Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Francois Rabelais

Chapter 30

How we came to the land of Satin.

Having pleased ourselves with observing that new order of Semiquaver Friars, we set sail, and in three days our skipper made the finest and most delightful island that ever was seen. He called it the island of Frieze, for all the ways were of frieze.

In that island is the land of Satin, so celebrated by our court pages. Its trees and herbage never lose their leaves or flowers, and are all damask and flowered velvet. As for the beasts and birds, they are all of tapestry work. There we saw many beasts, birds on trees, of the same colour, bigness, and shape of those in our country; with this difference, however, that these did eat nothing, and never sung or bit like ours; and we also saw there many sorts of creatures which we never had seen before.

Among the rest, several elephants in various postures; twelve of which were the six males and six females that were brought to Rome by their governor in the time of Germanicus, Tiberius’s nephew. Some of them were learned elephants, some musicians, others philosophers, dancers, and showers of tricks; and all sat down at table in good order, silently eating and drinking like so many fathers in a fratery-room.

With their snouts or proboscises, some two cubits long, they draw up water for their own drinking, and take hold of palm leaves, plums, and all manner of edibles, using them offensively or defensively as we do our fists; with them tossing men high into the air in fight, and making them burst with laughing when they come to the ground.

They have joints (in their legs), whatever some men, who doubtless never saw any but painted, may have written to the contrary. Between their teeth they have two huge horns; thus Juba called ‘em, and Pausanias tells us they are not teeth, but horns; however, Philostratus will have ‘em to be teeth, and not horns. ’Tis all one to me, provided you will be pleased to own them to be true ivory. These are some three or four cubits long, and are fixed in the upper jawbone, and consequently not in the lowermost. If you hearken to those who will tell you to the contrary, you will find yourself damnably mistaken, for that’s a lie with a latchet; though ’twere Aelian, that long-bow man, that told you so, never believe him, for he lies as fast as a dog can trot. ’Twas in this very island that Pliny, his brother tell-truth, had seen some elephants dance on the rope with bells, and whip over the tables, presto, begone, while people were at feasts, without so much as touching the toping topers or the topers toping.

I saw a rhinoceros there, just such a one as Harry Clerberg had formerly showed me. Methought it was not much unlike a certain boar which I had formerly seen at Limoges, except the sharp horn on its snout, that was about a cubit long; by the means of which that animal dares encounter with an elephant, that is sometimes killed with its point thrust into its belly, which is its most tender and defenceless part.

I saw there two and thirty unicorns. They are a curst sort of creatures, much resembling a fine horse, unless it be that their heads are like a stag’s, their feet like an elephant’s, their tails like a wild boar’s, and out of each of their foreheads sprouts out a sharp black horn, some six or seven feet long; commonly it dangles down like a turkey-cock’s comb. When a unicorn has a mind to fight, or put it to any other use, what does it do but make it stand, and then ’tis as straight as an arrow.

I saw one of them, which was attended with a throng of other wild beasts, purify a fountain with its horn. With that Panurge told me that his prancer, alias his nimble-wimble, was like the unicorn, not altogether in length indeed, but in virtue and propriety; for as the unicorn purified pools and fountains from filth and venom, so that other animals came and drank securely there afterwards, in the like manner others might water their nags, and dabble after him without fear of shankers, carnosities, gonorrhoeas, buboes, crinkams, and such other plagues caught by those who venture to quench their amorous thirst in a common puddle; for with his nervous horn he removed all the infection that might be lurking in some blind cranny of the mephitic sweet-scented hole.

Well, quoth Friar John, when you are sped, that is, when you are married, we will make a trial of this on thy spouse, merely for charity sake, since you are pleased to give us so beneficial an instruction.

Ay, ay, returned Panurge, and then immediately I’ll give you a pretty gentle aggregative pill of God, made up of two and twenty kind stabs with a dagger, after the Caesarian way. Catso, cried Friar John, I had rather take off a bumper of good cool wine.

I saw there the golden fleece formerly conquered by Jason, and can assure you, on the word of an honest man, that those who have said it was not a fleece but a golden pippin, because (Greek) signifies both an apple and a sheep, were utterly mistaken.

I saw also a chameleon, such as Aristotle describes it, and like that which had been formerly shown me by Charles Maris, a famous physician of the noble city of Lyons on the Rhone; and the said chameleon lived on air just as the other did.

I saw three hydras, like those I had formerly seen. They are a kind of serpent, with seven different heads.

I saw also fourteen phoenixes. I had read in many authors that there was but one in the whole world in every century; but, if I may presume to speak my mind, I declare that those who said this had never seen any, unless it were in the land of Tapestry; though ’twere vouched by Claudian or Lactantius Firmianus.

I saw the skin of Apuleius’s golden ass.

I saw three hundred and nine pelicans.

Item, six thousand and sixteen Seleucid birds marching in battalia, and picking up straggling grasshoppers in cornfields.

Item, some cynamologi, argatiles, caprimulgi, thynnunculs, onocrotals, or bitterns, with their wide swallows, stymphalides, harpies, panthers, dorcasses, or bucks, cemades, cynocephalises, satyrs, cartasans, tarands, uri, monopses, or bonasi, neades, steras, marmosets, or monkeys, bugles, musimons, byturoses, ophyri, screech-owls, goblins, fairies, and griffins.

I saw Mid-Lent o’ horseback, with Mid-August and Mid-March holding its stirrups.

I saw some mankind wolves, centaurs, tigers, leopards, hyenas, camelopardals, and orixes, or huge wild goats with sharp horns.

I saw a remora, a little fish called echineis by the Greeks, and near it a tall ship that did not get ahead an inch, though she was in the offing with top and top-gallants spread before the wind. I am somewhat inclined to believe that ’twas the very numerical ship in which Periander the tyrant happened to be when it was stopped by such a little fish in spite of wind and tide. It was in this land of Satin, and in no other, that Mutianus had seen one of them.

Friar John told us that in the days of yore two sorts of fishes used to abound in our courts of judicature, and rotted the bodies and tormented the souls of those who were at law, whether noble or of mean descent, high or low, rich or poor: the first were your April fish or mackerel (pimps, panders, and bawds); the others your beneficial remoras, that is, the eternity of lawsuits, the needless lets that keep ‘em undecided.

I saw some sphynges, some raphes, some ounces, and some cepphi, whose fore-feet are like hands and their hind-feet like man’s.

Also some crocutas and some eali as big as sea-horses, with elephants’ tails, boars’ jaws and tusks, and horns as pliant as an ass’s ears.

The crocutas, most fleet animals, as big as our asses of Mirebalais, have necks, tails, and breasts like a lion’s, legs like a stag’s, have mouths up to the ears, and but two teeth, one above and one below; they speak with human voices, but when they do they say nothing.

Some people say that none e’er saw an eyrie, or nest of sakers; if you’ll believe me, I saw no less than eleven, and I’m sure I reckoned right.

I saw some left-handed halberds, which were the first that I had ever seen.

I saw some manticores, a most strange sort of creatures, which have the body of a lion, red hair, a face and ears like a man’s, three rows of teeth which close together as if you joined your hands with your fingers between each other; they have a sting in their tails like a scorpion’s, and a very melodious voice.

I saw some catablepases, a sort of serpents, whose bodies are small, but their heads large, without any proportion, so that they’ve much ado to lift them up; and their eyes are so infectious that whoever sees ‘em dies upon the spot, as if he had seen a basilisk.

I saw some beasts with two backs, and those seemed to me the merriest creatures in the world. They were most nimble at wriggling the buttocks, and more diligent in tail-wagging than any water-wagtails, perpetually jogging and shaking their double rumps.

I saw there some milched crawfish, creatures that I never had heard of before in my life. These moved in very good order, and ’twould have done your heart good to have seen ‘em.

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