Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Francois Rabelais

Chapter 57

How Pantagruel went ashore at the dwelling of Gaster, the first master of arts in the world.

That day Pantagruel went ashore in an island which, for situation and governor, may be said not have its fellow. When you just come into it, you find it rugged, craggy, and barren, unpleasant to the eye, painful to the feet, and almost as inaccessible as the mountain of Dauphine, which is somewhat like a toadstool, and was never climbed as any can remember by any but Doyac, who had the charge of King Charles the Eighth’s train of artillery.

This same Doyac with strange tools and engines gained that mountain’s top, and there he found an old ram. It puzzled many a wise head to guess how it got thither. Some said that some eagle or great horncoot, having carried it thither while it was yet a lambkin, it had got away and saved itself among the bushes.

As for us, having with much toil and sweat overcome the difficult ways at the entrance, we found the top of the mountain so fertile, healthful, and pleasant, that I thought I was then in the true garden of Eden, or earthly paradise, about whose situation our good theologues are in such a quandary and keep such a pother.

As for Pantagruel, he said that here was the seat of Arete — that is as much as to say, virtue — described by Hesiod. This, however, with submission to better judgments. The ruler of this place was one Master Gaster, the first master of arts in this world. For, if you believe that fire is the great master of arts, as Tully writes, you very much wrong him and yourself; alas! Tully never believed this. On the other side, if you fancy Mercury to be the first inventor of arts, as our ancient Druids believed of old, you are mightily beside the mark. The satirist’s sentence, that affirms Master Gaster to be the master of all arts, is true. With him peacefully resided old goody Penia, alias Poverty, the mother of the ninety-nine Muses, on whom Porus, the lord of Plenty, formerly begot Love, that noble child, the mediator of heaven and earth, as Plato affirms in Symposio.

We were all obliged to pay our homage and swear allegiance to that mighty sovereign; for he is imperious, severe, blunt, hard, uneasy, inflexible; you cannot make him believe, represent to him, or persuade him anything.

He does not hear; and as the Egyptians said that Harpocrates, the god of silence, named Sigalion in Greek, was astome, that is, without a mouth, so Gaster was created without ears, even like the image of Jupiter in Candia.

He only speaks by signs, but those signs are more readily obeyed by everyone than the statutes of senates or commands of monarchs. Neither will he admit the least let or delay in his summons. You say that when a lion roars all the beasts at a considerable distance round about, as far as his roar can be heard, are seized with a shivering. This is written, it is try, I have seen it. I assure you that at Master Gaster’s command the very heavens tremble, and all the earth shakes. His command is called, Do this or die. Needs must when the devil drives; there’s no gainsaying of it.

The pilot was telling us how, on a certain time, after the manner of the members that mutinied against the belly, as Aesop describes it, the whole kingdom of the Somates went off into a direct faction against Gaster, resolving to throw off his yoke; but they soon found their mistake, and most humbly submitted, for otherwise they had all been famished.

What company soever he is in, none dispute with him for precedence or superiority; he still goes first, though kings, emperors, or even the pope, were there. So he held the first place at the council of Basle; though some will tell you that the council was tumultuous by the contention and ambition of many for priority.

Everyone is busied and labours to serve him, and indeed, to make amends for this, he does this good to mankind, as to invent for them all arts, machines, trades, engines, and crafts; he even instructs brutes in arts which are against their nature, making poets of ravens, jackdaws, chattering jays, parrots, and starlings, and poetesses of magpies, teaching them to utter human language, speak, and sing; and all for the gut. He reclaims and tames eagles, gerfalcons, falcons gentle, sakers, lanners, goshawks, sparrowhawks, merlins, haggards, passengers, wild rapacious birds; so that, setting them free in the air whenever he thinks fit, as high and as long as he pleases, he keeps them suspended, straying, flying, hovering, and courting him above the clouds. Then on a sudden he makes them stoop, and come down amain from heaven next to the ground; and all for the gut.

Elephants, lions, rhinoceroses, bears, horses, mares, and dogs, he teaches to dance, prance, vault, fight, swim, hide themselves, fetch and carry what he pleases; and all for the gut.

Salt and fresh-water fish, whales, and the monsters of the main, he brings them up from the bottom of the deep; wolves he forces out of the woods, bears out of the rocks, foxes out of their holes, and serpents out of the ground, and all for the gut.

In short, he is so unruly, that in his rage he devours all men and beasts; as was seen among the Vascons, when Q. Metellus besieged them in the Sertorian wars, among the Saguntines besieged by Hannibal; among the Jews besieged by the Romans, and six hundred more; and all for the gut. When his regent Penia takes a progress, wherever she moves all senates are shut up, all statutes repealed, all orders and proclamations vain; she knows, obeys, and has no law. All shun her, in every place choosing rather to expose themselves to shipwreck at sea, and venture through fire, rocks, caves, and precipices, than be seized by that most dreadful tormentor.

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