Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Francois Rabelais

Chapter 10

Of that which is signified by the colours white and blue.

The white therefore signifieth joy, solace, and gladness, and that not at random, but upon just and very good grounds: which you may perceive to be true, if laying aside all prejudicate affections, you will but give ear to what presently I shall expound unto you.

Aristotle saith that, supposing two things contrary in their kind, as good and evil, virtue and vice, heat and cold, white and black, pleasure and pain, joy and grief — and so of others — if you couple them in such manner that the contrary of one kind may agree in reason with the contrary of the other, it must follow by consequence that the other contrary must answer to the remanent opposite to that wherewith it is conferred. As, for example, virtue and vice are contrary in one kind, so are good and evil. If one of the contraries of the first kind be consonant to one of those of the second, as virtue and goodness, for it is clear that virtue is good, so shall the other two contraries, which are evil and vice, have the same connection, for vice is evil.

This logical rule being understood, take these two contraries, joy and sadness; then these other two, white and black, for they are physically contrary. If so be, then, that black do signify grief, by good reason then should white import joy. Nor is this signification instituted by human imposition, but by the universal consent of the world received, which philosophers call Jus Gentium, the Law of Nations, or an uncontrollable right of force in all countries whatsoever. For you know well enough that all people, and all languages and nations, except the ancient Syracusans and certain Argives, who had cross and thwarting souls, when they mean outwardly to give evidence of their sorrow, go in black; and all mourning is done with black. Which general consent is not without some argument and reason in nature, the which every man may by himself very suddenly comprehend, without the instruction of any — and this we call the law of nature. By virtue of the same natural instinct we know that by white all the world hath understood joy, gladness, mirth, pleasure, and delight. In former times the Thracians and Cretans did mark their good, propitious, and fortunate days with white stones, and their sad, dismal, and unfortunate ones with black. Is not the night mournful, sad, and melancholic? It is black and dark by the privation of light. Doth not the light comfort all the world? And it is more white than anything else. Which to prove, I could direct you to the book of Laurentius Valla against Bartolus; but an evangelical testimony I hope will content you. Matth. 17 it is said that, at the transfiguration of our Lord, Vestimenta ejus facta sunt alba sicut lux, his apparel was made white like the light. By which lightsome whiteness he gave his three apostles to understand the idea and figure of the eternal joys; for by the light are all men comforted, according to the word of the old woman, who, although she had never a tooth in her head, was wont to say, Bona lux. And Tobit, chap.5, after he had lost his sight, when Raphael saluted him, answered, What joy can I have, that do not see the light of Heaven? In that colour did the angels testify the joy of the whole world at the resurrection of our Saviour, John 20, and at his ascension, Acts 1. With the like colour of vesture did St. John the Evangelist, Apoc. 4.7, see the faithful clothed in the heavenly and blessed Jerusalem.

Read the ancient, both Greek and Latin histories, and you shall find that the town of Alba (the first pattern of Rome) was founded and so named by reason of a white sow that was seen there. You shall likewise find in those stories, that when any man, after he had vanquished his enemies, was by decree of the senate to enter into Rome triumphantly, he usually rode in a chariot drawn by white horses: which in the ovation triumph was also the custom; for by no sign or colour would they so significantly express the joy of their coming as by the white. You shall there also find, how Pericles, the general of the Athenians, would needs have that part of his army unto whose lot befell the white beans, to spend the whole day in mirth, pleasure, and ease, whilst the rest were a-fighting. A thousand other examples and places could I allege to this purpose, but that it is not here where I should do it.

By understanding hereof, you may resolve one problem, which Alexander Aphrodiseus hath accounted unanswerable: why the lion, who with his only cry and roaring affrights all beasts, dreads and feareth only a white cock? For, as Proclus saith, Libro de Sacrificio et Magia, it is because the presence of the virtue of the sun, which is the organ and promptuary of all terrestrial and sidereal light, doth more symbolize and agree with a white cock, as well in regard of that colour, as of his property and specifical quality, than with a lion. He saith, furthermore, that devils have been often seen in the shape of lions, which at the sight of a white cock have presently vanished. This is the cause why Galli or Gallices (so are the Frenchmen called, because they are naturally white as milk, which the Greeks call Gala,) do willingly wear in their caps white feathers, for by nature they are of a candid disposition, merry, kind, gracious, and well-beloved, and for their cognizance and arms have the whitest flower of any, the Flower de luce or Lily.

If you demand how, by white, nature would have us understand joy and gladness, I answer, that the analogy and uniformity is thus. For, as the white doth outwardly disperse and scatter the rays of the sight, whereby the optic spirits are manifestly dissolved, according to the opinion of Aristotle in his problems and perspective treatises; as you may likewise perceive by experience, when you pass over mountains covered with snow, how you will complain that you cannot see well; as Xenophon writes to have happened to his men, and as Galen very largely declareth, lib. 10, de usu partium: just so the heart with excessive joy is inwardly dilated, and suffereth a manifest resolution of the vital spirits, which may go so far on that it may thereby be deprived of its nourishment, and by consequence of life itself, by this perichary or extremity of gladness, as Galen saith, lib. 12, method, lib. 5, de locis affectis, and lib. 2, de symptomatum causis. And as it hath come to pass in former times, witness Marcus Tullius, lib. 1, Quaest. Tuscul., Verrius, Aristotle, Titus Livius, in his relation of the battle of Cannae, Plinius, lib. 7, cap. 32 and 34, A. Gellius, lib. 3, c. 15, and many other writers — to Diagoras the Rhodian, Chilon, Sophocles, Dionysius the tyrant of Sicily, Philippides, Philemon, Polycrates, Philistion, M. Juventi, and others who died with joy. And as Avicen speaketh, in 2 canon et lib. de virib. cordis, of the saffron, that it doth so rejoice the heart that, if you take of it excessively, it will by a superfluous resolution and dilation deprive it altogether of life. Here peruse Alex. Aphrodiseus, lib. 1, Probl., cap. 19, and that for a cause. But what? It seems I am entered further into this point than I intended at the first. Here, therefore, will I strike sail, referring the rest to that book of mine which handleth this matter to the full. Meanwhile, in a word I will tell you, that blue doth certainly signify heaven and heavenly things, by the same very tokens and symbols that white signifieth joy and pleasure.

Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 15:33