Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Francois Rabelais

Chapter 10

How Pantagruel representeth unto Panurge the difficulty of giving advice in the matter of marriage; and to that purpose mentioneth somewhat of the Homeric and Virgilian lotteries.

Your counsel, quoth Panurge, under your correction and favour, seemeth unto me not unlike to the song of Gammer Yea-by-nay. It is full of sarcasms, mockeries, bitter taunts, nipping bobs, derisive quips, biting jerks, and contradictory iterations, the one part destroying the other. I know not, quoth Pantagruel, which of all my answers to lay hold on; for your proposals are so full of ifs and buts, that I can ground nothing on them, nor pitch upon any solid and positive determination satisfactory to what is demanded by them. Are not you assured within yourself of what you have a mind to? The chief and main point of the whole matter lieth there. All the rest is merely casual, and totally dependeth upon the fatal disposition of the heavens.

We see some so happy in the fortune of this nuptial encounter, that their family shineth as it were with the radiant effulgency of an idea, model, or representation of the joys of paradise; and perceive others, again, to be so unluckily matched in the conjugal yoke, that those very basest of devils which tempt the hermits that inhabit the deserts of Thebais and Montserrat are not more miserable than they. It is therefore expedient, seeing you are resolved for once to take a trial of the state of marriage, that, with shut eyes, bowing your head, and kissing the ground, you put the business to a venture, and give it a fair hazard, in recommending the success of the residue to the disposure of Almighty God. It lieth not in my power to give you any other manner of assurance, or otherwise to certify you of what shall ensue on this your undertaking. Nevertheless, if it please you, this you may do. Bring hither Virgil’s poems, that after having opened the book, and with our fingers severed the leaves thereof three several times, we may, according to the number agreed upon betwixt ourselves, explore the future hap of your intended marriage. For frequently by a Homeric lottery have many hit upon their destinies; as is testified in the person of Socrates, who, whilst he was in prison, hearing the recitation of this verse of Homer, said of Achilles in the Ninth of the Iliads —


We, the third day, to fertile Pthia came —

thereby foresaw that on the third subsequent day he was to die. Of the truth whereof he assured Aeschines; as Plato, in Critone, Cicero, in Primo, de Divinatione, Diogenes Laertius, and others, have to the full recorded in their works. The like is also witnessed by Opilius Macrinus, to whom, being desirous to know if he should be the Roman emperor, befell, by chance of lot, this sentence in the Eighth of the Iliads —


Dotard, new warriors urge thee to be gone.

Thy life decays, and old age weighs thee down.

In fact, he, being then somewhat ancient, had hardly enjoyed the sovereignty of the empire for the space of fourteen months, when by Heliogabalus, then both young and strong, he was dispossessed thereof, thrust out of all, and killed. Brutus doth also bear witness of another experiment of this nature, who willing, through this exploratory way by lot, to learn what the event and issue should be of the Pharsalian battle wherein he perished, he casually encountered on this verse, said of Patroclus in the Sixteenth of the Iliads —


Fate, and Latona’s son have shot me dead.

And accordingly Apollo was the field-word in the dreadful day of that fight. Divers notable things of old have likewise been foretold and known by casting of Virgilian lots; yea, in matters of no less importance than the obtaining of the Roman empire, as it happened to Alexander Severus, who, trying his fortune at the said kind of lottery, did hit upon this verse written in the Sixth of the Aeneids —

Tu regere imperio populos, Romane, memento.

Know, Roman, that thy business is to reign.

He, within very few years thereafter, was effectually and in good earnest created and installed Roman emperor. A semblable story thereto is related of Adrian, who, being hugely perplexed within himself out of a longing humour to know in what account he was with the Emperor Trajan, and how large the measure of that affection was which he did bear unto him, had recourse, after the manner above specified, to the Maronian lottery, which by haphazard tendered him these lines out of the Sixth of the Aeneids —

Quis procul ille autem, ramis insignis olivae

Sacra ferens? Nosco crines incanaque menta

Regis Romani.

But who is he, conspicuous from afar,

With olive boughs, that doth his offerings bear?

By the white hair and beard I know him plain,

The Roman king.

Shortly thereafter was he adopted by Trajan, and succeeded to him in the empire. Moreover, to the lot of the praiseworthy Emperor Claudius befell this line of Virgil, written in the Sixth of his Aeneids —

Tertia dum Latio regnantem viderit aestas.

Whilst the third summer saw him reign, a king

In Latium.

And in effect he did not reign above two years. To the said Claudian also, inquiring concerning his brother Quintilius, whom he proposed as a colleague with himself in the empire, happened the response following in the Sixth of the Aeneids —

Ostendent terris hunc tantum fata.

Whom Fate let us see,

And would no longer suffer him to be.

And it so fell out; for he was killed on the seventeenth day after he had attained unto the management of the imperial charge. The very same lot, also, with the like misluck, did betide the Emperor Gordian the younger. To Claudius Albinus, being very solicitous to understand somewhat of his future adventures, did occur this saying, which is written in the Sixth of the Aeneids —

Hic rem Romanam magno turbante tumultu

Sistet Eques, &c.

The Romans, boiling with tumultuous rage,

This warrior shall the dangerous storm assuage:

With victories he the Carthaginian mauls,

And with strong hand shall crush the rebel Gauls.

Likewise, when the Emperor D. Claudius, Aurelian’s predecessor, did with great eagerness research after the fate to come of his posterity, his hap was to alight on this verse in the First of the Aeneids —

Hic ego nec metas rerum, nec tempora pono.

No bounds are to be set, no limits here.

Which was fulfilled by the goodly genealogical row of his race. When Mr. Peter Amy did in like manner explore and make trial if he should escape the ambush of the hobgoblins who lay in wait all-to-bemaul him, he fell upon this verse in the Third of the Aeneids —

Heu! fuge crudeles terras, fuge littus avarum!

Oh, flee the bloody land, the wicked shore!

Which counsel he obeying, safe and sound forthwith avoided all these ambuscades.

Were it not to shun prolixity, I could enumerate a thousand such like adventures, which, conform to the dictate and verdict of the verse, have by that manner of lot-casting encounter befallen to the curious researchers of them. Do not you nevertheless imagine, lest you should be deluded, that I would upon this kind of fortune-flinging proof infer an uncontrollable and not to be gainsaid infallibility of truth.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59