Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Francois Rabelais

Chapter 7

How Panurge had a flea in his ear, and forbore to wear any longer his magnificent codpiece.

Panurge, the day thereafter, caused pierce his right ear after the Jewish fashion, and thereto clasped a little gold ring, of a ferny-like kind of workmanship, in the beazil or collet whereof was set and enchased a flea; and, to the end you may be rid of all doubts, you are to know that the flea was black. O, what a brave thing it is, in every case and circumstance of a matter, to be thoroughly well informed! The sum of the expense hereof, being cast up, brought in, and laid down upon his council-board carpet, was found to amount to no more quarterly than the charge of the nuptials of a Hircanian tigress; even, as you would say, 600,000 maravedis. At these vast costs and excessive disbursements, as soon as he perceived himself to be out of debt, he fretted much; and afterwards, as tyrants and lawyers use to do, he nourished and fed her with the sweat and blood of his subjects and clients.

He then took four French ells of a coarse brown russet cloth, and therein apparelling himself, as with a long, plain-seamed, and single-stitched gown, left off the wearing of his breeches, and tied a pair of spectacles to his cap. In this equipage did he present himself before Pantagruel; to whom this disguise appeared the more strange, that he did not, as before, see that goodly, fair, and stately codpiece, which was the sole anchor of hope wherein he was wonted to rely, and last refuge he had midst all the waves and boisterous billows which a stormy cloud in a cross fortune would raise up against him. Honest Pantagruel, not understanding the mystery, asked him, by way of interrogatory, what he did intend to personate in that new-fangled prosopopoeia. I have, answered Panurge, a flea in mine ear, and have a mind to marry. In a good time, quoth Pantagruel, you have told me joyful tidings. Yet would not I hold a red-hot iron in my hand for all the gladness of them. But it is not the fashion of lovers to be accoutred in such dangling vestments, so as to have their shirts flagging down over their knees, without breeches, and with a long robe of a dark brown mingled hue, which is a colour never used in Talarian garments amongst any persons of honour, quality, or virtue. If some heretical persons and schismatical sectaries have at any time formerly been so arrayed and clothed (though many have imputed such a kind of dress to cosenage, cheat, imposture, and an affectation of tyranny upon credulous minds of the rude multitude), I will nevertheless not blame them for it, nor in that point judge rashly or sinistrously of them. Everyone overflowingly aboundeth in his own sense and fancy; yea, in things of a foreign consideration, altogether extrinsical and indifferent, which in and of themselves are neither commendable nor bad, because they proceed not from the interior of the thoughts and heart, which is the shop of all good and evil; of goodness, if it be upright, and that its affections be regulated by the pure and clean spirit of righteousness; and, on the other side, of wickedness, if its inclinations, straying beyond the bounds of equity, be corrupted and depraved by the malice and suggestions of the devil. It is only the novelty and new-fangledness thereof which I dislike, together with the contempt of common custom and the fashion which is in use.

The colour, answered Pantagruel, is convenient, for it is conform to that of my council-board carpet; therefore will I henceforth hold me with it, and more narrowly and circumspectly than ever hitherto I have done look to my affairs and business. Seeing I am once out of debt, you never yet saw man more unpleasing than I will be, if God help me not. Lo, here be my spectacles. To see me afar off, you would readily say that it were Friar (John) Burgess. I believe certainly that in the next ensuing year I shall once more preach the Crusade. Bounce, buckram. Do you see this russet? Doubt not but there lurketh under it some hid property and occult virtue known to very few in the world. I did not take it on before this morning, and, nevertheless, am already in a rage of lust, mad after a wife, and vehemently hot upon untying the codpiece-point; I itch, I tingle, I wriggle, and long exceedingly to be married, that, without the danger of cudgel-blows, I may labour my female copes-mate with the hard push of a bull-horned devil. O the provident and thrifty husband that I then will be! After my death, with all honour and respect due to my frugality, will they burn the sacred bulk of my body, of purpose to preserve the ashes thereof, in memory of the choicest pattern that ever was of a perfectly wary and complete householder. Cops body, this is not the carpet whereon my treasurer shall be allowed to play false in his accounts with me, by setting down an X for a V, or an L for an S. For in that case should I make a hail of fisticuffs to fly into his face. Look upon me, sir, both before and behind — it is made after the manner of a toga, which was the ancient fashion of the Romans in time of peace. I took the mode, shape, and form thereof in Trajan’s Column at Rome, as also in the Triumphant Arch of Septimus Severus. I am tired of the wars, weary of wearing buff-coats, cassocks, and hoquetons. My shoulders are pitifully worn and bruised with the carrying of harness. Let armour cease, and the long robe bear sway! At least it must be so for the whole space of the succeeding year, if I be married; as yesterday, by the Mosaic law, you evidenced. In what concerneth the breeches, my great-aunt Laurence did long ago tell me, that the breeches were only ordained for the use of the codpiece, and to no other end; which I, upon a no less forcible consequence, give credit to every whit, as well as to the saying of the fine fellow Galen, who in his ninth book, Of the Use and Employment of our Members, allegeth that the head was made for the eyes. For nature might have placed our heads in our knees or elbows, but having beforehand determined that the eyes should serve to discover things from afar, she for the better enabling them to execute their designed office, fixed them in the head, as on the top of a long pole, in the most eminent part of all the body — no otherwise than we see the phares, or high towers erected in the mouths of havens, that navigators may the further off perceive with ease the lights of the nightly fires and lanterns. And because I would gladly, for some short while, a year at least, take a little rest and breathing time from the toilsome labour of the military profession, that is to say, be married, I have desisted from wearing any more a codpiece, and consequently have laid aside my breeches. For the codpiece is the principal and most especial piece of armour that a warrior doth carry; and therefore do I maintain even to the fire (exclusively, understand you me), that no Turks can properly be said to be armed men, in regard that codpieces are by their law forbidden to be worn.

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