Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Francois Rabelais

Chapter 17

How Pantagruel came to the islands of Tohu and Bohu; and of the strange death of Wide-nostrils, the swallower of windmills.

That day Pantagruel came to the two islands of Tohu and Bohu, where the devil a bit we could find anything to fry with. For one Wide-nostrils, a huge giant, had swallowed every individual pan, skillet, kettle, frying-pan, dripping-pan, and brass and iron pot in the land, for want of windmills, which were his daily food. Whence it happened that somewhat before day, about the hour of his digestion, the greedy churl was taken very ill with a kind of a surfeit, or crudity of stomach, occasioned, as the physicians said, by the weakness of the concocting faculty of his stomach, naturally disposed to digest whole windmills at a gust, yet unable to consume perfectly the pans and skillets; though it had indeed pretty well digested the kettles and pots, as they said they knew by the hypostases and eneoremes of four tubs of second-hand drink which he had evacuated at two different times that morning. They made use of divers remedies, according to art, to give him ease; but all would not do; the distemper prevailed over the remedies; insomuch that the famous Wide-nostrils died that morning of so strange a death that I think you ought no longer to wonder at that of the poet Aeschylus. It had been foretold him by the soothsayers that he would die on a certain day by the ruin of something that should fall on him. The fatal day being come in its turn, he removed himself out of town, far from all houses, trees, (rocks,) or any other things that can fall and endanger by their ruin; and strayed in a large field, trusting himself to the open sky; there very secure, as he thought, unless indeed the sky should happen to fall, which he held to be impossible. Yet they say that the larks are much afraid of it; for if it should fall, they must all be taken.

The Celts that once lived near the Rhine — they are our noble valiant French — in ancient times were also afraid of the sky’s falling; for being asked by Alexander the Great what they feared most in this world, hoping well they would say that they feared none but him, considering his great achievements, they made answer that they feared nothing but the sky’s falling; however, not refusing to enter into a confederacy with so brave a king, if you believe Strabo, lib. 7, and Arrian, lib. I.

Plutarch also, in his book of the face that appears on the body of the moon, speaks of one Phenaces, who very much feared the moon should fall on the earth, and pitied those that live under that planet, as the Aethiopians and Taprobanians, if so heavy a mass ever happened to fall on them, and would have feared the like of heaven and earth had they not been duly propped up and borne by the Atlantic pillars, as the ancients believed, according to Aristotle’s testimony, lib. 5, Metaphys. Notwithstanding all this, poor Aeschylus was killed by the fall of the shell of a tortoise, which falling from betwixt the claws of an eagle high in the air, just on his head, dashed out his brains.

Neither ought you to wonder at the death of another poet, I mean old jolly Anacreon, who was choked with a grape-stone. Nor at that of Fabius the Roman praetor, who was choked with a single goat’s hair as he was supping up a porringer of milk. Nor at the death of that bashful fool, who by holding in his wind, and for want of letting out a bum-gunshot, died suddenly in the presence of the Emperor Claudius. Nor at that of the Italian buried on the Via Flaminia at Rome, who in his epitaph complains that the bite of a she-puss on his little finger was the cause of his death. Nor of that of Q. Lecanius Bassus, who died suddenly of so small a prick with a needle on his left thumb that it could hardly be discerned. Nor of Quenelault, a Norman physician, who died suddenly at Montpellier, merely for having sideways took a worm out of his hand with a penknife. Nor of Philomenes, whose servant having got him some new figs for the first course of his dinner, whilst he went to fetch wine, a straggling well-hung ass got into the house, and seeing the figs on the table, without further invitation soberly fell to. Philomenes coming into the room and nicely observing with what gravity the ass ate its dinner, said to the man, who was come back, Since thou hast set figs here for this reverend guest of ours to eat, methinks it is but reason thou also give him some of this wine to drink. He had no sooner said this, but he was so excessively pleased, and fell into so exorbitant a fit of laughter, that the use of his spleen took that of his breath utterly away, and he immediately died. Nor of Spurius Saufeius, who died supping up a soft-boiled egg as he came out of a bath. Nor of him who, as Boccaccio tells us, died suddenly by picking his grinders with a sage-stalk. Nor of Phillipot Placut, who being brisk and hale, fell dead as he was paying an old debt; which causes, perhaps, many not to pay theirs, for fear of the like accident. Nor of the painter Zeuxis, who killed himself with laughing at the sight of the antique jobbernowl of an old hag drawn by him. Nor, in short, of a thousand more of which authors write, as Varrius, Pliny, Valerius, J. Baptista Fulgosus, and Bacabery the elder. In short, Gaffer Wide-nostrils choked himself with eating a huge lump of fresh butter at the mouth of a hot oven by the advice of physicians.

They likewise told us there that the King of Cullan in Bohu had routed the grandees of King Mecloth, and made sad work with the fortresses of Belima.

After this, we sailed by the islands of Nargues and Zargues; also by the islands of Teleniabin and Geleniabin, very fine and fruitful in ingredients for clysters; and then by the islands of Enig and Evig, on whose account formerly the Landgrave of Hesse was swinged off with a vengeance.

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