Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Francois Rabelais

Chapter 33

How Pantagruel discovered a monstrous physeter, or whirlpool, near the Wild Island.

About sunset, coming near the Wild Island, Pantagruel spied afar off a huge monstrous physeter (a sort of whale, which some call a whirlpool), that came right upon us, neighing, snorting, raised above the waves higher than our main-tops, and spouting water all the way into the air before itself, like a large river falling from a mountain. Pantagruel showed it to the pilot and to Xenomanes.

By the pilot’s advice the trumpets of the Thalamege were sounded to warn all the fleet to stand close and look to themselves. This alarm being given, all the ships, galleons, frigates, brigantines, according to their naval discipline, placed themselves in the order and figure of an (Greek) (upsilon), the letter of Pythagoras, as cranes do in their flight, and like an acute angle, in whose cone and basis the Thalamege placed herself ready to fight smartly. Friar John with the grenadiers got on the forecastle.

Poor Panurge began to cry and howl worse than ever. Babille-babou, said he, shrugging up his shoulders, quivering all over with fear, there will be the devil upon dun. This is a worse business than that t’other day. Let us fly, let us fly; old Nick take me if it is not Leviathan, described by the noble prophet Moses in the life of patient Job. It will swallow us all, ships and men, shag, rag, and bobtail, like a dose of pills. Alas! it will make no more of us, and we shall hold no more room in its hellish jaws, than a sugarplum in an ass’s throat. Look, look, ’tis upon us; let us wheel off, whip it away, and get ashore. I believe ’tis the very individual sea-monster that was formerly designed to devour Andromeda; we are all undone. Oh! for some valiant Perseus here now to kill the dog.

I’ll do its business presently, said Pantagruel; fear nothing. Ods-belly, said Panurge, remove the cause of my fear then. When the devil would you have a man be afraid but when there is so much cause? If your destiny be such as Friar John was saying a while ago, replied Pantagruel, you ought to be afraid of Pyroeis, Eous, Aethon, and Phlegon, the sun’s coach-horses, that breathe fire at the nostrils; and not of physeters, that spout nothing but water at the snout and mouth. Their water will not endanger your life; and that element will rather save and preserve than hurt or endanger you.

Ay, ay, trust to that, and hang me, quoth Panurge; yours is a very pretty fancy. Ods-fish! did I not give you a sufficient account of the elements’ transmutation, and the blunders that are made of roast for boiled, and boiled for roast? Alas! here ’tis; I’ll go hide myself below. We are dead men, every mother’s son of us. I see upon our main-top that merciless hag Atropos, with her scissors new ground, ready to cut our threads all at one snip. Oh! how dreadful and abominable thou art; thou hast drowned a good many beside us, who never made their brags of it. Did it but spout good, brisk, dainty, delicious white wine, instead of this damned bitter salt water, one might better bear with it, and there would be some cause to be patient; like that English lord, who being doomed to die, and had leave to choose what kind of death he would, chose to be drowned in a butt of malmsey. Here it is. Oh, oh! devil! Sathanas! Leviathan! I cannot abide to look upon thee, thou art so abominably ugly. Go to the bar, go take the pettifoggers.

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