Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Francois Rabelais

Chapter 50

How the famous Pantagruelion ought to be prepared and wrought.

The herb Pantagruelion, in September, under the autumnal equinox, is dressed and prepared several ways, according to the various fancies of the people and diversity of the climates wherein it groweth. The first instruction which Pantagruel gave concerning it was to divest and despoil the stalk and stem thereof of all its flowers and seeds, to macerate and mortify it in pond, pool, or lake water, which is to be made run a little for five days together (Properly —’lake water, which is to be made stagnant, not current, for five days together.’— M.) if the season be dry and the water hot, or for full nine or twelve days if the weather be cloudish and the water cold. Then must it be parched before the sun till it be drained of its moisture. After this it is in the shadow, where the sun shines not, to be peeled and its rind pulled off. Then are the fibres and strings thereof to be parted, wherein, as we have already said, consisteth its prime virtue, price, and efficacy, and severed from the woody part thereof, which is unprofitable, and serveth hardly to any other use than to make a clear and glistering blaze, to kindle the fire, and for the play, pastime, and disport of little children, to blow up hogs’ bladders and make them rattle. Many times some use is made thereof by tippling sweet-lipped bibbers, who out of it frame quills and pipes, through which they with their liquor-attractive breath suck up the new dainty wine from the bung of the barrel. Some modern Pantagruelists, to shun and avoid that manual labour which such a separating and partitional work would of necessity require, employ certain cataractic instruments, composed and formed after the same manner that the froward, pettish, and angry Juno did hold the fingers of both her hands interwovenly clenched together when she would have hindered the childbirth delivery of Alcmena at the nativity of Hercules; and athwart those cataracts they break and bruise to very trash the woody parcels, thereby to preserve the better the fibres, which are the precious and excellent parts. In and with this sole operation do these acquiesce and are contented, who, contrary to the received opinion of the whole earth, and in a manner paradoxical to all philosophers, gain their livelihoods backwards, and by recoiling. But those that love to hold it at a higher rate, and prize it according to its value, for their own greater profit do the very same which is told us of the recreation of the three fatal sister Parcae, or of the nocturnal exercise of the noble Circe, or yet of the excuse which Penelope made to her fond wooing youngsters and effeminate courtiers during the long absence of her husband Ulysses.

By these means is this herb put into a way to display its inestimable virtues, whereof I will discover a part; for to relate all is a thing impossible to do. I have already interpreted and exposed before you the denomination thereof. I find that plants have their names given and bestowed upon them after several ways. Some got the name of him who first found them out, knew them, sowed them, improved them by culture, qualified them to tractability, and appropriated them to the uses and subserviences they were fit for, as the Mercuriale from Mercury; Panacea from Panace, the daughter of Aesculapius; Armois from Artemis, who is Diana; Eupatoria from the king Eupator; Telephion from Telephus; Euphorbium from Euphorbus, King Juba’s physician; Clymenos from Clymenus; Alcibiadium from Alcibiades; Gentiane from Gentius, King of Sclavonia, and so forth, through a great many other herbs or plants. Truly, in ancient times this prerogative of imposing the inventor’s name upon an herb found out by him was held in a so great account and estimation, that, as a controversy arose betwixt Neptune and Pallas from which of them two that land should receive its denomination which had been equally found out by them both together — though thereafter it was called and had the appellation of Athens, from Athene, which is Minerva — just so would Lynceus, King of Scythia, have treacherously slain the young Triptolemus, whom Ceres had sent to show unto mankind the invention of corn, which until then had been utterly unknown, to the end that, after the murder of the messenger, whose death he made account to have kept secret, he might, by imposing, with the less suspicion of false dealing, his own name upon the said found out seed, acquire unto himself an immortal honour and glory for having been the inventor of a grain so profitable and necessary to and for the use of human life. For the wickedness of which treasonable attempt he was by Ceres transformed into that wild beast which by some is called a lynx and by others an ounce. Such also was the ambition of others upon the like occasion, as appeareth by that very sharp wars and of a long continuance have been made of old betwixt some residentiary kings in Cappadocia upon this only debate, of whose name a certain herb should have the appellation; by reason of which difference, so troublesome and expensive to them all, it was by them called Polemonion, and by us for the same cause termed Make-bate.

Other herbs and plants there are which retain the names of the countries from whence they were transported, as the Median apples from Media, where they first grew; Punic apples from Punicia, that is to say, Carthage; Ligusticum, which we call lovage, from Liguria, the coast of Genoa; Rhubarb from a flood in Barbary, as Ammianus attesteth, called Ru; Santonica from a region of that name; Fenugreek from Greece; Gastanes from a country so called; Persicaria from Persia; Sabine from a territory of that appellation; Staechas from the Staechad Islands; Spica Celtica from the land of the Celtic Gauls, and so throughout a great many other, which were tedious to enumerate. Some others, again, have obtained their denominations by way of antiphrasis, or contrariety; as Absinth, because it is contrary to (Greek), for it is bitter to the taste in drinking; Holosteon, as if it were all bones, whilst, on the contrary, there is no frailer, tenderer, nor brittler herb in the whole production of nature than it.

There are some other sorts of herbs which have got their names from their virtues and operations, as Aristolochia, because it helpeth women in childbirth; Lichen, for that it cureth the disease of that name; Mallow, because it mollifieth; Callithricum, because it maketh the hair of a bright colour; Alyssum, Ephemerum, Bechium, Nasturtium, Aneban (Henbane), and so forth through many more.

Other some there are which have obtained their names from the admirable qualities that are found to be in them, as Heliotropium, which is the marigold, because it followeth the sun, so that at the sun rising it displayeth and spreads itself out, at his ascending it mounteth, at his declining it waneth, and when he is set it is close shut; Adianton, because, although it grow near unto watery places, and albeit you should let it lie in water a long time, it will nevertheless retain no moisture nor humidity; Hierachia, Eringium, and so throughout a great many more. There are also a great many herbs and plants which have retained the very same names of the men and women who have been metamorphosed and transformed in them, as from Daphne the laurel is called also Daphne; Myrrh from Myrrha, the daughter of Cinarus; Pythis from Pythis; Cinara, which is the artichoke, from one of that name; Narcissus, with Saffron, Smilax, and divers others.

Many herbs likewise have got their names of those things which they seem to have some resemblance to; as Hippuris, because it hath the likeness of a horse’s tail; Alopecuris, because it representeth in similitude the tail of a fox; Psyllion, from a flea which it resembleth; Delphinium, for that it is like a dolphin fish; Bugloss is so called because it is an herb like an ox’s tongue; Iris, so called because in its flowers it hath some resemblance of the rainbow; Myosota, because it is like the ear of a mouse; Coronopus, for that it is of the likeness of a crow’s foot. A great many other such there are, which here to recite were needless. Furthermore, as there are herbs and plants which have had their names from those of men, so by a reciprocal denomination have the surnames of many families taken their origin from them, as the Fabii, a fabis, beans; the Pisons, a pisis, peas; the Lentuli from lentils; the Cicerons; a ciceribus, vel ciceris, a sort of pulse called chickpease, and so forth. In some plants and herbs the resemblance or likeness hath been taken from a higher mark or object, as when we say Venus’ navel, Venus’ hair, Venus’ tub, Jupiter’s beard, Jupiter’s eye, Mars’ blood, the Hermodactyl or Mercury’s fingers, which are all of them names of herbs, as there are a great many more of the like appellation. Others, again, have received their denomination from their forms, such as the Trefoil, because it is three-leaved; Pentaphylon, for having five leaves; Serpolet, because it creepeth along the ground; Helxine, Petast, Myrobalon, which the Arabians called Been, as if you would say an acorn, for it hath a kind of resemblance thereto, and withal is very oily.

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