Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Francois Rabelais

Chapter 1

How Pantagruel arrived at the Ringing Island, and of the noise that we heard.

Pursuing our voyage, we sailed three days without discovering anything; on the fourth we made land. Our pilot told us that it was the Ringing Island, and indeed we heard a kind of a confused and often repeated noise, that seemed to us at a great distance not unlike the sound of great, middle-sized, and little bells rung all at once, as ’tis customary at Paris, Tours, Gergeau, Nantes, and elsewhere on high holidays; and the nearer we came to the land the louder we heard that jangling.

Some of us doubted that it was the Dodonian kettle, or the portico called Heptaphone in Olympia, or the eternal humming of the colossus raised on Memnon’s tomb in Thebes of Egypt, or the horrid din that used formerly to be heard about a tomb at Lipara, one of the Aeolian islands. But this did not square with chorography.

I do not know, said Pantagruel, but that some swarms of bees hereabouts may be taking a ramble in the air, and so the neighbourhood make this dingle-dangle with pans, kettles, and basins, the corybantine cymbals of Cybele, grandmother of the gods, to call them back. Let’s hearken. When we were nearer, among the everlasting ringing of these indefatigable bells we heard the singing, as we thought, of some men. For this reason, before we offered to land on the Ringing Island, Pantagruel was of opinion that we should go in the pinnace to a small rock, near which we discovered an hermitage and a little garden. There we found a diminutive old hermit, whose name was Braguibus, born at Glenay. He gave us a full account of all the jangling, and regaled us after a strange sort of fashion — four livelong days did he make us fast, assuring us that we should not be admitted into the Ringing Island otherwise, because it was then one of the four fasting, or ember weeks. As I love my belly, quoth Panurge, I by no means understand this riddle. Methinks this should rather be one of the four windy weeks; for while we fast we are only puffed up with wind. Pray now, good father hermit, have not you here some other pastime besides fasting? Methinks it is somewhat of the leanest; we might well enough be without so many palace holidays and those fasting times of yours. In my Donatus, quoth Friar John, I could find yet but three times or tenses, the preterit, the present, and the future; doubtless here the fourth ought to be a work of supererogation. That time or tense, said Epistemon, is aorist, derived from the preter-imperfect tense of the Greeks, admitted in war (?) and odd cases. Patience perforce is a remedy for a mad dog. Saith the hermit: It is, as I told you, fatal to go against this; whosoever does it is a rank heretic, and wants nothing but fire and faggot, that’s certain. To deal plainly with you, my dear pater, cried Panurge, being at sea, I much more fear being wet than being warm, and being drowned than being burned.

Well, however, let us fast, a God’s name; yet I have fasted so long that it has quite undermined my flesh, and I fear that at last the bastions of this bodily fort of mine will fall to ruin. Besides, I am much more afraid of vexing you in this same trade of fasting; for the devil a bit I understand anything in it, and it becomes me very scurvily, as several people have told me, and I am apt to believe them. For my part, I have no great stomach to fasting; for alas! it is as easy as pissing a bed, and a trade of which anybody may set up; there needs no tools. I am much more inclined not to fast for the future; for to do so there is some stock required, and some tools are set a-work. No matter, since you are so steadfast, and would have us fast, let us fast as fast as we can, and then breakfast in the name of famine. Now we are come to these esurial idle days. I vow I had quite put them out of my head long ago. If we must fast, said Pantagruel, I see no other remedy but to get rid of it as soon as we can, as we would out of a bad way. I’ll in that space of time somewhat look over my papers, and examine whether the marine study be as good as ours at land. For Plato, to describe a silly, raw, ignorant fellow, compares him to those that are bred on shipboard, as we would do one bred up in a barrel, who never saw anything but through the bung-hole.

To tell you the short and the long of the matter, our fasting was most hideous and terrible; for the first day we fasted on fisticuffs, the second at cudgels, the third at sharps, and the fourth at blood and wounds: such was the order of the fairies.

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