Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Francois Rabelais

Chapter 26

How we came to the island of Odes, where the ways go up and down.

We sailed before the wind, between a pair of courses, and in two days made the island of Odes, at which place we saw a very strange thing. The ways there are animals; so true is Aristotle’s saying, that all self-moving things are animals. Now the ways walk there. Ergo, they are then animals. Some of them are strange unknown ways, like those of the planets; others are highways, crossways, and byways. I perceived that the travellers and inhabitants of that country asked, Whither does this way go? Whither does that way go? Some answered, Between Midy and Fevrolles, to the parish church, to the city, to the river, and so forth. Being thus in their right way, they used to reach their journey’s end without any further trouble, just like those who go by water from Lyons to Avignon or Arles.

Now, as you know that nothing is perfect here below, we heard there was a sort of people whom they called highwaymen, waybeaters, and makers of inroads in roads; and that the poor ways were sadly afraid of them, and shunned them as you do robbers. For these used to waylay them, as people lay trains for wolves, and set gins for woodcocks. I saw one who was taken up with a lord chief justice’s warrant for having unjustly, and in spite of Pallas, taken the schoolway, which is the longest. Another boasted that he had fairly taken his shortest, and that doing so he first compassed his design. Thus, Carpalin, meeting once Epistemon looking upon a wall with his fiddle-diddle, or live urinal, in his hand, to make a little maid’s water, cried that he did not wonder now how the other came to be still the first at Pantagruel’s levee, since he held his shortest and least used.

I found Bourges highway among these. It went with the deliberation of an abbot, but was made to scamper at the approach of some waggoners, who threatened to have it trampled under their horses’ feet, and make their waggons run over it, as Tullia’s chariot did over her father’s body.

I also espied there the old way between Peronne and St. Quentin, which seemed to me a very good, honest, plain way, as smooth as a carpet, and as good as ever was trod upon by shoe of leather.

Among the rocks I knew again the good old way to La Ferrare, mounted on a huge bear. This at a distance would have put me in mind of St. Jerome’s picture, had but the bear been a lion; for the poor way was all mortified, and wore a long hoary beard uncombed and entangled, which looked like the picture of winter, or at least like a white-frosted bush.

On that way were store of beads or rosaries, coarsely made of wild pine-tree; and it seemed kneeling, not standing, nor lying flat; but its sides and middle were beaten with huge stones, insomuch that it proved to us at once an object of fear and pity.

While we were examining it, a runner, bachelor of the place, took us aside, and showing us a white smooth way, somewhat filled with straw, said, Henceforth, gentlemen, do not reject the opinion of Thales the Milesian, who said that water is the beginning of all things, nor that of Homer, who tells us that all things derive their original from the ocean; for this same way which you see here had its beginning from water, and is to return whence she came before two months come to an end; now carts are driven here where boats used to rowed.

Truly, said Pantagruel, you tell us no news; we see five hundred such changes, and more, every year, in our world. Then reflecting on the different manner of going of those moving ways, he told us he believed that Philolaus and Aristarchus had philosophized in this island, and that Seleucus [Motteux reads —’that some, indeed, were of opinion.’], indeed, was of opinion the earth turns round about its poles, and not the heavens, whatever we may think to the contrary; as, when we are on the river Loire, we think the trees and the shore moves, though this is only an effect of our boat’s motion.

As we went back to our ships, we saw three waylayers, who, having been taken in ambuscado, were going to be broken on the wheel; and a huge fornicator was burned with a lingering fire for beating a way and breaking one of its sides; we were told it was the way of the banks of the Nile in Egypt.

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