Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Francois Rabelais

Chapter 26

How the good Macrobius gave us an account of the mansion and decease of the heroes.

The good Macrobius then answered, Friendly strangers, this island is one of the Sporades; not of your Sporades that lie in the Carpathian sea, but one of the Sporades of the ocean; in former times rich, frequented, wealthy, populous, full of traffic, and in the dominions of the rulers of Britain, but now, by course of time, and in these latter ages of the world, poor and desolate, as you see. In this dark forest, above seventy-eight thousand Persian leagues in compass, is the dwelling-place of the demons and heroes that are grown old, and we believe that some one of them died yesterday; since the comet which we saw for three days before together, shines no more; and now it is likely that at his death there arose this horrible storm; for while they are alive all happiness attends both this and the adjacent islands, and a settled calm and serenity. At the death of every one of them, we commonly hear in the forest loud and mournful groans, and the whole land is infested with pestilence, earthquakes, inundations, and other calamities; the air with fogs and obscurity, and the sea with storms and hurricanes. What you tell us seems to me likely enough, said Pantagruel. For as a torch or candle, as long as it hath life enough and is lighted, shines round about, disperses its light, delights those that are near it, yields them its service and clearness, and never causes any pain or displeasure; but as soon as ’tis extinguished, its smoke and evaporation infects the air, offends the bystanders, and is noisome to all; so, as long as those noble and renowned souls inhabit their bodies, peace, profit, pleasure, and honour never leave the places where they abide; but as soon as they leave them, both the continent and adjacent islands are annoyed with great commotions; in the air fogs, darkness, thunder, hail; tremblings, pulsations, agitations of the earth; storms and hurricanes at sea; together with sad complaints amongst the people, broaching of religions, changes in governments, and ruins of commonwealths.

We had a sad instance of this lately, said Epistemon, at the death of that valiant and learned knight, William du Bellay; during whose life France enjoyed so much happiness, that all the rest of the world looked upon it with envy, sought friendship with it, and stood in awe of its power; but soon after his decease it hath for a considerable time been the scorn of the rest of the world.

Thus, said Pantagruel, Anchises being dead at Drepani in Sicily, Aeneas was dreadfully tossed and endangered by a storm; and perhaps for the same reason Herod, that tyrant and cruel King of Judaea, finding himself near the pangs of a horrid kind of death — for he died of a phthiriasis, devoured by vermin and lice; as before him died L. Sylla, Pherecydes the Syrian, the preceptor of Pythagoras, and Greek poet Alcmaeon, and others — and foreseeing that the Jews would make bonfires at his death, caused all the nobles and magistrates to be summoned to his seraglio out of all the cities, towns, and castles of Judaea, fraudulently pretending that he had some things of moment to impart to them. They made their personal appearance; whereupon he caused them all to be shut up in the hippodrome of the seraglio; then said to his sister Salome and Alexander her husband: I am certain that the Jews will rejoice at my death; but if you will observe and perform what I tell you, my funeral shall be honourable, and there will be a general mourning. As soon as you see me dead, let my guards, to whom I have already given strict commission to that purpose, kill all the noblemen and magistrates that are secured in the hippodrome. By these means all Jewry shall, in spite of themselves, be obliged to mourn and lament, and foreigners will imagine it to be for my death, as if some heroic soul had left her body. A desperate tyrant wished as much when he said, When I die, let earth and fire be mixed together; which was as good as to say, let the whole world perish. Which saying the tyrant Nero altered, saying, While I live, as Suetonius affirms it. This detestable saying, of which Cicero, lib. De Finib., and Seneca, lib. 2, De Clementia, make mention, is ascribed to the Emperor Tiberius by Dion Nicaeus and Suidas.

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