Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Francois Rabelais

Chapter 34

How women ordinarily have the greatest longing after things prohibited.

When I was, quoth Carpalin, a whoremaster at Orleans, the whole art of rhetoric, in all its tropes and figures, was not able to afford unto me a colour or flourish of greater force and value, nor could I by any other form or manner of elocution pitch upon a more persuasive argument for bringing young beautiful married ladies into the snares of adultery, through alluring and enticing them to taste with me of amorous delights, than with a lively sprightfulness to tell them in downright terms, and to remonstrate to them with a great show of detestation of a crime so horrid, how their husbands were jealous. This was none of my invention. It is written, and we have laws, examples, reasons, and daily experiences confirmative of the same. If this belief once enter into their noddles, their husbands will infallibly be cuckolds; yea, by God, will they, without swearing, although they should do like Semiramis, Pasiphae, Egesta, the women of the Isle Mandez in Egypt, and other such-like queanish flirting harlots mentioned in the writings of Herodotus, Strabo, and such-like puppies.

Truly, quoth Ponocrates, I have heard it related, and it hath been told me for a verity, that Pope John XXII., passing on a day through the Abbey of Toucherome, was in all humility required and besought by the abbess and other discreet mothers of the said convent to grant them an indulgence by means whereof they might confess themselves to one another, alleging that religious women were subject to some petty secret slips and imperfections which would be a foul and burning shame for them to discover and to reveal to men, how sacerdotal soever their functions were; but that they would freelier, more familiarly, and with greater cheerfulness, open to each other their offences, faults, and escapes under the seal of confession. There is not anything, answered the pope, fitting for you to impetrate of me which I would not most willingly condescend unto; but I find one inconvenience. You know confession should be kept secret, and women are not able to do so. Exceeding well, quoth they, most holy father, and much more closely than the best of men.

The said pope on the very same day gave them in keeping a pretty box, wherein he purposely caused a little linnet to be put, willing them very gently and courteously to lock it up in some sure and hidden place, and promising them, by the faith of a pope, that he should yield to their request if they would keep secret what was enclosed within that deposited box, enjoining them withal not to presume one way nor other, directly or indirectly, to go about the opening thereof, under pain of the highest ecclesiastical censure, eternal excommunication. The prohibition was no sooner made but that they did all of them boil with a most ardent desire to know and see what kind of thing it was that was within it. They thought long already that the pope was not gone, to the end they might jointly, with the more leisure and ease, apply themselves to the box-opening curiosity.

The holy father, after he had given them his benediction, retired and withdrew himself to the pontifical lodgings of his own palace. But he was hardly gone three steps from without the gates of their cloister when the good ladies throngingly, and as in a huddled crowd, pressing hard on the backs of one another, ran thrusting and shoving who should be first at the setting open of the forbidden box and descrying of the quod latitat within.

On the very next day thereafter the pope made them another visit, of a full design, purpose, and intention, as they imagined, to despatch the grant of their sought and wished-for indulgence. But before he would enter into any chat or communing with them, he commanded the casket to be brought unto him. It was done so accordingly; but, by your leave, the bird was no more there. Then was it that the pope did represent to their maternities how hard a matter and difficult it was for them to keep secrets revealed to them in confession unmanifested to the ears of others, seeing for the space of four-and-twenty hours they were not able to lay up in secret a box which he had highly recommended to their discretion, charge, and custody.

Welcome, in good faith, my dear master, welcome! It did me good to hear you talk, the Lord be praised for all! I do not remember to have seen you before now, since the last time that you acted at Montpellier with our ancient friends, Anthony Saporra, Guy Bourguyer, Balthasar Noyer, Tolet, John Quentin, Francis Robinet, John Perdrier, and Francis Rabelais, the moral comedy of him who had espoused and married a dumb wife. I was there, quoth Epistemon. The good honest man her husband was very earnestly urgent to have the fillet of her tongue untied, and would needs have her speak by any means. At his desire some pains were taken on her, and partly by the industry of the physician, other part by the expertness of the surgeon, the encyliglotte which she had under her tongue being cut, she spoke and spoke again; yea, within a few hours she spoke so loud, so much, so fiercely, and so long, that her poor husband returned to the same physician for a recipe to make her hold her peace. There are, quoth the physician, many proper remedies in our art to make dumb women speak, but there are none that ever I could learn therein to make them silent. The only cure which I have found out is their husband’s deafness. The wretch became within few weeks thereafter, by virtue of some drugs, charms, or enchantments which the physician had prescribed unto him, so deaf that he could not have heard the thundering of nineteen hundred cannons at a salvo. His wife perceiving that indeed he was as deaf as a door-nail, and that her scolding was but in vain, sith that he heard her not, she grew stark mad.

Some time after the doctor asked for his fee of the husband, who answered that truly he was deaf, and so was not able to understand what the tenour of his demand might be. Whereupon the leech bedusted him with a little, I know not what, sort of powder, which rendered him a fool immediately, so great was the stultificating virtue of that strange kind of pulverized dose. Then did this fool of a husband and his mad wife join together, and, falling on the doctor and the surgeon, did so scratch, bethwack, and bang them that they were left half dead upon the place, so furious were the blows which they received. I never in my lifetime laughed so much as at the acting of that buffoonery.

Let us come to where we left off, quoth Panurge. Your words, being translated from the clapper-dudgeons to plain English, do signify that it is not very inexpedient that I marry, and that I should not care for being a cuckold. You have there hit the nail on the head. I believe, master doctor, that on the day of my marriage you will be so much taken up with your patients, or otherwise so seriously employed, that we shall not enjoy your company. Sir, I will heartily excuse your absence.

Stercus et urina medici sunt prandia prima.

Ex aliis paleas, ex istis collige grana.

You are mistaken, quoth Rondibilis, in the second verse of our distich, for it ought to run thus —

Nobis sunt signa, vobis sunt prandia digna.

If my wife at any time prove to be unwell and ill at ease, I will look upon the water which she shall have made in an urinal glass, quoth Rondibilis, grope her pulse, and see the disposition of her hypogaster, together with her umbilicary parts — according to the prescript rule of Hippocrates, 2. Aph. 35 — before I proceed any further in the cure of her distemper. No, no, quoth Panurge, that will be but to little purpose. Such a feat is for the practice of us that are lawyers, who have the rubric, De ventre inspiciendo. Do not therefore trouble yourself about it, master doctor; I will provide for her a plaster of warm guts. Do not neglect your more urgent occasions otherwhere for coming to my wedding. I will send you some supply of victuals to your own house, without putting you to the trouble of coming abroad, and you shall always be my special friend. With this, approaching somewhat nearer to him, he clapped into his hand, without the speaking of so much as one word, four rose nobles. Rondibilis did shut his fist upon them right kindly; yet, as if it had displeased him to make acceptance of such golden presents, he in a start, as if he had been wroth, said, He he, he, he, he! there was no need of anything; I thank you nevertheless. From wicked folks I never get enough, and I from honest people refuse nothing. I shall be always, sir, at your command. Provided that I pay you well, quoth Panurge. That, quoth Rondibilis, is understood.

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