Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Francois Rabelais

Chapter 18

How Pantagruel and Panurge did diversely expound the verses of the Sibyl of Panzoust.

The leaves being thus collected and orderly disposed, Epistemon and Panurge returned to Pantagruel’s court, partly well pleased and other part discontented; glad for their being come back, and vexed for the trouble they had sustained by the way, which they found to be craggy, rugged, stony, rough, and ill-adjusted. They made an ample and full relation of their voyage unto Pantagruel, as likewise of the estate and condition of the sibyl. Then, having presented to him the leaves of the sycamore, they show him the short and twattle verses that were written in them. Pantagruel, having read and considered the whole sum and substance of the matter, fetched from his heart a deep and heavy sigh; then said to Panurge, You are now, forsooth, in a good taking, and have brought your hogs to a fine market. The prophecy of the sibyl doth explain and lay out before us the same very predictions which have been denoted, foretold, and presaged to us by the decree of the Virgilian lots and the verdict of your own proper dreams, to wit, that you shall be very much disgraced, shamed, and discredited by your wife; for that she will make you a cuckold in prostituting herself to others, being big with child by another than you — will steal from you a great deal of your goods, and will beat you, scratch and bruise you, even to plucking the skin in a part from off you — will leave the print of her blows in some member of your body. You understand as much, answered Panurge, in the veritable interpretation and expounding of recent prophecies as a sow in the matter of spicery. Be not offended, sir, I beseech you, that I speak thus boldly; for I find myself a little in choler, and that not without cause, seeing it is the contrary that is true. Take heed, and give attentive ear unto my words. The old wife said that, as the bean is not seen till first it be unhusked, and that its swad or hull be shelled and peeled from off it, so is it that my virtue and transcendent worth will never come by the mouth of fame to be blazed abroad proportionable to the height, extent, and measure of the excellency thereof, until preallably I get a wife and make the full half of a married couple. How many times have I heard you say that the function of a magistrate, or office of dignity, discovereth the merits, parts, and endowments of the person so advanced and promoted, and what is in him. That is to say, we are then best able to judge aright of the deservings of a man when he is called to the management of affairs; for when before he lived in a private condition, we could have no more certain knowledge of him than of a bean within his husk. And thus stands the first article explained; otherwise, could you imagine that the good fame, repute, and estimation of an honest man should depend upon the tail of a whore?

Now to the meaning of the second article! My wife will be with child — here lies the prime felicity of marriage — but not of me. Copsody, that I do believe indeed! It will be of a pretty little infant. O how heartily I shall love it! I do already dote upon it; for it will be my dainty feedle-darling, my genteel dilly-minion. From thenceforth no vexation, care, or grief shall take such deep impression in my heart, how hugely great or vehement soever it otherwise appear, but that it shall evanish forthwith at the sight of that my future babe, and at the hearing of the chat and prating of its childish gibberish. And blessed be the old wife. By my truly, I have a mind to settle some good revenue or pension upon her out of the readiest increase of the lands of my Salmigondinois; not an inconstant and uncertain rent-seek, like that of witless, giddy-headed bachelors, but sure and fixed, of the nature of the well-paid incomes of regenting doctors. If this interpretation doth not please you, think you my wife will bear me in her flanks, conceive with me, and be of me delivered, as women use in childbed to bring forth their young ones; so as that it may be said, Panurge is a second Bacchus, he hath been twice born; he is re-born, as was Hippolytus — as was Proteus, one time of Thetis, and secondly, of the mother of the philosopher Apollonius — as were the two Palici, near the flood Simaethos in Sicily. His wife was big of child with him. In him is renewed and begun again the palintocy of the Megarians and the palingenesy of Democritus. Fie upon such errors! To hear stuff of that nature rends mine ears.

The words of the third article are: She will suck me at my best end. Why not? That pleaseth me right well. You know the thing; I need not tell you that it is my intercrural pudding with one end. I swear and promise that, in what I can, I will preserve it sappy, full of juice, and as well victualled for her use as may be. She shall not suck me, I believe, in vain, nor be destitute of her allowance; there shall her justum both in peck and lippy be furnished to the full eternally. You expound this passage allegorically, and interpret it to theft and larceny. I love the exposition, and the allegory pleaseth me; but not according to the sense whereto you stretch it. It may be that the sincerity of the affection which you bear me moveth you to harbour in your breast those refractory thoughts concerning me, with a suspicion of my adversity to come. We have this saying from the learned, That a marvellously fearful thing is love, and that true love is never without fear. But, sir, according to my judgment, you do understand both of and by yourself that here stealth signifieth nothing else, no more than in a thousand other places of Greek and Latin, old and modern writings, but the sweet fruits of amorous dalliance, which Venus liketh best when reaped in secret, and culled by fervent lovers filchingly. Why so, I prithee tell? Because, when the feat of the loose-coat skirmish happeneth to be done underhand and privily, between two well-disposed, athwart the steps of a pair of stairs lurkingly, and in covert behind a suit of hangings, or close hid and trussed upon an unbound faggot, it is more pleasing to the Cyprian goddess, and to me also--I speak this without prejudice to any better or more sound opinion — than to perform that culbusting art after the Cynic manner, in the view of the clear sunshine, or in a rich tent, under a precious stately canopy, within a glorious and sublime pavilion, or yet on a soft couch betwixt rich curtains of cloth of gold, without affrightment, at long intermediate respites, enjoying of pleasures and delights a bellyfull, at all great ease, with a huge fly-flap fan of crimson satin and a bunch of feathers of some East-Indian ostrich serving to give chase unto the flies all round about; whilst, in the interim, the female picks her teeth with a stiff straw picked even then from out of the bottom of the bed she lies on. If you be not content with this my exposition, are you of the mind that my wife will suck and sup me up as people use to gulp and swallow oysters out of the shell? or as the Cilician women, according to the testimony of Dioscorides, were wont to do the grain of alkermes? Assuredly that is an error. Who seizeth on it, doth neither gulch up nor swill down, but takes away what hath been packed up, catcheth, snatcheth, and plies the play of hey-pass, repass.

The fourth article doth imply that my wife will flay me, but not all. O the fine word! You interpret this to beating strokes and blows. Speak wisely. Will you eat a pudding? Sir, I beseech you to raise up your spirits above the low-sized pitch of earthly thoughts unto that height of sublime contemplation which reacheth to the apprehension of the mysteries and wonders of Dame Nature. And here be pleased to condemn yourself, by a renouncing of those errors which you have committed very grossly and somewhat perversely in expounding the prophetic sayings of the holy sibyl. Yet put the case (albeit I yield not to it) that, by the instigation of the devil, my wife should go about to wrong me, make me a cuckold downwards to the very breech, disgrace me otherwise, steal my goods from me, yea, and lay violently her hands upon me; — she nevertheless should fail of her attempts and not attain to the proposed end of her unreasonable undertakings. The reason which induceth me hereto is grounded totally on this last point, which is extracted from the profoundest privacies of a monastic pantheology, as good Friar Arthur Wagtail told me once upon a Monday morning, as we were (if I have not forgot) eating a bushel of trotter-pies; and I remember well it rained hard. God give him the good morrow! The women at the beginning of the world, or a little after, conspired to flay the men quick, because they found the spirit of mankind inclined to domineer it, and bear rule over them upon the face of the whole earth; and, in pursuit of this their resolution, promised, confirmed, swore, and covenanted amongst them all, by the pure faith they owe to the nocturnal Sanct Rogero. But O the vain enterprises of women! O the great fragility of that sex feminine! They did begin to flay the man, or peel him (as says Catullus), at that member which of all the body they loved best, to wit, the nervous and cavernous cane, and that above five thousand years ago; yet have they not of that small part alone flayed any more till this hour but the head. In mere despite whereof the Jews snip off that parcel of the skin in circumcision, choosing far rather to be called clipyards, rascals, than to be flayed by women, as are other nations. My wife, according to this female covenant, will flay it to me, if it be not so already. I heartily grant my consent thereto, but will not give her leave to flay it all. Nay, truly will I not, my noble king.

Yea but, quoth Epistemon, you say nothing of her most dreadful cries and exclamations when she and we both saw the laurel-bough burn without yielding any noise or crackling. You know it is a very dismal omen, an inauspicious sign, unlucky indice, and token formidable, bad, disastrous, and most unhappy, as is certified by Propertius, Tibullus, the quick philosopher Porphyrius, Eustathius on the Iliads of Homer, and by many others. Verily, verily, quoth Panurge, brave are the allegations which you bring me, and testimonies of two-footed calves. These men were fools, as they were poets; and dotards, as they were philosophers; full of folly, as they were of philosophy.

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