Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Francois Rabelais

Chapter 17

How Panurge spoke to the Sibyl of Panzoust.

Their voyage was three days journeying. On the third whereof was shown unto them the house of the vaticinatress standing on the knap or top of a hill, under a large and spacious walnut-tree. Without great difficulty they entered into that straw-thatched cottage, scurvily built, naughtily movabled, and all besmoked. It matters not, quoth Epistemon; Heraclitus, the grand Scotist and tenebrous darksome philosopher, was nothing astonished at his introit into such a coarse and paltry habitation; for he did usually show forth unto his sectators and disciples that the gods made as cheerfully their residence in these mean homely mansions as in sumptuous magnific palaces, replenished with all manner of delight, pomp, and pleasure. I withal do really believe that the dwelling-place of the so famous and renowned Hecate was just such another petty cell as this is, when she made a feast therein to the valiant Theseus; and that of no other better structure was the cot or cabin of Hyreus, or Oenopion, wherein Jupiter, Neptune, and Mercury were not ashamed, all three together, to harbour and sojourn a whole night, and there to take a full and hearty repast; for the payment of the shot they thankfully pissed Orion. They finding the ancient woman at a corner of her own chimney, Epistemon said, She is indeed a true sibyl, and the lively portrait of one represented by the (Greek) of Homer. The old hag was in a pitiful bad plight and condition in matter of the outward state and complexion of her body, the ragged and tattered equipage of her person in the point of accoutrement, and beggarly poor provision of fare for her diet and entertainment; for she was ill apparelled, worse nourished, toothless, blear-eyed, crook-shouldered, snotty, her nose still dropping, and herself still drooping, faint, and pithless; whilst in this woefully wretched case she was making ready for her dinner porridge of wrinkled green coleworts, with a bit skin of yellow bacon, mixed with a twice-before-cooked sort of waterish, unsavoury broth, extracted out of bare and hollow bones. Epistemon said, By the cross of a groat, we are to blame, nor shall we get from her any response at all, for we have not brought along with us the branch of gold. I have, quoth Panurge, provided pretty well for that, for here I have it within my bag, in the substance of a gold ring, accompanied with some fair pieces of small money. No sooner were these words spoken, when Panurge coming up towards her, after the ceremonial performance of a profound and humble salutation, presented her with six neat’s tongues dried in the smoke, a great butter-pot full of fresh cheese, a borachio furnished with good beverage, and a ram’s cod stored with single pence, newly coined. At last he, with a low courtesy, put on her medical finger a pretty handsome golden ring, whereinto was right artificially enchased a precious toadstone of Beausse. This done, in few words and very succinctly, did he set open and expose unto her the motive reason of his coming, most civilly and courteously entreating her that she might be pleased to vouchsafe to give him an ample and plenary intelligence concerning the future good luck of his intended marriage.

They found the old woman sitting in a corner of her chimney.

The old trot for a while remained silent, pensive, and grinning like a dog; then, after she had set her withered breech upon the bottom of a bushel, she took into her hands three old spindles, which when she had turned and whirled betwixt her fingers very diversely and after several fashions, she pried more narrowly into, by the trial of their points, the sharpest whereof she retained in her hand, and threw the other two under a stone trough. After this she took a pair of yarn windles, which she nine times unintermittedly veered and frisked about; then at the ninth revolution or turn, without touching them any more, maturely perpending the manner of their motion, she very demurely waited on their repose and cessation from any further stirring. In sequel whereof she pulled off one of her wooden pattens, put her apron over her head, as a priest uses to do his amice when he is going to sing mass, and with a kind of antique, gaudy, party-coloured string knit it under her neck. Being thus covered and muffled, she whiffed off a lusty good draught out of the borachio, took three several pence forth of the ramcod fob, put them into so many walnut-shells, which she set down upon the bottom of a feather-pot, and then, after she had given them three whisks of a broom besom athwart the chimney, casting into the fire half a bavin of long heather, together with a branch of dry laurel, she observed with a very hush and coy silence in what form they did burn, and saw that, although they were in a flame, they made no kind of noise or crackling din. Hereupon she gave a most hideous and horribly dreadful shout, muttering betwixt her teeth some few barbarous words of a strange termination.

This so terrified Panurge that he forthwith said to Epistemon, The devil mince me into a gallimaufry if I do not tremble for fear! I do not think but that I am now enchanted; for she uttereth not her voice in the terms of any Christian language. O look, I pray you, how she seemeth unto me to be by three full spans higher than she was when she began to hood herself with her apron. What meaneth this restless wagging of her slouchy chaps? What can be the signification of the uneven shrugging of her hulchy shoulders? To what end doth she quaver with her lips, like a monkey in the dismembering of a lobster? My ears through horror glow; ah! how they tingle! I think I hear the shrieking of Proserpina; the devils are breaking loose to be all here. O the foul, ugly, and deformed beasts! Let us run away! By the hook of God, I am like to die for fear! I do not love the devils; they vex me, and are unpleasant fellows. Now let us fly, and betake us to our heels. Farewell, gammer; thanks and gramercy for your goods! I will not marry; no, believe me, I will not. I fairly quit my interest therein, and totally abandon and renounce it from this time forward, even as much as at present. With this, as he endeavoured to make an escape out of the room, the old crone did anticipate his flight and make him stop. The way how she prevented him was this: whilst in her hand she held the spindle, she flung out to a back-yard close by her lodge, where, after she had peeled off the barks of an old sycamore three several times, she very summarily, upon eight leaves which dropped from thence, wrote with the spindle-point some curt and briefly-couched verses, which she threw into the air, then said unto them, Search after them if you will; find them if you can; the fatal destinies of your marriage are written in them.

No sooner had she done thus speaking than she did withdraw herself unto her lurking-hole, where on the upper seat of the porch she tucked up her gown, her coats, and smock, as high as her armpits, and gave them a full inspection of the nockandroe; which being perceived by Panurge, he said to Epistemon, God’s bodikins, I see the sibyl’s hole! She suddenly then bolted the gate behind her, and was never since seen any more. They jointly ran in haste after the fallen and dispersed leaves, and gathered them at last, though not without great labour and toil, for the wind had scattered them amongst the thorn-bushes of the valley. When they had ranged them each after other in their due places, they found out their sentence, as it is metrified in this octastich:

Thy fame upheld

[Properly, as corrected by Ozell:

Thy fame will be shell’d

By her, I trow.],

Even so, so:

And she with child

Of thee: No.

Thy good end

Suck she shall,

And flay thee, friend,

But not all.

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