Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Francois Rabelais

Chapter 24

A letter which a messenger brought to Pantagruel from a lady of Paris, together with the exposition of a posy written in a gold ring.

When Pantagruel had read the superscription he was much amazed, and therefore demanded of the said messenger the name of her that had sent it. Then opened he the letter, and found nothing written in it, nor otherwise enclosed, but only a gold ring, with a square table diamond. Wondering at this, he called Panurge to him, and showed him the case. Whereupon Panurge told him that the leaf of paper was written upon, but with such cunning and artifice that no man could see the writing at the first sight. Therefore, to find it out, he set it by the fire to see if it was made with sal ammoniac soaked in water. Then put he it into the water, to see if the letter was written with the juice of tithymalle. After that he held it up against the candle, to see if it was written with the juice of white onions.

Then he rubbed one part of it with oil of nuts, to see if it were not written with the lee of a fig-tree, and another part of it with the milk of a woman giving suck to her eldest daughter, to see if it was written with the blood of red toads or green earth-frogs. Afterwards he rubbed one corner with the ashes of a swallow’s nest, to see if it were not written with the dew that is found within the herb alcakengy, called the winter-cherry. He rubbed, after that, one end with ear-wax, to see if it were not written with the gall of a raven. Then did he dip it into vinegar, to try if it was not written with the juice of the garden spurge. After that he greased it with the fat of a bat or flittermouse, to see if it was not written with the sperm of a whale, which some call ambergris. Then put it very fairly into a basinful of fresh water, and forthwith took it out, to see whether it were written with stone-alum. But after all experiments, when he perceived that he could find out nothing, he called the messenger and asked him, Good fellow, the lady that sent thee hither, did she not give thee a staff to bring with thee? thinking that it had been according to the conceit whereof Aulus Gellius maketh mention. And the messenger answered him, No, sir. Then Panurge would have caused his head to be shaven, to see whether the lady had written upon his bald pate, with the hard lye whereof soap is made, that which she meant; but, perceiving that his hair was very long, he forbore, considering that it could not have grown to so great a length in so short a time.

Then he said to Pantagruel, Master, by the virtue of G — I cannot tell what to do nor say in it. For, to know whether there be anything written upon this or no, I have made use of a good part of that which Master Francisco di Nianto, the Tuscan, sets down, who hath written the manner of reading letters that do not appear; that which Zoroastes published, Peri grammaton acriton; and Calphurnius Bassus, De literis illegibilibus. But I can see nothing, nor do I believe that there is anything else in it than the ring. Let us, therefore, look upon it. Which when they had done, they found this in Hebrew written within, Lamach saba(ch)thani; whereupon they called Epistemon, and asked him what that meant. To which he answered that they were Hebrew words, signifying, Wherefore hast thou forsaken me? Upon that Panurge suddenly replied, I know the mystery. Do you see this diamond? It is a false one. This, then, is the exposition of that which the lady means, Diamant faux, that is, false lover, why hast thou forsaken me? Which interpretation Pantagruel presently understood, and withal remembering that at his departure he had not bid the lady farewell, he was very sorry, and would fain have returned to Paris to make his peace with her. But Epistemon put him in mind of Aeneas’s departure from Dido, and the saying of Heraclitus of Tarentum, That the ship being at anchor, when need requireth we must cut the cable rather than lose time about untying of it — and that he should lay aside all other thoughts to succour the city of his nativity, which was then in danger. And, indeed, within an hour after that the wind arose at the north-north-west, wherewith they hoist sail, and put out, even into the main sea, so that within few days, passing by Porto Sancto and by the Madeiras, they went ashore in the Canary Islands. Parting from thence, they passed by Capobianco, by Senege, by Capoverde, by Gambre, by Sagres, by Melli, by the Cap di Buona Speranza, and set ashore again in the kingdom of Melinda. Parting from thence, they sailed away with a tramontane or northerly wind, passing by Meden, by Uti, by Uden, by Gelasim, by the Isles of the Fairies, and alongst the kingdom of Achorie, till at last they arrived at the port of Utopia, distant from the city of the Amaurots three leagues and somewhat more.

When they were ashore, and pretty well refreshed, Pantagruel said, Gentlemen, the city is not far from hence; therefore, were it not amiss, before we set forward, to advise well what is to be done, that we be not like the Athenians, who never took counsel until after the fact? Are you resolved to live and die with me? Yes, sir, said they all, and be as confident of us as of your own fingers. Well, said he, there is but one thing that keeps my mind in great doubt and suspense, which is this, that I know not in what order nor of what number the enemy is that layeth siege to the city; for, if I were certain of that, I should go forward and set on with the better assurance. Let us therefore consult together, and bethink ourselves by what means we may come to this intelligence. Whereunto they all said, Let us go thither and see, and stay you here for us; for this very day, without further respite, do we make account to bring you a certain report thereof.

Myself, said Panurge, will undertake to enter into their camp, within the very midst of their guards, unespied by their watch, and merrily feast and lecher it at their cost, without being known of any, to see the artillery and the tents of all the captains, and thrust myself in with a grave and magnific carriage amongst all their troops and companies, without being discovered. The devil would not be able to peck me out with all his circumventions, for I am of the race of Zopyrus.

And I, said Epistemon, know all the plots and strategems of the valiant captains and warlike champions of former ages, together with all the tricks and subtleties of the art of war. I will go, and, though I be detected and revealed, I will escape by making them believe of you whatever I please, for I am of the race of Sinon.

I, said Eusthenes, will enter and set upon them in their trenches, in spite of their sentries and all their guards; for I will tread upon their bellies and break their legs and arms, yea, though they were every whit as strong as the devil himself, for I am of the race of Hercules.

And I, said Carpalin, will get in there if the birds can enter, for I am so nimble of body, and light withal, that I shall have leaped over their trenches, and ran clean through all their camp, before that they perceive me; neither do I fear shot, nor arrow, nor horse, how swift soever, were he the Pegasus of Perseus or Pacolet, being assured that I shall be able to make a safe and sound escape before them all without any hurt. I will undertake to walk upon the ears of corn or grass in the meadows, without making either of them do so much as bow under me, for I am of the race of Camilla the Amazon.

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