Chapter 49

How Pantagruel made his preparations for taking to sea. And of the herb called Pantagruelion.

A few days later Pantagruel, having taken leave of the good Gargantua, who prayed well for the voyage of his son, arrived at the port of Thalasse, near Saint-Malo, accompanied by Panurge, Epistemon, Friar John des Entommeures, abbot of Thélème, and others of the noble house, notably by Xenomanes, the great voyager and traverser of perilous ways, who had come at the mandate of Panurge. Because he held I know not what subsidiary fief of the castellany of Salmiguondin. Arriving there, Pantagruel addressed equipping the ships to the number of those which Ajax of Salamis had formerly led in convoy with the Greeks at Troy. Mariners, pilots, oarsmen, interpreters, artisans, soldiers, victuals, artillery, munitions, clothing, money, and other stuff [he] took and loaded as would be needed for a long and hazardous voyage. Among other things I saw that he had stashed great abundance of his herb Pantagruelion, as well green and raw, as confected and prepared.

The herb Pantagruelion has a small, hard, roundish root, ending in a blunt white point, with few filaments, and does not sink into the earth more than a cubit. From the root goes forth a unique stalk, round, ferulaceous, green on the outside, blanched within, concave like the stalk of smyrnium olus atrum, beans, and gentian; woody, straight, friable, notched a little in the form of columns lightly striated; full of fibres, in which consist all the dignity of the herb, especially in the part called mesa, as middle, and that which is called mylasea. The height of this commonly is five or six feet. Sometimes it exceeds the height of a lance. That is to say, when it encounters soil sweet, marshy, light, humid without cold, like that of Olone and that of Rosea near Præneste in Sabinia, and that rain does not want around the Fishermen’s Holidays, and the summer solstice. And [it] surpasses the height of trees, so you call it dendromalache on the authority of Theophrastus; although it be an herb that each year perishes, not a tree with root, trunk, stalk, and branches enduring. From the stalk issue large and strong branches. The leaves are three times as long as wide, always green, rough, like the orcanet, hard, incised all round like a sickle and like betony, ending in points like a Macedonian sarisse, and like a lancet used by surgeons. The figure of these is little different from the leaves of ash and agrimony, and so resembles eupatorium that several herbalists having called it domestic, have said eupatoria is wild Pantagruelion. And are by rows in equal distance spaced around the stalk in circles by number in each order either of five, or of seven. Such has nature cherished it, that she has endowed it in its leaves with these two numbers odd so divine and mysterious. The odor of these is strong, and little pleasant to delicate noses. The seed issues near the top of the stalk, and a little below it. It is as numerous as that of any herb there is, spherical, oblong, rhomboidal, black, shiny, and like tawny, somewhat hard, covered with a fragile husk; delicious to all songbirds, such as linnets, goldfinches, larks, canaries, tarins, and others. But extinguishes in man the generative semen, who eats of it much and often. And although formerly among the Greeks they used to make of it certain kinds of fritters, tarts, and buns, which they ate after supper as delicacies and to find the wine better: still is it that it is of difficult digestion, offends the stomach, engenders bad blood, and by its excessive heat buffets the brain, and fills the head with offensive and sorrowful vapours. And as in several plants there are two sexes, male and female, as is seen in laurels, palms, oaks, holm, daffodil, mandrake, fern, agaric, aristolochia, cypress, terebinth, pennyroyal, peony, and others; so also in this herb there is male, which bears no flower at all, but abounds in seed, and female, which abounds in little flowers, whitish, useless, and bears no seed of value, and as in others similar, has a leaf larger, less rough than the male, and does not grow to the same height. One sows this Pantagruelion at the first coming of the swallows; one pulls it out of the ground when the cicadas begin to raise a ruckus.

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