Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Francois Rabelais

Chapter 42

[’This and the next chapter make really but one, tho’ Mr. Motteux has made two of them; the first of which contains but eight lines, according to him, and ends at the words fantastic fountain.’— Ozell.]

How the Priestess Bacbuc showed us a fantastic fountain in the temple, and how the fountain-water had the taste of wine, according to the imagination of those who drank of it.

While we were admiring this incomparable lamp and the stupendous structure of the temple, the venerable priestess Bacbuc and her attendants came to us with jolly smiling looks, and seeing us duly accoutred, without the least difficulty took us into the middle of the temple, where, just under the aforesaid lamp, was the fine fantastic fountain. She then ordered some cups, goblets, and talboys of gold, silver, and crystal to be brought, and kindly invited us to drink of the liquor that sprung there, which we readily did; for, to say the truth, this fantastic fountain was very inviting, and its materials and workmanship more precious, rare, and admirable than anything Plato ever dreamt of in limbo.

Its basis or groundwork was of most pure and limpid alabaster, and its height somewhat more than three spans, being a regular heptagon on the outside, with its stylobates or footsteps, arulets, cymasults or blunt tops, and Doric undulations about it. It was exactly round within. On the middle point of each angle brink stood a pillar orbiculated in form of ivory or alabaster solid rings. These were seven in number, according to the number of the angles [This sentence, restored by Ozell, is omitted by Motteux.]

Each pillar’s length from the basis to the architraves was near seven hands, taking an exact dimension of its diameter through the centre of its circumference and inward roundness; and it was so disposed that, casting our eyes behind one of them, whatever its cube might be, to view its opposite, we found that the pyramidal cone of our visual line ended at the said centre, and there, by the two opposites, formed an equilateral triangle whose two lines divided the pillar into two equal parts.

That which we had a mind to measure, going from one side to another, two pillars over, at the first third part of the distance between them, was met by their lowermost and fundamental line, which, in a consult line drawn as far as the universal centre, equally divided, gave, in a just partition, the distance of the seven opposite pillars in a right line, beginning at the obtuse angle on the brink, as you know that an angle is always found placed between two others in all angular figures odd in number.

This tacitly gave us to understand that seven semidiameters are in geometrical proportion, compass, and distance somewhat less than the circumference of a circle, from the figure of which they are extracted; that is to say, three whole parts, with an eighth and a half, a little more, or a seventh and a half, a little less, according to the instructions given us of old by Euclid, Aristotle, Archimedes, and others.

The first pillar, I mean that which faced the temple gate, was of azure, sky-coloured sapphire.

The second, of hyacinth, a precious stone exactly of the colour of the flower into which Ajax’s choleric blood was transformed; the Greek letters A I being seen on it in many places.

The third, an anachite diamond, as bright and glittering as lightning.

The fourth, a masculine ruby balas (peach-coloured) amethystizing, its flame and lustre ending in violet or purple like an amethyst.

The fifth, an emerald, above five hundred and fifty times more precious than that of Serapis in the labyrinth of the Egyptians, and more verdant and shining than those that were fixed, instead of eyes, in the marble lion’s head near King Hermias’s tomb.

The sixth, of agate, more admirable and various in the distinctions of its veins, clouds, and colours than that which Pyrrhus, King of Epirus, so mightily esteemed.

The seventh, of syenites, transparent, of the colour of a beryl and the clear hue of Hymetian honey; and within it the moon was seen, such as we see it in the sky, silent, full, new, and in the wane.

These stones were assigned to the seven heavenly planets by the ancient Chaldaeans; and that the meanest capacities might be informed of this, just at the central perpendicular line, on the chapter of the first pillar, which was of sapphire, stood the image of Saturn in elutian [Motteux reads ‘Eliacim.’] lead, with his scythe in his hand, and at his feet a crane of gold, very artfully enamelled, according to the native hue of the saturnine bird.

On the second, which was of hyacinth, towards the left, Jupiter was seen in jovetian brass, and on his breast an eagle of gold enamelled to the life.

On the third was Phoebus of the purest gold, and a white cock in his right hand.

On the fourth was Mars in Corinthian brass, and a lion at his feet.

On the fifth was Venus in copper, the metal of which Aristonides made Athamas’s statue, that expressed in a blushing whiteness his confusion at the sight of his son Learchus, who died at his feet of a fall.

On the sixth was Mercury in hydrargyre. I would have said quicksilver, had it not been fixed, malleable, and unmovable. That nimble deity had a stork at his feet.

On the seventh was the Moon in silver, with a greyhound at her feet.

The size of these statues was somewhat more than a third part of the pillars on which they stood, and they were so admirably wrought according to mathematical proportion that Polycletus’s canon could hardly have stood in competition with them.

The bases of the pillars, the chapters, the architraves, zoophores, and cornices were Phrygian work of massive gold, purer and finer than any that is found in the rivers Leede near Montpellier, Ganges in India, Po in Italy, Hebrus in Thrace, Tagus in Spain, and Pactolus in Lydia.

The small arches between the pillars were of the same precious stone of which the pillars next to them were. Thus, that arch was of sapphire which ended at the hyacinth pillar, and that was of hyacinth which went towards the diamond, and so on.

Above the arches and chapters of the pillars, on the inward front, a cupola was raised to cover the fountain. It was surrounded by the planetary statues, heptagonal at the bottom, and spherical o’ top, and of crystal so pure, transparent, well-polished, whole and uniform in all its parts, without veins, clouds, flaws, or streaks, that Xenocrates never saw such a one in his life.

Within it were seen the twelve signs of the zodiac, the twelve months of the year, with their properties, the two equinoxes, the ecliptic line, with some of the most remarkable fixed stars about the antartic pole and elsewhere, so curiously engraven that I fancied them to be the workmanship of King Necepsus, or Petosiris, the ancient mathematician.

On the top of the cupola, just over the centre of the fountain, were three noble long pearls, all of one size, pear fashion, perfectly imitating a tear, and so joined together as to represent a flower-de-luce or lily, each of the flowers seeming above a hand’s breadth. A carbuncle jetted out of its calyx or cup as big as an ostrich’s egg, cut seven square (that number so beloved of nature), and so prodigiously glorious that the sight of it had like to have made us blind, for the fiery sun or the pointed lightning are not more dazzling and unsufferably bright.

Now, were some judicious appraisers to judge of the value of this incomparable fountain, and the lamp of which we have spoke, they would undoubtedly affirm it exceeds that of all the treasures and curiosities in Europe, Asia, and Africa put together. For that carbuncle alone would have darkened the pantarbe of Iarchus [Motteux reads ‘Joachas.’] the Indian magician, with as much ease as the sun outshines and dims the stars with his meridian rays.

Nor let Cleopatra, that Egyptian queen, boast of her pair of pendants, those two pearls, one of which she caused to be dissolved in vinegar, in the presence of Antony the Triumvir, her gallant.

Or let Pompeia Plautina be proud of her dress covered all over with emeralds and pearls curiously intermixed, she who attracted the eyes of all Rome, and was said to be the pit and magazine of the conquering robbers of the universe.

The fountain had three tubes or channels of right pearl, seated in three equilateral angles already mentioned, extended on the margin, and those channels proceeded in a snail-like line, winding equally on both sides.

We looked on them a while, and had cast our eyes on another side, when Bacbuc directed us to watch the water. We then heard a most harmonious sound, yet somewhat stopped by starts, far distant, and subterranean, by which means it was still more pleasing than if it had been free, uninterrupted, and near us, so that our minds were as agreeably entertained through our ears with that charming melody as they were through the windows of our eyes with those delightful objects.

Bacbuc then said, Your philosophers will not allow that motion is begot by the power of figures; look here, and see the contrary. By that single snail-like motion, equally divided as you see, and a fivefold infoliature, movable at every inward meeting, such as is the vena cava where it enters into the right ventricle of the heart; just so is the flowing of this fountain, and by it a harmony ascends as high as your world’s ocean.

She then ordered her attendants to make us drink; and, to tell you the truth of the matter as near as possible, we are not, heaven be praised! of the nature of a drove of calf-lollies, who (as your sparrows can’t feed unless you bob them on the tail) must be rib-roasted with tough crabtree and firked into a stomach, or at least into an humour to eat or drink. No, we know better things, and scorn to scorn any man’s civility who civilly invites us to a drinking bout. Bacbuc asked us then how we liked our tiff. We answered that it seemed to us good harmless sober Adam’s liquor, fit to keep a man in the right way, and, in a word, mere element; more cool and clear than Argyrontes in Aetolia, Peneus in Thessaly, Axius in Mygdonia, or Cydnus in Cilicia, a tempting sight of whose cool silver stream caused Alexander to prefer the short-lived pleasure of bathing himself in it to the inconveniences which he could not but foresee would attend so ill-termed an action.

This, said Bacbuc, comes of not considering with ourselves, or understanding the motions of the musculous tongue, when the drink glides on it in its way to the stomach. Tell me, noble strangers, are your throats lined, paved, or enamelled, as formerly was that of Pithyllus, nicknamed Theutes, that you can have missed the taste, relish, and flavour of this divine liquor? Here, said she, turning towards her gentlewomen, bring my scrubbing-brushes, you know which, to scrape, rake, and clear their palates.

They brought immediately some stately, swingeing, jolly hams, fine substantial neat’s tongues, good hung-beef, pure and delicate botargos, venison, sausages, and such other gullet-sweepers. And, to comply with her invitation, we crammed and twisted till we owned ourselves thoroughly cured of thirst, which before did damnably plague us.

We are told, continued she, that formerly a learned and valiant Hebrew chief, leading his people through the deserts, where they were in danger of being famished, obtained of God some manna, whose taste was to them, by imagination, such as that of meat was to them before in reality; thus, drinking of this miraculous liquor, you’ll find it taste like any wine that you shall fancy you drink. Come, then, fancy and drink. We did so, and Panurge had no sooner whipped off his brimmer but he cried, By Noah’s open shop, ’tis vin de Beaune, better than ever was yet tipped over tongue, or may ninety-six devils swallow me. Oh! that to keep its taste the longer, we gentlemen topers had but necks some three cubits long or so, as Philoxenus desired to have, or, at least, like a crane’s, as Melanthius wished his.

On the faith of true lanterners, quoth Friar John, ’tis gallant, sparkling Greek wine. Now, for God’s sake, sweetheart, do but teach me how the devil you make it. It seems to me Mirevaux wine, said Pantagruel; for before I drank I supposed it to be such. Nothing can be misliked in it, but that ’tis cold; colder, I say, than the very ice; colder than the Nonacrian and Dercean [Motteux reads ‘Deraen.’] water, or the Conthoporian [Motteux, ‘Conthopian.’] spring at Corinth, that froze up the stomach and nutritive parts of those that drank of it.

Drink once, twice, or thrice more, said Bacbuc, still changing your imagination, and you shall find its taste and flavour to be exactly that on which you shall have pitched. Then never presume to say that anything is impossible to God. We never offered to say such a thing, said I; far from it, we maintain he is omnipotent.

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