Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Francois Rabelais

Chapter 49

How Pantagruel did put himself in a readiness to go to sea; and of the herb named Pantagruelion.

Within very few days after that Pantagruel had taken his leave of the good Gargantua, who devoutly prayed for his son’s happy voyage, he arrived at the seaport, near to Sammalo, accompanied with Panurge, Epistemon, Friar John of the Funnels, Abbot of Theleme, and others of the royal house, especially with Xenomanes the great traveller and thwarter of dangerous ways, who was come at the bidding and appointment of Panurge, of whose castlewick of Salmigondin he did hold some petty inheritance by the tenure of a mesne fee. Pantagruel, being come thither, prepared and made ready for launching a fleet of ships, to the number of those which Ajax of Salamine had of old equipped in convoy of the Grecian soldiery against the Trojan state. He likewise picked out for his use so many mariners, pilots, sailors, interpreters, artificers, officers, and soldiers, as he thought fitting, and therewithal made provision of so much victuals of all sorts, artillery, munition of divers kinds, clothes, moneys, and other such luggage, stuff, baggage, chaffer, and furniture, as he deemed needful for carrying on the design of a so tedious, long, and perilous voyage. Amongst other things, it was observed how he caused some of his vessels to be fraught and loaded with a great quantity of an herb of his called Pantagruelion, not only of the green and raw sort of it, but of the confected also, and of that which was notably well befitted for present use after the fashion of conserves. The herb Pantagruelion hath a little root somewhat hard and rough, roundish, terminating in an obtuse and very blunt point, and having some of its veins, strings, or filaments coloured with some spots of white, never fixeth itself into the ground above the profoundness almost of a cubit, or foot and a half. From the root thereof proceedeth the only stalk, orbicular, cane-like, green without, whitish within, and hollow like the stem of smyrnium, olus atrum, beans, and gentian, full of long threads, straight, easy to be broken, jagged, snipped, nicked, and notched a little after the manner of pillars and columns, slightly furrowed, chamfered, guttered, and channelled, and full of fibres, or hairs like strings, in which consisteth the chief value and dignity of the herb, especially in that part thereof which is termed mesa, as he would say the mean, and in that other, which hath got the denomination of milasea. Its height is commonly of five or six foot. Yet sometimes it is of such a tall growth as doth surpass the length of a lance, but that is only when it meeteth with a sweet, easy, warm, wet, and well-soaked soil — as is the ground of the territory of Olone, and that of Rasea, near to Preneste in Sabinia — and that it want not for rain enough about the season of the fishers’ holidays and the estival solstice. There are many trees whose height is by it very far exceeded, and you might call it dendromalache by the authority of Theophrastus. The plant every year perisheth — the tree neither in the trunk, root, bark, or boughs being durable.

From the stalk of this Pantagruelian plant there issue forth several large and great branches, whose leaves have thrice as much length as breadth, always green, roughish, and rugged like the orcanet, or Spanish bugloss, hardish, slit round about like unto a sickle, or as the saxifragum, betony, and finally ending as it were in the points of a Macedonian spear, or of such a lancet as surgeons commonly make use of in their phlebotomizing tiltings. The figure and shape of the leaves thereof is not much different from that of those of the ash-tree, or of agrimony; the herb itself being so like the Eupatorian plant that many skilful herbalists have called it the Domestic Eupator, and the Eupator the Wild Pantagruelion. These leaves are in equal and parallel distances spread around the stalk by the number in every rank either of five or seven, nature having so highly favoured and cherished this plant that she hath richly adorned it with these two odd, divine, and mysterious numbers. The smell thereof is somewhat strong, and not very pleasing to nice, tender, and delicate noses. The seed enclosed therein mounteth up to the very top of its stalk, and a little above it.

This is a numerous herb; for there is no less abundance of it than of any other whatsoever. Some of these plants are spherical, some rhomboid, and some of an oblong shape, and all of those either black, bright-coloured, or tawny, rude to the touch, and mantled with a quickly-blasted-away coat, yet such a one as is of a delicious taste and savour to all shrill and sweetly-singing birds, such as linnets, goldfinches, larks, canary birds, yellow-hammers, and others of that airy chirping choir; but it would quite extinguish the natural heat and procreative virtue of the semence of any man who would eat much and often of it. And although that of old amongst the Greeks there was certain kinds of fritters and pancakes, buns and tarts, made thereof, which commonly for a liquorish daintiness were presented on the table after supper to delight the palate and make the wine relish the better; yet is it of a difficult concoction, and offensive to the stomach. For it engendereth bad and unwholesome blood, and with its exorbitant heat woundeth them with grievous, hurtful, smart, and noisome vapours. And, as in divers plants and trees there are two sexes, male and female, which is perceptible in laurels, palms, cypresses, oaks, holms, the daffodil, mandrake, fern, the agaric, mushroom, birthwort, turpentine, pennyroyal, peony, rose of the mount, and many other such like, even so in this herb there is a male which beareth no flower at all, yet it is very copious of and abundant in seed. There is likewise in it a female, which hath great store and plenty of whitish flowers, serviceable to little or no purpose, nor doth it carry in it seed of any worth at all, at least comparable to that of the male. It hath also a larger leaf, and much softer than that of the male, nor doth it altogether grow to so great a height. This Pantagruelion is to be sown at the first coming of the swallows, and is to be plucked out of the ground when the grasshoppers begin to be a little hoarse.

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