Rabelais and Plutarch

Plutarch


Notes

De la nativité du tresredoubté Pantagruel. Cha.ii.

Gargantua en son aage de quattre cens quattre vingtz quarante & quattre ans engendra son fils Pantagruel de sa femme nommée Badebec fille du Roy des Amaurotes en Utopie, laquelle mourut de mal d’enfant: car il estoit si grand & si lourd, qu’il ne put venir à lumiere, sans ainsi suffocquer la mere. Mais pour entendre pleinement la cause et raison de son nom qui luy fut baillé en baptesme: Vous noterez que celle année il y avoit une si grand seicheresse en tout le pays de Affricque, pour ce qu’il y avoit passé plus de xxxvi. moys sans pluye, avec chaleur de soleil si vehesmente, que toute la terre en estoit aride. Et ne fut point au temps de Helye plus eschauffée que fut pour lors. Car il n’y avoit arbre sus terre qu’il eust ny feuille ny fleur, les herbes estoient sans verdeur, les rivieres taries, les fontaines à sec, les pauvres poissons delaissez de leurs propres elements vagans et cryans par la terre horriblement, les oyseaulx tumbans de l’air par faulte de rosée, les loups, les regnars, cerfs, sangliers, daims, lievres, connils, bellettes, foynes, blereaux & aultres bestes l’on trouvoit par les champs mortes la gueule baye. Et au regard des hommes, c’estoit la grande pitié, vous les eussiez veus tirans la langue comme levriers qui ont couru six heures. Plusieurs se gettoient dedans les puys, d’aultres se mettoient au ventre d’une vache pour estre à l’umbre: & les appelle Homere Alibantes. Toute la contrée estoit à l’ancre: c’estoit pitoyable de veoir le travail des humains pour se guarantir de ceste horrificque alteration. Car il y avoit prou affaire de saulver l’eau benoiste par les esglises qu’elle ne feust desconfite: mais l’on y donna tel ordre par le conseil de messieurs les cardinaulx & du sainct pere, que nul n’en osoit prendre qu’une venue: Encores quand quelqu’ung entroit en l’esglise, vous en eussiez veu à vingtaines de pauvres alterez qui venoient au derriere de celluy qui la distribuoit à quelqu’ung la gueulle ouverte pour en avoir quelque petite goutelette: comme le maulvais Riche, affin que rien ne se perdit. O que bienheureux fut en ceste année celuy qui eut cave fraische & bien garnie.

Rabelais, François (1494?–1553), Les horribles et espouvantables faictz & prouesses du tresrenommé Pantagruel Roy des Dipsodes, filz du grand geant Gargantua, Composez nouvellement par maistre Alcofrybas Nasier. Les horribles et espouvantables faictz & prouesses du tresrenommé Pantagruel Roy des Dipsodes, filz du grand geant Gargantua, Composez nouvellement par maistre Alcofrybas Nasier. Lyon: Claude Nourry, 1532. Chapter 2. Bibliothèque nationale de France

De la nativité du tresredoubté Pantagruel. Cha.ii.

Le philosophe racompte en mouvant la question, pourquoy c’est que l’eau de la mer est sallée? qu’au temps que Phebus bailla le gouvernement de son chariot lucificque à son fils Phaeton: Ledict Phaeton mal apris en l’art, et ne sçavant ensuyvre la ligne eclipticque entre les deux tropicques de la sphere du Soleil, varia de son chemin: et tant approcha de la terre, qu’il mist à sec toutes les contrées subiacentes, bruslant une grande partie du ciel, que les philosophes appellent via lactea: & les Lifrelofres nomment le chemin sainct Jacques. Adonc la terre fut tant eschauffée, qu’il luy vint une sueur enorme, dont elle sua toute la mer, que par ce est sallée: car toute sueur est sallée, ce que vous direz estre vray si voulez taster de la vostre propre: ou bien de celle des verollez quand on les faict suer, ce me est tout ung.

Rabelais, François (1494?–1553), Les horribles et espouvantables faictz & prouesses du tresrenommé Pantagruel Roy des Dipsodes, filz du grand geant Gargantua, Composez nouvellement par maistre Alcofrybas Nasier. Les horribles et espouvantables faictz & prouesses du tresrenommé Pantagruel Roy des Dipsodes, filz du grand geant Gargantua, Composez nouvellement par maistre Alcofrybas Nasier. Lyon: Claude Nourry, 1532. Chapter 2. Bibliothèque nationale de France

CHAPTER II Of the Nativity of the very redoubted Pantagruel

GARGANTUA at the Age of four hundred fourscore forty and four Years begat his Son Pantagruel on his Wife, named Badebec, Daughter of the King of the Amaurots in Utopia, who died in Childbirth ; for he was so wonderfully big and heavy that it was impossible for him to come into the World without thus suffocating his Mother.

But to understand fully the Cause and Reason for his Name, which was given him at Baptism, you will note that in that Year there was so great a Drought throughout all the Land of Africa that there passed thirty-six Months, three Weeks, four Days, thirteen Hours and some little more without Rain, with the Sun’s Heat so vehement that all the Earth was parched up by it ; neither was it more burnt up in the Days of a Elijah than it was then, for there was no Tree on the Earth that had either Leaf or Flower.

The Grass was without Verdure, the Rivers drained, the Fountains dried up ; the poor Fish abandoned by their own Element, straggling and crying horribly along the Ground, the Birds falling from the Air for want of Dew; the Wolves, Foxes, Stags, Boars, Deer, Hares, Conies, Weasels, Martins, Badgers and other Beasts were found in the Fields dead with their Mouths agape.

With respect to Men, the Case was most piteous ; you might have seen them lolling out their Tongues like Greyhounds that had run six Hours ; many threw themselves into Wells; others put themselves into a Cow’s Belly to be in the Shade ; these Homer calls Alibantes.

Smith’s notes:

1 Amaurots (ἀμανρὸϚ) dimly seen, invisible = non-existent. There is a city of that name in Sir Thomas More’s Utopia, published 1516.
2 Alibantes. This is hardly exact. Homer speaks (Od. vi. 201) of διεροἰ βροτοἰ, that is, moist, juicy, vigorous men, but not of the opposite, dried up. It is a word used by Eustathius in his explanation of διερὀϛ. But probably Rabelais owed both his information and his error to Plutarch (Quaest. Conviv. viii. 10, 11-12), who first speaks of διερὀϛ as used in Homer, and then proceeds to speak of ἀλβαϛ. The word also occurs in Plato, Rep. iii. 387 c. Also ἀμέλει τοὺς ἀποθανόντας “ἀλίβαντας” καλοῦσιν ὡς ἐνδεεῖς “λιβάδος,” τουτέστιν ὑγρότητος, καὶ παρὰ τοῦτο στερουμένους τοῦ ζῆν (Plut. Mor. 956 A) [ That, of course, is the reason why the dead are called alibantes, meaning that they are without libas, “moisture,” and for lack of that deprived of life. Man has often existed without fire, but without water never. ]

Rabelais, François (1494?–1553), The Five Books and Minor Writings. Volume 1: Books I-III. William Francis Smith (1842–1919), translator. London: Alexader P. Watt, 1893. p. 218. Internet Archive

Plutarch in Pantagruel

The Philosopher4 relates, in starting the Question, why is it that the Seawater is salt ? that at the Time when Phoebus gave the Government of his light-giving Chariot to his Son Phaethon, the said Phaethon, ill-instructed in the Art and not knowing how to follow the Ecliptic Line between the two Tropics of the Sun’s Orbit, strayed out of his Way and came so near the Earth that he dried up all the subjacent Countries, burning up a large Part of the Heavens, which the Philosophers call Via Lactea, and the Huff-snuffs5 call St. James’s Path, 6 although the most high-crested Poets declare that it is the Part where Juno’s Milk fell when she suckled Hercules.7 Then it was that the Earth was so heated that there came upon it an enormous Sweat, so that it sweated out the whole Sea, which by this is salt, for all Sweat is salt ; that you will say is true, if you will taste your own, or that of the pocky Patients when they are put into a Sweating ; it is all one to me.

3. Fr. venue. In the patois of Saintonge venue means the smallest sup.

4. Plutarch (Plac. Philos. iii. 16, 897 A) assigns to Empedocles the theory that the sea is the sweat of the earth when it is parched up by the sun, and to the Pythagoreans (Plac. Philos. iii. I, 892 E) the story about Phaethon. For the fable of Phaethon see Ovid, Met. ii. 1-366.

5. Fr. lifrelofrcs (iii. Prol. and 8, Pant. Progn. cap. 5, Chresme Philos.), a name commonly given to the Germans or Swiss. Here it simply means quacks of philosophy. Urquhart’s rendering, adopted in the text, seems very happy.

6. The Via Lactea was called St James’s Path by the Pilgrims to St. James of Compostella. The Jacobins (= Dominicans) were at variance with the Thomists as to the elements of which it was composed. Cf. Dante, Convito, ii. 15 : “La Galassia, cioe quello biancho cerchio, che il vulgo chiama la via di Santo Jacopo.” In Chaucer (Hous of Fame, ii. 939) the Galaxy is called Watling Street. See Skeat’s note.

7. Juno’s Milk. This story is recorded by Eratosthenes, Catast. 44 ; Hyginus, Poet. Astron. ii. 43 ; Pausan. ix. 25, §2.

Rabelais, François (1494?–1553), The Five Books and Minor Writings. Volume 1: Books I-III. William Francis Smith (1842–1919), translator. London: Alexader P. Watt, 1893. p. 219. Internet Archive

Posted 23 December 2017. Modified 27 December 2020.

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