Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Francois Rabelais

Chapter 45

How Pantagruel went ashore in the island of Pope-Figland.

The next morning we arrived at the island of Pope-figs; formerly a rich and free people, called the Gaillardets, but now, alas! miserably poor, and under the yoke of the Papimen. The occasion of it was this:

On a certain yearly high holiday, and burgomaster, syndics, and topping rabbies of the Gaillardets chanced to go into the neighbouring island Papimany to see the festival and pass away the time. Now one of them having espied the pope’s picture (with the sight of which, according to a laudable custom, the people were blessed on high-offering holidays), made mouths at it, and cried, A fig for it! as a sign of manifest contempt and derision. To be revenged of this affront, the Papimen, some days after, without giving the others the least warning, took arms, and surprised, destroyed, and ruined the whole island of the Gaillardets; putting the men to the sword, and sparing none but the women and children, and those too only on condition to do what the inhabitants of Milan were condemned to by the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa.

These had rebelled against him in his absence, and ignominiously turned the empress out of the city, mounting her a-horseback on a mule called Thacor, with her breech foremost towards the old jaded mule’s head, and her face turned towards the crupper. Now Frederick being returned, mastered them, and caused so careful a search to be made that he found out and got the famous mule Thacor. Then the hangman by his order clapped a fig into the mule’s jimcrack, in the presence of the enslaved cits that were brought into the middle of the great market-place, and proclaimed in the emperor’s name, with trumpets, that whosoever of them would save his own life should publicly pull the fig out with his teeth, and after that put it in again in the very individual cranny whence he had draw’d it without using his hands, and that whoever refused to do this should presently swing for it and die in his shoes. Some sturdy fools, standing upon their punctilio, chose honourably to be hanged rather than submit to so shameful and abominable a disgrace; and others, less nice in point of ceremony, took heart of grace, and even resolved to have at the fig, and a fig for’t, rather than make a worse figure with a hempen collar, and die in the air at so short warning. Accordingly, when they had neatly picked out the fig with their teeth from old Thacor’s snatch-blatch, they plainly showed it the headsman, saying, Ecco lo fico, Behold the fig!

By the same ignominy the rest of these poor distressed Gaillardets saved their bacon, becoming tributaries and slaves, and the name of Pope-figs was given them, because they said, A fig for the pope’s image. Since this, the poor wretches never prospered, but every year the devil was at their doors, and they were plagued with hail, storms, famine, and all manner of woes, as an everlasting punishment for the sin of their ancestors and relations. Perceiving the misery and calamity of that generation, we did not care to go further up into the country, contenting ourselves with going into a little chapel near the haven to take some holy water. It was dilapidated and ruined, wanting also a cover — like Saint Peter at Rome. When we were in, as we dipped our fingers in the sanctified cistern, we spied in the middle of that holy pickle a fellow muffled up with stoles, all under water, like a diving duck, except the tip of his snout to draw his breath. About him stood three priests, true shavelings, clean shorn and polled, who were muttering strange words to the devils out of a conjuring book.

Pantagruel was not a little amazed at this, and inquiring what kind of sport these were at, was told that for three years last past the plague had so dreadfully raged in the island that the better half of it had been utterly depopulated, and the lands lay fallow and unoccupied. Now, the mortality being over, this same fellow who had crept into the holy tub, having a large piece of ground, chanced to be sowing it with white winter wheat at the very minute of an hour that a kind of a silly sucking devil, who could not yet write or read, or hail and thunder, unless it were on parsley or coleworts, and got leave of his master Lucifer to go into this island of Pope-figs, where the devils were very familiar with the men and women, and often went to take their pastime.

This same devil being got thither, directed his discourse to the husbandman, and asked him what he was doing. The poor man told him that he was sowing the ground with corn to help him to subsist the next year. Ay, but the ground is none of thine, Mr. Plough-jobber, cried the devil, but mine; for since the time that you mocked the pope all this land has been proscribed, adjudged, and abandoned to us. However, to sow corn is not my province; therefore I will give thee leave to sow the field, that is to say, provided we share the profit. I will, replied the farmer. I mean, said the devil, that of what the land shall bear, two lots shall be made, one of what shall grow above ground, the other of what shall be covered with earth. The right of choosing belongs to me; for I am a devil of noble and ancient race; thou art a base clown. I therefore choose what shall lie under ground, take thou what shall be above. When dost thou reckon to reap, hah? About the middle of July, quoth the farmer. Well, said the devil, I’ll not fail thee then; in the meantime, slave as thou oughtest. Work, clown, work. I am going to tempt to the pleasing sin of whoring the nuns of Dryfart, the sham saints of the cowl, and the gluttonish crew. I am more than sure of these. They need but meet, and the job is done; true fire and tinder, touch and take; down falls nun, and up gets friar.

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