Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Francois Rabelais

Chapter 51

Why it is called Pantagruelion, and of the admirable virtues thereof.

By such-like means of attaining to a denomination — the fabulous ways being only from thence excepted, for the Lord forbid that we should make use of any fables in this a so veritable history — is this herb called Pantagruelion, for Pantagruel was the inventor thereof. I do not say of the plant itself, but of a certain use which it serves for, exceeding odious and hateful to thieves and robbers, unto whom it is more contrarious and hurtful than the strangle-weed and chokefitch is to the flax, the cats-tail to the brakes, the sheave-grass to the mowers of hay, the fitches to the chickney-pease, the darnel to barley, the hatchet-fitch to the lentil pulse, the antramium to the beans, tares to wheat, ivy to walls, the water-lily to lecherous monks, the birchen rod to the scholars of the college of Navarre in Paris, colewort to the vine-tree, garlic to the loadstone, onions to the sight, fern-seed to women with child, willow-grain to vicious nuns, the yew-tree shade to those that sleep under it, wolfsbane to wolves and libbards, and smell of fig-tree to mad bulls, hemlock to goslings, purslane to the teeth, or oil to trees. For we have seen many of those rogues, by virtue and right application of this herb, finish their lives short and long, after the manner of Phyllis, Queen of Thracia, of Bonosus, Emperor of Rome, of Amata, King Latinus’s wife, of Iphis, Autolycus, Lycambe, Arachne, Paedra, Leda, Achius, King of Lydia, and many thousands more, who were chiefly angry and vexed at this disaster therein, that, without being otherwise sick or evil-disposed in their bodies, by a touch only of the Pantagruelion they came on a sudden to have the passage obstructed, and their pipes, through which were wont to bolt so many jolly sayings and to enter so many luscious morsels, stopped, more cleverly than ever could have done the squinancy.

Others have been heard most woefully to lament, at the very instant when Atropos was about to cut the thread of their life, that Pantagruel held them by the gorge. But, well-a-day, it was not Pantagruel; he never was an executioner. It was the Pantagruelion, manufactured and fashioned into an halter; and serving in the place and office of a cravat. In that, verily, they solecized and spoke improperly, unless you would excuse them by a trope, which alloweth us to posit the inventor in the place of the thing invented, as when Ceres is taken for bread, and Bacchus put instead of wine. I swear to you here, by the good and frolic words which are to issue out of that wine-bottle which is a-cooling below in the copper vessel full of fountain water, that the noble Pantagruel never snatched any man by the throat, unless it was such a one as was altogether careless and neglective of those obviating remedies which were preventive of the thirst to come.


It was the Pantagruelion, manufactured and fashioned into an halter; and serving in the place and office of a cravat.

It is also termed Pantagruelion by a similitude. For Pantagruel, at the very first minute of his birth, was no less tall than this herb is long whereof I speak unto you, his measure having been then taken the more easy that he was born in the season of the great drought, when they were busiest in the gathering of the said herb, to wit, at that time when Icarus’s dog, with his fiery bawling and barking at the sun, maketh the whole world Troglodytic, and enforceth people everywhere to hide themselves in dens and subterranean caves. It is likewise called Pantagruelion because of the notable and singular qualities, virtues, and properties thereof. For as Pantagruel hath been the idea, pattern, prototype, and exemplary of all jovial perfection and accomplishment — in the truth whereof I believe there is none of you gentlemen drinkers that putteth any question — so in this Pantagruelion have I found so much efficacy and energy, so much completeness and excellency, so much exquisiteness and rarity, and so many admirable effects and operations of a transcendent nature, that if worth and virtue thereof had been known when those trees, by the relation of the prophet, made election of a wooden king to rule and govern over them, it without all doubt would have carried away from all the rest the plurality of votes and suffrages.

Shall I yet say more? If Oxylus, the son of Orius, had begotten this plant upon his sister Hamadryas, he had taken more delight in the value and perfection of it alone than in all his eight children, so highly renowned by our ablest mythologians that they have sedulously recommended their names to the never-failing tuition of an eternal remembrance. The eldest child was a daughter, whose name was Vine; the next born was a boy, and his name was Fig-tree; the third was called Walnut-tree; the fourth Oak; the fifth Sorbapple-tree; the sixth Ash; the seventh Poplar, and the last had the name of Elm, who was the greatest surgeon in his time. I shall forbear to tell you how the juice or sap thereof, being poured and distilled within the ears, killeth every kind of vermin that by any manner of putrefaction cometh to be bred and engendered there, and destroyeth also any whatsoever other animal that shall have entered in thereat. If, likewise, you put a little of the said juice within a pail or bucket full of water, you shall see the water instantly turn and grow thick therewith as if it were milk-curds, whereof the virtue is so great that the water thus curded is a present remedy for horses subject to the colic, and such as strike at their own flanks. The root thereof well boiled mollifieth the joints, softeneth the hardness of shrunk-in sinews, is every way comfortable to the nerves, and good against all cramps and convulsions, as likewise all cold and knotty gouts. If you would speedily heal a burning, whether occasioned by water or fire, apply thereto a little raw Pantagruelion, that is to say, take it so as it cometh out of the ground, without bestowing any other preparation or composition upon it; but have a special care to change it for some fresher in lieu thereof as soon as you shall find it waxing dry upon the sore.

Without this herb kitchens would be detested, the tables of dining-rooms abhorred, although there were great plenty and variety of most dainty and sumptuous dishes of meat set down upon them, and the choicest beds also, how richly soever adorned with gold, silver, amber, ivory, porphyry, and the mixture of most precious metals, would without it yield no delight or pleasure to the reposers in them. Without it millers could neither carry wheat, nor any other kind of corn to the mill, nor would they be able to bring back from thence flour, or any other sort of meal whatsoever. Without it, how could the papers and writs of lawyers’ clients be brought to the bar? Solemn is the mortar, lime, or plaster brought to the workhouse without it. Without it, how should the water be got out of a draw-well? In what case would tabellions, notaries, copists, makers of counterpanes, writers, clerks, secretaries, scriveners, and such-like persons be without it? Were it not for it, what would become of the toll-rates and rent-rolls? Would not the noble art of printing perish without it? Whereof could the chassis or paper-windows be made? How should the bells be rung? The altars of Isis are adorned therewith, the Pastophorian priests are therewith clad and accoutred, and whole human nature covered and wrapped therein at its first position and production in and into this world. All the lanific trees of Seres, the bumbast and cotton bushes in the territories near the Persian Sea and Gulf of Bengala, the Arabian swans, together with the plants of Malta, do not all the them clothe, attire, and apparel so many persons as this one herb alone. Soldiers are nowadays much better sheltered under it than they were in former times, when they lay in tents covered with skins. It overshadows the theatres and amphitheatres from the heat of a scorching sun. It begirdeth and encompasseth forests, chases, parks, copses, and groves, for the pleasure of hunters. It descendeth into the salt and fresh of both sea and river-waters for the profit of fishers. By it are boots of all sizes, buskins, gamashes, brodkins, gambadoes, shoes, pumps, slippers, and every cobbled ware wrought and made steadable for the use of man. By it the butt and rover-bows are strung, the crossbows bended, and the slings made fixed. And, as if it were an herb every whit as holy as the vervain, and reverenced by ghosts, spirits, hobgoblins, fiends, and phantoms, the bodies of deceased men are never buried without it.

I will proceed yet further. By the means of this fine herb the invisible substances are visibly stopped, arrested, taken, detained, and prisoner-like committed to their receptive gaols. Heavy and ponderous weights are by it heaved, lifted up, turned, veered, drawn, carried, and every way moved quickly, nimbly, and easily, to the great profit and emolument of humankind. When I perpend with myself these and such-like marvellous effects of this wonderful herb, it seemeth strange unto me how the invention of so useful a practice did escape through so many by-past ages the knowledge of the ancient philosophers, considering the inestimable utility which from thence proceeded, and the immense labour which without it they did undergo in their pristine elucubrations. By virtue thereof, through the retention of some aerial gusts, are the huge rambarges, mighty galleons, the large floats, the Chiliander, the Myriander ships launched from their stations and set a-going at the pleasure and arbitrament of their rulers, conders, and steersmen. By the help thereof those remote nations whom nature seemed so unwilling to have discovered to us, and so desirous to have kept them still in abscondito and hidden from us, that the ways through which their countries were to be reached unto were not only totally unknown, but judged also to be altogether impermeable and inaccessible, are now arrived to us, and we to them.

Those voyages outreached flights of birds and far surpassed the scope of feathered fowls, how swift soever they had been on the wing, and notwithstanding that advantage which they have of us in swimming through the air. Taproban hath seen the heaths of Lapland, and both the Javas and Riphaean mountains; wide distant Phebol shall see Theleme, and the Islanders drink of the flood Euphrates. By it the chill-mouthed Boreas hath surveyed the parched mansions of the torrid Auster, and Eurus visited the regions which Zephyrus hath under his command; yea, in such sort have interviews been made by the assistance of this sacred herb, that, maugre longitudes and latitudes, and all the variations of the zones, the Periaecian people, and Antoecian, Amphiscian, Heteroscian, and Periscian had oft rendered and received mutual visits to and from other, upon all the climates. These strange exploits bred such astonishment to the celestial intelligences, to all the marine and terrestrial gods, that they were on a sudden all afraid. From which amazement, when they saw how, by means of this blest Pantagruelion, the Arctic people looked upon the Antarctic, scoured the Atlantic Ocean, passed the tropics, pushed through the torrid zone, measured all the zodiac, sported under the equinoctial, having both poles level with their horizon, they judged it high time to call a council for their own safety and preservation.

The Olympic gods, being all and each of them affrighted at the sight of such achievements, said: Pantagruel hath shapen work enough for us, and put us more to a plunge and nearer our wits’ end by this sole herb of his than did of old the Aloidae by overturning mountains. He very speedily is to be married, and shall have many children by his wife. It lies not in our power to oppose this destiny; for it hath passed through the hands and spindles of the Fatal Sisters, necessity’s inexorable daughters. Who knows but by his sons may be found out an herb of such another virtue and prodigious energy, as that by the aid thereof, in using it aright according to their father’s skill, they may contrive a way for humankind to pierce into the high aerian clouds, get up unto the springhead of the hail, take an inspection of the snowy sources, and shut and open as they please the sluices from whence proceed the floodgates of the rain; then, prosecuting their aethereal voyage, they may step in unto the lightning workhouse and shop, where all the thunderbolts are forged, where, seizing on the magazine of heaven and storehouse of our warlike fire-munition, they may discharge a bouncing peal or two of thundering ordnance for joy of their arrival to these new supernal places, and, charging those tonitrual guns afresh, turn the whole force of that artillery against ourselves wherein we most confided. Then is it like they will set forward to invade the territories of the Moon, whence, passing through both Mercury and Venus, the Sun will serve them for a torch, to show the way from Mars to Jupiter and Saturn. We shall not then be able to resist the impetuosity of their intrusion, nor put a stoppage to their entering in at all, whatever regions, domiciles, or mansions of the spangled firmament they shall have any mind to see, to stay in, to travel through for their recreation. All the celestial signs together, with the constellations of the fixed stars, will jointly be at their devotion then. Some will take up their lodging at the Ram, some at the Bull, and others at the Twins; some at the Crab, some at the Lion Inn, and others at the sign of the Virgin; some at the Balance, others at the Scorpion, and others will be quartered at the Archer; some will be harboured at the Goat, some at the Water-pourer’s sign, some at the Fishes; some will lie at the Crown, some at the Harp, some at the Golden Eagle and the Dolphin; some at the Flying Horse, some at the Ship, some at the great, some at the little Bear; and so throughout the glistening hostelries of the whole twinkling asteristic welkin. There will be sojourners come from the earth, who, longing after the taste of the sweet cream, of their own skimming off, from the best milk of all the dairy of the Galaxy, will set themselves at table down with us, drink of our nectar and ambrosia, and take to their own beds at night for wives and concubines our fairest goddesses, the only means whereby they can be deified. A junto hereupon being convocated, the better to consult upon the manner of obviating a so dreadful danger, Jove, sitting in his presidential throne, asked the votes of all the other gods, which, after a profound deliberation amongst themselves on all contingencies, they freely gave at last, and then resolved unanimously to withstand the shocks of all whatsoever sublunary assaults.

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