Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Francois Rabelais

Chapter 55

How Pantagruel, being at sea, heard various unfrozen words.

When we were at sea, junketting, tippling, discoursing, and telling stories, Pantagruel rose and stood up to look out; then asked us, Do you hear nothing, gentlemen? Methinks I hear some people talking in the air, yet I can see nobody. Hark! According to his command we listened, and with full ears sucked in the air as some of you suck oysters, to find if we could hear some sound scattered through the sky; and to lose none of it, like the Emperor Antoninus some of us laid their hands hollow next to their ears; but all this would not do, nor could we hear any voice. Yet Pantagruel continued to assure us he heard various voices in the air, some of men, and some of women.

At last we began to fancy that we also heard something, or at least that our ears tingled; and the more we listened, the plainer we discerned the voices, so as to distinguish articulate sounds. This mightily frightened us, and not without cause; since we could see nothing, yet heard such various sounds and voices of men, women, children, horses, &c., insomuch that Panurge cried out, Cods-belly, there is no fooling with the devil; we are all beshit, let’s fly. There is some ambuscado hereabouts. Friar John, art thou here my love? I pray thee, stay by me, old boy. Hast thou got thy swindging tool? See that it do not stick in thy scabbard; thou never scourest it half as it should be. We are undone. Hark! They are guns, gad judge me. Let’s fly, I do not say with hands and feet, as Brutus said at the battle of Pharsalia; I say, with sails and oars. Let’s whip it away. I never find myself to have a bit of courage at sea; in cellars and elsewhere I have more than enough. Let’s fly and save our bacon. I do not say this for any fear that I have; for I dread nothing but danger, that I don’t; I always say it that shouldn’t. The free archer of Baignolet said as much. Let us hazard nothing, therefore, I say, lest we come off bluely. Tack about, helm a-lee, thou son of a bachelor. Would I were now well in Quinquenais, though I were never to marry. Haste away, let’s make all the sail we can. They’ll be too hard for us; we are not able to cope with them; they are ten to our one, I’ll warrant you. Nay, and they are on their dunghill, while we do not know the country. They will be the death of us. We’ll lose no honour by flying. Demosthenes saith that the man that runs away may fight another day. At least let us retreat to the leeward. Helm a-lee; bring the main-tack aboard, haul the bowlines, hoist the top-gallants. We are all dead men; get off, in the devil’s name, get off.

Pantagruel, hearing the sad outcry which Panurge made, said, Who talks of flying? Let’s first see who they are; perhaps they may be friends. I can discover nobody yet, though I can see a hundred miles round me. But let’s consider a little. I have read that a philosopher named Petron was of opinion that there were several worlds that touched each other in an equilateral triangle; in whose centre, he said, was the dwelling of truth; and that the words, ideas, copies, and images of all things past and to come resided there; round which was the age; and that with success of time part of them used to fall on mankind like rheums and mildews, just as the dew fell on Gideon’s fleece, till the age was fulfilled.

I also remember, continued he, that Aristotle affirms Homer’s words to be flying, moving, and consequently animated. Besides, Antiphanes said that Plato’s philosophy was like words which, being spoken in some country during a hard winter, are immediately congealed, frozen up, and not heard; for what Plato taught young lads could hardly be understood by them when they were grown old. Now, continued he, we should philosophize and search whether this be not the place where those words are thawed.

You would wonder very much should this be the head and lyre of Orpheus. When the Thracian women had torn him to pieces they threw his head and lyre into the river Hebrus, down which they floated to the Euxine sea as far as the island of Lesbos; the head continually uttering a doleful song, as it were lamenting the death of Orpheus, and the lyre, with the wind’s impulse moving its strings and harmoniously accompanying the voice. Let’s see if we cannot discover them hereabouts.

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