Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Francois Rabelais

Chapter 39

How we saw Bacchus’s army drawn up in battalia in mosaic work.

At the beginning, divers towns, hamlets, castles, fortresses, and forests were seen in flames; and several mad and loose women, who furiously ripped up and tore live calves, sheep, and lambs limb from limb, and devoured their flesh. There we learned how Bacchus, at his coming into India, destroyed all things with fire and sword.

Notwithstanding this, he was so despised by the Indians that they did not think it worth their while to stop his progress, having been certainly informed by their spies that his camp was destitute of warriors, and that he had only with him a crew of drunken females, a low-built, old, effeminate, sottish fellow, continually addled, and as drunk as a wheelbarrow, with a pack of young clownish doddipolls, stark naked, always skipping and frisking up and down, with tails and horns like those of young kids.

For this reason the Indians had resolved to let them go through their country without the least opposition, esteeming a victory over such enemies more dishonourable than glorious.

In the meantime Bacchus marched on, burning everything; for, as you know, fire and thunder are his paternal arms, Jupiter having saluted his mother Semele with his thunder, so that his maternal house was ruined by fire. Bacchus also caused a great deal of blood to be spilt; which, when he is roused and angered, principally in war, is as natural to him as to make some in time of peace.

Thus plains of the island of Samos are called Panema, which signifies bloody, because Bacchus there overtook the Amazons, who fled from the country of Ephesus, and there let ‘em blood, so that they all died of phlebotomy. This may give you a better insight into the meaning of an ancient proverb than Aristotle has done in his problems, viz., Why ’twas formerly said, Neither eat nor sow any mint in time of war. The reason is, that blows are given then without any distinction of parts or persons, and if a man that’s wounded has that day handled or eaten any mint, ’tis impossible, or at least very hard, to stanch his blood.

After this, Bacchus was seen marching in battalia, riding in a stately chariot drawn by six young leopards. He looked as young as a child, to show that all good topers never grow old. He was as red as a cherry, or a cherub, which you please, and had no more hair on his chin than there’s in the inside of my hand. His forehead was graced with pointed horns, above which he wore a fine crown or garland of vine-leaves and grapes, and a mitre of crimson velvet, having also gilt buskins on.

He had not one man with him that looked like a man; his guards and all his forces consisted wholly of Bassarides, Evantes, Euhyades, Edonides, Trietherides, Ogygiae, Mimallonides, Maenades, Thyades, and Bacchae, frantic, raving, raging, furious, mad women, begirt with live snakes and serpents instead of girdles, dishevelled, their hair flowing about their shoulders, with garlands of vine-branches instead of forehead-cloths, clad with stag’s or goat’s skins, and armed with torches, javelins, spears, and halberds whose ends were like pineapples. Besides, they had certain small light bucklers that gave a loud sound if you touched ‘em never so little, and these served them instead of drums. They were just seventy-nine thousand two hundred and twenty-seven.

Silenus, who led the van, was one on whom Bacchus relied very much, having formerly had many proofs of his valour and conduct. He was a diminutive, stooping, palsied, plump, gorbellied old fellow, with a swingeing pair of stiff-standing lugs of his own, a sharp Roman nose, large rough eyebrows, mounted on a well-hung ass. In his fist he held a staff to lean upon, and also bravely to fight whenever he had occasion to alight; and he was dressed in a woman’s yellow gown. His followers were all young, wild, clownish people, as hornified as so many kids and as fell as so many tigers, naked, and perpetually singing and dancing country-dances. They were called tityri and satyrs, and were in all eighty-five thousand one hundred and thirty-three.

Pan, who brought up the rear, was a monstrous sort of a thing; for his lower parts were like a goat’s, his thighs hairy, and his horns bolt upright; a crimson fiery phiz, and a beard that was none of the shortest. He was a bold, stout, daring, desperate fellow, very apt to take pepper in the nose for yea and nay.

In his left hand he held a pipe, and a crooked stick in his right. His forces consisted also wholly of satyrs, aegipanes, agripanes, sylvans, fauns, lemures, lares, elves, and hobgoblins, and their number was seventy-eight thousand one hundred and fourteen. The signal or word common to all the army was Evohe.

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