Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Francois Rabelais

Chapter 31

How the physician Rondibilis counselleth Panurge.

Panurge, continuing his discourse, said, The first word which was spoken by him who gelded the lubberly, quaffing monks of Saussiniac, after that he had unstoned Friar Cauldaureil, was this, To the rest. In like manner, I say, To the rest. Therefore I beseech you, my good Master Rondibilis, should I marry or not? By the raking pace of my mule, quoth Rondibilis, I know not what answer to make to this problem of yours.

You say that you feel in you the pricking stings of sensuality, by which you are stirred up to venery. I find in our faculty of medicine, and we have founded our opinion therein upon the deliberate resolution and final decision of the ancient Platonics, that carnal concupiscence is cooled and quelled five several ways.

First, By the means of wine. I shall easily believe that, quoth Friar John, for when I am well whittled with the juice of the grape I care for nothing else, so I may sleep. When I say, quoth Rondibilis, that wine abateth lust, my meaning is, wine immoderately taken; for by intemperancy proceeding from the excessive drinking of strong liquor there is brought upon the body of such a swill-down boozer a chillness in the blood, a slackening in the sinews, a dissipation of the generative seed, a numbness and hebetation of the senses, with a perversive wryness and convulsion of the muscles — all which are great lets and impediments to the act of generation. Hence it is that Bacchus, the god of bibbers, tipplers, and drunkards, is most commonly painted beardless and clad in a woman’s habit, as a person altogether effeminate, or like a libbed eunuch. Wine, nevertheless, taken moderately, worketh quite contrary effects, as is implied by the old proverb, which saith that Venus takes cold when not accompanied with Ceres and Bacchus. This opinion is of great antiquity, as appeareth by the testimony of Diodorus the Sicilian, and confirmed by Pausanias, and universally held amongst the Lampsacians, that Don Priapus was the son of Bacchus and Venus.

Secondly, The fervency of lust is abated by certain drugs, plants, herbs, and roots, which make the taker cold, maleficiated, unfit for, and unable to perform the act of generation; as hath been often experimented in the water-lily, heraclea, agnus castus, willow-twigs, hemp-stalks, woodbine, honeysuckle, tamarisk, chaste tree, mandrake, bennet, keckbugloss, the skin of a hippopotam, and many other such, which, by convenient doses proportioned to the peccant humour and constitution of the patient, being duly and seasonably received within the body — what by their elementary virtues on the one side and peculiar properties on the other — do either benumb, mortify, and beclumpse with cold the prolific semence, or scatter and disperse the spirits which ought to have gone along with and conducted the sperm to the places destined and appointed for its reception, or lastly, shut up, stop, and obstruct the ways, passages, and conduits through which the seed should have been expelled, evacuated, and ejected. We have nevertheless of those ingredients which, being of a contrary operation, heat the blood, bend the nerves, unite the spirits, quicken the senses, strengthen the muscles, and thereby rouse up, provoke, excite, and enable a man to the vigorous accomplishment of the feat of amorous dalliance. I have no need of those, quoth Panurge, God be thanked, and you, my good master. Howsoever, I pray you, take no exception or offence at these my words; for what I have said was not out of any illwill I did bear to you, the Lord he knows.

Thirdly, The ardour of lechery is very much subdued and mated by frequent labour and continual toiling. For by painful exercises and laborious working so great a dissolution is brought upon the whole body, that the blood, which runneth alongst the channels of the veins thereof for the nourishment and alimentation of each of its members, hath neither time, leisure, nor power to afford the seminal resudation, or superfluity of the third concoction, which nature most carefully reserves for the conservation of the individual, whose preservation she more heedfully regardeth than the propagating of the species and the multiplication of humankind. Whence it is that Diana is said to be chaste, because she is never idle, but always busied about her hunting. For the same reason was a camp or leaguer of old called castrum, as if they would have said castum; because the soldiers, wrestlers, runners, throwers of the bar, and other such-like athletic champions as are usually seen in a military circumvallation, do incessantly travail and turmoil, and are in a perpetual stir and agitation. To this purpose Hippocrates also writeth in his book, De Aere, Aqua et Locis, that in his time there were people in Scythia as impotent as eunuchs in the discharge of a venerean exploit, because that without any cessation, pause, or respite they were never from off horseback, or otherwise assiduously employed in some troublesome and molesting drudgery.

On the other part, in opposition and repugnancy hereto, the philosophers say that idleness is the mother of luxury. When it was asked Ovid, Why Aegisthus became an adulterer? he made no other answer but this, Because he was idle. Who were able to rid the world of loitering and laziness might easily frustrate and disappoint Cupid of all his designs, aims, engines, and devices, and so disable and appal him that his bow, quiver, and darts should from thenceforth be a mere needless load and burden to him, for that it could not then lie in his power to strike or wound any of either sex with all the arms he had. He is not, I believe, so expert an archer as that he can hit the cranes flying in the air, or yet the young stags skipping through the thickets, as the Parthians knew well how to do; that is to say, people moiling, stirring and hurrying up and down, restless, and without repose. He must have those hushed, still, quiet, lying at a stay, lither, and full of ease, whom he is able, though his mother help him, to touch, much less to pierce with all his arrows. In confirmation hereof, Theophrastus, being asked on a time what kind of beast or thing he judged a toyish, wanton love to be? he made answer, that it was a passion of idle and sluggish spirits. From which pretty description of tickling love-tricks that of Diogenes’s hatching was not very discrepant, when he defined lechery the occupation of folks destitute of all other occupation. For this cause the Syconian engraver Canachus, being desirous to give us to understand that sloth, drowsiness, negligence, and laziness were the prime guardians and governesses of ribaldry, made the statue of Venus, not standing, as other stone-cutters had used to do, but sitting.

Fourthly, The tickling pricks of incontinency are blunted by an eager study; for from thence proceedeth an incredible resolution of the spirits, that oftentimes there do not remain so many behind as may suffice to push and thrust forwards the generative resudation to the places thereto appropriated, and therewithal inflate the cavernous nerve whose office is to ejaculate the moisture for the propagation of human progeny. Lest you should think it is not so, be pleased but to contemplate a little the form, fashion, and carriage of a man exceeding earnestly set upon some learned meditation, and deeply plunged therein, and you shall see how all the arteries of his brains are stretched forth and bent like the string of a crossbow, the more promptly, dexterously, and copiously to suppeditate, furnish, and supply him with store of spirits sufficient to replenish and fill up the ventricles, seats, tunnels, mansions, receptacles, and cellules of the common sense — of the imagination, apprehension, and fancy — of the ratiocination, arguing, and resolution — as likewise of the memory, recordation, and remembrance; and with great alacrity, nimbleness, and agility to run, pass, and course from the one to the other, through those pipes, windings, and conduits which to skilful anatomists are perceivable at the end of the wonderful net where all the arteries close in a terminating point; which arteries, taking their rise and origin from the left capsule of the heart, bring through several circuits, ambages, and anfractuosities, the vital, to subtilize and refine them to the ethereal purity of animal spirits. Nay, in such a studiously musing person you may espy so extravagant raptures of one as it were out of himself, that all his natural faculties for that time will seem to be suspended from each their proper charge and office, and his exterior senses to be at a stand. In a word, you cannot otherwise choose than think that he is by an extraordinary ecstasy quite transported out of what he was, or should be; and that Socrates did not speak improperly when he said that philosophy was nothing else but a meditation upon death. This possibly is the reason why Democritus deprived himself of the sense of seeing, prizing at a much lower rate the loss of his sight than the diminution of his contemplations, which he frequently had found disturbed by the vagrant, flying-out strayings of his unsettled and roving eyes. Therefore is it that Pallas, the goddess of wisdom, tutoress and guardianess of such as are diligently studious and painfully industrious, is, and hath been still accounted a virgin. The Muses upon the same consideration are esteemed perpetual maids; and the Graces, for the like reason, have been held to continue in a sempiternal pudicity.

I remember to have read that Cupid, on a time being asked of his mother Venus why he did not assault and set upon the Muses, his answer was that he found them so fair, so sweet, so fine, so neat, so wise, so learned, so modest, so discreet, so courteous, so virtuous, and so continually busied and employed — one in the speculation of the stars — another in the supputation of numbers — the third in the dimension of geometrical quantities — the fourth in the composition of heroic poems — the fifth in the jovial interludes of a comic strain — the sixth in the stately gravity of a tragic vein — the seventh in the melodious disposition of musical airs — the eighth in the completest manner of writing histories and books on all sorts of subjects — and the ninth in the mysteries, secrets, and curiosities of all sciences, faculties, disciplines, and arts whatsoever, whether liberal or mechanic — that approaching near unto them he unbended his bow, shut his quiver, and extinguished his torch, through mere shame and fear that by mischance he might do them some hurt or prejudice. Which done, he thereafter put off the fillet wherewith his eyes were bound to look them in the face, and to hear their melody and poetic odes. There took he the greatest pleasure in the world, that many times he was transported with their beauty and pretty behaviour, and charmed asleep by the harmony; so far was he from assaulting them or interrupting their studies. Under this article may be comprised what Hippocrates wrote in the afore-cited treatise concerning the Scythians; as also that in a book of his entitled Of Breeding and Production, where he hath affirmed all such men to be unfit for generation as have their parotid arteries cut — whose situation is beside the ears — for the reason given already when I was speaking of the resolution of the spirits and of that spiritual blood whereof the arteries are the sole and proper receptacles, and that likewise he doth maintain a large portion of the parastatic liquor to issue and descend from the brains and backbone.

Fifthly, By the too frequent reiteration of the act of venery. There did I wait for you, quoth Panurge, and shall willingly apply it to myself, whilst anyone that pleaseth may, for me, make use of any of the four preceding. That is the very same thing, quoth Friar John, which Father Scyllino, Prior of Saint Victor at Marseilles, calleth by the name of maceration and taming of the flesh. I am of the same opinion — and so was the hermit of Saint Radegonde, a little above Chinon; for, quoth he, the hermits of Thebaide can no more aptly or expediently macerate and bring down the pride of their bodies, daunt and mortify their lecherous sensuality, or depress and overcome the stubbornness and rebellion of the flesh, than by duffling and fanfreluching it five-and-twenty or thirty times a day. I see Panurge, quoth Rondibilis, neatly featured and proportioned in all the members of his body, of a good temperament in his humours, well-complexioned in his spirits, of a competent age, in an opportune time, and of a reasonably forward mind to be married. Truly, if he encounter with a wife of the like nature, temperament, and constitution, he may beget upon her children worthy of some transpontine monarchy; and the sooner he marry it will be the better for him, and the more conducible for his profit if he would see and have his children in his own time well provided for. Sir, my worthy master, quoth Panurge, I will do it, do not you doubt thereof, and that quickly enough, I warrant you. Nevertheless, whilst you were busied in the uttering of your learned discourse, this flea which I have in mine ear hath tickled me more than ever. I retain you in the number of my festival guests, and promise you that we shall not want for mirth and good cheer enough, yea, over and above the ordinary rate. And, if it may please you, desire your wife to come along with you, together with her she-friends and neighbours — that is to be understood — and there shall be fair play.

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