Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Francois Rabelais

Chapter 31

How in the land of Satin we saw Hearsay, who kept a school of vouching.

We went a little higher up into the country of Tapestry, and saw the Mediterranean Sea open to the right and left down to the very bottom; just as the Red Sea very fairly left its bed at the Arabian Gulf to make a lane for the Jews when they left Egypt.

There I found Triton winding his silver shell instead of a horn, and also Glaucus, Proteus, Nereus, and a thousand other godlings and sea monsters.

I also saw an infinite number of fish of all kinds, dancing, flying, vaulting, fighting, eating, breathing, billing, shoving, milting, spawning, hunting, fishing, skirmishing, lying in ambuscado, making truces, cheapening, bargaining, swearing, and sporting.

In a blind corner we saw Aristotle holding a lantern in the posture in which the hermit uses to be drawn near St. Christopher, watching, prying, thinking, and setting everything down.

Behind him stood a pack of other philosophers, like so many bums by a head-bailiff, as Appian, Heliodorus, Athenaeus, Porphyrius, Pancrates, Arcadian, Numenius, Possidonius, Ovidius, Oppianus, Olympius, Seleucus, Leonides, Agathocles, Theophrastus, Damostratus, Mutianus, Nymphodorus, Aelian, and five hundred other such plodding dons, who were full of business, yet had little to do; like Chrysippus or Aristarchus of Soli, who for eight-and-fifty years together did nothing in the world but examine the state and concerns of bees.

I spied Peter Gilles among these, with a urinal in his hand, narrowly watching the water of those goodly fishes.

When we had long beheld everything in this land of Satin, Pantagruel said, I have sufficiently fed my eyes, but my belly is empty all this while, and chimes to let me know ’tis time to go to dinner. Let’s take care of the body lest the soul abdicate it; and to this effect let’s taste some of these anacampserotes [’An herb, the touching of which is said to reconcile lovers.’— Motteux.] that hang over our heads. Psha, cried one, they are mere trash, stark naught, o’ my word; they’re good for nothing.

I then went to pluck some mirobolans off of a piece of tapestry whereon they hung, but the devil a bit I could chew or swallow ‘em; and had you had them betwixt your teeth you would have sworn they had been thrown silk; there was no manner of savour in ‘em.

One might be apt to think Heliogabalus had taken a hint from thence, to feast those whom he had caused to fast a long time, promising them a sumptuous, plentiful, and imperial feast after it; for all the treat used to amount to no more than several sorts of meat in wax, marble, earthenware, painted and figured tablecloths.

While we were looking up and down to find some more substantial food, we heard a loud various noise, like that of paper-mills (or women bucking of linen); so with all speed we went to the place whence the noise came, where we found a diminutive, monstrous, misshapen old fellow, called Hearsay. His mouth was slit up to his ears, and in it were seven tongues, each of them cleft into seven parts. However, he chattered, tattled, and prated with all the seven at once, of different matters, and in divers languages.

He had as many ears all over his head and the rest of his body as Argus formerly had eyes, and was as blind as a beetle, and had the palsy in his legs.

About him stood an innumerable number of men and women, gaping, listening, and hearing very intensely. Among ‘em I observed some who strutted like crows in a gutter, and principally a very handsome bodied man in the face, who held then a map of the world, and with little aphorisms compendiously explained everything to ‘em; so that those men of happy memories grew learned in a trice, and would most fluently talk with you of a world of prodigious things, the hundredth part of which would take up a man’s whole life to be fully known.

Among the rest they descanted with great prolixity on the pyramids and hieroglyphics of Egypt, of the Nile, of Babylon, of the Troglodytes, the Hymantopodes, or crump-footed nation, the Blemiae, people that wear their heads in the middle of their breasts, the Pigmies, the Cannibals, the Hyperborei and their mountains, the Egypanes with their goat’s feet, and the devil and all of others; every individual word of it by hearsay.

I am much mistaken if I did not see among them Herodotus, Pliny, Solinus, Berosus, Philostratus, Pomponius Mela, Strabo, and God knows how many other antiquaries.

Then Albert, the great Jacobin friar, Peter Tesmoin, alias Witness, Pope Pius the Second, Volaterranus, Paulus Jovius the valiant, Jemmy Cartier, Chaton the Armenian, Marco Polo the Venetian, Ludovico Romano, Pedro Aliares, and forty cartloads of other modern historians, lurking behind a piece of tapestry, where they were at it ding-dong, privately scribbling the Lord knows what, and making rare work of it; and all by hearsay.

Behind another piece of tapestry (on which Naboth and Susanna’s accusers were fairly represented), I saw close by Hearsay, good store of men of the country of Perce and Maine, notable students, and young enough.

I asked what sort of study they applied themselves to; and was told that from their youth they learned to be evidences, affidavit-men, and vouchers, and were instructed in the art of swearing; in which they soon became such proficients, that when they left that country, and went back into their own, they set up for themselves and very honestly lived by their trade of evidencing, positively giving their testimony of all things whatsoever to those who feed them most roundly to do a job of journey-work for them; and all this by hearsay.

You may think what you will of it; but I can assure you they gave some of us corners of their cakes, and we merrily helped to empty their hogsheads. Then, in a friendly manner, they advised us to be as sparing of truth as possibly we could if ever we had a mind to get court preferment.

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