Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Francois Rabelais

Chapter 24

How Panurge consulteth with Epistemon.

Having left the town of Villomere, as they were upon their return towards Pantagruel, Panurge, in addressing his discourse to Epistemon, spoke thus: My most ancient friend and gossip, thou seest the perplexity of my thoughts, and knowest many remedies for the removal thereof; art thou not able to help and succour me? Epistemon, thereupon taking the speech in hand, represented unto Panurge how the open voice and common fame of the whole country did run upon no other discourse but the derision and mockery of his new disguise; wherefore his counsel unto him was that he would in the first place be pleased to make use of a little hellebore for the purging of his brain of that peccant humour which, through that extravagant and fantastic mummery of his, had furnished the people with a too just occasion of flouting and gibing, jeering and scoffing him, and that next he would resume his ordinary fashion of accoutrement, and go apparelled as he was wont to do. I am, quoth Panurge, my dear gossip Epistemon, of a mind and resolution to marry, but am afraid of being a cuckold and to be unfortunate in my wedlock. For this cause have I made a vow to young St. Francis — who at Plessis-les-Tours is much reverenced of all women, earnestly cried unto by them, and with great devotion, for he was the first founder of the confraternity of good men, whom they naturally covet, affect, and long for — to wear spectacles in my cap, and to carry no codpiece in my breeches, until the present inquietude and perturbation of my spirits be fully settled.

Truly, quoth Epistemon, that is a pretty jolly vow of thirteen to a dozen. It is a shame to you, and I wonder much at it, that you do not return unto yourself, and recall your senses from this their wild swerving and straying abroad to that rest and stillness which becomes a virtuous man. This whimsical conceit of yours brings me to the remembrance of a solemn promise made by the shag-haired Argives, who, having in their controversy against the Lacedaemonians for the territory of Thyrea, lost the battle which they hoped should have decided it for their advantage, vowed to carry never any hair on their heads till preallably they had recovered the loss of both their honour and lands. As likewise to the memory of the vow of a pleasant Spaniard called Michael Doris, who vowed to carry in his hat a piece of the shin of his leg till he should be revenged of him who had struck it off. Yet do not I know which of these two deserveth most to wear a green and yellow hood with a hare’s ears tied to it, either the aforesaid vainglorious champion, or that Enguerrant, who having forgot the art and manner of writing histories set down by the Samosatian philosopher, maketh a most tediously long narrative and relation thereof. For, at the first reading of such a profuse discourse, one would think it had been broached for the introducing of a story of great importance and moment concerning the waging of some formidable war, or the notable change and mutation of potent states and kingdoms; but, in conclusion, the world laugheth at the capricious champion, at the Englishman who had affronted him, as also at their scribbler Enguerrant, more drivelling at the mouth than a mustard pot. The jest and scorn thereof is not unlike to that of the mountain of Horace, which by the poet was made to cry out and lament most enormously as a woman in the pangs and labour of child-birth, at which deplorable and exorbitant cries and lamentations the whole neighbourhood being assembled in expectation to see some marvellous monstrous production, could at last perceive no other but the paltry, ridiculous mouse.

Your mousing, quoth Panurge, will not make me leave my musing why folks should be so frumpishly disposed, seeing I am certainly persuaded that some flout who merit to be flouted at; yet, as my vow imports, so will I do. It is now a long time since, by Jupiter Philos (A mistake of the translator’s. — M.), we did swear faith and amity to one another. Give me your advice, billy, and tell me your opinion freely, Should I marry or no? Truly, quoth Epistemon, the case is hazardous, and the danger so eminently apparent that I find myself too weak and insufficient to give you a punctual and peremptory resolution therein; and if ever it was true that judgment is difficult in matters of the medicinal art, what was said by Hippocrates of Lango, it is certainly so in this case. True it is that in my brain there are some rolling fancies, by means whereof somewhat may be pitched upon of a seeming efficacy to the disentangling your mind of those dubious apprehensions wherewith it is perplexed; but they do not thoroughly satisfy me. Some of the Platonic sect affirm that whosoever is able to see his proper genius may know his own destiny. I understand not their doctrine, nor do I think that you adhere to them; there is a palpable abuse. I have seen the experience of it in a very curious gentleman of the country of Estangourre. This is one of the points. There is yet another not much better. If there were any authority now in the oracles of Jupiter Ammon; of Apollo in Lebadia, Delphos, Delos, Cyrra, Patara, Tegyres, Preneste, Lycia, Colophon, or in the Castalian Fountain; near Antiochia in Syria, between the Branchidians; of Bacchus in Dodona; of Mercury in Phares, near Patras; of Apis in Egypt; of Serapis in Canope; of Faunus in Menalia, and Albunea near Tivoli; of Tiresias in Orchomenus; of Mopsus in Cilicia; of Orpheus in Lesbos, and of Trophonius in Leucadia; I would in that case advise you, and possibly not, to go thither for their judgment concerning the design and enterprise you have in hand. But you know that they are all of them become as dumb as so many fishes since the advent of that Saviour King whose coming to this world hath made all oracles and prophecies to cease; as the approach of the sun’s radiant beams expelleth goblins, bugbears, hobthrushes, broams, screech-owl-mates, night-walking spirits, and tenebrions. These now are gone; but although they were as yet in continuance and in the same power, rule, and request that formerly they were, yet would not I counsel you to be too credulous in putting any trust in their responses. Too many folks have been deceived thereby. It stands furthermore upon record how Agrippina did charge the fair Lollia with the crime of having interrogated the oracle of Apollo Clarius, to understand if she should be at any time married to the Emperor Claudius; for which cause she was first banished, and thereafter put to a shameful and ignominious death.

But, saith Panurge, let us do better. The Ogygian Islands are not far distant from the haven of Sammalo. Let us, after that we shall have spoken to our king, make a voyage thither. In one of these four isles, to wit, that which hath its primest aspect towards the sun setting, it is reported, and I have read in good antique and authentic authors, that there reside many soothsayers, fortune-tellers, vaticinators, prophets, and diviners of things to come; that Saturn inhabiteth that place, bound with fair chains of gold and within the concavity of a golden rock, being nourished with divine ambrosia and nectar, which are daily in great store and abundance transmitted to him from the heavens, by I do not well know what kind of fowls — it may be that they are the same ravens which in the deserts are said to have fed St. Paul, the first hermit — he very clearly foretelleth unto everyone who is desirous to be certified of the condition of his lot what his destiny will be, and what future chance the Fates have ordained for him; for the Parcae, or Weird Sisters, do not twist, spin, or draw out a thread, nor yet doth Jupiter perpend, project, or deliberate anything which the good old celestial father knoweth not to the full, even whilst he is asleep. This will be a very summary abbreviation of our labour, if we but hearken unto him a little upon the serious debate and canvassing of this my perplexity. That is, answered Epistemon, a gullery too evident, a plain abuse and fib too fabulous. I will not go, not I; I will not go.

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