Gargantua and Pantagruel by François RabelaisThe dazzling and exuberant moral stories of Rabelais (c.1471-1553) expose human follies with their mischievous and often obscene humour, while intertwining the realistic with carnivalesque fantasy to make us look afresh at the world.
Gargantua depicts a young giant, reduced to laughable insanity by an education at the hands of paternal ignorance, old crones and syphilitic professors, who is rescued and turned into a cultured Christian knight. And in Pantagruel and its three sequels, Rabelais parodied tall tales of chivalry and satirized the law, theology and academia to portray the bookish son of Gargantua who becomes a Renaissance Socrates, divinely guided in his wisdom, and his idiotic, self-loving companion Panurge.
Gargantua and Pantagruel
A Brazilian from Pope Calixtus
This complete translation by Donald Frame, helpfully annotated for the nonspecialist, is a masterpiece in its own right, bringing to twentieth-century English all the exuberance and invention of the original sixteenth-century French. A final part containing all the rest of Rabelais's known writings, including his letters, supplements the five books traditionally known as Gargantua and Pantagruel. This great comic narrative, written in hugely popular installments over more than two decades, was unsparingly satirical of scholarly pomposity and the many abuses of religious, legal, and political power. The books were condemned at various times by the Sorbonne and narrowly escaped being banned. Behind Rabelais's obvious pleasure in lampooning effete erudition and the excesses of society is the humanist's genuine love of knowledge and belief in the basic goodness of human nature. The bawdy wit and uninhibited zest for life that characterize his unlikely trio of travelers have delighted readers and inspired other writers ever since the exploits of Gargantua and Pantagruel first appeared. Born in the late fifteenth century, he first chose the monastic life, then left to become a lay priest and make a career as a physician, teacher, and writer.
The story of Gargantua and Pantagruel is told over the course of five books. In the framework of the first book, it is implied that the book has been recently discovered, recently as in the midth century, and that a scholar has been hired to translate the found manuscript. Within this first book, the narrator introduces the main character, Gargantua , who is literally a giant. Fortunately, his father finds a better tutor, Ponocrates , and it is Ponocrates who turns Gargantua from an unintelligent, ill-mannered young twerp into a brilliant, disciplined, genteel man. Gargantua, joined by his tutor, Ponocrates, and his group of friends, including Eudemon and Gymnast, set off to go to war. Gargantua and his companions meet with Friar John and welcome him into their ranks. In a form similar to that of the first book, the second book shows the reader how young Pantagruel was born, how his mother died in childbirth, and how Pantagruel was raised by his father.
The highest literary honor, accorded to a nobler elite, comes when an author's name enters the language as a laudatory adjective. Who would not wish to write a work, or even a single sentence, judged by others to be Shakespearean, Aeschylean, Faulknerian, Dantesque, Miltonian, Proustian, or dubbed with some other similarly high- flown modifier? Such terms are employed, sparingly and judiciously, to describe a grandeur of expression, a heightened sensitivity toward language, a lofty paradigm of signification. Yet the word often describes more than a style of writing, and is frequently employed to describe an attitude toward life and a mode of conduct. A handy reference work tells me that Rabelaisian can mean "bawdy, broad, coarse, earthy, extravagant, exuberant, gross, lusty, raunchy. Even by our contemporary standards of extravagant authorial debasement, that represents a considerable—and perhaps unsurpassable—achievement. And Rabelais managed to achieve this despite a CV that included stints with the Franciscans and the Benedictines.
By providing an exaggerated fable, comical in nature, Rabelais poses a serious introspection into the extremes of both the Medieval and the Renaissance man. More importantly, however, he brings into question his own ideals of Humanism. As a man whose life spans the transition between the Medieval Middle Ages and the Renaissance, Rabelais, as most scholars of the time period, had to cope with a huge shift in thoughts and ideals. He used satire, parody, and fantasy as a means to cope with this dislocation. Through the monstrous and grotesque comedy of Gargantua and Pantagruel , Rabelais is able to ridicule the institutions of his world without necessarily being offensive. He entices his readers to laugh at the events and human thoughts of his generation. Like the dog who chews a bone, Rabelais tells his readers to look beyond the humor to the true meaning of the stories.