Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Francois Rabelais

Chapter 29

How Epistemon disliked the institution of Lent.

Pray did you observe, continued Epistemon, how this damned ill-favoured Semiquaver mentioned March as the best month for caterwauling? True, said Pantagruel; yet Lent and March always go together, and the first was instituted to macerate and bring down our pampered flesh, to weaken and subdue its lusts, to curb and assuage the venereal rage.

By this, said Epistemon, you may guess what kind of a pope it was who first enjoined it to be kept, since this filthy wooden-shoed Semiquaver owns that his spoon is never oftener nor deeper in the porringer of lechery than in Lent. Add to this the evident reasons given by all good and learned physicians, affirming that throughout the whole year no food is eaten that can prompt mankind to lascivious acts more than at that time.

As, for example, beans, peas, phasels, or long-peason, ciches, onions, nuts, oysters, herrings, salt-meats, garum (a kind of anchovy), and salads wholly made up of venereous herbs and fruits, as —

Rocket, Parsley, Hop-buds,
Nose-smart, Rampions, Figs,
Taragon, Poppy, Rice,
Cresses, Celery, Raisins, and others.

It would not a little surprise you, said Pantagruel, should a man tell you that the good pope who first ordered the keeping of Lent, perceiving that at that time o’ year the natural heat (from the centre of the body, whither it was retired during the winter’s cold) diffuses itself, as the sap does in trees, through the circumference of the members, did therefore in a manner prescribe that sort of diet to forward the propagation of mankind. What makes me think so, is that by the registers of christenings at Touars it appears that more children are born in October and November than in the other ten months of the year, and reckoning backwards ’twill be easily found that they were all made, conceived, and begotten in Lent.

I listen to you with both my ears, quoth Friar John, and that with no small pleasure, I’ll assure you. But I must tell you that the vicar of Jambert ascribed this copious prolification of the women, not to that sort of food that we chiefly eat in Lent, but to the little licensed stooping mumpers, your little booted Lent-preachers, your little draggle-tailed father confessors, who during all that time of their reign damn all husbands that run astray three fathom and a half below the very lowest pit of hell. So the silly cod’s-headed brothers of the noose dare not then stumble any more at the truckle-bed, to the no small discomfort of their maids, and are even forced, poor souls, to take up with their own bodily wives. Dixi; I have done.

You may descant on the institution of Lent as much as you please, cried Epistemon; so many men so many minds; but certainly all the physicians will be against its being suppressed, though I think that time is at hand. I know they will, and have heard ‘em say were it not for Lent their art would soon fall into contempt, and they’d get nothing, for hardly anybody would be sick.

All distempers are sowed in lent; ’tis the true seminary and native bed of all diseases; nor does it only weaken and putrefy bodies, but it also makes souls mad and uneasy. For then the devils do their best, and drive a subtle trade, and the tribe of canting dissemblers come out of their holes. ’Tis then term-time with your cucullated pieces of formality that have one face to God and another to the devil; and a wretched clutter they make with their sessions, stations, pardons, syntereses, confessions, whippings, anathematizations, and much prayer with as little devotion. However, I’ll not offer to infer from this that the Arimaspians are better than we are in that point; yet I speak to the purpose.

Well, quoth Panurge to the Semiquaver friar, who happened to be by, dear bumbasting, shaking, trilling, quavering cod, what thinkest thou of this fellow? Is he a rank heretic? Fri. Much.

Pan. Ought he not to be singed? Fri. Well.

Pan. As soon as may be? Fri. Right.

Pan. Should not he be scalded first? Fri. No.

Pan. How then, should he be roasted? Fri. Quick.

Pan. Till at last he be? Fri. Dead.

Pan. What has he made you? Fri. Mad.

Pan. What d’ye take him to be? Fri. Damned.

Pan. What place is he to go to? Fri. Hell.

Pan. But, first, how would you have ‘em served here? Fri. Burnt.

Pan. Some have been served so? Fri. Store.

Pan. That were heretics? Fri. Less.

Pan. And the number of those that are to be warmed thus hereafter is? Fri. Great.

Pan. How many of ‘em do you intend to save? Fri. None.

Pan. So you’d have them burned? Fri. All.

I wonder, said Epistemon to Panurge, what pleasure you can find in talking thus with this lousy tatterdemalion of a monk. I vow, did I not know you well, I might be ready to think you had no more wit in your head than he has in both his shoulders. Come, come, scatter no words, returned Panurge; everyone as they like, as the woman said when she kissed her cow. I wish I might carry him to Gargantua; when I’m married he might be my wife’s fool. And make you one, cried Epistemon. Well said, quoth Friar John. Now, poor Panurge, take that along with thee, thou’rt e’en fitted; ’tis a plain case thou’lt never escape wearing the bull’s feather; thy wife will be as common as the highway, that’s certain.

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