Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Francois Rabelais

Chapter 36

How we went down the tetradic steps, and of Panurge’s fear.

We went down one marble step under ground, where there was a resting, or, as our workmen call it, a landing-place; then, turning to the left, we went down two other steps, where there was another resting-place; after that we came to three other steps, turning about, and met a third; and the like at four steps which we met afterwards. There quoth Panurge, Is it here? How many steps have you told? asked our magnificent lantern. One, two, three, four, answered Pantagruel. How much is that? asked she. Ten, returned he. Multiply that, said she, according to the same Pythagorical tetrad. That is, ten, twenty, thirty, forty, cried Pantagruel. How much is the whole? said she. One hundred, answered Pantagruel. Add, continued she, the first cube — that’s eight. At the end of that fatal number you’ll find the temple gate; and pray observe, this is the true psychogony of Plato, so celebrated by the Academics, yet so little understood; one moiety of which consists of the unity of the two first numbers full of two square and two cubic numbers. We then went down those numerical stairs, all under ground, and I can assure you, in the first place, that our legs stood us in good stead; for had it not been for ‘em, we had rolled just like so many hogsheads into a vault. Secondly, our radiant lantern gave us just so much light as is in St. Patrick’s hole in Ireland, or Trophonius’s pit in Boeotia; which caused Panurge to say to her, after we had got down some seventy-eight steps:

Dear madam, with a sorrowful, aching heart, I most humbly beseech your lanternship to lead us back. May I be led to hell if I be not half dead with fear; my heart is sunk down into my hose; I am afraid I shall make buttered eggs in my breeches. I freely consent never to marry. You have given yourself too much trouble on my account. The Lord shall reward you in his great rewarder; neither will I be ungrateful when I come out of this cave of Troglodytes. Let’s go back, I pray you. I’m very much afraid this is Taenarus, the low way to hell, and methinks I already hear Cerberus bark. Hark! I hear the cur, or my ears tingle. I have no manner of kindness for the dog, for there never is a greater toothache than when dogs bite us by the shins. And if this be only Trophonius’s pit, the lemures, hobthrushes, and goblins will certainly swallow us alive, just as they devoured formerly one of Demetrius’s halberdiers for want of bridles. Art thou here, Friar John? Prithee, dear, dear cod, stay by me; I’m almost dead with fear. Hast thou got thy bilbo? Alas! poor pilgarlic’s defenceless. I’m a naked man, thou knowest; let’s go back. Zoons, fear nothing, cried Friar John; I’m by thee, and have thee fast by the collar; eighteen devils shan’t get thee out of my clutches, though I were unarmed. Never did a man yet want weapons who had a good arm with as stout a heart. Heaven would sooner send down a shower of them; even as in Provence, in the fields of La Crau, near Mariannes, there rained stones (they are there to this day) to help Hercules, who otherwise wanted wherewithal to fight Neptune’s two bastards. But whither are we bound? Are we a-going to the little children’s limbo? By Pluto, they’ll bepaw and conskite us all. Or are we going to hell for orders? By cob’s body, I’ll hamper, bethwack, and belabour all the devils, now I have some vine-leaves in my shoes. Thou shalt see me lay about me like mad, old boy. Which way? where the devil are they? I fear nothing but their damned horns; but cuckoldy Panurge’s bull-feather will altogether secure me from ‘em. Lo! in a prophetic spirit I already see him, like another Actaeon, horned, horny, hornified. Prithee, quoth Panurge, take heed thyself, dear frater, lest, till monks have leave to marry, thou weddest something thou dostn’t like, as some cat-o’-nine-tails or the quartan ague; if thou dost, may I never come safe and sound out of this hypogeum, this subterranean cave, if I don’t tup and ram that disease merely for the sake of making thee a cornuted, corniferous property; otherwise I fancy the quartan ague is but an indifferent bedfellow. I remember Gripe-men-all threatened to wed thee to some such thing; for which thou calledest him heretic.

I most humbly beseech your lanternship to lead us back.

Here our splendid lantern interrupted them, letting us know this was the place where we were to have a taste of the creature, and be silent; bidding us not despair of having the word of the Bottle before we went back, since we had lined our shoes with vine-leaves.

Come on then, cried Panurge, let’s charge through and through all the devils of hell; we can but perish, and that’s soon done. However, I thought to have reserved my life for some mighty battle. Move, move, move forwards; I am as stout as Hercules, my breeches are full of courage; my heart trembles a little, I own, but that’s only an effect of the coldness and dampness of this vault; ’tis neither fear nor ague. Come on, move on, piss, pish, push on. My name’s William Dreadnought.

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