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Gargantua and Pantagruel
(Les Grandes et Inestimables Chroniques du Grande et Enorme Géant Gargantua)

by Francois Rabelais
The original, squashed down to read in about 30 minutes

Illustrations by Gustave Doré, 1894


Francois Rabelais was born somewhere in central France round about 1483. Educated by the Franciscans he took the monastic life, but left to become a secular priest and to study medicine. He spent his later years as parish priest at Meudon and he died at Paris in 1553. The stories of Pantagruel appeared at various times and were variously banned by the church or state as being unpleasantly satirical of those in power.
Abridged: JH/GH

Gargantua and Pantagruel

This edition is available in print...

I. - The Very Horrific Life of the Great Gargantua

Grangousier was a right merry fellow in his time, and he had as great a love as any man living in the world for neat wine and salt meat. When he came to man's estate he married Gargamelle, daughter to the king of the Parpaillons, a jolly wench and good looking, who died in giving birth to a son.

They had gone out with their neighbours in a hurl to Willow Grove, and there on the thick grass they danced so gallantly that it was a heavenly sport to see them so frolic. Then began flagons to go, gammons to trot, goblets to fly, and glasses to rattle. "Draw, reach, fill, mix. Give it to me - without water; so my friend. Whip me off this bowl gallantly. Bring me some claret, a full glass running over. A truce to thirst! By my faith, gossip, I cannot get in a drinking humour! Have you caught a cold, gammer? Let's talk of drinking. Which was first, thirst or drinking? Thirst, for who would have drunk without thirst in the time of innocence? I do, as I am a sinner. I drink to prevent thirst. I drink for the thirst to come. Let's have a song, a catch; let us sing a round. Drink for ever, and you shall never die! When I am not drinking I am as good as dead. Drink, or I'll - The appetite comes with eating and the thirst goes with drinking. Nature abhors a vacuum. Swallow it down, it is wholesome medicine!"

It was at this moment that Gargantua was born. He did not whimper as the other babes used to do, but with a high, sturdy, and big voice, he shouted out, "Drink, drink, drink!" The sound was so extremely great that it rang over two counties. I am afraid that you do not thoroughly believe in the truth of this strange nativity. Believe it or not, I do not care. But an honest man, a man of good sense, always believes what is told him, and what he finds written.

When the good man Grangousier, who was then merrily drinking with his guests, heard his son roar out for drink, he said to him in French, "Que Grand Tu As et souple le gousier!" That is to say, "How great and nimble a throat thou hast." Hearing this, the company said that the child verily ought to be called Gargantua, because it was the first word uttered by his father at his birth. Which the father graciously permitted, and to calm the child they gave him enough drink to crack his throat, and then carried him to the font where he was christened according to the manner of good Christians.

seventeen thousand nine hundred and thirteen cows were required to furnish him with milk

So great was Gargantua, even when a babe of a day old, that seventeen thousand nine hundred and thirteen cows were required to furnish him with milk. By the ancient records to be seen in the chamber of accounts at Montsoreau, I find that nine thousand six hundred ells of blue velvet were used for his gown, four hundred and six ells of crimson velvet were taken up for his shoes, which were soled with the hides of eleven hundred brown cows; and the rest of his costume was in proportion. By the commandment of his father, Gargantua was brought up and instructed in all convenient discipline, and he spent his time like the other children of the country - that is, in drinking, eating, and sleeping; in eating, sleeping, and drinking; and in sleeping, drinking, and eating.

In his youth he studied hard under a very learned man, called Master Tubal Holofermes, and, after studying with him for five years and three months, he learnt so much that he was able to say the alphabet backwards. About this time, the king of Numidia sent out of the country of Africa to Grangousier, the hugest and most enormous mare that was ever seen. She was as large as six elephants, and of a burnt sorrel colour with dapple grey spots; but, above all, she had a horrible tail. For it was little more or less as great as the pillar of St. Mars, which, as you know, is eighty-six feet in height.

When Grangousier saw her, he said, "Here is the very thing to carry my son to Paris. He shall go there and learn what the study of the young men of France is, and in time to come he shall be a great scholar!"

The next morning, after, of course, drinking, Gargantua set out on his journey. He passed his time merrily along the highway, until he came a little above Orleans, in which place there was a forest five-and-thirty leagues long and seventeen wide. This forest was most horribly fertile and abundant in gadflies and hornets, so that it was a very purgatory for asses and horses. But Gargantua's mare handsomely avenged all the outrages committed upon beasts of her kind. For as soon as she entered the forest, and the hornets gave the attack, she drew out her tail and swished it about, and swept down all the trees with as much ease as a mower cuts grass. And since then there has been neither a forest nor a hornet's nest in that place, for all the country was thereby reduced to pasture land.

At last Gargantua came to Paris, and inquired what wine they drank there, and what learning was to be had. Everybody in Paris looked upon him with great admiration. For the people of this city are by nature so sottish, idle, and good-for-nothing, that a mountebank, a pardoner come from Rome to sell indulgences, or a fiddler in the crossways, will attract together more of them than a good preacher of the Gospel. So troublesome were they in pursuing Gargantua, that he was compelled to seek a resting-place on the towers of Notre Dame. There he amused himself by ringing the great bells, and it came into his mind that they would serve as cowbells to hang on the neck of his mare, so he carried them off to his lodging.

At this all the people of Paris rose up in sedition. They are, as you know, so ready to uproars and insurrections, that foreign nations wonder at the stupidity of the kings of France at not restraining them from such tumultuous courses, seeing the manifold inconveniences which thence arise from day to day. Believe for a truth, that the place where the people gathered together was called Nesle; there, after the case was proposed and argued, they resolved to send the oldest and most able of their learned men unto Gargantua to explain to him the great and horrible prejudice they sustained by the want of their bells. Thereupon Gargantua put up the bells again in their place, and in acknowledgement of his courtesy, the citizens offered to maintain and feed his mare as long as he pleased. And they sent her to graze in the forest of Biére, but I do not think she is there now.

For some years Gargantua studied at Paris under a wise and able master, and grew expert in manly sports of all kinds, as well as in learning of every sort. Then he was called upon to return to his country to take part in a great and horrible war.

II. - The Marvellous Deeds of Friar John

The war began in this way: At the time of the vintage, the shepherds of Grangousier's country were set to guard the vines and hinder the starlings from eating the grapes. Seeing some cake-bakers of Lerné passing down the highway with ten or twelve loads of cakes, the shepherds courteously asked them to sell some of their wares at the market price. The cake-bakers, however, were in no way inclinable to the request of the shepherds; and, what is worse, they insulted them hugely, calling them babblers, broken-mouths, carrot-pates, tunbellies, fly-catchers, sneakbies, joltheads, slabberdegullion druggels, and other defamatory epithets. And when one honest shepherd came forward with the money to buy some of the cakes, a rude cake-baker struck him a rude lash with a whip. Thereupon some farmers and their men, who were watching their walnuts close by, ran up with their great poles and long staves, and thrashed the cake-bakers as if they had been green rye.

When they were returned to Lerné, the cake-makers complained to their king, Picrochole, saying that all the mischief was done by the shepherds of Grangousier. Picrochole incontinently grew angry and furious, and without making any further question, he had it cried throughout his country that every man, under pain of hanging, should assemble in arms at noon before his castle. Thereupon, without order or measure, his men took the field, ravaging and wasting everything wherever they passed through. All that they said to any man that cried them mercy, was: "We will teach you to eat cakes!"

The poor devils of monks did not know to what saint to pray in their extremity

Having pillaged the town of Seuillé, they went on with the horrible tumult to an abbey. Finding it well barred and made fast, seven companies of foot and two hundred lances broke down the walls of the close, and began to lay waste the vineyard. The poor devils of monks did not know to what saint to pray in their extremity, and they made processions and said litanies against their foes. But in the abbey at that time was a cloister-monk named Friar John of the Trenchermen, young, gallant, frisky, lusty, nimble, quick, active, bold, resolute, tall, wide-mouthed, and long-nosed; a fine mumbler of matins, a fair runner through masses, and a great scourer of vigils - to put it short, a true monk, if ever there was one since the monking world monked a monkery. This monk, hearing the noise that the enemy made in the vineyard, went to see what they were doing, and perceiving that they were gathering the grapes out of which next year's drink of the abbey ought to be made, he grew mighty angry. "The devil take me," he cried, "if they have not already chopped our vines so that we shall have no drink for years to come! Did not St. Thomas of England die for the goods of the church? If I died in the same cause should I not be a saint likewise? However, I shall not die for them, but make other men to do so."

Throwing off his monk's habit, he took up a cross made out of a sour apple-tree, which was as long as a lance, and with it he laid on lustily upon his enemies. He scattered the brains of some, and the legs and arms of others. He broke their necks; he had off their heads; he smashed their bones; he caved in their ribs; he impaled them, and he transfixed them. Believe me, it was a most horrible spectacle that ever man saw. Some died without speaking, others spoke without dying; some died while they were speaking, others spoke while they were dying. So great was the cry of the wounded, that the prior and all his monks came forth, and seeing the poor wretches hurt to death, began to confess them. But when those who had been shriven tried to depart, Friar John felled them with a terrible blow, saying, "These men have had confession and are repentant, so straight they go into Paradise!"

Thus by his prowess and valour were discomfited all those of the army, under the number of thirteen thousand six hundred and twenty-two, that entered the abbey close. Gargantua, who had come from Paris to help his father against Picrochole, heard of the marvellous feats of Friar John, and sought his aid, and by means of it utterly defeated the enemy. What became of Picrochole after his defeat I cannot say with certainty, but I was told that he is now a porter at Lyons. He always inquires of all strangers on the coming of the Cocquecigrues, for an old woman has prophesied that at their coming he shall be re-established in his kingdom.

III. - The Abbey of Thelema

Gargantua was mightily pleased with Friar John, and he wanted to make him abbot of several abbeys in his country. But the monk said he would never take upon him the government of monks. "Give me leave," he said, "to found an abbey after my own fancy." The notion pleased Gargantua, who thereupon offered him all the country of Thelema by the river of Loire. Friar John then asked Gargantua to institute his religious order contrary to all others. At that time they placed no women into nunneries save those who were ugly, ill-made, foolish, humpbacked, or corrupt; nor put any men into monasteries save those that were sickly, ill-born, simple-witted, and a burden to their family. Therefore, it was ordained that into this abbey of Thelema should be admitted no women that were not beautiful and of a sweet disposition, and no men that were not handsome, well-made, and well-conditioned. And because both men and women that are received into religious orders are constrained to stay there all the days of their lives, it was therefore laid down that all men and women admitted to Thelema should have leave to depart whenever it seemed good to them. And because monks and nuns made three vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, it was appointed that those who entered into the new order might be rich and honourably married and live at liberty.

For the building of the abbey Gargantua gave twenty-seven hundred thousand eight hundred and thirty-one long-wooled sheep; and for the maintenance thereof he gave an annual fee-farm rent of twenty-three hundred and sixty-nine thousand five hundred and fourteen rose nobles. In the building were nine thousand three hundred and thirty-two apartments, each furnished with an inner chamber, a cabinet, a wardrobe, a chapel, and an opening into a great hall. The abbey also contained fine great libraries and spacious picture galleries.

All the life of the Thelemites was laid out, not by laws and rules, but according to their own free will and pleasure. They rose from their beds when it seemed good to them; they drank, worked, ate, slept, when the wish came upon them. No one constrained them in anything, for so had Gargantua established it. Their rule consisted of this one clause:


Because men are free, well-born, well-bred, conversant in honest company, have by nature an instinct and a spur that always prompt them to virtuous actions and withdraw them from vice; and this they style honour. When the time was come that any man wished to leave the abbey, he carried with him one of the ladies who had taken him for her faithful servant, and they were married together; and if they had formerly lived together in Thelema in devotion and friendship, still more did they so continue in wedlock; insomuch that they loved one another to the end of their lives, as on the first day of their marriage.

IV. - Pantagruel and Panurge

At the age of four hundred four score and forty-four years, Gargantua had a son by his wife, Badebec, daughter of one of the kings of Utopia. And because in the year that his son was born there was a great drought, Gargantua gave him the name of Pantagruel; for panta in Greek is as much as to say all, and gruel in the Arabic language has the same meaning as thirsty. Moreover, Gargantua foresaw, in the spirit of prophesy, that Pantagruel would one day be the ruler of the thirsty race, and that if he lived very long he would arrive at a goodly age.

Like his father, Pantagruel went to Paris to study. There his spirit among his books was like fire among heather, so indefatigable was it and ardent. One day as Pantagruel was taking a walk without the city he met a man of a comely stature and elegant in all the lineaments of his body, but most pitifully wounded, and clad in tatters and rags.

"Who are you, my friend?" said Pantagruel. "What do you want, and what is your name?" The man answered him in German, gibberish, Italian, English, Basque, Lantern-language, Dutch, Spanish, Danish, Hebrew, Greek, Breton, and Latin.

"Well, well, my friend," replied Pantagruel, when the man had come to an end, "can you speak French?"

"That I can very well, sir," he replied, "for my name is Panurge, and I was bred and born in Touraine, which is the garden of France. I have just come from Turkey, where I was taken prisoner, and my throat is so parched and my stomach so empty that if you will only put a meal before me, it will be a fine sight for you to see me walk into it."

Friar John and Panurge

Pantagruel had conceived a great affection for the wandering scholar, and he took him home and set a great store of food before him. Panurge ate right on until the evening, went to bed as soon as he finished, slept till dinner time next day, so that he only made three steps and a jump from bed to table. Panurge was of a middle height, and had a nose like that of the handle of a razor. He was a very gallant and proper man in his person, and the greatest thief, drinker, roysterer, and rake in Paris. With all that, he was the best fellow in the world, and he was always contriving some mischief or other. Pantagruel, being pleased with him, gave him the castellany of Salmigondin, which was yearly worth 6,789,106,789 royals of certain rent; besides the uncertain revenue of cockchafers and snails, amounting one year with another to the value of 2,435,768, or 2,435,769 French crowns of Berry. Sometimes it amounted to 1,234,554,321 seraphs, when it was a good season, and cockchafers and snails in request; but that was not every year.

The new castellan conducted himself so well and prudently than in less than fourteen days he wasted all the revenue of his castellany for three whole years. Yet he did not throw it away in building churches and founding monasteries, but spent it in a thousand little banquets and joyful festivals, keeping open house for all good fellows and pretty girls who came that way.

Pantagruel being advertised of the affair was in no wise offended. He only took Panurge aside, and sweetly represented to him that if he continued to live in this manner it would be difficult at any time to make him rich.

"Rich?" answered Panurge. "Have you undertaken the impossible task to make me rich? Be prudent, like me, and borrow money beforehand, for you never know how things will turn out."

"But," said Pantagruel, "when will you be out of debt?"

"The Lord forbid I should ever be out of debt," replied Panurge. "Are you indebted to somebody? He will pray night and morning that your life may be blessed, long and prosperous. Fearing to lose his debt, he will always speak good of you in every company; moreover, he will continually get new creditors for you, in the hope, that, through them, you will be able to pay him."

To this Pantagruel answering nothing. Panurge went on with his discourse, saying: "To think that you should run full tilt at me and twit me with my debts and creditors! In this one thing only do I esteem myself worshipful, reverend, and formidable. I have created something out of nothing - a line of fair and jolly creditors! Imagine how glad I am when I see myself, every morning, surrounded by them, humble, fawning, and full of reverence. You ask me when I will be out of debt. May the good Saint Babolin snatch me, if I have not always held that debt was the connection and tie between the heavens and the earth; the only bond of union of the human race; without it the whole progeny of Adam would soon perish. A world without debts! Everything would be in disorder. The planets, reckoning they were not indebted to each other, would thrust themselves out of their sphere. The sun would not lend any light to the earth. No rain would descend on it, no wind blow there, and there would be no summer or harvest. Faith, hope, and charity will be quite banished from such a world; and what would happen to our bodies? The head would not lend the sight of its eyes to guide the hands and the feet; the feet would refuse to carry the head, and the hands would leave off working for it. Life would go out of the body, and the chafing soul would take its flight after my money.

"On the contrary, I shall be pleased to represent unto your fancy another world, in which everyone lends and everyone owes. Oh, how great will be the harmony among mankind! I lose myself in this contemplation. There will be peace among men; love, affection, fidelity, feastings, joy, and gladness; gold, silver, and merchandise will trot from hand to hand. There will be no suits of law, no wars, no strife. All will be good, all will be fair, all will be just. Believe me, it is a divine thing to lend, and an heroic virtue to owe. Yet this is not all. We owe something to posterity."

"What is that?" said Pantagruel.

"The task of creating it," said Panurge. "I have a mind to marry and get children."

"We must consult the Oracle of the Divine Bottle," exclaimed Pantagruel, "before you enter on so dangerous an undertaking. Come, let us prepare for the voyage."

V. - The Divine Bottle

Pantagruel knew that the Oracle of the Divine Bottle could only be reached by a perilous voyage in unknown seas and strange islands. But, undismayed by this knowledge, he fitted out a great fleet at St. Malo, and sailed beyond the Cape of Good Hope to Lantern Land. As they were voyaging along, beyond the desolate land of the Popefigs and the blessed island of the Papemanes, Pantagruel heard voices in the air, and the pilot said: "Be not afraid, my lord! We are on the confines of the frozen sea, where there was a great fight last winter between the Arimaspians and the Nepheliabetes. The cries of the men, the neighing of the horses, and all the din of battle froze in the air, and now that the warm season is come, they are melting into sound."

"Look," said Pantagruel, "here are some that are not yet thawed." And he threw on deck great handfuls of frozen words, seeming like sugar-plums of many colours. Panurge warmed some of them in his hands, and they melted like snow into a barbarous gibberish. Panurge prayed Pantagruel to give him some more, but Pantagruel told him that to give words was the part of a lover.

"Sell me some, then," cried Panurge.

"That is the part of a lawyer," said Pantagruel. But he threw three or four more handfuls of them on the deck, and as they melted all the noises of the battle rang about the ship.

From this point Pantagruel sailed straight for Lantern Land, and came to the desired island in which was the Oracle of the Bottle. On the front of the Doric portal was engraved in fine gold the sentence: "In Wine, Truth." The noble priestess, Bachuc, led Panurge to the fountain in the temple, within which was placed the Divine Bottle. After he had danced round it three Bacchic dances, she threw a magic powder into the fountain, and its water began to boil violently and Panurge sat upon the ground and waited for the oracle. First of all a noise like that made by bees at their birth came from the Divine Bottle, and immediately after this was heard the word, "Drink!"

The priestess then filled some small leather vessels with this fantastic water, and gave them to Panurge and Pantagruel, saying: "If you have observed what is written above the temple gates, you at last know that truth is hidden in wine. Be yourselves the expounders of your undertaking, and now go, friends, in the protection of that intellectual sphere, the centre of which is in all places and the circumference nowhere, which we call God. What has become of the art of calling down from heaven, thunder and celestial fire, once invented by the wise Prometheus? You have certainly lost it. Your philosophers who complain that all things were written by the ancients, and that nothing is left for them to invent, are evidently wrong. When they shall give their labour and study to search out, with prayer to the sovereign God (whom the Egyptians named the Hidden and Concealed, and invoking Him by that name, besought Him to manifest and discover Himself to them), He will grant to them, partly guided by good Lanterns, knowledge of Himself and His creatures. For all philosophers and ancient sages have considered two things necessary for the sure and pleasant pursuit of the way of divine knowledge and choice of wisdom - the goodness of God, and the company of men.

"Now go, in the name of God, and may He guide you."

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