Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Francois Rabelais

Chapter 35

How we went underground to come to the Temple of the Holy Bottle, and how Chinon is the oldest city in the world.

We went underground through a plastered vault, on which was coarsely painted a dance of women and satyrs waiting on old Silenus, who was grinning o’ horseback on his ass. This made me say to Pantagruel, that this entry put me in mind of the painted cellar in the oldest city in the world, where such paintings are to be seen, and in as cool a place.

Which is the oldest city in the world? asked Pantagruel. ’Tis Chinon, sir, or Cainon in Touraine, said I. I know, returned Pantagruel, where Chinon lies, and the painted cellar also, having myself drunk there many a glass of cool wine; neither do I doubt but that Chinon is an ancient town — witness its blazon. I own ’tis said twice or thrice:

Chinon,

Little town,

Great renown,

On old stone

Long has stood;

There’s the Vienne, if you look down;

If you look up, there’s the wood.

But how, continued he, can you make it out that ’tis the oldest city in the world? Where did you find this written? I have found it in the sacred writ, said I, that Cain was the first that built a town; we may then reasonably conjecture that from his name he gave it that of Cainon. Thus, after his example, most other founders of towns have given them their names: Athena, that’s Minerva in Greek, to Athens; Alexander to Alexandria; Constantine to Constantinople; Pompey to Pompeiopolis in Cilicia; Adrian to Adrianople; Canaan, to the Canaanites; Saba, to the Sabaeans; Assur, to the Assyrians; and so Ptolemais, Caesarea, Tiberias, and Herodium in Judaea got their names.

While we were thus talking, there came to us the great flask whom our lantern called the philosopher, her holiness the Bottle’s governor. He was attended with a troop of the temple-guards, all French bottles in wicker armour; and seeing us with our javelins wrapped with ivy, with our illustrious lantern, whom he knew, he desired us to come in with all manner of safety, and ordered we should be immediately conducted to the Princess Bacbuc, the Bottle’s lady of honour, and priestess of all the mysteries; which was done.

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