Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1106
Grangosier and Gargamelle are expecting a child. During the eleventh month of her pregnancy, Gargamelle eats too many tripes and then plays tag on the green. That afternoon, in a green meadow, Gargantua is born from his mother’s left ear. Gargantua is a prodigy and, with his first breath, he begins to clamor for drink. To supply him with milk, 17,913 cows are needed. Tailors use nine hundred ells of linen to make his shirt and 1,105 ells of white broadcloth to make his breeches. Eleven hundred cowhides are used for the soles of his shoes.
At first, Gargantua’s education is in the hands of two masters of the old school, Holofernes and Joberlin Bride. When Grangosier observes that his son is making no progress, however, he sends him to Paris to study with Ponocrates. Aside from some mishaps, as when he takes the bells from the tower of Notre Dame to tie around his horse’s neck, Gargantua does much better with his studies in Paris.
Back home, a dispute arises. The bakers of Lerne refuse to sell cakes to the shepherds of Grangosier. In the quarrel, a shepherd fells a baker, and King Picrochole of Lerne invades the country. Grangosier bakes cartloads of cakes to appease Picrochole, but to no avail, for no one dares oppose Picrochole except doughty Friar John of the Funnels. Finally, Grangosier asks Gargantua to come to his aid. Gargantua fights valiantly. Cannonballs seem to him as grape seeds, and when he combs his hair, cannonballs drop out. After he conquers the army of Lerne, he generously sets all the prisoners free.
All of his helpers are rewarded well, and for Friar John Gargantua builds the famous Abbey of Theleme, where men and women are together, all can leave when they wish, and marriage and the accumulation of wealth are encouraged. When he is more than four hundred years old, Gargantua has a son, Pantagruel. A remarkable baby, Pantagruel is hairy as a bear at birth and of such great size that he costs the life of his mother. Gargantua is sorely vexed, between weeping for his wife and rejoicing for his son.
Pantagruel requires the services of 4,600 cows to nurse him. Once he gets an arm out of his swaddling clothes and, grasping the cow nursing him, eats the cow. Afterward, Pantagruel’s arms are bound with anchor ropes. One day, the women forget to clean his face after nursing, and a bear comes and licks the drops of milk from the baby’s face. By a great effort, Pantagruel breaks the ropes and eats the bear. In despair, Gargantua binds his son with four great chains, one of which is later used to bind Lucifer when he has the colic. Pantagruel, however, breaks the five-foot beam that constituted the footboard of his cradle and runs around with the cradle on his back.
Pantagruel shows great promise as a scholar. After a period of wandering, he settles down in Paris. There he is frequently called on to settle disputes between learned lawyers. One day he meets Panurge, a ragged young beggar. On speaking to him, Pantagruel receives answers in twelve known and unknown tongues. Pantagruel is greatly taken by this fluent beggar, and the two become great friends. Panurge is a merry fellow who knows 63 ways to make money and 214 ways to spend it.
Pantagruel learns that the Dipsodes have invaded the land of the Amaurots. Stirred by this danger to Utopia, he sets out by ship to do battle. By trickery and courage, Pantagruel overcomes the wicked giants. He marries their king, Anarchus, to an old lantern-carrying hag and makes the king a crier of green sauce. Now that the land of Dipsody is conquered, Pantagruel transports a colony of Utopians there, numbering 9,876,543,210 men, plus many women and children. All of these people are very fertile. Every nine months, each married woman bears seven children. In a short time, Dipsody is populated by virtuous Utopians.
For his services and friendship, Panurge is made Laird of Salmigondin. The revenue from this lairdship amounts to 6,789,106,789 gold royals a year, but Panurge manages to spend his income well in advance. Intending to settle down, Panurge begins to reflect seriously on marriage, and he consults his lord Pantagruel. They come to no conclusion in the matter because they get into an argument about the virtues of borrowing and lending money. Nevertheless, the flea in his ear keeps reminding Panurge of his contemplated marriage, and he sets off to seek other counsel.
Panurge consults the Sibyl of Panzoult, the poet Raminagrobis, Herr Tripa, and Friar John. When all the advice he receives proves contradictory, Panurge prevails on Pantagruel and Friar John to set out with him to consult the Oracle of the Holy Bottle. From Saint Malo, the party sails in twelve ships for the Holy Bottle, located in Upper India. The Portuguese sometimes take three years for that voyage, but Pantagruel and Panurge cut that time to one month by sailing across the Frozen Sea north of Canada.
The valiant company has many adventures on the way. On the Island of the Ennasins, they find a race of people with noses shaped like the ace of clubs. The people who live on the Island of Ruach eat and drink nothing but wind. At the Ringing Islands, they find a strange race of Siticines who long ago turned into birds. On Condemnation Island, they fall into the power of Gripe-men-all, Archduke of the Furred Law-cats, and Panurge is forced to solve a riddle before the travelers are given their freedom.
At last, they come to the island of the Holy Bottle. Guided by a Lantern from Lanternland, they come to a large vineyard planted by Bacchus himself. Then they go underground through a plastered vault and come to marble steps. Down they go, a hundred steps or more. Panurge is greatly afraid, but Friar John takes him by the collar and heartens him. At the bottom, they come to a great mosaic floor on which is shown the history of Bacchus. Finally, they are met by the priest Bacbuc, who is to conduct them to the Holy Bottle. Panurge kneels to kiss the rim of the fountain. Bacbuc throws something into the well, and the water begins to boil. When Panurge sings the prescribed ritual, the Holy Bottle pronounces one word, “trinc.” Bacbuc looks up the word in a huge silver book. It means drink, a word declared to be the most gracious and intelligible she has ever heard from the Holy Bottle. Panurge takes the word as a sanction for his marriage.