Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Francois Rabelais

Chapter 40

How the battle in which the good Bacchus overthrew the Indians was represented in mosaic work.

In the next place we saw the representation of the good Bacchus’s engagement with the Indians. Silenus, who led the van, was sweating, puffing, and blowing, belabouring his ass most grievously. The ass dreadfully opened its wide jaws, drove away the flies that plagued it, winced, flounced, went back, and bestirred itself in a most terrible manner, as if some damned gad-bee had stung it at the breech.

The satyrs, captains, sergeants, and corporals of companies, sounding the orgies with cornets, in a furious manner went round the army, skipping, capering, bounding, jerking, farting, flying out at heels, kicking and prancing like mad, encouraging their companions to fight bravely; and all the delineated army cried out Evohe!

First, the Maenades charged the Indians with dreadful shouts, and a horrid din of their brazen drums and bucklers; the air rung again all around, as the mosaic work well expressed it. And pray for the future don’t so much admire Apelles, Aristides the Theban, and others who drew claps of thunder, lightnings, winds, words, manners, and spirits.

We then saw the Indian army, who had at last taken the field to prevent the devastation of the rest of their country. In the front were the elephants, with castles well garrisoned on their backs. But the army and themselves were put into disorder; the dreadful cries of the Bacchae having filled them with consternation, and those huge animals turned tail and trampled on the men of their party.

There you might have seen gaffer Silenus on his ass, putting on as hard as he could, striking athwart and alongst, and laying about him lustily with his staff after the old fashion of fencing. His ass was prancing and making after the elephants, gaping and martially braying, as it were to sound a charge, as he did when formerly in the Bacchanalian feasts he waked the nymph Lottis, when Priapus, full of priapism, had a mind to priapize while the pretty creature was taking a nap.

There you might have seen Pan frisk it with his goatish shanks about the Maenades, and with his rustic pipe excite them to behave themselves like Maenades.

A little further you might have blessed your eyes with the sight of a young satyr who led seventeen kings his prisoners; and a Bacchis, who with her snakes hauled along no less than two and forty captains; a little faun, who carried a whole dozen of standards taken from the enemy; and goodman Bacchus on his chariot, riding to and fro fearless of danger, making much of his dear carcass, and cheerfully toping to all his merry friends.

Finally, we saw the representation of his triumph, which was thus: first, his chariot was wholly lined with ivy gathered on the mountain Meros; this for its scarcity, which you know raises the price of everything, and principally of those leaves in India. In this Alexander the Great followed his example at his Indian triumph. The chariot was drawn by elephants joined together, wherein he was imitated by Pompey the Great at Rome in his African triumph. The good Bacchus was seen drinking out of a mighty urn, which action Marius aped after his victory over the Cimbri near Aix in Provence. All his army were crowned with ivy; their javelins, bucklers, and drums were also wholly covered with it; there was not so much as Silenus’s ass but was betrapped with it.

The Indian kings were fastened with chains of gold close by the wheels of the chariot. All the company marched in pomp with unspeakable joy, loaded with an infinite number of trophies, pageants, and spoils, playing and singing merry epiniciums, songs of triumph, and also rural lays and dithyrambs.

At the farthest end was a prospect of the land of Egypt; the Nile with its crocodiles, marmosets, ibides, monkeys, trochiloses, or wrens, ichneumons, or Pharoah’s mice, hippopotami, or sea-horses, and other creatures, its guests and neighbours. Bacchus was moving towards that country under the conduct of a couple of horned beasts, on one of which was written in gold, Apis, and Osiris on the other; because no ox or cow had been seen in Egypt till Bacchus came thither.

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