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Rabelais's Laurel for Glory: A Further Study of the “Pantagruelion”*

  • François Rigolot (a1)

Extract

Numerous interpretations have been given to the final episode of Rabelais's Third Book of Pantagruel—the last four chapters devoted to the famous plant called “Pantagruelion” (Tiers Livre, chaps. 49-52). For the great editors of the early twentieth-century critical edition of Rabelais's Works, the Pantagruelion was a “technical enigma” meant to be deciphered by scientists as the symbol of the Renaissance belief in human progress. For some of the supporters of Rabelais's Erasmian Evangelism, on the contrary, the enigmatic formulation of the episode was the key to Rabelais's thought: the magic plant had to be decoded as a veiled message of steadfast faith in the face of persecution. For obvious political reasons Rabelais had resorted to the ingenious device of enigmatic speech; yet his message had been understood by his contemporary Christian humanists.

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*

A first version of this paper was given at the National Conference of the Renaissance Society of America held at Tempe, Arizona, March 12-14,1987.1 wish to thank Marie- Rose Logan as organizer, Deborah Losse as chair, Cathleen M. Bauschatz as respondent, and O. Bradley Bassler and Hope Glidden as participants of the session on “Literary Tradition and Self-Identity.”

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1 “Venez icy recongnoistre nos biens, / Et emportez de nostre herbe la grene” (Francois Rabelais, Le Tiers Livre, ed. M. A. Screech [Geneva; Paris, 1964], chap. 52, 353). All references to the French text will be to this edition. Henceforth the page number will be given in parentheses.

2 Lefranc, Abel, Oeuvres de Rabelais, vol. 5, Le Tiers Livre (Paris, 1931), Introduction c; and, above all, Plattard, Jean, L'Oeuvre de Rabelais (Paris, 1910) 154162 .

3 V. L. Saulnier, “L'Enigme du Pantagruelion,” Etudes Rabelaisiennes, 1 (1956):48- 72. Saulnier developed his famous thesis about Rabelais's covert appeal to his contemporaries for a “tacit”attitude towards Evangelical freedom, referred to by Saulnier, as “hesuchism,” in Le Dessein de Rabelais (Paris, 1957), rpt. in Saulnier, , Rabelais dans son enquête (Paris, 1983), vol. 1.

4 Cf. Claudie E. Bernard, “Le Pantagruélion entre nature et culture,” Degré Second, Studies in French Literature, 5 (i98i):i-2o; Delegue, Yves, “Le Pantagruélion, ou le discours de la vérité,” Réforme, Humanisme, Renaissance 16 (1983 ):18-4o; LucRasson, “Rabelais et la maîtrise: l'exemple du Tiers Livre,” Revue beige dephilologie et d'histoire 62 (19845:493-503.

5 Colie, Rosalie, Paradoxia Epidemica (Princeton, 1966): Losse, Deborah N. ,“Lyrical Paradox,” in idem, Rhetoric at Play: Rabelais and Satirical Eulogy (Berne, 1980) 66-78. It is not possible to give here an exhaustive bibliography of satirical eulogy and the Pantagruelion episode. On the interplay between the rhetoric of praise and the poetic vision in Rabelais, see my “Language du Topiqueur”in Les Langages de Rabelais (Etudes Rabelaisiennes [Geneva, 1972]) 144-52.

6 “The Figtree and the Laurel: Petrarch's Poetics,” Diacritics s(1975): 34.

7 Regan, Mariann Sanders, Love Words: The Self and the Text in Medieval and Renaissance Poetry (Ithaca, 1982) 255-56.

8 On the question of imitation and self-identity in the Renaissance, see in particular Cave, Terence, The Comucopian Text: Problems of Writing in the French Renaissance (Oxford, 1979), esp. pp. 35-77; Thomas Greene, M., The Light in Troy: Imitation and Discovery in Renaissance Poetry (New Haven, 1982); and Ehsan Ahmed, “A Crisis of Lyric Identity: French Humanist Responses (1533 -1552),” Ph. D. diss., Princeton University, 1986.

9 “Entre aultres choses, je veids qu'il [Pantagruel] feist charger grande foison de son herbe Pantagruelion, tant verde et crude que conficte et praeparee” (327). The English translation of Rabelais's text is taken, with a fair degree of modification, from Cohen's, J. M. The Histories ofGargantua and Pantagruel (London, 1977) 421. The page number will be given between parentheses in the text.

10 For specific references to classical and modern sources, see M. A. Screech's notes to his critical edition of the Tiers Livre, pp. 326-354

11 Numerous examples are listed by Joukovsky, Françoise, La gloire dans la poésie française et néo-latine du seizième siecle (Geneva, 1969), pp. 372-74. In Scève's, Maurice Delie object de plus haulte vertu (Lyons, 1544), references to the “green laurels” of poetic immortality are crucial to the intertextuality of the canzoniere. Cf. Nash, Jerry C., Concordance de la “Delie” (Chapel Hill, 1976).

12 “Les Dieux Olympiques ont en pareil effroy diet: ‘Pantagruel nous a mis en pemsement nouveau et tedieux, plus que oncques ne feirent les Aloides, par l'usage et vertus de son herbe… . Par ses enfans (peut estre) sera inventée herbe de semblable energie, moyennantlaquellepourrontleshumains… entrerleterritoiredessignescelestes… , s'asseoir à table avecques nous, et nos déesses prendre à femmes, qui sont les seuls moyens d'estre deifiez’ ” (346-7), italics added.

13 Problèmes de linguistique générale (Paris, 1966) 1:84. Benvéniste is actually commenting on Freud's essay on negation (Gesammelte Werke 14:11-15, and Collected Papers 181- 185).

14 As we shall see, Rabelais's enigma allows for the duplicitous nature of his hero's emblematic self-creation as reported to us by Rabelais's comic persona, his well-trained rhetorician referred to here as the “narrator.”

15 “Et, comme en plusieurs plantes sont deux sexes, masle et femelle, ce que voyons es lauriers, palmes, chesnes … et aultres, aussi en ceste herbe y a masle et femelle” (330). The italics are mine.

16 On the symbolic significance of oaks and palms, see Conti, Natale, Mythologia (Venice, 1551) 205, 233, 235, 401ff., 511.

17 “Je trouve que les plantes sont nominées en diverses manieres” (333).

18 “ Aultres [plantes song nominees] par metamorphose d'hommes et femmes de nom semblable, comme daphne, c'est laurier, de Daphne” (336). The italics are mine.

19 Cf. my “Nature and Function of Paranomasia in the Canzoniere,” Italian Quarterly 18 (Summer, i974):29-36.

20 For a comparative analysis of the Apollo-Daphne myth in the Delie and the Rime Sparse see Neva, JoAnn Delia, “Daphne and the Laurel: Poetic Metamorphosis from Petrarch to Scève,” in her Song and Counter-Song: Scève's “Delie” and Petrarch's “Rime” (Lexington, KY, 1983), pp. 69-84. On the identification of Petrarch with the Ovidian love story, see Giraud, Yves, La fable de Daphné: Essais sur un type de métamorphose végétale dans la littérature et les artsjusqu'à la fin du dix-septième siècle (Geneva, 1968), esp. pp. 365- 86. On the laurel as symbol for poetic glory see Joukovsky, Gloire dans la poésie 365-86.

21 “En plusieurs plantes sont deux sexes, mask et femelle, ce que nous voyons es lauriers” (330), italics added.

22 “In the Tiers Livre [Rabelais] exploits the contemporary interest in marriage and its problems as a vehicle for expressing in comic action the nuances of his thought”; Screech, The Rabelaisian Marriage (London, 1958), p. 2.

23 “Pendent vostre absence, je feray les apprestz et d'une femme vostre et d'un festin, que je veulx à vos nopces faire celebre si oncques en feut” (325).

24 Ibid., 42.

25 “Ce que je vous ay diet est grand et admirable; mais si vouliez vous hazarder de croire quelque autre divinité de ce sacre Pantagruelion, je la vous dirois. Croyez la ou non, ce m'est tout un; me suffist vous avoir diet verity. Verity vous diray” (348).

26 The Anatomy of Melancholy (Oxford, 1624) 233. Cf. Gent, Lucy, Picture and Poetry, 1560-1620 (Leamington Spa, 1981) 44.

27 Rabelais's description of the evergreen Pantagruelion points to earlier descriptions of wondrous objects, especially the evergreen cornucopian codpiece (“tousjours gualante, succulente, resudante, tousjours verdoyante . . .”) in Gargantua, chap. 8. I wish to thank Hope Glidden for her helpful suggestions.

28 “La concupiscence charnelle est refrenée par … certaines drogues et plantes les quelles rendent l'homme refroidy, maleficié et impotent a generation. L'experience y est en nymphaea heraclia, amer,ine, saule, chenevé. . .” (217). The italics are added.

29 Cf. Screech, “Medical Wisdom and Medical Controversey: The Advice of Rondibilis,” The Rabelaisian Marriage 84-103.

30 “La semence est numereuse autant que d'herbe qui soit… mais estainct en Vhomme la semence generative, qui en mangeroit beaucoup et souvent” (329). The italics are mine.

31 This aspect of the Pantegruelion has been underlined by Delègue, “Pantagruelion,” 39, n. 33.

32 Les Blasonsdomestiques… (Paris, 1539), fol. 45. Paris, Bibliotheque National, Rés. Ye 1380.

33 “En ceste disputation je ne entreray plus avant; seulement vous diray que petite ne est la louange des preudes femmes, les quelles ont vescu pudicquement et sans blasme et ont eu la vertus de ranger cestuy effrené animal a I'obeissance de raison” (320). The italics are mine. 34“Indes cessez, Arabes, Sabiens,

Tant collauder vos Myrrhe, Encent, Ebene;

Venez icy recongoistre nos biens,

Et emportez de nostre herbe let grene.

Puys, si chez vous pcut croistre, en bonne estrene,

Graces rendez es cieulx un million:

Et affermez de France heureux le regne

On quel provient Pantagruelion.

Fin du troisiesme livre

des fctiets et diets heroicques

du bem Pantagruel” (354).

35 “Ainsi est ce grand vergouigne, tousjours, en tous lieux, d'un chascun emprunter, plus toust que travailler et guaingner. Lors seulement debvroit on (scelon monjugement) prester, quand la personne travaillant n'a peu par son labeur fait guain, ou quand elle est soubdainement tombée en perte inopinee de ses biens” (55-56). The italics are mine.

36 Delie,ed. I. D. McFarlane (Cambridge, 1966), dizain 310, 11. 5-10.

37 “Ma dame, les pauvres amans ne sont tousjours à leur aise. Quant est de moy, j'espere que les males nuictz, les travaulx et ennuytz esquelz me tient l'amour de vous me seront en deduction de autant des poines de purgatoire. A tout le moins priez Dieu qu'il me doint en mon mal patience.” The italics are mine.

38 “Allez les chercher si voulez, trouvez les si povez: le sort fatal de vostre mariage y est escript” (131).

39 “T esgoussera

de renom.

Engroissera

de toy non.

Te sugsera

le bon bout.

T'escorchera

mais non tout.” (132)

40 Delie, dizain 310,1. 10. “The Poet-Lover,” Regan writes, “must keep toiling, step by step, in the endless task of collecting all the scattered leaves oilauro, self and Source” (Love Words 219).

4 I“Aesté aussiactedesquatrevertusprincipales… :DeTemperance:mangeantmon blé en herbe” (31, 34). The italics are mine.

42 “De bled en herbe vous faictez belle saulse verde, de legiere concoction, de facile digestion, laquelle… vous dilate les vases spermaticques, abbrevie les cremasteres, expurge la vessie, enfle les genitoires, corrige le prepuce, incruste le balane, rectifie le membre” (34).

43 “Sicut in die honeste ambulemus, non in comessationibus et ebrietatibus, non in cubilibus et impudicitiis, non in contentione et aemulatione: sed induimini Dominum Christum, Jesum, et carnis curam ne feceritis in desideriis” Romans 13:13-14, quoted from the Biblia sacra Vulgatae Editionis … (Ratisbon, 1862)4:177.

44 “Legi in silentio capitulum, quo primum coniecti sunt oculi mei: ‘non in comissationibus et ebrietatibus, non in cubilibus et impudicitiis, non in contentione et aemulatione, sed induite dominum Iesum Christum, et carnis providentiam ne feceritis in concupiscentiis.’ Nee ultra volui legere, nee opus erat”; Confessions, bk. 8, chap. 12,1. 29.

45 “Nec opinari poteram id fortuito contigisse, sed quicquid ibi legeram, michi non alteri dictum rebar; recolens quod idem de se ipso suspicatus olim esset Augustinus, quando in lectione codicis Apostolici, ut ipse refert, primum sibi illud occurrit: ‘Non in comessationibus et ebrietatibus, non in cubilibus et impudicitiis, non in contentione et emulatione; sed induite Dominum Iesum Cristum, et carnis providentiam ne feceritis in concupiscentiisvestris’ ”;FamiliariumRerumLibri4:i,mEpistolediFrancescoPetrarca,ed. Ugo Dotti (Turin, 1978), p. 130. I use the English translation by Robert M. Durling, “The Ascent of Mt. Ventoux and the Crisis of Allegory,” Italian Quarterly, 18 (summer): 15.

46 Quoted by Durling, “Ascent of Mt. Ventoux” 15.

47 That is, by the study of plants. Cf. Tiers Livre, chap. 25, 183 (Third Book 358).

48 On the enigma as a literary genre in the Renaissance, see Sebillet, Thomas, Art poëtique franç oys (1558), ed. F. Gaiffe (Paris, 1932) 76.

* A first version of this paper was given at the National Conference of the Renaissance Society of America held at Tempe, Arizona, March 12-14,1987.1 wish to thank Marie- Rose Logan as organizer, Deborah Losse as chair, Cathleen M. Bauschatz as respondent, and O. Bradley Bassler and Hope Glidden as participants of the session on “Literary Tradition and Self-Identity.”

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