ecarta par my les officiers du Roy (Above the donjon gate the queen presented herself, attended by her daughters and all the ladies of the court. Panigon wanted her and all her suite to kiss Pantagruel and his men. Such was the courteous custom of the country, which was done, except for Frère Jean, who took off and stayed apart among the king's officers. 70-71, 458; ch. 10).

From this single detail, it is clear that protocol dominates the Chelians. Frère Jean leaves no doubt as to his impressions of their mores:

… j’en sçay mieulx l’usaige et cerimonies que de tant chiabrener avecques ces femmes, magny, magna, chiabrena, reverence double, reprinze, l’accollade, la fressurade, baise la main de vostre mercy, de vostre majesta, vous soyez, tarabin, tarabas. Bren, c’est merde à Rouan … ceste brenasserie de reverences me fasche plus qu’un jeune diable … (… I know their customs and ceremonies better than how to shittershatter so much with all these women, manyee, manya, shitershattery, bow, repeat, once again, the hug, the embrace, kiss your majesty's hand, be most welcome, pish tush. That's crap, known as shit in Rouen! … this turdocrapery of scrapes and bows makes me madder than a young devil … 71-72, 459; ch. 10).

His companions respond, not in direct agreement or dissent, but by offering entertaining stories, all of which treat to a greater or lesser degree the practice of propriety. Frère Jean tells of the lord of Guyecharois who, by blindly following expected decorum, ends up kissing several pages dressed as young maidens. Epistémon describes a monk in Florence who questions the value of beautiful architecture and stunning antiques if no roast-shops are to be found in their midst. Although this anecdote targets primarily the fabled gluttony of monks, it points out as well, in true Rabelaisian form, the necessity of practicality in conjunction with refinement and gentility. Pantagruel draws on his classical training to recount the exchange between Antigonus, king of Macedonia, and the poet Antagoras. Seeing Antagoras himself preparing a meal of lobsters, Antigonus mockingly wonders if Homer prepared lobsters while writing of Agamemnon. Antagoras retorts by asking if Agamemnon in performing his many brave feats would have bothered to wonder if someone in his camp was preparing lobsters. Panurge concludes with a clever tale that contrasts with Pantagruel's, which is set in contemporary times (the 1530's, when Francis I was battling Charles V) rather than in antiquity, lending an air of actuality to the conversation. In addition, two well-known sixteenth-century nobles, Breton Villandry and the duc de Guise, are the subjects of the anecdote. The duke remarks that Breton, although wearing a handsome and elaborate suit of armor, has never been seen in the midst of battle. Breton boasts that of course he has seen battle, indeed in a position where the duke himself would not be found. Seeing that his remark has offended the duke, Breton quickly adds that he was in the rear line where the duke would not have tolerated hiding.

A curious complexity is established by this tale. Unlike those of the three previous stories, this tale's resolution is ambiguous. Panurge does not clarify whether Breton's final statement is an adroit attempt to mask his initial, unwittingly contemptuous statement, or if his initial claim of valor constitutes the setup of a joke with his follow-up becoming the punch line. It also could be a case of the seigneur having truly retreated to the rear guard and straightforwardly admitting as much. Although Breton laughs as he explains his comment to the duc de Guise, the reader is not sure to what extent Breton is joking or telling the truth. Nor does the reader learn the reaction of the duc de Guise—does Breton appease the duke with his explanation or does the duke remain insulted?

Pantagruel's story has in fact demonstrated the same narrative pattern, and the Macedonian king's response to Antagoras's witty but acerbic query is unknown. It is fitting that Panurge, a character who throughout the Chroniques has demonstrated a mercurial nature, should relate this unexpectedly complex tale. Breton's manner of saving face by hastily backtracking with excuses and possible fabrications mirrors Panurge's habitual behavior in the earlier chronicles and foreshadows his conduct during and after the tempest scene in chapters 17 and 24 of the Quart Livre. After this suite of stories, no more mention is made of Panigon's kingdom, as the reader learns at the end of Chapter 11 that the tales have been told as the crew returns to port and the ships leave Cheli immediately thereafter.

The Cheli episode develops into a pastiche of one aspect of the classical epic. Cheli is an island of ease and comfort where challenges and goals do not exist. Rather, the inhabitants concern themselves with useless gestures that give only the illusion of action. As such, Cheli represents the trap of complacency which a vigorous hero such as Pantagruel must avoid if he is ever to reach the level of excellence that his position demands. The leitmotif of sensual pleasures tempting stalwart heroes finds its source in both the Aeneid and the Argonautica.19 Rabelais once again draws a parallel between his hero and those of the classical Greek writers, one that would have been obvious to the more educated readers of his time. The allusion also underscores Pantagruel's, not Panurge's, heroic role in the Quart Livre. No one in the Thalamège community appears tempted by the inordinate ease found on Cheli. Despite their differences, Pantagruel's companions are all essentially practical and none hesitate to joke about the officious ways of Panigon's kingdom. They are also active: the complacency found on this island and those yet unseen is fundamentally alien to the Thalamège community members' desire for and, in fact, need for discovery and exchange.

Pantagruel travels on to the island of Procuration, where the crew's encounter with a people calling themselves Procultous and Chicanous prompts a sequence of stories told among the Pantagruelists. As seen in the last episode on Cheli, the activities of Procuration's inhabitants serve as a background motif to the crew's stories. The tales comprise five chapters, however, as opposed to the two which make up the Cheli visit. In contrast with the previous episode, the nature of the islanders is fully explored. The Chicanous become the focal point of the anecdotes recounted by Panurge and Pantagruel.

As the island is immediately described as un pays tout chaffouré et barbouillé (a country that is all jumbled and begrimed), the reader knows from the outset of the narrative that Procuration is the home of a people quite alien to the crew of the Thalamège (77, 462; ch. 12). The name Procuration itself serves as a trope for the reader familiar with Rabelais. It evokes, for instance, the memorable episodes in the previous chronicles where lawyers become a source of ridicule. In the Tiers Livre, Panurge purposely mispronounces procureur in order to emphasize the middle syllable which evokes cul, or “ass”:

J’en demande à messieurs les clercs, à messieurs les présidens conseilliers, advocatz, proculteurs et autres glossatuers de la vénérable rubricque de frigidis et maleficiatis (I ask milords the clerics, milords the presidents of the courts, counselors, attorneys, procurators, and other commentators on the venerable rubric On the frigid and spellbound. 420, 298; ch. 14).

In the Quart Livre, Rabelais continues this play-on-words by introducing the inhabitants of Procuration as “Procultous” as well as Chicanous. The first name does not reappear for the remainder of the episode, however, and the inhabitants are called only “Chicanous” thereafter. Rabelais has made his joke and apparently prefers not to belabor it. The name “Chicanou” is a more apt description of the Procuration inhabitants, as it suggests chicaner or “chicanery.” The Chicanous, as Pantagruel and his companions discover, are not procureurs in the legal sense of the term but rather tricksters for hire. They risk their safety and often their lives in return for payment. The Chicanous then are procureurs in the literal sense: they are constantly in search of money.

The Chicanous'character becomes evident from the first paragraph of Chapter 12. Their lack of generosity, as well as their self-interest, distinguishes them markedly from the crew of the Thalamège:

Là veismes des Procultous et Chiquanous, gens à tout le poil. Ilz ne nous inviterent à boyre, ne à manger. Seulement, en longue multiplication de doctes reverences, nous dirent qu’ilz estoient tous à nostre commendement, en payant (There we saw the Pettifoggers and Shysteroos, monstrous hairywild men. Only after a long sequence of many learned salutations, they told us that they were all at our service—for pay. 77, 462; ch. 12).

The services which the Chicanous perform are unorthodox, albeit sought-after, and they verbally abuse “un gentilhomme” at the request of a moine, prebstre, usurier ou advocat (monk, priest, usurer or an advocate 78, 462; ch. 12). In essence, however, they are being paid to be beaten, since no self-respecting gentleman will tolerate such insults. He feels compelled to punish the Chicanou physically. The Chicanou in question often receives double payment, as he will be so badly injured from his beating that the gentleman is obliged to pay reparations. The Chicanous maintain a direct rapport between their beatings and their livelihood: si par long temps demouroient sans estre battuz, ilz mourroient de male faim, eulz, leurs femmes et enfans (if they remained a long time without being beaten, they would die of starvation, they, their wives, and their children. 77, 462; ch. 12).

Despite the graphic descriptions of the Chicanous' beatings, their state evokes pity neither in the crew of the Thalamège nor in the reader. It is to be noted that the Chicanous' employers—monks, clerics, usurers and lawyers—are the standard targets of scorn in Pantagruel's world, whereas their victims are gentlemen, men with whom the Pantagruelists would sympathize. In addition, the person who explains the Chicanous' means of living is a nameless truchement, or “interpreter,” who offers no other information on their way of life which might endear them to the reader. We learn nothing of their family or cultural life. Their occupation is, from all appearances, their life, and, therefore, they become an archetype of mercenary behavior as well as an antithesis of pantagruelistic life.20 Their suffering for others is both comic and perverse because it is based on avarice rather than on charity. The Chicanous demonstrate no individuality; in fact, they are each called “Chicanou” rather than “the Chicanou” and hence their role in the tale becomes that of père dindon, or dupe, of the medieval tradition.21

Although the reader of the Procuration episode needs an explanation of the island's inhabitants, it becomes evident that at least Panurge is aware of the Chicanous' habits and proceeds to recount a long tale of how the lord of Basché got the best of several Chicanous and, in the process, avoided paying reparations. It is only natural that Panurge, a consummate trickster, should be familiar with both the charlatans and those who outwit them. He regales his fellow companions with a highly-detailed story which stands in direct contrast to his own increasingly apparent inaction.

Panurge's protagonist promptly establishes himself as a good Pantagruelist. Described as a couraigeux, vertueux, magnanime, chevalerueux (courageous, valorous, magnanimous, chivalrous) noble who has just returned from helping the duc de Navarre defend himself against the aggressions of Pope Julius II, the lord reveals the patriotism and valor which Pantagruel holds dear (78, 462-463; ch. 12). Panurge emphasizes the lord's generous nature and his hearty appreciation for recreation and dining. Upon his homecoming, Basché is plagued by Chicanous sent by the gras prieur de Sainct Louant (fat prior of Saint-Louant 79, 463; ch. 12). He informs his wife, his curate Oudart and the other members of his household that, with their help, he will trick the Chicanou. At the Chicanou's next arrival, the household will appear to be celebrating a marriage, with the Chicanou invited to join in. Following the ceremony, the guests, according to custom, all will give each other light taps in order to “remember” the wedding. When they reach the Chicanou, however, they will give him violent blows. Basché encourages his household's participation by giving extra money to his servants. It is to be noted that, by including a mock wedding in his story, Panurge makes a game out of marriage as a whole, and hence refuses to take seriously the conjugal union which he himself has under consideration.

An unappealing Chicanou, recognized by his rough clothing and bad horse, but nevertheless wearing a silver ring on his thumb, arrives that very day from the disagreeable sounding Isle Bouchard and the seigneur's scheme goes according to plan:

… ilz le festoierent à grands coups de guanteletz, si bien qu’il resta tout estourdy et meurtry, un oeil poché au beurre noir, huict coustes freussées, le brechet enfondré, les omoplates en quatre quartiers, la maschouere inferieure en trois loppins, et le tout en riant. Dieu sçayt comment Oudart y operoit, couvrant de la manche de son suppellis le gros guantelet asséré, fourré d’hermines, car il estoit puissant ribault. Ainsi retourne à l’Isle Bouchard Chiquanous, acoustré à la tigresque, bien toutesfois satisfaict et content du siegneur de Basché, et moyennant le secours des bons chirurgiens du pays vesquit tant que vouldrez (… they feted him with great blows with the gauntlets, so roundly that it left him all punchy and bruised, with one eye poached in butter sauce, eight broken ribs, his breast bone knocked in, his shoulder blades each in four quarters, his lower jaw in three pieces, and all this done laughing. God knows how well Oudart operated, covering with the sleeve of his surplice the great steel-trimmed gauntlet with the ermine fur, for he was a powerful rascal. So Shysteroo goes back to L’Isle Bouchart, cruelly battered, but quite satisfied and content with the lord of Basché; and with help from the good surgeons of the region he lived as long as you like. 81, 464; ch. 12).

The Chicanou's actual pleasure in being beaten is surprising, if not repulsive, to the reader and highlights the perverse outlook of the Chicanous. Their lack of generosity coupled with their obsession with monetary and physical payment contradicts the humanist tenets of the Thalamège community. The passage is chiefly a comic one, however, and displays familiar Rabelaisian features: Rabelais continues to indulge his passion for medical terms as he describes the Chicanou's injuries. Moreover, Oudart's overzealous use of a steel glove echoes Frère Jean's violent and enthusiastic tendencies as first described in Gargantua and later noted in the Tiers Livre and the Quart Livre.

The Chicanou episode does not end with Panurge's account of the lord of Basché's revenge, as he continues his tale with a recital of the lord's own story, told to his household after the above-mentioned Chicanou's departure. Basché chooses as his subject François Villon who, acording to the account, chose to seek vengeance against a character as disagreeable as the Chicanou: Frère Estienne Tappecoue. The monk provoked the ire of Villon by refusing to lend his cape as a costume in a Passion play organized by Villon. In retaliation, Villon arranges later for all the actors, armed with firecrackers and torches, to dress in animal hides and surprise Tappecoue on the road as he rides home from a nearby village. Startled by the sight and sound of the group, Tappecoue falls from his horse and, unable to extricate himself from his stirrups, is dragged by the galloping filly:

Ainsi estoit trainné à escorchecul par la poultre, tousjours multipliante en ruades contre luy et fourvoyante de paour par les hayes, buissons et fossez. De mode qu’elle luy cobbit toute la teste, si que la cervelle en tomba près la croix Osanniere; puys les bras en pieces, l’un çà, l’aultre là; les jambes de mesmes; puys des boyaulx feist un long carnaige, en sorte que la poultre au convent arrivante, de luy ne portoit que le pied droict et soulier entortillé (So he was dragged flayass by the filly, who kicked out against him harder than ever, always multiplying the kicks against him, and was straying off the road in her fright through the bushes, hedges, and ditches. With the result that she quite bashed in his skull, so that his brains fell out near the Hosanna Cross; then came the arms, in pieces, one here, one there, likewise the legs; then she made one long carnage of the bowels; so that when the filly reached the monastery, all she bore of him was his right foot and entangled shoe. 84-85, 466; ch. 13).

Villon is most pleased with this outcome, telling the “devils” that they “acted” very well. Basché tells his household that they too have acted very well in their performance with the Chicanou and that their wages consequently will be doubled. Basché then generously distributes gifts of sterling silverware among his servants, proclaiming that he would prefer endurer en guerre cent coups de masse sus le heaulme au service de nostre tant bon Roy qu’estre une foys cité par ces mastins Chiquanous, pour le passetemps d’un tel gras Prieur! (to endure a hundred blows on my helmet in war in the service of our best of kings than be summoned once by these Shysteroo curs, for the sport of a fat prior like that one! 86, 467; ch. 13).

Panurge concludes his tale of the lord of Basché with an account of visits from two more Chicanous at the noble's estate. The household, interrupted each time in its gameplaying and dining, hastily arranges a mock wedding festivity, and the visiting Chicanou, subsequently, is beaten soundly, Oudart's steel glove being much in evidence. Graphic and imaginative descriptions of the physical violence dominate the story, with typical Rabelaisian vocabulary such as

morrambouzevezengouzequoquemorguatasacbacguevezinemaffressé (snoutcrapgutanbuttmorgatysackbackpopsmashed)

to express “hit” and

morderegrippipiotabirofreluchambureluchamburelurecoquelurintimpane mens (snatchcatchadoodahodgepodgehumdrummings)

for “kick” appearing with regularity (90-91, 470; ch. 15).

François Rigolot provides a convincing analysis of the role of verbal play by explaining that Rabelais has revitalized a standard fight scene by emphasizing the language describing it. Indeed, he posits that the only interesting aspect of the episode is on the linguistic level:

Si les gens de Basché sont les héros de la farce, c’est avant tout parce qu’ils ont su se créer un langage approprié. On opte pour leur cause non qu’on se réjouisse de voir des gredins daubés, mais parce qu’on se laisse prendre au jeu de l’invention verbale (If the people of Basché are the heroes of the farce, it is above all because they knew to create an appropriate language. One favors their cause not because one enjoys seeing some scoundrels thrashed but because one is drawn into the game of verbal invention. Languages 130, my translation).

The scene becomes yet more farcical when the last Chicanou, who, in anticipation, had begun the brawl, compares the wedding celebration to the tumultuous wedding banquet of the Lapiths interrupted by the Centaurs and renounces any future return to the lord of Basché:

De là en hors, feut tenu comme chose certaine que l’argent de Basché plus estoit aux Chiquanous et Records pestilent, mortel et pernicieux que n’estoit jadis l’or de Tholose, et le cheval Séjan à ceulx qui le possederent. Depuys, feut ledict seigneur en repous et les nopces de Basché en proverbe commun (From there on out it was maintained as a certainty that Basché's money was more pestilential, deadly, and pernicious to Shysteroos and witnesses than ever was the gold of Toulouse and Sejus's horse to those who possessed it. Since then the said lord has been at peace and quiet, and Basché's weddings a common proverb. 92, 471; ch. 15).

Panurge's tale concluded, the Chicanou episode ends with a final chapter describing the reactions of Pantagruel, Epistémon and Frère Jean. After an uproarious story which culminates in a flight of verbal fancy, the opening tone of Chapter 16 is remarkably sober and restrained. Pantagruel notes that ceste narration … sembleroit joyeuse, ne feust que davant nos oeilz fault la craincte de Dieu continuellement avoir (this story … would seem merry, were it not that we must continually have the fear of God before our eyes. 93, 472; ch. 16). With this quotation from St. Paul on the subject of vengeance, Pantagruel offers no commentary on the details of the Basché story but rather judges the narration as a whole. It would seem that he sees no moral justification for the gratuitous and cruel violence seen in Panurge's account and hence obliquely criticizes Panurge. Epistémon, too, offers a critique of the story by claiming that it would have been a better story if the gras Prieur had been beaten, rather than the Chicanous:

Il dependoit pour son passetemps argent, part à fascher Basché, part à veoir ses Chiquanous daubbez. Coups de point eussent aptement atouré sa teste rase … En quoy offensoient ces paouvres diables Chiquanous (He was spending money for his sport, partly to annoy Basché, partly to see his Shysteroos drubbed. A tattoo of fists would have aptly adorned his shaven pate … What offense had these poor devil Shysteroos committed? 93, 472; ch. 16)?

Pantagruel does not respond to Epistémon's query but offers another history of recompense, taken from his reading of Aulus Gellius. Lucius Neratius, a Roman noble, would beat his servants without provocation. In order to appease them, however, he willingly gave them money in return: Ainsi despendoit son revenu, battant les gens au pris de son argent (Thus he spent his income, beating people for the price of his money. 94, 472; ch. 16).

Frère Jean, intrigued by such a practice, decides to propose it to some nearby Chicanous, calling out: Qui veult guaingner vingt escuz d’or pour estre battu en Diable? (Who wants to earn twenty crowns for getting a devil of a beating? 94, 472; ch. 16). The enthusiastic response is immediate, and a crowd of Chicanous surrounds Frère Jean, each one vying to be “hired.” An aggressive red-nosed Chicanou is chosen—much to the displeasure of the others—and Frère Jean hits him repeatedly until tired and then turns over the twenty crowns. Red-Snout, joyous, turns on his fellow Chicanous when they beg Frère Jean to beat them next, accusing them of stealing from his market. They thus entreat Panurge, Epistémon, and Gymnaste but to no avail: Alcofribas offers without comment that no one would hear of it. It would seem that Rabelais is mocking the practice of flagellation common among clerics in the sixteenth century.

After the lively passage recounting Frère Jean's brawl, the conclusion of the last chapter of the Chicanou episode contains a final ribald joke which seals the derisory tone taken toward the Chicanous. The crew of the Thalamège sees two Chicanou women mourning two Chicanous who have been hanged for having stolen the ferremens de la messe (ornaments for Mass) and hiding them under the parish belfry (97, 474; ch. 16). The women refer to the belfry using the colloquial term manche, or “handle,” an ambivalent phallic term which Rabelais has already highlighted in the Ennasin episode. Epistémon accordingly judges that the women have spoken in terrible allegorie (97). He ignores the plight of the hanged men and the grief of the women—once again, the Chicanous are Punch and Judy characters not to be taken seriously by either the voyagers or the readers—but immediately sees the off-color humor of the hiding place of solemn, ceremonial items. The joke emphasizes the Chicanous' rapacious nature and offers yet another gratuitous tweak at the traditional signs of worship. Pantagruel's estimation of the crime is left unknown; his silence is characteristic in the Quart Livre and it is often Epistémon who offers a word of summation, or in this case a punchline, as closure.

The next insular episode is a comparatively short one, with Rabelais departing from the broad humor seen in the Chicanou episode but maintaining an equally fanciful tone. The Thalamège visits the islands of Tohu and Bohu on the same day it leaves Procuration. Apparently because of the paucity of offerings on Procuration, the crew is in search of food and supplies. “Tohu” and “Bohu,” according to the Briefve Déclaration, signify deserte et non-cultivée in Hebrew (276). Huguet defines “Tohu vabohu” as chaos, the modern meaning of tohu-bohu (4: 258). No distinction is made between the two islands, and in fact the reader learns very little of them other than the fact that the giant Bringuenarilles, after choking on fresh butter, had died on one or the other of the islands the morning of Pantagruel's arrival.22

Pantagruel also hears mention of the king of Cullan on Bohu, so one could justifiably assume that more than one, possibly several, kingdoms exist on each of the islands. Most of the Tohu/Bohu episode serves as a vehicle for Alcofribas's tales of strange deaths and hence the islands' names, denoting lifelessness, are only apt. Citing sources as diverse as Plutarch and Boccaccio, Alcofribas recounts the singular demise of twelve different persons, primarily ancients. Only after providing these accounts does he explain just how Bringuenarilles died.

This theme of strange deaths reappears in a better-known passage: Montaigne's essay, Que Philosopher, c’est apprendure à mourir (I20). Montaigne produces some of the same examples as Rabelais. Consider Rabelais's text:

Aeschilus, ce non ostant, par ruine feut tué et cheute d’une caquerolle de tortue, laquelle, d’entre les gryphes d’une aigle haulte en l’air tombant sus sa teste, luy fendit la cervelle … Plus d’Anacreon, poete, lequel mourut estranglé d’un pepin de raisin (Aeschylus, this notwithstanding, was killed by the drop and fall of a tortoise's carapace, which, falling on his head from the talons of an eagle high in the air, split open his skull … Besides Anacreon, a poet, who died choking on a grapeseed. 100, 475; ch. 17).

Montaigne presents these same incidents and in the same order:

Aeschilus, menassé de la cheute d’une maison, a beau se tenir à l’airte: le voyla assommé d’un toict de tortue, qui eschappa des pates d’un Aigle en l’air. L’autre mourut d’un grein de raisin … (Aeschylus, threatened with the fall of a house, takes every precaution—in vain: he gets himself killed by a sort of roof, the shell of a tortoise dropped by a flying eagle. Another dies from a grape seed … 86, 59).

This does not mean that Montaigne must have consulted Rabelais for these examples, for they were well-known among humanist readers. Battista Fregoso's popular book Des dits et faicts memorables, dating from 1518, could have been the source for both authors (Rabelais, Oeuvres 630). Rather, it is intriguing to note that both writers would use the same theme and even the same examples in such different styles. Rabelais's text is basically light-hearted: his last example of the giant Bringuenarilles fatally choking on some soft butter that was prescribed for an indigestion that stemmed from an over-consumption of pots and pans takes the edge off the most serious ontological subject a writer can address, the omnipresence of Death. On the other hand, Montaigne forces his reader to face squarely the question of Death:

Ces exemples si frequens et si ordinaires nous passant devant les yeux, comme est-il possible qu’on se puisse deffaire du pensement de la mort, et qu’à chaque instant il ne nous semble qu’elle nous tient au collet? (With such frequent and ordinary examples passing before our eyes, how can we possibly rid ourselves of the thought of death and of the idea that at every moment it is gripping us by the throat? I, 20, 86; 59).

It may be argued, however, that the two authors share the same intent. Offering in a rambling fashion a plethora of various demises, both writers, by strength of repetition, oblige their readers to consider the role of death in human existence. Rabelais does so at greater length. The episode following the chapter on Tohu and Bohu in both the 1548 and the 1552 editions of the Quart Livre describes the perilous tempest which the crew of the Thalamège barely survives (chs. 9-10 1548; chs. 18-24 1552). Here, not classical personages but the chief protagonist confronts the menace. Epistémon, in both versions, having survived the storm, comments on the human condition in a statement that could serve as anticipation to the query of Montaigne cited above:

Je consydere que si vrayement mourir est (comme est) de necessité fatale et inevitable, en telle ou telle heure, en telle ou telle façon mourir est en la saincte volunté de Dieu. Pourtant, icelluy fault incessamment implorer, invocquer, prier, requerir, supplier. Mais là ne fault faire but et bourne: de nostre part, convient pareillement nous evertuer, et, comme dict le sainct Envoyé, estre cooperateurs avecques luy … En veiglant, travaillant, soy evertuant, toutes choses succedent à soubhayt et bon port (I consider that if really it is of necessity fatal and inevitable to die (as it is), at such or such a time, yet to die in such or such a way is in the holy will of God. Therefore we must ceaselessly implore, invoke, pray, ask, supplicate Him. But we must not set our goal and limit there; for our part we should likewise put forth our utmost efforts, and, as the Holy Envoy says, be co-operators with Him … By being watchful, working, doing our utmost, all things turn out as we wish—safe and sound. 122, 488; ch. 23).

Montaigne will later echo Epistémon's sentiments: Il n’y a rien de mal en la vie pour celuy qui a bien compris que la privation de la vie n’est pas mal (There is nothing evil in life for the man who has thoroughly grasped the fact that to be deprived of life is not an evil. I, 20, 88; 60). However, his statement resembles a rote expression of Stoic principles and appears sterile in comparison to Epistémon's vigorous, personal, and optimistic attitude toward Death which is grounded in his Christian faith. By extension, he is supported in his faith by the Thalamège community, with Pantagruel, Frère Jean and even Panurge expressing alternately their faith in various ways throughout the narrative. As the chronicle proceeds, it becomes evident that Christian ideals are both the focus and the anchor of the Thalamège community and it is with the Tohu/Bohu episode that Rabelais begins to more frequently underscore this faith to the reader.

The Tohu/Bohu episode concludes with a brief mention of the other nearby paired islands: Nargues and Zargues, Teleniabin and Geneliabin, and Enig and Evig. Alcofribas does not indicate the nature or characteristics of these islands: their inclusion appears to serve as yet another example of Rabelais's preoccupation with onomastics, particularly paired ones, as seen in the Cheli episode.

In this particular instance, it is the toponyms which are of interest. The Briefve Déclaration lists Nargues and Zargues (Pish and Tush) as “names made to please,” Teleniabin and Geneliabin as Arab terms signifying “manna” and “pink honey,” and Enig and Evig as the German prepositions “without” and “with.” The word play not only provides a whimsical finish to the chapter but also changes the subject momentarily from Death, which has served as a leitmotif for the entire episode.

As mentioned above, the Thalamège does not immediately reach another port of call but encounters a violent storm during which the crew is confronted with likely death, an episode that plays a significant role in the Quart Livre and should not be underestimated. It served as the climax for the 1548 edition of the Quart Livre and, in general, is central to a complete understanding of both editions of the text. The second of five non-insular episodes found in the Quart Livre, I will discuss fully the storm interlude in Chapter 4. For the present, it suffices to recognize that the storm introduces one of the more important topics in the Quart Livre: that of the immortality of the soul. It provides Rabelais an opportunity to elaborate on the evangelical motifs which are integral to the notion of Pantagruelism.

After withstanding the storm, the Thalamège reaches port at an island inhabited by a people called the Macreaons. Their island is termed simply isle of the Macraeons and is part of a string of islands, the Sporades, which at one time were of great opulence but are at present, as Pantagruel discovers, poor and deserted. The character of the Macraeons differs markedly from that of the Chicanous. Alcofribas calls them bonnes gens (good people) who offer great hospitality toward the visitors. Their territory being composed primarily of forests, the Macraeons are a community of carpenters and are eager to help Pantagruel repair the Thalamège and its eleven accompanying ships, damaged by the storm at sea. The island of the Macraeons is described as the spot where Heroes and Daemons go to die. In this regard, it is analogous to Hesiod's evocation of the Islands of the Blessed in his Works and Days. In the Age of Heroes, a Golden Age, Zeus provided

an abode apart from men,
and made them dwell at the ends of the earth.
And they lived untouched by sorrow in the
islands of the blessed along the shore of
deep swirling Ocean, happy heroes for whom
the grain-giving earth bears honey-sweet
fruit flourishing thrice a year, far from
the deathless gods, and Cronos rules over them
(qtd. in Giamatti 18).

Hence, Elyseum becomes a paradigm for sanctuary and refuge as it is desirable yet inaccessible.

The chief magistrate of the island, Macrobe, gives Pantagruel and his companions a tour of the island and its forest, showing them ancient pyramids, obelisks, and monuments, all inscribed with the hierglyphics of several different languages. These relics of the past establish the atmosphere of ancient history which pervades the island as well as the conversations between Pantagruel and Macrobe. The Macraeons speak in langage ionique; that is to say, ancient Greek. In addition, according to the Briefve Déclaration, the name Macrobe means homme de longue vie (a long-lived man; 278, 599). Within the text itself, Panurge informs Frère Jean that the name “Macraeon” also signifies vieillard in Greek. Panurge pursues his etymological study:

… je croy que le nom de maquerelle en est extraict. Car maquerellaige ne compete que aux vieilles; aux jeunes compete culletaige. Pourtant seroit ce à penser que icy feust l’isle Maquerelle, original et prototype de celle qui est à Paris. Allons pescher des huitres en escalle (… I think the noun bawd is derived from it. For running a bawdy-house is suited only for old women. The young ones are suited for tail-pushing. Therefore it would seem likely that here was the Maquerelle island, the original and prototype of the one there is in Paris. Let's go fish for oysters in the shell. 128, 491-92; ch. 25).

Panurge's conjecture on the origin of a Paris brothel is the only ribald remark found in the Macraeon episode: it would seem that Rabelais includes it simply as a matter of continuity within his own literary tradition and he dispenses with it quickly at the beginning of the episode. It does not even merit a response from Frère Jean, for Alcofribas then immediately passes to the measured and sedate conversation between Pantagruel and Macrobe.

Macrobe wonders at the fact that the Thalamège was able to survive the storm, and Pantagruel attributes the crew's well-being to the grace of God:

… le hault Servateur avoit eu esguard à la simplicité et syncere affection de ses gens, les quelz ne voyageoient pour guain ne traficque de marchandise (… the Savior above had had consideration for the simplicity and disinterested motivation of his people, who were not traveling for gain or traffic in merchandise. 128, 492; ch. 25).

Pantagruel emphasizes the distinctive nature of his voyage while underlining the non-exploitative nature of his crew: its members are neither mercenary nor profit-seeking but seek rather experience and knowledge. Pantagruel's subsequent explanation of the goal of reaching the Dive Bouteille not only informs Macrobe but also serves as a reminder to the reader who, in the midst of reading so many varied episodes, may have lost sight of the voyage's purpose. The oracle of the Dive Bouteille, Bacbuc, after all, has not been mentioned since Chapter 1. It is also fitting that the aims of Pantagruel and his companions are reintroduced at this point. The arrival of the Thalamège at the isle des Macraeons concludes the 1548 edition of the Quart Livre and hence all subsequent episodes, that of the Macraeons included, constitute the final, 1552 version of the Quart Livre.

After questioning from Pantagruel, Macrobe explains that the violent storm is the consequence of the death of one of the aging Heroes or Daemons that inhabit the dense forest of the island. Whenever one of the supposed “immortals” dies, cries and lamentations are heard while storms rage on both land and sea. Pantagruel compares the passing of ames nobles et insignes (noble and notable souls) to the snuffing out of a candle. As long as it burns, the flame offers warmth, light and clarity; once it is extinguished, its lingering smoke and odor irritate those around it (130, 493; ch. 26).

Epistémon continues the comparison, linking the death of a nobleman, specifically Guillaume du Bellay, Lord of Langey and governor of Piedmont, with the political upheaval and strife which immediately followed. In so doing, he makes reference to events in France which occurred between the composition of the Tiers Livre and the Quart Livre, as Guillaume du Bellay had died in 1543. More importantly, the passage serves as a tribute to this statesman. It is rare, and perhaps unique, in the chronicles for Rabelais to offer such an undisguised and glowing apology for one of his contemporaries. Rabelais appartently felt a great deal of gratitude toward du Bellay. In 1542 he had published a now-lost work dedicated to du Bellay, Stratagèmes c’est-à-dire prouesses et ruses de guerre du pieux et très-célèbre chevalier de Langey dans la tierce guerre Césariane. He had been in the governor's suite almost continuously since 1539 and had been mentioned in du Bellay's will. More importantly, it seems quite likely that Rabelais considered this patron to be a friend as there was no evident gain in praising him after his death. As has been noted before, moments of sincerity in which Rabelais lets drop the veil of satire, and even the narrative voice of Alcofribas, marks the Quart Livre and this eulogy to du Bellay is among the most striking.

Pantagruel continues the topic, recalling tyrants such as Herod and Nero who, foreseeing joy among the people upon their own deaths, arranged for civil chaos and war to reign afterwards. He also discusses at length the celestial phenomena which have been said to augur, rather than to follow, the death of noted heroes and nobles.

Pantagruel appears to have warmed to the subject, declaring that his recent risk at sea was in fact a blessing, for otherwise he would never have learned of the Hero's deaths from Macrobe. His observations dominate the rest of the episode, and which is unique in the Quart Livre. In all other episodes, Pantagruel acts chiefly as an observer, allowing himself only brief, albeit telling, commentaries during his voyage. It is primarily his companions who provide the crew's conversation. Thus, Pantagruel's dominating role in the Macraeon episode reveals the considerable importance which Rabelais placed on its theme, that of classical-Christian syncretism.

Pantagruel reassures Frère Jean, who has expressed concern that the demi-dieux of the Macraeons are in fact mortal:

Je croy … que toutes ames intellectives sont exemptes des cizeaulx de Atropos. Toutes sont immortelles: Anges, Daemons et Humaines. Je vous diray toutes foys une histoire bien estrange, mais escripte et asceurée par plusieurs doctes et scavans historiographes, à ce propous (I believe … that all intellective souls are exempt from the scissors of Atropos. All are immortal: angels, daemons, and human souls. However in this connection, I’ll tell you a very strange story, but one written and attested by many scholarly learned historians. 135-36, 496; ch. 27).

He goes on to tell of how an Egyptian naval captain, Thamous, had been told by a voice emanating from the island of Paxos to inform the port of Palodes that the god Pan was dead. After so doing, he hears loud cries and lamentations coming from many voices at the port. Pantagruel interprets the report of Pan's death as a veiled account of the death of Jesus Christ:

… celluy grand Servateur des fideles, qui feut en Judée ignominieusement occis par l’envie et iniquité des Pontifes, docteurs, prebstres et moines de la loy Mosaïcque. Et ne me semble l’interpretation abhorrente: car à bon droict peut il estre en languaige Gregoys dict Pan, ven que il est le nostre Tout, tout ce que sommes, tout ce que vivons, tout ce que avons, tout ce que esperons est luy, en luy, de luy, par luy. C’est le bon Pan, le grand pasteur, qui, comme atteste le bergier passionné Corydon, non seulement a en amour et affection ses brebis, mais aussi ses bergiers (… that great Savior of the faithful, Who was ignominiously slain in Judea by the iniquity of the pontiffs, doctors, priests, and monks of the Mosaic Law. And the interpretation does not seem preposterous to me, for He may rightly in the Grecian tongue be called Pan, seeing that He is our All. All that we are, all that we live, all that we have, all that we hope for is Him, in Him, from Him, by Him. He is the good Pan, the great Pastor, Who, as the passionate shepherd Corydon attests, holds in His love and devotion not only his sheep but also his shepherds … 138, 498; ch. 28).

Pantagruel is overcome at the thought of this death; Alcofribas concludes the episode by recounting how a reflective Pantagruel cries silently; large tears, like oeufz de austruche (ostrich eggs), run down his face (138, 498). The somewhat ridiculous image provides an incongruous and slightly comical closure to the passage, much as the last paragraph of the Tohu/Bohu episode had done. No further mention of Macrobe nor of the Macraeons and their island is made in the chapter, and only their satisfaction at the generous gifts bestowed on them by Pantagruel is noted at the beginning of the next chapter as the Thalamège sets sail. The Macraeons' island serves as the scene of the Quart Livre's most sobering and serious passage, as Pantagruel's deep emotion over the import of Christ's death has provoked him to tears. The Macraeon episode, found at the halfway point of the 1552 Quart Livre narrative, focuses on the hero of the text, Pantagruel: the giant is literally at the center, both narratively and thematically, of the book. No longer the reserved observer, Pantagruel talks at length to his companions and Macrobe of the deaths of heroes and ultimately of Christ. Rabelais chooses to emphasize here the reflective and evangelical side of Pantagruel's personality.

The Macraeon community is unique to the narrative and does not correspond ideally either to the caricatural or the chimeric community-categories established at the beginning of this chapter. While it clearly could not be considered caricatural, it nonetheless lacks the vivid and playful characterization evident in the portrayal of the chimerical Ennasin community, for instance. His land of heroes is far from the whimsical one described by Lucian in True History (311). The Macraeons are briefly mentioned at the end of the 1548 Quart Livre but are fully portrayed only with the publication of the 1552 edition. It would appear that, in writing the definitive version of the Quart Livre, Rabelais preferred to perfect the original text before supplementing it with additional episodes. He did so by adding both introductory and concluding insular communities. The initial island Medamothi, unseen in 1548, serves as a point of juncture for the Thalamège between the familiar world and the unknown. The stop at Medamothi, the site of Pantagruel's last contact with his father, Gargantua, highlights the decisive and bold nature of the voyage. The island of the Macraeons, too, serves as a transitional locus for the Thalamège, as Pantagruel, having been spared during the storm, finds his faith both tested and renewed there. By introducing the Macraeons' island as a port of sanctuary after the storm, Rabelais provides a satisfying conclusion to the original episodes. While the 1548 version disconcertingly concludes with the Thalamège still being buffeted by the effects of the storm, but approaching land, the final version has the same episode end with the ship safely docked and received by a friendly community.

It is notable that while Pantagruel appreciates the Macraeons, and as a veritable hero would be worthy to reside there, he nonetheless chooses to continue his voyage. The home of the Macraeons holds no interest for him: it is literally a place of the dead whose lifelessness is alien to his own vitality. Rabelais continues here the Renaissance tradition of depicting a false earthly paradise exemplified by Ariosto's Orlando furioso. While using the myth, he ultimately rejects its attraction, using it rather as a point of departure for his presentation of Christian Revelation.

Rabelais draws upon the syncretic tradition of his fellow Christian humanists in offering his own version of Elyseum. His account of Pan as Christ anticipates those of English Renaissance poets such as Ben Jonson's “Pan's Anniversary”, Andrew Marvell's “Clorinda and Damon,” and John Milton's “On the Morning of Christ's Nativity.” The episode is a serious one and stands apart from the other more satirical ones which follow it. In short, Rabelais's Elyseum episode highlights his evangelical theme and, hence, cannot be overestimated.


  1. For a detailed study of the inclusion of Psalm 114 in the Quart Livre, see Smith, 73-81.

  2. For Panurge's first appearance in Pantagruel, see Chapter 9, “Comment Pantagruel trouva Panurge, lequel il aima toute sa vie” in François Rabelais, Oeuvres complètes, ed. Guy Demerson (Paris, Seuil, 1973), 249-56.

  3. Rigolot considers the question from a linguistic perspective: “Panurge devient alors l’autre face de Pantagruel, alter ego sous la graphie abrégée: alt. Panurge, anagramme exacte du géant.” François Rigolot, Poétique et Onomastique: L’Exemple de la Renaissance (Geneva, Droz, 1977), 103-104.

  4. With his creation of Frère Jean, Rabelais maintains the literary tradition of the soldier-monk established in La Chanson de Roland with the character of the bishop-chevalier, Turpin.

  5. These quotes are excerpts taken from La Charité's paper, “Narrative Moves in the Quart Livre,” read at the session “Rabelais's Quart Livre” at the annual meeting of the Modern Language Association, Washington, D. C. 27-30 December 1989.

  6. Jean Antoine Baif uses this word at the end of his poem “Atalante”:

     … En la face chagrine est un
    courroux felon:
    Leur parler & crier, est de rugir &
    Autre talame n’ont que le bois leur repair:
    Et devenus Lyons des autres redoutez
    Sont au char de Cybele attelez & dontez (my emphasis).

    Baif also wrote at least one épithalame. See Jean Antoine de Baif, “Atalante,” in Des Poemes, Vol. 2, Euvres en rime de Ian Antoine de Baif, ed. Charles Joseph Marty-Laveaux (1881; reprint, Geneva: Slatkine, 1965), 316.

  7. Oeuvres complètes, 244.

  8. Alice Berry, “L’Isle Médamothi: Rabelais's Itineraries of Anxiety (Quart Livre 2-4),” PMLA, 106, No. 5 (October, 1991).

  9. Donald Frame does not translate this line in his edition; the translation is my own, as is that of the next quotation beginning with “et que.”

  10. The pays de Lanternois does appear in Chapters 31 and 32 of the Cinquième Livre. It is generally accepted, however, that Rabelais did not write these chapters Consult Mireille Huchon, Rabelais grammairien. De l’histoire du texte aux problèmes d’authenticité, Etudes Rabelaisiennes 16 (Geneva: Droz, 1981), 474.

  11. “… son amy Xenomanes leurs suffiroit, et d’abondant délibéroit passer par le pays de Lanternoys et là prendre quelque docte utile Lanterne laquelle leurs seroit pour ce voyage ce que feut la Sybille à Aeneas descendent ès champs Elisiens” (… his friend Xenomanes would suffice for them, and moreover was planning to pass through the country of Lanternland and there to pick up some learned and useful Lanterness, who would be to them for this trip what the sibyl was to Aeneas when he went down into the Elysian Fields.” 536, 397; ch. 47).

  12. “Sus la pouppe de la seconde estoit hault enlevée une lanterne antiquaire, faicte industrieusement de pierre sphengitide et speculaire, denotant qu’ilz passeroient par Lanternoys” (On the stern of the second ship was raised aloft an antiquated lantern, meticulously wrought of transparent and reflecting stone, signifying that they would pass Lanterland.” 34, 437; Ch. 1).

  13. Lucian's Lamptown episode is brief. The visitors have an unexplained uneasiness in remaining:

    “On landing we did not find any men at all, but a lot of lamps running about and loitering in the public square and at the harbour … They offered us no harm, but invited us to be their guests. We were afraid, however, and none of us ventured to eat a mouthful or close an eye … That night we stopped there, but on the next day we set sail and continued our voyage” (283).

  14. The anonymous author or authors who eventually published the Cinquiesme Livre gave a prominent role to Lanternland. It is a gracious Lanterness who leads the crew to the Dive Bouteille. See Chapters 31 and 32.

  15. An example of this last definition appears in Act I, scene 2 of La Farce de Maître Pathelin. The draper says to himself:

    Ils ne verront ni soleil ni lune
    Les écus qu’il va me donner!
    Car je vais, sans plus lanterner,
    Les cacher pour grossir le nombre
    De ceux qui déjà sont à l’ombre (my italics)!

    See R.-J. Berg, ed., La Farce de Maître Pathelin in Littérature française: Textes et Contextes, Vol. 1 (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1994), p. 129.

  16. Emile Telle, “L’Ile des Alliances (Quart Livre, chap. IX) ou l’Anti-Thélème,” Bibliothèque d’Humanisme et Renaissance 14 (1952), 159-175.

  17. Richard M. Berrong, Every Man for Himself: Social Order and its Dissolution in Rabelais (Saratoga: Anma Libri, 1985).

  18. Consult Erasmus's Encomium Matrimonii (Eulogy of Marriage) and Lefèvre d’Etaples's Commentaires sur les Epîtres de Saint Paul.

  19. For a complete discussion of the influence of classical epics on Rabelais's chronicles (particularly Pantagruel), consult Gérard Défaux, Le Curieux, le glorieux et la sagesse du monde dans la première moitié du XVIème siècle: L’exemple de Panurge (Ulysse, Démosthène, Empédocle) (Lexington: French Forum, 1982).

  20. Racine will later borrow the name Chicanou for one of his litigious characters, the bailiff Chicanneau, in his 1668 comedy Les Plaideurs.

  21. Montaigne will later discuss those who are paid for their acts of self-flagellation in his Que le goust des biens et des maux depend en bonne partie de l’opinion que nous en avons:

    “Mais ne voit-on encore tous les jours le Vendredy S. en divers lieux un grand nombre d’hommes et femmes se battre jusques à se déchirer la chair et perçer jusques aux os? Cela ay-je veu souvent et sans enchantement; et disoit-on (car ils vont masquez) qu’il y en avoit, qui pour de l’argent entreprenoient en cela de garantir la religion d’autruy, par un mespris de la douleur d’autant plus grand que plus peuvent les éguillons de la dévotion que de l’avarice” (But do we not see every Good Friday in various places a large number of men and women beating themselves until they tear their flesh and cut it to the bone? That I have often seen, and without enchantment; and it was said that there were some (for they go masked) who for money undertook in this way to ensure other people's religion, with a contempt for pain all the greater than those of avarice. I, 14, 60, 41). As evidenced in the quotation, Montaigne, in contrast to Rabelais, is more intrigued than disgusted by those who beat themselves. His essay also contains implicit criticism of those who would pay for others to be beaten in their place.

  22. According to Claude Gaignebet, Rabelais borrowed the Bringuenarilles episode from a chapter entitled “Comment les coqs, chapons et poulailles chantoient dedans le ventre de Bringuenarilles” found in the anonymous Navigations de Panurge. Claude Gaignebet, A Plus Hault Sens: L’Esotérisme spirituel et charnel de Rabelais, vol. 2 (Paris: Maisonneuve et Larose, 1986), 379.


Baif, Jean Antoine de. Euvres en rime de Ian Antoine de Baif. Vol. 2. Edited by Charles Joseph Marty-Laveaux. 1881. Reprint, Geneva: Slatkine, 1965.

Berg, R.-J., ed. Littérature française: Textes et Contextes, Vol. 1. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1994.

Berrong, Richard. Every Man for Himself: Social Order and its Dissolution in Rabelais. Saratoga: Anma Libri, 1985.

Berry, Alice F. “L’Isle Médamothi: Rabelais' Itineraries of Anxiety (Quart Livre 2-4).” PMLA 106 (1991): 1040-1053.

Defaux, Gérard. Le Curieux, le glorieux et la sagesse du monde dans la première moitié du XVIème siècle: L’Exemple de Panurge (Ulysse, Démosthène, Empédocle). Lexington: French Forum, 1982.

———. Marot, Rabelais, Montaigne: Ecriture comme présence. Paris: Champion-Slatkine, 1987.

Erasmus, Desiderius. Collected Works of Erasmus. Vol. 32, Adages. Translated and annotated by R. A. B. Mynors. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1989.

Gaignebet, Claude. A Plus hault sens: L’Esotérisme spirituel et charnel de Rabelais. Paris: Maisonneuve et Larose, 1986.

Giamatti, A. Bartlett. Exile and Change in Renaissance Literature. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984.

Huchon, Mireille. “Archéologie du Vème Livre.” Etudes Rabelaisiennes 21 (1988): 19-28.

———. Rabelais grammairien. De l’Histoire du texte aux problèmes d’authenticité. Geneva: Droz, 1981.

Huguet, Edmond. Dictionnaire de la langue française du seizième siècle. Paris: Champion, 1924.

La Charité, Raymond C. “Narrative Moves in the Quart Livre.” Paper presented as part of the session “Rabelais's Quart Livre” at the annual meeting of the Modern Language Association, Washington, D. C., 27-30 December 1989.

Lucian. A True Story I. Edited by A. M. Harmon. Vol. 1, Lucian. The Loeb Classical Library, Edited by T. E. Page and W. H. D. Rouse. New York: MacMillan & Co., 1913.

Montaigne, Michel de. Les Essais. Edited by Maurice Rat. Paris: Garnier, 1962. 2 vols.

Rabelais, François. Oeuvres complètes. Edited by Guy Demerson. Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1973.

———. Le Quart Livre. Edited by Robert Marichal. Geneva: Droz, 1947; reprint 1967.

———. Le Quart Livre de Pantagruel (Edition dite partielle, Lyon, 1548). Edited by Jean Plattard. Paris: Champion, 1910.

———. The Complete Works of François Rabelais. Translated by Donald M. Frame. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991.

Rigolot, François. Les Langages de Rabelais. Geneva: Droz, 1972.

———. Poétique et Onomastique: L’Exemple de la Renaissance. Geneva: Droz, 1977.

Smith, Paul J. Voyage et Ecriture: Etude sur le Quart Livre de Rabelais. Geneva: Droz, 1987.

Telle, Emile. “L’Ile des Alliances (Quart Livre, chap. IX) ou l’Anti-Thélème.” Bibliothèque d’Humanisme et Renaissance 14 (1952): 159-174.

Anne Lake Prescott (essay date 1998)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 14598

SOURCE: “The Fantasies of ‘Mad Rabelais’: Exploiting the Unreal,” in Imagining Rabelais in Renaissance England, Yale University Press, 1998, pp. 146-95.

[In the excerpt below, Prescott traces the influence of Rabelais's ideas about fantasy toRenaissance writers and artists.]

In a culture that is ambivalent about the mental powers that can set lovers' eyes rolling or lead a nervous nocturnal traveler to suppose a bush a bear, Rabelais's fantasy seemed variously repellent or engaging. Either way, it was rhetorically useful. Michael Drayton jokingly calls Rabelais himself mad. Nimphidia, The Court of Fayrie (1627), a mock epic about the tiny fairy knight Pigwiggen, names earlier triflers:

Olde Chaucer doth of Topas tell
Mad Rablais of Pantagruell,
A latter third of Dowsabell,
With such poore trifles playing.(1)

Drayton plays deftly with perspective: Sir Topas encounters the giant Olyphant, and the maker of tiny pigwiggen remembers Pantagruel. And because his speedy tetrameters describe small beings who suffer an insanity worse than Orlando's, undergo more adventures than Don Quixote, fight in fishscale armor, descend to the underworld, and practice magic, he clearly shares Rabelais's interest in fanciful disproportion.

Others thought Rabelais not so much mad as the maker of concoctions that figured madness in the real world.


James I enjoyed coarse foolery, and for political (and perhaps sentimental) reasons he encouraged rustic festivity and sport. When watching court entertainments, though, he liked to see monstrosity curbed.2 In Stuart masques, when form and light triumph over confused obscurity, the resolution finds a largely neoclassical expression, one sustained by the Italian (or French) sources for Inigo Jones's sets and costumes.3 Yet ambiguities remain. Like carnival, reformation lives off enormity—a Justice Overdo needs a Bartholomew Fair, just as Jones's perspective lines speed more effectively toward their vanishing point thanks to the clouds or shrubbery against and through which they move. The more urgent the classicizing imperatives of the masque's aesthetics, the more urgent the need for gaps, bulges, mixtures, and fantasy. The value to Jones and his colleagues of earlier tastes in foolishness should not be underestimated.

It is thus agreeable to find that in addition to the modish Italian and French artists a more old-fashioned draftsman helped costume the Stuart masque, one whose printer credited his work to Rabelais. In 1565 Richard Breton, a Huguenot printer with London ties, published in Paris a collection of grotesques, stating on the title page that they are “de l’invention de maistre François Rabelais: et derniere oeuvre d’iceluy, pour la recreation des bons esprits” (Invented by Master François Rabelais, his last work, for the recreation of good and happy spirits). Whatever invention means here, Les songes drolatiques de Pantagruel is not by Rabelais. The artist was almost certainly François Desprez, who had affixed his anagrammatized name to the preface of a similar collection, the Recueil de la diversité des habits, also published by Breton. The pictures owe something to Hieronymous Cock's prints of Bruegel, although they appear in isolation, one to a page, with no defining context.4

These are dreams, says Breton's brief preface, of the excellent and marvelous Pantagruel, once celebrated for his heroic deeds, of whom some more-than-truthful histories admirably tell. Nor did Panurge ever see more admirable things on his last travels (perhaps an allusion to the Navigations de Panurge).5 We are invited to study these marvels closely, for Breton says teasingly that he will leave to others the “sens mistique.” Some of the figures’ codpieces would stun Panurge, yet the images are not obscene, and only a few imply an upside-down world—Pantagruel imagines nothing so clear as reversal but rather dreams up incongruities and monsters. Breton knows the dreams will not please everyone, for many people are themselves “lunatiques”; others will be amused, and maybe “bons esprits” will use them for “mascarades.” In fact, some clever English wits did just that.

There are hints that Songes was known in England before the Stuart masques began. The earliest may be a remark by “E.D.” [Daunce?] in his Prayse of Nothing (1585) that although some might condemn a fuss over nothing, those “delighted in the study hereof” should also see “the macheronicall phantasies of Merlinus Cocaius, and slaepie Phantasmata of Francois Rabilois, men greatly traveled in this business” (sig. hiv). This could refer to Panurge's dream in TL 14, or even to Habert's Songe de Pantagruel (1542), yet the context, the word slaepie, the plural Phantasmata, and contemporary connotations of phantasm suit Songes. Not that “E.D.” relishes fantasy; despite impertinent logic and a few jokes, his largely semantic paradoxes serve straightforward claims. Uppitiness of the imagination worries him, as do subjects who “floate over the landmarke of due obedience, for no other cause … then for nothing” and “woulde drawe the governments of Princes to the ordinary rule of themselves” and “undermine their naturall dwellings, and countrye walles.”

There is also evidence that English playwrights knew Songes. Barnabe Barnes's Divils Charter (1607) is a drama of treachery, attempted sodomy, and corruption that, as one might expect in a play put on at court soon after the Gunpowder Plot, shows “the Strumpet of proud Babylon, / Her Cup with fornication foaming full.” As the ruffian Frescobaldi, thinking he is alone, makes wild thrusts and passadoes, a fellow villain exclaims:

What Mandragon or salvage Ascapart,
what Pantaconger or Pantagruell
Art thou that fightest with thy fathers soul
Or with some subtill apparitions
Which no man can behould with mortall eyes.
Or art thou ravished with bedlamy
Fighting with figments and vaine fantazies
Chimeraes or blacke spirrits of the night.


This Pantagruel, hallucinator and not hallucination, is no noble Utopian prince, although the hint that Frescobaldi is both giant and father-fighter touches briefly on a submerged generational conflict, which gives depth to Gargantua's concerned paternity and his son's loyalty.7 The whiff of false diabolism—the play has a real devil as well, as if to hedge Barnes's pneumatological bets—is strengthened by Frescobaldi's claim to be the ghost of the king of Calcutta; his companion pretends to conjure him by “Mulli-sacke” (sherry) and “purple Aligant the bloudy gyant” (alicant is a Spanish wine). Barnes's Pantagruel seems to combine Rabelais's giant, here read as an impious rebel, with the stagy phantasms that Breton claimed Rabelais dreamed up, in a context in which wine begets demonic giants—or names of giants.

It is in such an air of dementia, I have argued above, that Webster's Bracciano goes to his death in The White Devil (1612), dying a few moments before Flamineo's impudent invocation of Lucian/Rabelais. Poisoned and “fall’n into a strange distraction,” Bracciano thinks he sees someone “In a blew bonnet, and a paire of breeches / With a great codpeece. Ha, ha, ha, / Looke you his codpeece is stucke full of pinnes / With pearles o’th head of them” (V.iii.99-102). Editors usually explain that such codpieces were a “fashion of the time,” although the scanty evidence comes from the sixteenth century.8 But the context of “brain-sicke language,” together with the codpiece's size and the pins' pearl heads, recalls SD 60: the creature wears a bonnet, if no breeches, and a sardonic smile. According to Bracciano, his devil is “a rare linguist,” and he hopes to “dispute with him.”9 I cannot prove that Webster (or the costumer, if the figure was visible) had seen Desprez's over-sexed smiler, but it seems likely, and the vision certainly recalls the atmosphere surrounding some evocations of Rabelais or his inventions: tensely ludic, tricky, lunatic, deceptively diabolic.

The first trace of Songes I detect in the masques comes in Ben Jonson's Vision of Delight, performed on Twelfth Night 1617. Early in the masque, Delight summons Night, who will “all awake with phantoms keep, / And those to make delight more deep.” Night then calls on Fant'sy: “Now all thy figures are allowed, / And various shapes of things.” Fant'sy emerges from a cloud to give a long speech that Stephen Orgel calls a “verbal antimasque” and Night calls a “waking dream.”10 “Songes drolatiques” are exactly what Fant'sy produces—not high vatic dreams but drolleries. Admitting, like Breton, that no one dream pleases everybody, she makes a crowd of them, a tumble of absurdity and metamorphosis. After Fant'sy's speech an antimasque of phantoms comes forth, and one can assume that some would correspond roughly to figures from the preceding evocation. I quote from Fant'sy's speech, identifying some drollerics in Songes that the dreams recall. They may have analogues elsewhere, but I cannot locate any beyond a few in Cock's Bruegel. Nowhere outside Songes, it seems important to stress, is there such a concentration of parallels:

And Fant'sy, I tell you, has dreams that have wings
And dreams that have honey, and dreams that have stings;(11) [SD 116]
Dreams of the maker and dreams of the teller,
Dreams of the kitchen and dreams of the cellar.(12)
Your ostrich, believe it, 's no faithful translator
Of perfect Utopian; and then it were an odd piece
To see the conclusion peep forth at a codpiece.(13)
[SD 10]
The politic pudding hath still his two ends, [SD 85]
Though the bellows and bagpipe were nev’r so good friends.(14) [SD 82, 74]
If a dream should come in now to make you afeard,
With a windmill on his head and bells at his beard,(15)
Would you straight wear your spectacles here at your toes,
And your boots o’ your brows, and your spurs o’ your nose?(16) [SD 5, 8]
If the bell have any sides, the clapper will find ’em. [SD 32]
There's twice so much music in beating the tabor [SD 34]
As i’th stockfish, and somewhat less labor.
For grant the most barbers can play o’ the cittern,
Is it requisite a lawyer should plead to a gittern?(17)
[SD 96]
The haunches of a drum with the feet of a pot [SD 65]
And the tail of a Kentishman to it—why not?

(Ll. 53-102)18

Eventually dawn brings light, order, and royalty.

Jonson's procedure is quite unlike that of Davenant and Jones's later Luminalia (1638). There, too, dream yields to “brightness” and Night gives pleasure: she will

Produce fantastic creatures of the night,
Though not t’advance, yet vary their delight;
All that our striving mystery presents
Will be but foils to nobler ornaments.(19)

Jonson's own phantasmata have a more important task: they “vary” but “deepen” delight. Davenant's City of Sleep is less ridiculous than mysterious: the masque has given up the carnivalesque for strange trees, golden mountains, falling towers, windmills, and a rainbow city. There is, however, an allusion to Rabelais: one antimasquer (played by the queen's dwarf) is Piecrocal, a captain who serves Oberon. He must be named for Utopia's bilious enemy, Picrochole. It is right that this lovely escapist spectacle should have a braggart whose global ambitions first satirized Charles V but who is now prettified for Henri IV's daughter into a diminutive servant of the Fairy King.

Jonson's phantasms serve more than “delight,” for his antimasque is dramatically integrated into the night's revels. Jonson and Jones must have found Songes useful in this regard precisely because its silliness creates a realm not so much opposed to courtly harmony as anterior to it, sustaining it. This construction of a suspect but vital irrationality matters whether we read the masques in their political context or, more generally, as representing the mind. The derangements that Songes illustrates come from a part of the soul—fancy—that for all its dangers relates intimately to freedom and creativity. Pantagruel's drolleries are cousins of figures like Opinion, Fantasy, Mania, and Capriccio; requiring reform or banishment, they are not in themselves evil.20 The implications for the Stuart court's political culture are serious. No government welcomes lunacy or subversion, yet the rigidity of the Stuarts' attempted absolutism seems tied to a reluctance to permit fertile disorder into the upper reaches of mind and state as readily as Le Strange said James let his own excrement climb collarwards. Although Jonson upheld the king's theories, his imagination, like the king's body, said something more complicated.

On Twelfth Night 1618, the court saw Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue. We have seen that Jonson's “bouncing belly,” Comus, is cousin to Rabelais's Gaster, but the masque may also have a trace of Songes. Apparently a tun and some flasks danced an antimasque, and among Desprez's grotesques are two walking barrels (SD 42 and 120); the second leaks into little creatures drinking the liquor.21 Whatever his source, Jonson's possibly Pantagruelian barrel as well as his genuinely Rabelaisian belly indicate those pleasures that unshape and “extinguish man” (l. 98), as Hercules says when rejecting them, yet that remain as basic as dreams. The masque failed to please, and when Jonson reworked it as For the Honor of Wales, performed a few weeks later, he apologized. One character in the new antimasque of Welshmen explains: “There was neither poetries nor architectures nor designs in that belly-god, nor a note of musics abut him”; another praises the new goat dance as “a properly natural device … no tuns, nor no bottles.”22 The Rabelaisian or Songes style is unnatural and irrational, but goats, one could argue, are half-way to being ancient satyrs.

For the next few years Jonson's antimasques, although figuring the rude or ridiculous, avoided the phantasmagoric. Then, in Neptune's Triumph (written for Twelfth Night 1624 but unperformed), Jonson once more turned not only to Rabelais—a reference to his oracle of the bottle almost defiantly recuperating the offending vessels of Pleasure—but also, I think, to Songes. Celebrating the safe return of Prince Charles, wifeless, from Spain, the masque opens with a dialogue between two artists, a poet and a cook. The poet, who prefers the cellar to the kitchen, expresses such scorn for antimasques (“heterogene … outlandish nothings,” ll. 157-60) that some readers have been misled into thinking Jonson himself disdained them.23 Undeterred, probably because he too speaks for Jonson, the cook summons out of his stewpot an antimasque led by “Amphibion” Archy, the king's dwarf. This production number is a satirical hodgepodge, an ironically (because Hispanically) named “olla podrida” of state rumor and gossip. The cook pours out enormity and unreason and thus also prima materia for the shaping imagination; without it, there would be nothing to harmonize. Jones's designs are hard to interpret, even assuming that they have been accurately identified.24 No sources have been found. One fishy creature is structured like Songes 18, although his snout is that of a Renaissance dolphin and he has acquired a hat. There are fish-men in Bruegel and Bosch, but Jones's image resembles that of Desprez in having arms and an upright posture. In any case, Jones's costumes are closer in style to Songes than to his usual sources. As in Delight, alien elements enlarge the stylistic range.

One other piece of evidence comes in the multi-authored Faire Maide of the Inn (1625), a sort of antimasque that includes faked conjuring and a frog dance. Forobosco, “a cheating mountebank,” talks his gulls into such get-rich-quick schemes as starting a new religion in Germany or investigating fashions on the moon. In one plan, an Englishman in the monster-exhibiting trade will go to meat-poor Madrid and astound the locals by roasting an English ox: “That would be the eight[h] wonder of the world in those parts,” going “beyond all their garlike Olla Podrithoes, though you sod one in Gargantuas cauldron—bring in more mony, then all the monsters of Affrick.”25 This is the only cauldron of Gargantua that I know of, and it has an “olla podrida,” just like the pot in Neptune's Triumph, printed shortly before this play was published. It too cooks up monsters and anti-Spanish humor. Maybe this is a reference to the chapbook giant, yet the coincidence remains; the writer (Webster is a strong possibility) could have read or heard of Jonson's pot and its fantastic creatures, seen a connection with Desprez and Rabelais, and made a mental slide to the other giant.

Once more, though, Jonson came to be—or was made to be—uncomfortable with this style of fantasy. So he revised, turning his failed Triumph into The Fortunate Isles and exchanging his stew for more reasonable fantasies. Skelton, Scoggin, and others in the new antimasque are unpolished but more “natural” than the ambulatory artichoke, fish-man, and other monsters Jonson had planned the year before. For the second time Desprez's manner had been only fleetingly useful, as though the play of styles Jonson manages so well in Delight had become harder to sustain or more difficult for audiences to enjoy. Pantagruel's dreams would be used again, but as objects of satire only.

Rabelais's name—and perhaps Desprez's designs—appear briefly in James Shirley's Triumph of Peace (1634). Peace was designed in part to criticize country gentry with fancy court notions, as well as monopolistic “projectors” who were hoping to get rich. One antimasque satirizes the inventiveness that irked those worried by greed-serving “novelty.” After Fancy (“prince of th’ air” and “bird of night”) makes his way past the court guard, not by violence but “With jests / Which they are less able to resist,” the scene changes to a tavern, a world of bottle-fed fantasy if not of the oracle of the bottle. Socially there is a demotion as well: the imagination flies up on alcoholic vapor but comes from further down the mental and economic scale. Now Fancy, hermaphrodite child of Mercury and Venus, presents a set of “projections,” such as a refrigerated bridle, an automatic thresher, a double-boiler, and diving equipment.26 When Novelty's husband, Opinion, sees this last figure he asks, “But what thing's this? A chimera out of Rabelais?” Fancy calls it a “new project”:

A case to walk you all day under water,
So vast for the necessity of air,
Which, with an artificial bellows cool’d
Under each arm, is kept still from corruption.
With those glass eyes he sees, and can fetch up
Gold, or whatever jewels ha’ been lost,
In any river o’ the world.

(Ll. 369-78)

Since Gargantua et Pantagruel has nothing like this “chimera,” and since Chimera had strong links with “phantasm” and “dream” (see the Oxford English Dictionary) as well as with monstrous heterogeneity, it is likely that Opinion is thinking of Songes. No one drollery fits these lines, but many have its ingenuity, and SD 14 contains a case, what could be a glass observation panel, and some fish.

These “projections” seem less clearly derived from some deeper world than do the dreams of Jonson's Delight. Significantly, Shirley's feathered and batwinged Fancy exits “fearfully” when Peace appears, whereas Jonson's Fant’sy presents and identifies the king. For all its uncertainties, its allegiance that hovers between the discontented lawyers for whom Shirley wrote and the king whom the Inns of Court wished to please, Peace shows a more absolute rejection of dreams. In the meantime, “Rabelais” is evoked in a tavern and linked not to the grotesque—for the fantasy here is too mechanical to suit a book margin or doorway—but to individual whimsy masquerading as socially productive invention. It is as though Quaresmeprenant had loved Rube Goldberg and laid their misbegotten baby at the patent office door. Shirley means us to laugh, and we do: this puffing pseudogrotesque scuba diver is liminal after all, making his way out of the tavern on the wave of the future.

Peace ends with dawn—an illusory dawn for Charles I. In William Davenant's Salmacida Spolia (performed January 21, 1640) some have seen signs of growing strain. The masque's editor T.J.B. Spencer calls it “a kind of exorcism aimed at the subversive forces abroad in England.”27 The villain is Discord, a “malicious Fury” who appears in a storm (1). In Renaissance iconology, storms often allegorize Fortune, beating in vain against Fortitude and Charity. There may be something of that meaning here too: the title claims a sweatless and bloodless conquest by reason and love, “sine sanguine sine sudore,” of misfortune due to external tumult and not to Charles's own actions.28 Discord unleashes antic figures that demonstrate how hard it is to “cure / The People's folly” (178-79), but they are halted by the king under the name “Philogenes or Lover of his People” (12). Among them are “Four grotesques or drollities, in the most fantastical shapes that could be devised” (242-43).

Fittingly, in a work citing the Rosicrucians and with a “Wolfgangus Vandergoose” among the characters, this antimasque has a northern, Bruegelesque flavor. The four “drollities,” as one might guess from their name, are taken straight from Songes. The top figure in Orgel and Strong's figure 427 of Inigo Jones is copied closely from SD 31, although Jones has shrunk his codpiece; the lower figure reverses and simplifies SD 106. The other drollities, Orgel and Strong's figure 428, are based on SD 77 and 64. The former is now less grotesque about the face and has no cutlery, but his shoes and attitude are the same, and his codpiece outdoes that of his model; the latter has changed his arm position and his direction, but the heavy features remain, as does the hat. Pantagruel's dreams, although not among his most fantastic, provide the style of a past age, as though English rebels were old-fashioned as well as crazy. Also significant is a further shift in how the dreams illustrate unreason. Fantasy is here further diminished: no longer a fruitful if limited mode of seeing, it is not even (as it had been for Shirley) a source of early capitalist dementia. Figures like those of Desprez or “Rabelais” now indicate a specific political menace to a kingdom in early revolution, fully embodying the psychological and political inversion that threatens parallel hierarchies of apprehension, reason, and opinion and king, court, and commons. The integration of masque and antimasque that deepens Johnson's best work has come further undone, as witness the harshness with which these “dreams” are not so much superseded as exiled—bad news, in fact, for Charles, who should have listened harder to his drollities.

Allusions to Rabelais or Pantagruel by “E.D.,” Barnes, and Shirley that link him to Desprez's manner would reinforce his reputation as a fabulating namer of idle nothings; if some enjoyed such nothings, others used his name to conjure up thoughts of feigning or lies. In either case, English reaction shows ambivalence toward poesis, the power of words to make monsters ex nihilo and then allow the nihil to spread in a negative ontological contagion. Those who took the printer Breton's word that his “songes” were the “invention” of Rabelais could assume that the author of Gargantua, Pantagruel, and parodic prognostications (possibly including Admirables and the Navigations) had once more played Phantastes. Written reaction to Rabelais's creation of forms such as never were in nature inscribed significant issues: the mental and cultural role of the imaginative faculty, the legitimacy of fiction and the marvelous, the reality and nature of nothing and negation, the nightmares of religious or theological illusion, and the social and spiritual risk of “projections,” whether inventions like those Jones staged or the insubstantial pageants generated by fear and desire.


Physically, marvels and monsters were concentrated at the margins of the medieval and early modern world, but culturally they were central to the European imagination. Some writers found in Rabelais (or para-Rabelais) a monstrosity producing less pleasure than dismay—negative wonder. That they personally feared the imagination may be doubted but not the cultural fact of that fear and its usefulness in polemic. The rhetoric of negative wonder deflates an enemy by refusing to take him seriously, while simultaneously using images of enlargement and monstrosity to show the threat he poses to others. Caesar is a mortal who puffs himself up, says Shakespeare's Cassius, but he is also a Colossus who bestrides the earth and endangers the republic. He is little, so we can kill him; he is too big, so we ought to. Exploiting both an ancient suspicion of fantasy and an equally ancient taste for marvels and astonishment, negative wonder is an analogue of the giant-pygmy pairing—that anamorphic monster one might call “Gargatom.”

At times, then, English writers appropriate or cite Rabelaisian fantasy to indicate what has gone horribly yet risibly wrong in the minds of others. The issues raised are not trivial; they include worries concerning illusion, consumption, and the Mass. Not all references to Rabelais and (para-)Rabelaisian giants are hostile, and one fantasy of engulfment is literally entertaining: William Lithgow's Most Delectable, and True, Discourse … of a Peregrination in Europe, Asia and Affricke (1623 ed.) praises the Pratolino gardens for trees, ponds, “artificial fountaines,” and “exquisite banqueting roome, contrived among sounding unseene waters, in forme of Gargantus body” (sig. Bb2v). This must be the colossal Apennines, carved from living rock by Giovanni Bologna in the 1580s.29 The statue contained a dining room and also had a dovecot in its head, as though it were as flutter-brained as the fanciful sculptor who made it. To eat inside a giant, giving new depth to the phrase “mise en abîme,” might put the symbolically sensitive off their feed: fantasy, like a giant, can take us in.

Protestants thought that among Christendom's worst fantasies was the belief that bread can be transubstantiated into Christ's body by the mere hocus pocus of a “Hoc est corpus.” That is why giants' open-mouthed size and comic fictionality made them good symbols of “papist” lunacy, of negative wonder. Do Catholics say they eat God? The cannibals!30 Giants eat people, too, for although they have too much flesh already, they want more. They are the letter made ever more fleshly by a misreading of Christ's words at the Last Supper. And because giants are also rebels (like recusants), tyrants (like the pope), mocking boasters (like Catholic polemicists), and sexually perverse (like monks), Protestants found them valuable for attacking the Mass and other “popish” illusions. That such name-calling was satiric did not make it more genial, as witness Alexander Cooke's growling remark in More Worke for a Masse-Priest (1621) that “according to Poperie, A man may eate his god with his teeth, as a Cyclops ate Ulysses companions” (sig. A2). On the other hand, since giants are for the most part imaginary, Cooke can also underline his belief that Catholics fool themselves. The problem is that they fool others, too, engulfing them in an abyss of illusion.

Thomas Scott was adept at projecting negative wonder, a mixture of snorting contempt and justified fear. His Digitus Dei (1623), written to advance his widely noted if imprudent campaign against James's foreign policy, is a sermon on the warning in Luke 13 to repent or perish. It has much to say about Catholic “Poetical fictions,” the Gunpowder Plot (fed by poisoned “Romish Milke” from Rome's “Adulterate Teates”), and God's terrible swift sword. Although condemning them, Scott opened his imagination to giants and wonders: Cardinal Robert Bellarmine is a “Romish Goliah,” he says, whose arguments could not “wrest the Staffe and Sling” out of James's hand, while atheism is a “Monster” accompanying the “Dwarfe Ignorance.” Scott is interested chiefly in the destruction that God's punitive digit can cause—hence his title. Why does God finger certain buildings? Why burn a house in which papists had been saying Mass but spare the nearby Fortune Theater? Because theaters, like brothels, do not pretend to be other than what they are, whereas Catholics call their false shows true. When the Fortune later caught fire, he explains, this was punishment not for staging plays but for doing so on the Sabbath.

After the Catholic house's fire, says Scott, had anyone—even “equivocating” recusants—witnessed communion “Cakes” rise again “from under the ruines,” Scott might have believed in the Mass. As it is, he will go on thinking of papists as themselves transubstantiated by Circe's “Cup of Abhominations” into such “Don Quixshots or Gorgantuahs as would eat up their God Almightie at a mouthfull” or, rather, “imagine themselves to be such Monsters as could doe it” (sig. D4v). The body, including Christ's, and how to relate it to the Word and words is the issue, as is fantasy. Catholics have “rob’d our Saviour of Head, Heart, Hands, Feet, of a true Body, of his Humanitie.” In this fancied theft, the Gorgonized “Gorgantuah” is pure monster—a Polyphemus, a folklore cannibal, a Gogmagog-cum-Saturn. He is thus imaginatively real, although of course Scott's point is that Catholics merely think they are cannibals. By summoning a giant associated with “Legendarie stuffe” (sig. B1), Scott can have his polemical cake and eat it: the Mass is terrible in its dark rites, its blood and raw flesh, and yet at the same time laughable—not transbut insubstantial. Whether Scott's mockery has actually exorcised illusion is another matter, for “Gorgantuah” the theophage is a powerful figure.

Rabelais himself, as a name and author, could be useful to Protestant argument in part because his fantasies are, like the Mass, deliberately created fictions. Not only do his giants take in a pilgrim here, an author there: their creator was interested in the nature of bodies, words, and space. So although (or even because) Rabelais was neither clearly Protestant nor clearly Catholic, his name could be evoked in scoffs at papist illusion.

De missa papistica … adversus Robertum Bellarminum (1603), by Matthew Sutcliffe, dean of Exeter, is an angry book: angry at transubstantiation, at fantasy, at impiety. A fierce debater, in 1609 Sutcliffe founded a short-lived college in Chelsea dedicated to fighting recusancy with study and polemics; James I laid the cornerstone. Here, Sutcliffe tackles Bellarmine with gusto. The cardinal's deceptions, he asserts, rely on a misunderstanding of Christ's “This is my body.” Yes, communion bread “mysticè, et symbolicè, et sacramentaliter verè est corpus Christi” (is truly Christ's body in a mysterious, symbolic, and sacramental fashion). To take it as literal flesh, though, is to deal insanely with “Chimeras” and to take Christ's words “carnally.” This is not just a matter of reading with the flesh rather than with the spirit, of sticking to signifiers and missing the signified. The mistake is literal: one imagines that one is eating flesh in a literally bloody carnality. This is profoundly unnatural, says Sutcliffe, for normal people flee inhuman “anthropophagi.”

Bellarmine, then, argues “ridiculè.” Indeed, says Sutcliffe, the cardinal's reasons are such “quod vix in fabulis pantagruelinis fingere ausus est impius ille fabulator Rabelaisius” (that the impious fabulator Rabelais would hardly have dared feign in his fictions about Pantagruel, sigs. Ffi-Ffiv). The sarcasm is neither arbitrary nor comfortable. Debates on the Eucharist necessarily involved assumptions about signs. Can bread be a sign if its substance collapses into the signified flesh? Signs require difference, not identity. Because Catholics concede that the bread continues (accidentally, as it were) to look and taste like bread, the question of what happens to its substance is tied to the reality of a world in which the sacrament's actuality, whatever that might be, is taking place. One Christian's invisible realm may be another's Cloud-cuckooland, yet no Protestant could discount all invisibilia and remain Christian. Rabelais and Bellarmine fabulate impiously—but Sutcliffe, too, believes in things that nobody can see.

Patrick Forbes, future bishop of Aberdeen, was likewise impatient with figments. He wrote A Defence of the Lawful Calling of the Ministers of Reformed Churches (1614) to vindicate the right of Protestant clergymen to claim an Apostolic succession: despite the rupture with the pope, they have an unbroken tie to Saint Peter through the successive laying-on of hands at ordination. This topic, too, invites serious thought on the relation of ancient words and gestures to the present and on the difficulty of historically tracing something real but invisible—and hence subject to the charge that it is fantasized. Forbes, whom the DNB calls “good, godly, and kind,” was understandably annoyed at being termed a “glorying Goliath” by a recusant reader, and his title page asserts sharply that the “impertinent and rediculously deceitfull” questions answered in this tract were written in his adversary's “dottage.” A major topic is the misused imagination, a sensitive issue precisely because Forbes defends a Church that he not only concedes but insists is “invisible”: ancient, Apostolically descended, and, unlike the pope's all-too-material church, perceived only by the faithful. The true church's age and invisibility was vital to Reformation claims, for without some such theory Protestants would have been even more vulnerable to the charge that they dealt in mere novelties fabricated by Opinion.

His church, Forbes thinks, has been there right along, unseen, hidden within the false and visible one. Catholics are the feigners. They pretend that the Antichrist is yet to come, whereas the Gospel's “waxing light” shows that he is here, in Rome. This makes them “paint out … Chimeraes, wherby they may stupifie and detaine foolish hearts in expectation of such an Antichrist, as shall come, I warrant you, ad grecas Calendas.” The papists' Antichrist must be some “dumb Devil” begotten “betwix some feind or fairie, and a devised Daniel, who hath I warrant you, two thousand yeares agoe, lost all the writings of his genealogie.” Catholics try to “delude the Worlde, with such foolishe fantasies”; and indeed some people are deluded. Why? By “perversenes of mindes and guiltines of conscience,” they “runne to such doting dreames, and ridiculous raveries, as, albeit they were not refelled [confuted] by cleare Scripture, yet, were fitter to bee an addition to Rables, or to make up the last booke of Amades de Gaule, then to bee reputed profound pointes of Christian wisedome” (sigs. D1, I3v-I4). Rabelais, then, is a fantasy-monger. The affiliation with romance is intriguing, for Rabelais's work had begun as an “addition” to the chapbooks, just as other writers did indeed make “additions” to his works, and just as (said reformers) Catholics had added to God's word and laws. Amadis, especially, in a fine demonstration of romance's antipathy to closure, received addition upon addition. To the making of fictions there is no end, and Forbes's train of thought implies that fictional theology will stop only when the equally fictional Greek kalends finally arrive.

Secular fantasy may have distressed some people because it is a reminder that things invisible to mortal sight may be so because they are, quite simply, not there. The common phrase “you’re just seeing things” may apply to the “Pantagruel” in The Divils Charter who fences with air, but faith itself rests on the evidence of things unseen. If Chimeras are hard to see, so, nowadays, are virgin mothers and talking snakes. “Wisdome is Queene,” says the anonymous Apollo Christian, or Helicon Reformed (1617), when objecting to fictions like Saint George's fight with the dragon, and Wisdom “fareth not with Faëries” (Sig. C2v).31 But what if Wisdom is just a fairy? In turning around to laugh at his own fictions, Rabelais plays with a truth both uncomfortable and exhilarating: much in Scripture would not be out of place in works that many condemned as fantastic. Hence the disgust or delight some have found in thinking that his genealogies, for example, mock their biblical counterparts. When Rabelais claims that nothing in his account of Gargantua's nonvaginal birth violates Christian faith (an earlier edition quotes Paul on how “Charity believeth all things”), it is easy to see how some concluded that he found the Gospel as improbable as tales about giants.

It is more likely that Rabelais agreed with Erasmus's comment on the adage Sileni Alcibiadis: like Sileni, some passages in the Gospels seem foolish but are wise within. Thomas Browne had something like this in mind when remarking in Religio medici that he has read without harm such skeptics as Lucian even though “there are in Scripture Stories that do exceed the Fables of Poets, and to a captious Reader sound like Garagantua or Bevis.” (The spelling suggests the chapbook giant, although a few lines later Browne mentions Rabelais). Browne is not a captious reader; for him charity does indeed entail believing if not all things then a great many. But he has flirted with calling Scripture fantasy, evoking in order to exorcise a Lucianic “Rhetorick of Satan” that may “pervert a loose or pre-judicate belief.”32 Nor is it the Bible alone that makes Browne remember Rabelais or almost-Rabelais. His Pseudoxia epidemica (1646) recounts with genial skepticism (for there was also much in which he did not believe) the tale of Milo, the Greek athlete “who by daylie lifting a Calfe, attained an ability to carry it being a Bull.” This, says Brown dryly, “is a witty conceit, and handsomely sets forth the efficacy of Assuefaction [habituation].” They say that in the Olympics “for the space of a furlong, he carryed an Oxe of foure yeares upon his shoulders; and the same day hee carried it in his belly; for as it is there delivered he eate it up himselfe: Surely he had beene a proper guest at Grandgousiers feast, and might have matcht his throat that eate sixe pilgrims for a salad.” The margin says “In Rabelais.”33 Browne recalls the somatic energy of Gargantua, its pleasure in the thought of sheer intake; but he does so in the context of what the wise may believe and what they will take as fantasy.

Theaters, as Scott says, work openly in the figment trade; unlike churches, they may lawfully peddle falsehood. I close this section with the Rabelais of Jasper Mayne—playwright, translator of Lucian, and royalist divine—who entangles theatrical fantasy and religion in his worldly Citie Match, performed at Whitehall and published at Oxford in 1639. This comedy, filled with injokes and topical allusions, has moments of irreverence that might drive the theater's enemies to further censure, for Mayne flirts with impiety when he arranges for a fake religious rite (he had, says the DNB, a taste for “unseasonable practical jokes”). To make the fakery funnier, he attaches the name Rabelais to it. In Act IV the aptly named Plotwell tells Aurelia, who must marry so as to save their mutual fortune, that “The scene is laid already; / I have transformed an English Poet [one Salewit] into / A fine French Teacher, who shall joyne your hands / With a most learned legend out of Rabelais.” Later, Salewit reports that the counterfeit ceremony went off as planned in a French church (which served Huguenot refugees and required no marriage license): “I’ve read a Fiction out of Rabelais to ’em, / In a religious tone, which he [the deluded bridegroom] believes / For good French Liturgie. When I had done / There came a Christening.” Plotwell asks: “And didst thou baptize / Out of thy Rabelais too?” Drawing the line at counterfeiting a genuine sacrament (which marriage, for Protestants, is not), Mayne has his poet say: “No faith, I left ’em / In expectation of their Pastor.” If that pastor was anything like Calvin, he would have been aghast at what had been going on in his church. At last all is revealed, and Plotwell tells the bridegroom, the rich Mr. Warehouse, “Wonder not, Sir, you / Were married but in jest. Twas no church forme, / But a fine Legend out of Rabelais” (sigs. L2v, O2v, R2v).34

Mayne assumes an audience that can identify Rabelais (that the “fiction” is also a “legend” adds medieval overtones). It matters for the play's stratified social world that only the better-educated would know what to make of the name.35 The allusion has a double function: it gives witty characters higher polish—more gloss, more glossolalia—while differentiating their multitongued and print-aware selves from the single-languaged, ignorant, and gullible. Some of the literate, though, might find Mayne's casual way with ritual disturbing, even while recognizing that the recitation of a merely literary text protected genuine rites from serious sacrilege. The risqué quality, the defiance of the Puritans whom the play derides, lies in the juxtaposition of the marriage ceremony and, of all things, “fictions” by the French Lucian. Satire spatters acid on innocent bystanders: the report of a bride and groom being joined by readings out of Gargantua et Pantagruel permits the mind to allow a libertine wit near a real church. This is why Rabelais and others who ridiculed what they saw as superstition could disturb those who might agree on the fact of falsity but feared parody's contamination: laughter at false belief can resound in a true one's churches.

Mayne's own take on fantasy's relation to faith was complex. Here Rabelaisian legend sits in a nested set of comic fictions. A decade later the human tendency to make things up looked more dangerous, now that revolutionary lunatics were claiming to perceive truths that were invisible to royalists. In a 1647 Sermon Against False Prophets, preached in Oxford “after the Surrender of that Garrison,” Mayne dismisses those prophesying against the king. Such seers “see” “visions, perhaps; But such as Aeneas in Virgil saw among the shades” (sig. A3v); in other words, “fictions.” We cannot eradicate images from language, or language from society, continues Mayne, but we can strive for clarity and not, like squids, blacken with ink the water in which we swim (sig. A4). Like many who detested flummery, Mayne cites Lucian (sig. C4v). Indeed, about the time he wrote The Citie Match he was translating Lucian's works, eventually publishing a lovely edition (166