Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Francois Rabelais

Chapter 2

How the Ringing Island had been inhabited by the Siticines, who were become birds.

Having fasted as aforesaid, the hermit gave us a letter for one whom he called Albian Camar, Master Aedituus of the Ringing Island; but Panurge greeting him called him Master Antitus. He was a little queer old fellow, bald-pated, with a snout whereat you might easily have lighted a card-match, and a phiz as red as a cardinal’s cap. He made us all very welcome, upon the hermit’s recommendation, hearing that we had fasted, as I have told you.

When we had well stuffed our puddings, he gave us an account of what was remarkable in the island, affirming that it had been at first inhabited by the Siticines; but that, according to the course of nature — as all things, you know, are subject to change — they were become birds.

There I had a full account of all that Atteius Capito, Paulus, Marcellus, A. Gellius, Athenaeus, Suidas, Ammonius, and others had writ of the Siticines and Sicinnists; and then we thought we might as easily believe the transmutations of Nectymene, Progne, Itys, Alcyone, Antigone, Tereus, and other birds. Nor did we think it more reasonable to doubt of the transmogrification of the Macrobian children into swans, or that of the men of Pallene in Thrace into birds, as soon as they had bathed themselves in the Tritonic lake. After this the devil a word could we get out of him but of birds and cages.

The cages were spacious, costly, magnificent, and of an admirable architecture. The birds were large, fine, and neat accordingly, looking as like the men in my country as one pea does like another; for they ate and drank like men, muted like men, endued or digested like men, farted like men, but stunk like devils; slept, billed, and trod their females like men, but somewhat oftener: in short, had you seen and examined them from top to toe, you would have laid your head to a turnip that they had been mere men. However, they were nothing less, as Master Aedituus told us; assuring us, at the same time, that they were neither secular nor laic; and the truth is, the diversity of their feathers and plumes did not a little puzzle us.

Some of them were all over as white as swans, others as black as crows, many as grey as owls, others black and white like magpies, some all red like red-birds, and others purple and white like some pigeons. He called the males clerg-hawks, monk-hawks, priest-hawks, abbot-hawks, bish-hawks, cardin-hawks, and one pope-hawk, who is a species by himself. He called the females clerg-kites, nun-kites, priest-kites, abbess-kites, bish-kites, cardin-kites, and pope-kites.

However, said he, as hornets and drones will get among the bees, and there do nothing but buzz, eat, and spoil everything; so, for these last three hundred years, a vast swarm of bigottelloes flocked, I do not know how, among these goodly birds every fifth full moon, and have bemuted, berayed, and conskited the whole island. They are so hard-favoured and monstrous that none can abide them. For their wry necks make a figure like a crooked billet; their paws are hairy, like those of rough-footed pigeons; their claws and pounces, belly and breech, like those of the Stymphalid harpies. Nor is it possible to root them out, for if you get rid of one, straight four-and-twenty new ones fly thither.

There had been need of another monster-hunter such as was Hercules; for Friar John had like to have run distracted about it, so much he was nettled and puzzled in the matter. As for the good Pantagruel, he was even served as was Messer Priapus, contemplating the sacrifices of Ceres, for want of skin.

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