Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Francois Rabelais

Chapter 37

How Pantagruel sent for Colonel Maul-chitterling and Colonel Cut-pudding; with a discourse well worth your hearing about the names of places and persons.

The resolution of the council was that, let things be how they would, it behoved the Pantagruelists to stand upon their guard. Therefore Carpalin and Gymnast were ordered by Pantagruel to go for the soldiers that were on board the Cup galley, under the command of Colonel Maul-chitterling, and those on board the Vine-tub frigate, under the command of Colonel Cut-pudding the younger. I will ease Gymnast of that trouble, said Panurge, who wanted to be upon the run; you may have occasion for him here. By this worthy frock of mine, quoth Friar John, thou hast a mind to slip thy neck out of the collar and absent thyself from the fight, thou white-livered son of a dunghill! Upon my virginity thou wilt never come back. Well, there can be no great loss in thee; for thou wouldst do nothing here but howl, bray, weep, and dishearten the good soldiers. I will certainly come back, said Panurge, Friar John, my ghostly father, and speedily too; do but take care that these plaguy Chitterlings do not board our ships. All the while you will be a-fighting I will pray heartily for your victory, after the example of the valiant captain and guide of the people of Israel, Moses. Having said this, he wheeled off.

Then said Epistemon to Pantagruel: The denomination of these two colonels of yours, Maul-chitterling and Cut-pudding, promiseth us assurance, success, and victory, if those Chitterlings should chance to set upon us. You take it rightly, said Pantagruel, and it pleaseth me to see you foresee and prognosticate our victory by the names of our colonels.

This way of foretelling by names is not new; it was in old times celebrated and religiously observed by the Pythagoreans. Several great princes and emperors have formerly made good use of it. Octavianus Augustus, second emperor of the Romans, meeting on a day a country fellow named Eutychus — that is, fortunate — driving an ass named Nicon — that is, in Greek, Victorian — moved by the signification of the ass’s and ass-driver’s names, remained assured of all prosperity and victory.

The Emperor Vespasian being once all alone at prayers in the temple of Serapis, at the sight and unexpected coming of a certain servant of his named Basilides — that is, royal — whom he had left sick a great way behind, took hopes and assurance of obtaining the empire of the Romans. Regilian was chosen emperor by the soldiers for no other reason but the signification of his name. See the Cratylus of the divine Plato. (By my thirst, I will read it, said Rhizotome; I hear you so often quote it.) See how the Pythagoreans, by reason of the names and numbers, conclude that Patroclus was to fall by the hand of Hector; Hector by Achilles; Achilles by Paris; Paris by Philoctetes. I am quite lost in my understanding when I reflect upon the admirable invention of Pythagoras, who by the number, either even or odd, of the syllables of every name, would tell you of what side a man was lame, hulch-backed, blind, gouty, troubled with the palsy, pleurisy, or any other distemper incident to humankind; allotting even numbers to the left [Motteux reads —’even numbers to the Right, and odd ones to the Left.’], and odd ones to the right side of the body.

Indeed, said Epistemon, I saw this way of syllabizing tried at Xaintes at a general procession, in the presence of that good, virtuous, learned and just president, Brian Vallee, Lord of Douhait. When there went by a man or woman that was either lame, blind of one eye, or humpbacked, he had an account brought him of his or her name; and if the syllables of the name were of an odd number, immediately, without seeing the persons, he declared them to be deformed, blind, lame, or crooked of the right side; and of the left, if they were even in number; and such indeed we ever found them.

By this syllabical invention, said Pantagruel, the learned have affirmed that Achilles kneeling was wounded by the arrow of Paris in the right heel, for his name is of odd syllables (here we ought to observe that the ancients used to kneel the right foot); and that Venus was also wounded before Troy in the left hand, for her name in Greek is (Greek), of four syllables; Vulcan lamed of his left foot for the same reason; Philip, King of Macedon, and Hannibal, blind of the right eye; not to speak of sciaticas, broken bellies, and hemicranias, which may be distinguished by this Pythagorean reason.

But returning to names: do but consider how Alexander the Great, son of King Philip, of whom we spoke just now, compassed his undertaking merely by the interpretation of a name. He had besieged the strong city of Tyre, and for several weeks battered it with all his power; but all in vain. His engines and attempts were still baffled by the Tyrians, which made him finally resolve to raise the siege, to his great grief; foreseeing the great stain which such a shameful retreat would be to his reputation. In this anxiety and agitation of mind he fell asleep and dreamed that a satyr was come into his tent, capering, skipping, and tripping it up and down, with his goatish hoofs, and that he strove to lay hold on him. But the satyr still slipped from him, till at last, having penned him up into a corner, he took him. With this he awoke, and telling his dream to the philosophers and sages of his court, they let him know that it was a promise of victory from the gods, and that he should soon be master of Tyre; the word satyros divided in two being sa Tyros, and signifying Tyre is thine; and in truth, at the next onset, he took the town by storm, and by a complete victory reduced that stubborn people to subjection.

On the other hand, see how, by the signification of one word, Pompey fell into despair. Being overcome by Caesar at the battle of Pharsalia, he had no other way left to escape but by flight; which attempting by sea, he arrived near the island of Cyprus, and perceived on the shore near the city of Paphos a beautiful and stately palace; now asking the pilot what was the name of it, he told him that it was called (Greek), that is, evil king; which struck such a dread and terror in him that he fell into despair, as being assured of losing shortly his life; insomuch that his complaints, sighs, and groans were heard by the mariners and other passengers. And indeed, a while after, a certain strange peasant, called Achillas, cut off his head.

To all these examples might be added what happened to L. Paulus Emilius when the senate elected him imperator, that is, chief of the army which they sent against Perses, King of Macedon. That evening returning home to prepare for his expedition, and kissing a little daughter of his called Trasia, she seemed somewhat sad to him. What is the matter, said he, my chicken? Why is my Trasia thus sad and melancholy? Daddy, replied the child, Persa is dead. This was the name of a little bitch which she loved mightily. Hearing this, Paulus took assurance of a victory over Perses.

If time would permit us to discourse of the sacred Hebrew writ, we might find a hundred noted passages evidently showing how religiously they observed proper names and their significations.

He had hardly ended this discourse, when the two colonels arrived with their soldiers, all well armed and resolute. Pantagruel made them a short speech, entreating them to behave themselves bravely in case they were attacked; for he could not yet believe that the Chitterlings were so treacherous; but he bade them by no means to give the first offence, giving them Carnival for the watchword.

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