Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Francois Rabelais

Chapter 11

Why monks love to be in kitchens.

This, said Epistemon, is spoke like a true monk; I mean like a right monking monk, not a bemonked monastical monkling. Truly you put me in mind of some passages that happened at Florence, some twenty years ago, in a company of studious travellers, fond of visiting the learned, and seeing the antiquities of Italy, among whom I was. As we viewed the situation and beauty of Florence, the structure of the dome, the magnificence of the churches and palaces, we strove to outdo one another in giving them their due; when a certain monk of Amiens, Bernard Lardon by name, quite angry, scandalized, and out of all patience, told us, I don’t know what the devil you can find in this same town, that is so much cried up; for my part I have looked and pored and stared as well as the best of you; I think my eyesight is as clear as another body’s, and what can one see after all? There are fine houses, indeed and that’s all. But the cage does not feed the birds. God and Monsieur St. Bernard, our good patron, be with us! in all this same town I have not seen one poor lane of roasting cooks; and yet I have not a little looked about and sought for so necessary a part of a commonwealth: ay, and I dare assure you that I have pried up and down with the exactness of an informer; as ready to number, both to the right and left, how many, and on what side, we might find most roasting cooks, as a spy would be to reckon the bastions of a town. Now at Amiens, in four, nay, five times less ground than we have trod in our contemplations, I could have shown you above fourteen streets of roasting cooks, most ancient, savoury, and aromatic. I cannot imagine what kind of pleasure you can have taken in gazing on the lions and Africans (so methinks you call their tigers) near the belfry, or in ogling the porcupines and estridges in the Lord Philip Strozzi’s palace. Faith and truth I had rather see a good fat goose at the spit. This porphyry, those marbles are fine; I say nothing to the contrary; but our cheesecakes at Amiens are far better in my mind. These ancient statues are well made; I am willing to believe it; but, by St. Ferreol of Abbeville, we have young wenches in our country which please me better a thousand times.

What is the reason, asked Friar John, that monks are always to be found in kitchens, and kings, emperors, and popes are never there? Is there not, said Rhizotome, some latent virtue and specific propriety hid in the kettles and pans, which, as the loadstone attracts iron, draws the monks there, and cannot attract emperors, popes, or kings? Or is it a natural induction and inclination, fixed in the frocks and cowls, which of itself leads and forceth those good religious men into kitchens, whether they will or no? He would speak of forms following matter, as Averroes calls them, answered Epistemon. Right, said Friar John.

I will not offer to solve this problem, said Pantagruel; for it is somewhat ticklish, and you can hardly handle it without coming off scurvily; but I will tell you what I have heard.

Antigonus, King of Macedon, one day coming into one of the tents, where his cooks used to dress his meat, and finding there poet Antagoras frying a conger, and holding the pan himself, merrily asked him, Pray, Mr. Poet, was Homer frying congers when he wrote the deeds of Agamemnon? Antagoras readily answered: But do you think, sir, that when Agamemnon did them he made it his business to know if any in his camp were frying congers? The king thought it an indecency that a poet should be thus a-frying in a kitchen; and the poet let the king know that it was a more indecent thing for a king to be found in such a place. I’ll clap another story upon the neck of this, quoth Panurge, and will tell you what Breton Villandry answered one day to the Duke of Guise.

They were saying that at a certain battle of King Francis against Charles the Fifth, Breton, armed cap-a-pie to the teeth, and mounted like St. George, yet sneaked off, and played least in sight during the engagement. Blood and oons, answered Breton, I was there, and can prove it easily; nay, even where you, my lord, dared not have been. The duke began to resent this as too rash and saucy; but Breton easily appeased him, and set them all a-laughing. Egad, my lord, quoth he, I kept out of harm’s way; I was all the while with your page Jack, skulking in a certain place where you had not dared hide your head as I did. Thus discoursing, they got to their ships, and left the island of Chely.

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