Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Francois Rabelais

Chapter 8

Why the codpiece is held to be the chief piece of armour amongst warriors.

Will you maintain, quoth Pantagruel, that the codpiece is the chief piece of a military harness? It is a new kind of doctrine, very paradoxical; for we say, At spurs begins the arming of a man. Sir, I maintain it, answered Panurge, and not wrongfully do I maintain it. Behold how nature, having a fervent desire, after its production of plants, trees, shrubs, herbs, sponges, and plant-animals, to eternize and continue them unto all succession of ages (in their several kinds or sorts, at least, although the individuals perish) unruinable, and in an everlasting being, hath most curiously armed and fenced their buds, sprouts, shoots, and seeds, wherein the above-mentioned perpetuity consisteth, by strengthening, covering, guarding, and fortifying them with an admirable industry, with husks, cases, scurfs and swads, hulls, cods, stones, films, cartels, shells, ears, rinds, barks, skins, ridges, and prickles, which serve them instead of strong, fair, and natural codpieces. As is manifestly apparent in pease, beans, fasels, pomegranates, peaches, cottons, gourds, pumpions, melons, corn, lemons, almonds, walnuts, filberts, and chestnuts; as likewise in all plants, slips, or sets whatsoever, wherein it is plainly and evidently seen, that the sperm and semence is more closely veiled, overshadowed, corroborated, and thoroughly harnessed, than any other part, portion, or parcel of the whole.

Nature, nevertheless, did not after that manner provide for the sempiternizing of (the) human race; but, on the contrary, created man naked, tender, and frail, without either offensive or defensive arms; and that in the estate of innocence, in the first age of all, which was the golden season; not as a plant, but living creature, born for peace, not war, and brought forth into the world with an unquestionable right and title to the plenary fruition and enjoyment of all fruits and vegetables, as also to a certain calm and gentle rule and dominion over all kinds of beasts, fowls, fishes, reptiles, and insects. Yet afterwards it happening in the time of the iron age, under the reign of Jupiter, when, to the multiplication of mischievous actions, wickedness and malice began to take root and footing within the then perverted hearts of men, that the earth began to bring forth nettles, thistles, thorns, briars, and such other stubborn and rebellious vegetables to the nature of man. Nor scarce was there any animal which by a fatal disposition did not then revolt from him, and tacitly conspire and covenant with one another to serve him no longer, nor, in case of their ability to resist, to do him any manner of obedience, but rather, to the uttermost of their power, to annoy him with all the hurt and harm they could. The man, then, that he might maintain his primitive right and prerogative, and continue his sway and dominion over all, both vegetable and sensitive creatures, and knowing of a truth that he could not be well accommodated as he ought without the servitude and subjection of several animals, bethought himself that of necessity he must needs put on arms, and make provision of harness against wars and violence. By the holy Saint Babingoose, cried out Pantagruel, you are become, since the last rain, a great lifrelofre — philosopher, I should say. Take notice, sir, quoth Panurge, when Dame Nature had prompted him to his own arming, what part of the body it was, where, by her inspiration, he clapped on the first harness. It was forsooth by the double pluck of my little dog the ballock and good Senor Don Priapos Stabo-stando — which done, he was content, and sought no more. This is certified by the testimony of the great Hebrew captain (and) philosopher Moses, who affirmeth that he fenced that member with a brave and gallant codpiece, most exquisitely framed, and by right curious devices of a notably pregnant invention made up and composed of fig-tree leaves, which by reason of their solid stiffness, incisory notches, curled frizzling, sleeked smoothness, large ampleness, together with their colour, smell, virtue, and faculty, were exceeding proper and fit for the covering and arming of the satchels of generation — the hideously big Lorraine cullions being from thence only excepted, which, swaggering down to the lowermost bottom of the breeches, cannot abide, for being quite out of all order and method, the stately fashion of the high and lofty codpiece; as is manifest by the noble Valentine Viardiere, whom I found at Nancy, on the first day of May — the more flauntingly to gallantrize it afterwards — rubbing his ballocks, spread out upon a table after the manner of a Spanish cloak. Wherefore it is, that none should henceforth say, who would not speak improperly, when any country bumpkin hieth to the wars, Have a care, my roister, of the wine-pot, that is, the skull, but, Have a care, my roister, of the milk-pot, that is, the testicles. By the whole rabble of the horned fiends of hell, the head being cut off, that single person only thereby dieth. But, if the ballocks be marred, the whole race of human kind would forthwith perish, and be lost for ever.

This was the motive which incited the goodly writer Galen, Lib. I. De Spermate, to aver with boldness that it were better, that is to say, a less evil, to have no heart at all than to be quite destitute of genitories; for there is laid up, conserved, and put in store, as in a secessive repository and sacred warehouse, the semence and original source of the whole offspring of mankind. Therefore would I be apt to believe, for less than a hundred francs, that those are the very same stones by means whereof Deucalion and Pyrrha restored the human race, in peopling with men and women the world, which a little before that had been drowned in the overflowing waves of a poetical deluge. This stirred up the valiant Justinian, L. 4. De Cagotis tollendis, to collocate his Summum Bonum, in Braguibus, et Braguetis. For this and other causes, the Lord Humphrey de Merville, following of his king to a certain warlike expedition, whilst he was in trying upon his own person a new suit of armour, for of his old rusty harness he could make no more use, by reason that some few years since the skin of his belly was a great way removed from his kidneys, his lady thereupon, in the profound musing of a contemplative spirit, very maturely considering that he had but small care of the staff of love and packet of marriage, seeing he did no otherwise arm that part of the body than with links of mail, advised him to shield, fence, and gabionate it with a big tilting helmet which she had lying in her closet, to her otherwise utterly unprofitable. On this lady were penned these subsequent verses, which are extant in the third book of the Shitbrana of Paltry Wenches.

When Yoland saw her spouse equipp’d for fight,

And, save the codpiece, all in armour dight,

My dear, she cried, why, pray, of all the rest

Is that exposed, you know I love the best?

Was she to blame for an ill-managed fear —

Or rather pious, conscionable care?

Wise lady, she! In hurlyburly fight,

Can any tell where random blows may light?

Leave off then, sir, from being astonished, and wonder no more at this new manner of decking and trimming up of myself as you now see me.

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