Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Francois Rabelais

Chapter 52

How a certain kind of Pantagruelion is of that nature that the fire is not able to consume it.

I have already related to you great and admirable things; but, if you might be induced to adventure upon the hazard of believing some other divinity of this sacred Pantagruelion, I very willingly would tell it you. Believe it, if you will, or otherwise, believe it not, I care not which of them you do, they are both alike to me. It shall be sufficient for my purpose to have told you the truth, and the truth I will tell you. But to enter in thereat, because it is of a knaggy, difficult, and rugged access, this is the question which I ask of you. If I had put within this bottle two pints, the one of wine and the other of water, thoroughly and exactly mingled together, how would you unmix them? After what manner would you go about to sever them, and separate the one liquor from the other, in such sort that you render me the water apart, free from the wine, and the wine also pure, without the intermixture of one drop of water, and both of them in the same measure, quantity, and taste that I had embottled them? Or, to state the question otherwise. If your carmen and mariners, entrusted for the provision of your houses with the bringing of a certain considerable number of tuns, puncheons, pipes, barrels, and hogsheads of Graves wine, or of the wine of Orleans, Beaune, and Mireveaux, should drink out the half, and afterwards with water fill up the other empty halves of the vessels as full as before, as the Limosins use to do in their carriages by wains and carts of the wines of Argenton and Sangaultier; after that, how would you part the water from the wine, and purify them both in such a case? I understand you well enough. Your meaning is, that I must do it with an ivy funnel. That is written, it is true, and the verity thereof explored by a thousand experiments; you have learned to do this feat before, I see it. But those that have never known it, nor at any time have seen the like, would hardly believe that it were possible. Let us nevertheless proceed.

But put the case, we were now living in the age of Sylla, Marius, Caesar, and other such Roman emperors, or that we were in the time of our ancient Druids, whose custom was to burn and calcine the dead bodies of their parents and lords, and that you had a mind to drink the ashes or cinders of your wives or fathers in the infused liquor of some good white-wine, as Artemisia drunk the dust and ashes of her husband Mausolus; or otherwise, that you did determine to have them reserved in some fine urn or reliquary pot; how would you save the ashes apart, and separate them from those other cinders and ashes into which the fuel of the funeral and bustuary fire hath been converted? Answer, if you can. By my figgins, I believe it will trouble you so to do.

Well, I will despatch, and tell you that, if you take of this celestial Pantagruelion so much as is needful to cover the body of the defunct, and after that you shall have enwrapped and bound therein as hard and closely as you can the corpse of the said deceased persons, and sewed up the folding-sheet with thread of the same stuff, throw it into the fire, how great or ardent soever it be it matters not a straw, the fire through this Pantagruelion will burn the body and reduce to ashes the bones thereof, and the Pantagruelion shall be not only not consumed nor burnt, but also shall neither lose one atom of the ashes enclosed within it, nor receive one atom of the huge bustuary heap of ashes resulting from the blazing conflagration of things combustible laid round about it, but shall at last, when taken out of the fire, be fairer, whiter, and much cleaner than when you did put it in at first. Therefore it is called Asbeston, which is as much to say as incombustible. Great plenty is to be found thereof in Carpasia, as likewise in the climate Dia Sienes, at very easy rates. O how rare and admirable a thing it is, that the fire which devoureth, consumeth, and destroyeth all such things else, should cleanse, purge, and whiten this sole Pantagruelion Carpasian Asbeston! If you mistrust the verity of this relation, and demand for further confirmation of my assertion a visible sign, as the Jews and such incredulous infidels use to do, take a fresh egg, and orbicularly, or rather ovally, enfold it within this divine Pantagruelion. When it is so wrapped up, put it in the hot embers of a fire, how great or ardent soever it be, and having left it there as long as you will, you shall at last, at your taking it out of the fire, find the egg roasted hard, and as it were burnt, without any alteration, change, mutation, or so much as a calefaction of the sacred Pantagruelion. For less than a million of pounds sterling, modified, taken down, and amoderated to the twelfth part of one fourpence halfpenny farthing, you are able to put it to a trial and make proof thereof.

Do not think to overmatch me here, by paragoning with it in the way of a more eminent comparison the Salamander. That is a fib; for, albeit a little ordinary fire, such as is used in dining-rooms and chambers, gladden, cheer up, exhilarate, and quicken it, yet may I warrantably enough assure that in the flaming fire of a furnace it will, like any other animated creature, be quickly suffocated, choked, consumed, and destroyed. We have seen the experiment thereof, and Galen many ages ago hath clearly demonstrated and confirmed it, Lib. 3, De temperamentis, and Dioscorides maintaineth the same doctrine, Lib. 2. Do not here instance in competition with this sacred herb the feather alum or the wooden tower of Pyraeus, which Lucius Sylla was never able to get burnt; for that Archelaus, governor of the town for Mithridates, King of Pontus, had plastered it all over on the outside with the said alum. Nor would I have you to compare therewith the herb which Alexander Cornelius called Eonem, and said that it had some resemblance with that oak which bears the mistletoe, and that it could neither be consumed nor receive any manner of prejudice by fire nor by water, no more than the mistletoe, of which was built, said he, the so renowned ship Argos. Search where you please for those that will believe it. I in that point desire to be excused. Neither would I wish you to parallel therewith — although I cannot deny but that it is of a very marvellous nature — that sort of tree which groweth alongst the mountains of Brianson and Ambrun, which produceth out of his root the good agaric. From its body it yieldeth unto us a so excellent rosin, that Galen hath been bold to equal it to the turpentine. Upon the delicate leaves thereof it retaineth for our use that sweet heavenly honey which is called the manna, and, although it be of a gummy, oily, fat, and greasy substance, it is, notwithstanding, unconsumable by any fire. It is in Greek and Latin called Larix. The Alpinese name is Melze. The Antenorides and Venetians term it Larege; which gave occasion to that castle in Piedmont to receive the denomination of Larignum, by putting Julius Caesar to a stand at his return from amongst the Gauls.

Julius Caesar commanded all the yeomen, boors, hinds, and other inhabitants in, near unto, and about the Alps and Piedmont, to bring all manner of victuals and provision for an army to those places which on the military road he had appointed to receive them for the use of his marching soldiery. To which ordinance all of them were obedient, save only those as were within the garrison of Larignum, who, trusting in the natural strength of the place, would not pay their contribution. The emperor, purposing to chastise them for their refusal, caused his whole army to march straight towards that castle, before the gate whereof was erected a tower built of huge big spars and rafters of the larch-tree, fast bound together with pins and pegs of the same wood, and interchangeably laid on one another, after the fashion of a pile or stack of timber, set up in the fabric thereof to such an apt and convenient height that from the parapet above the portcullis they thought with stones and levers to beat off and drive away such as should approach thereto.

When Caesar had understood that the chief defence of those within the castle did consist in stones and clubs, and that it was not an easy matter to sling, hurl, dart, throw, or cast them so far as to hinder the approaches, he forthwith commanded his men to throw great store of bavins, faggots, and fascines round about the castle, and when they had made the heap of a competent height, to put them all in a fair fire; which was thereupon incontinently done. The fire put amidst the faggots was so great and so high that it covered the whole castle, that they might well imagine the tower would thereby be altogether burnt to dust, and demolished. Nevertheless, contrary to all their hopes and expectations, when the flame ceased, and that the faggots were quite burnt and consumed, the tower appeared as whole, sound, and entire as ever. Caesar, after a serious consideration had thereof, commanded a compass to be taken without the distance of a stone cast from the castle round about it there, with ditches and entrenchments to form a blockade; which when the Larignans understood, they rendered themselves upon terms. And then by a relation from them it was that Caesar learned the admirable nature and virtue of this wood, which of itself produceth neither fire, flame, nor coal, and would, therefore, in regard of that rare quality of incombustibility, have been admitted into this rank and degree of a true Pantagruelional plant; and that so much the rather, for that Pantagruel directed that all the gates, doors, angiports, windows, gutters, fretticed and embowed ceilings, cans, (cants?) and other whatsoever wooden furniture in the abbey of Theleme, should be all materiated of this kind of timber. He likewise caused to cover therewith the sterns, stems, cook-rooms or laps, hatches, decks, courses, bends, and walls of his carricks, ships, galleons, galleys, brigantines, foists, frigates, crears, barques, floats, pinks, pinnaces, hoys, ketches, capers, and other vessels of his Thalassian arsenal; were it not that the wood or timber of the larch-tree, being put within a large and ample furnace full of huge vehemently flaming fire proceeding from the fuel of other sorts and kinds of wood, cometh at last to be corrupted, consumed, dissipated, and destroyed, as are stones in a lime-kiln. But this Pantagruelion Asbeston is rather by the fire renewed and cleansed than by the flames thereof consumed or changed. Therefore,

Arabians, Indians, Sabaeans,

Sing not, in hymns and Io Paeans,

Your incense, myrrh, or ebony.

Come here, a nobler plant to see,

And carry home, at any rate,

Some seed, that you may propagate.

If in your soil it takes, to heaven

A thousand thousand thanks be given;

And say with France, it goodly goes,

Where the Pantagruelion grows.

End of Book III

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