Gargantua encouraged Pantagruel’s retainer Panurge in his quest to decide whether or not to get married. Panurge’s proposal to visit the oracle of the bottle met with Gargantua’s approval. The King set the terms of the nautical expedition.
The final four chapters of Le Tiers Livre (The Third Book [of the Heroic Deeds and Sayings of the Good Pantagruel]) describe the equipping of that expedition.
Filz trescher, après mon decès guardez que telles loigs ne soient en cestuy Royaulme receues: tant que seray en ce corps spirant & vivent, ie y donneray ordre tresbon avec l’ayde de mon Dieu. Puys doncques que de vostre mariage sus moy vous deportez, i’en suis d’opinion. Ie y pourvoiray. Aprestez vous au voyage de Panurge. Prenez avecques vous Epistemon, frère Ian, & aultres que choisirez. De mes thesaurs faictez à vostre plein arbitre. Tout ce que ferez, ne pourra ne me plaire. En mon arcenac de Thalasse prenez equippage tel que vouldrez: telz pillotz, nauchiers, truschemens, que vouldrez: & à vent oportun faictez voile on nom & protection du Dieu servateur. Pendent vostre absence ie feray les appretz & d’une femme vostre, & d’un festin, que ie veulx à vos nopces faire celèbre, si oncques en feut.
Comment Pantagruel monta sus mer, pour visiter l’Oracle de la dive Bacbuc
On moys de Iuin, au iour des festes Vestales: celluy propre on quel Brutus conquesta Hespaigne, & subiugua les Hespaignolz, on quel aussi Crassus l’avaricieux feut vaincu & deffaict par les Parthes, Pantagruel prenent congé du bon Gargantua son père, icelluy bien priant (comme en l’Eglise primitive estoit louable coustume entre les saincts Christians) pour le prospère naviguaige de son filz, & toute sa compaignie, monta sus mer au port de Thalasse, accompaigné de Panurge, frère Ian des entommeures, Epistemon, Gymnaste, Eusthenes, Rhizotome, Carpalim, & aultres siens serviteurs & domesticques anciens: ensemble de Xenomanes le grand voyageur & traverseur des voyes perilleuses, lequel certains iours par avant estoit arrivé au mandement de Panurge. Icelluy pour certaines & bonnes causes avoit à Gargantua laissé & signé en sa grande & universelle Hydrographie la routte qu’ilz tiendroient visitans l’oracle de la dive Bouteille Bacbuc.
Le nombre des navires feut tel que vous ay exposé on tiers livre, en conserve de Trirèmes, Ramberges, Gallions, & Liburnicques nombre pareil: bien equippées, bien calfatées, bien munies, avecques abondance de Pantagruelion. L’assemblée de tous officiers, truchemens, pilotz, capitaines, nauchiers, fadrins, hespailliers, & matelotz feut en la Thalamège. Ainsi estoit nommée la grande & maistresse nauf de Pantagruel: ayant en pouppe pour enseigne à moytié d’argent bien liz & polly: l’aultre moytié estoit d’or esmaillé de couleur incarnat. En quoy facile estoit iuger, que blanc & clairet estoient les couleurs des nobles voyagiers: & qu’ilz alloient pour avoir le mot de la Bouteille.
Gargantua ordains the expedition
Third Book, Chapter 48, Gargantua speaking.
“My dearly beloved Son, after my Decease, have especial Care that such Laws be not received into this Kingdom ; as long as I shall be living and have Breath in this Body, I shall give good Order thereunto, with the Assistance of God. Since then, with regard to your Marriage, you refer it to me, I am of Opinion that you should marry, and I will provide for it. Make you ready for the Voyage of Panurge ; take with you Epistemon, Friar John, and others of your Choice. With my Treasures do according to your full Discretion ; whatever you do can only please me. From my Arsenal at Thalassa take what Provision you shall please, Pilots, Crews, Interpreters, at your Pleasure, and with the first favourable Wind set sail in the Name and under the Protection of God our Preserver. During your Absence I will set about providing you a Wife and a Festival, which, at your Nuptials, I wish to make renowned for its Magnificence, if ever one was.”
How Pantagruel put to Sea to visit the Oracle of the Holy Bacbuc
Smith Quart Livre Chapter 1
How Pantagruel put to Sea to visit the Oracle of the Holy Bacbuc
In the Month of June, on the Day [Ov. Fast. vi. 247] of the a Feast of Vesta [The 9th of June], on the very Day on which Brutus conquered Spain [Ov. Fast. vi. 461] and subjugated the Spaniards, and also on which the covetous [ Ov. Fast. vi. 465 ] Crassus was conquered and destroyed by the Parthians — Pantagruel took Leave of the good Gargantua his Father, who prayed devoutly, according to the laudable [Act. Apostol. xxi. 36, xxi. 5] Custom in the primitive Church among the holy Christians, for the prosperous Voyage of his Son and all his Company. Pantagruel put to Sea at the Port of Thalassa, accompanied by Panurge, Friar John of the Trencherites, Epistemon, [Cf.ii. 18, 19, 20, 30] Gymnast, Eusthenes, Rhizotomus, Carpalim and others his ancient Servants and Domestics ; with them Xenomanes, the great Traveller and Traverser of perilous Ways, [This was the title assumed by Jean Bouchet, a friend of Rabelais. Cf. iii. 46, 49, and the Epistle to Bouchet] who had been sent for by Panurge and had arrived certain Days before.
For certain good Reasons Xenomanes had left with Gargantua, and marked out in his great and universal Hydrography the Route which they were to take in their Visit to the Oracle of the Holy Bottle Bacbuc. [Bacbuc is a Chaldean word occurring in the sense of “bottle” I Kings xiv. 3, Jeremia xix. I, and as a proper name, Ezra ii. 51, Nehemiah vii. 53]
The Number of the Ships was such as I have described in the Third Book, with a Convoy of Triremes, Cruisers [Ramberges, long swift ships used by the English against the French in the Channel. Du Bellay’s Memoirs, bk. x.], Galleons and Liburnian Galleys in equal Number, well rigged, caulked and stored, and with a plentiful Supply of Pantagruelion.
The Meeting-place of all the Officers, Interpreters, Pilots, Captains, Mates, Midshipmen, Rowers [hespailliers, so called from the espale or bridge on which they used to sit (M.)] and Sailors, was on board the Thalamege [Thalamege was the name of the Egyptian galley on which Cleopatra took Julius Caesar on a trip to Aethiopia. Cf. Suet. i. 52] ; for that was the Name of Pantagruel’s great Flag-ship, which had on her Stern for Ensign a large, capacious Bottle, half of Silver smooth and polished; the other half was of Gold, enamelled with crimson Colours ; whereby it was easy to determine that White and Claret were the Colours of the noble Travellers, and that they were going to get the Word of the Bottle.
The opening notation of time [in the QL], establishing the date, oddly enough, as that on which Virgil’s hero Aeneas completed his journey, the list of the voyagers, and particularly of their ships (cf. Iliad 2): all these belong to the epic genre.
The seventh of June
Hear you not the Vestals sing? It is the seventh of June, the Virgin’s birthday, and her plain-Jane, vanilla-style priestesses prance around the perpetual fire, tubers transfixed by their rustic forks. Any fire which has a cast of potatoes on it burns forever, because Mary was once allowed to cook potatoes in that way when she visited the Castlewick of Salmiguondin. She could just hear the murmurs of a vestal who had been immured in a wall of the castle as punishment for breaking her vow of chastity. “Vade in pacem,” she said, “Go in peace.” Some years ago her skeleton was still on display, before it was cast about during the recent reconstruction.
Also on this date, Brutus conquered Spain, and Crassus was vanquished by the Parthians. (Ovid, Fastes 6.247.)