The Ad­ven­ture of Two Giants

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Cui Hao Edited by Scott Bray

Gar­gan­tua and Pan­ta­gruel sets it­self apart in the his­tory of French lit­er­a­ture and places Ra­belais among such cul­tural giants as Dante, Shake­speare and Cervantes.

There is a rev­o­lu­tion­ary six­teenth cen­tury novel among the star-stud­ded works of French lit­er­a­ture. At first glance its pages seem full of ab­sur­di­ties, yet it is rich in con­no­ta­tion and thought-pro­vok­ing. Two giants, fa­ther and son, ex­pe­ri­ence a se­ries of adventures from birth, re­gal­ing read­ers with their bizarre yet hu­mor­ous tales.

In the 16th cen­tury, French hu­man­ist François Ra­belais aban­doned medicine for lit­er­a­ture, spend­ing 20 years work­ing on a satir­i­cal novel, Gar­gan­tua and Pan­ta­gruel. This work would set it­self apart in the his­tory of French lit­er­a­ture, plac­ing Ra­belais among such cul­tural giants as Dante, Shake­speare and Cervantes. For over four hun­dred years, its ex­ag­ger­ated sto­ry­line has en­joyed con­stant pop­u­lar­ity, at­tract­ing count­less read­ers.

Great Physi­cian and Cul­tural Gi­ant

In 1532, an ex­cep­tion­ally grotesque novel ap­peared in book­stores in Lyon, France. Its ti­tle, The Hor­ri­ble and Ter­ri­fy­ing Deeds and Words of the Very Renowned Pan­ta­gruel King of the Dip­sodes, Son of the Great Gi­ant Gar­gan­tua was writ­ten un­der the pen name “Al­cofribas Nasier.” So re­fresh­ing and fas­ci­nat­ing was this novel that read­ers quickly snapped it up. The sec­ond novel in the se­ries The Very Hor­rific Life of Great Gar­gan­tua, Fa­ther of Pan­ta­gruel, fol­lowed only a year later. It too sold out soon af­ter hit­ting the shelves. “Nasier,” the au­thor of th­ese two nov­els, was Ra­belais, physi­cian at Lyon's city hos­pi­tal. With the cre­ation of a third, the nov­els later en­joyed the re­sound­ing col­lec­tive ti­tle Gar­gan­tua

and Pan­ta­gruel.

One of the most fa­mous Re­nais­sance hu­man­ists, Ra­belais rep­re­sented the French cul­tural peak of the era. A knowl­edge­able, en­thu­si­as­tic and open-minded man, he was pro­fi­cient in Greek and Latin and versed in philosophy, the­ol­ogy and math­e­mat­ics—a gi­ant of the Re­nais­sance. In 1483, François Ra­belais was born into a fam­ily of lawyers in France and lived a care­free child­hood on his fa­ther's es­tate. Dur­ing his teens, Ra­belais re­ceived re­li­gious ed­u­ca­tion, be­com­ing a friar in the monastery. The life­less re­li­gious ed­u­ca­tion, how­ever, was un­bear­able. Even so, he read a great many books at the monastery, be­com­ing a very learned per­son. In 1530, Ra­belais en­tered univer­sity to study medicine. Af­ter spend­ing two months earn­ing his bach­e­lor's de­gree, he be­came a physi­cian.

In 1532, Ra­belais be­gan prac­tic­ing in Lyon. An in­sight­ful physi­cian, he wanted more than the sin­gu­lar treat­ment of hu­man dis­eases, tak­ing his pen to com­bat the ills that struck so­ci­ety as a whole. It was then that a folk­tale named The Great and Ines­timable Chron­i­cles of the Grand and Enor­mous Gi­ant Gar­gan­tua was pub­lished in Lyon, stok­ing the flames of Ra­belais' en­thu­si­asm. So be­gan his Gar­gan­tua and Pan­ta­gruel, the first two nov­els writ­ten un­der the pseu­do­nym Al­cofribas Nasier. The nov­els at­tracted a great many read­ers fol­low­ing their pub­li­ca­tion but courted the bit­ter ha­tred of the church and no­bil­ity. The epony­mous giants found them­selves banned by the court as a re­sult of be­ing de­clared an “ob­scene” book. Three years later, King François I turned to the re­ac­tionary Catholics, per­se­cuted Protes­tants and thwarted the Re­nais­sance move­ment. Ra­belais met con­stant mis­for­tune, but he con­tin­ued his last three Gar­gan­tua and Pan­ta­gruel works, in ad­di­tion to earn­ing a mas­ter's de­gree and doc­tor­ate in medicine.

In 1545, the third part of Gar­gan­tua and Pan­ta­gruel was pub­lished un­der Ra­belais' real name, due to the pro­tec­tion af­forded by royal priv­i­lege. He even in­cluded a poem ded­i­cated to the queen on the front-page to en­sure its pub­li­ca­tion. Com­pared to its pre­de­ces­sors, the third novel of the se­ries was some­what re­strained and em­ployed metaphors in many places, yet even that could hardly cover the book's vi­o­lent at­tacks on var­i­ous so­cial ills of the time. The church and the court were in­fu­ri­ated once again. They banned the book and sen­tenced the publisher to death. Ra­belais was forced to flee abroad. It was not un­til 1550 when he was asked to write a poem to con­grat­u­late the birth of the new king's son that he was granted per­mis­sion to re­turn to France. Back home, Ra­belais took a re­li­gious po­si­tion, treated the poor in his spare time and later taught at a school. While he was teach­ing, he com­pleted the fourth and fifth parts of Gar­gan­tua and Pan­ta­gruel. The en­tirety of the novel took nearly twenty years to com­plete. Once pub­lished, the book was all the rage, its gross sales over two months ex­ceed­ing that of the Bi­ble in nine years.

The satir­i­cal novel tells of the adventures of two giants, King Gar­gan­tua and his son Pan­ta­gruel. It de­picts the ex­tra­or­di­nary birth of Gar­gan­tua, Pan­ta­gruel's great adventures study­ing in Paris, Gar­gan­tua and Pan­ta­gruel's dis­cus­sion on mar­riage and Pan­ta­gruel's sea voy­age to con­sult the Or­a­cle of Bacbuc. Be­tween th­ese pur­suits, the dark­ness and de­cay of the me­dieval church are em­pha­sised, re­flect­ing the hu­man­ist ideal dur­ing the Re­nais­sance to lib­er­ate so­ci­ety from bour­geois ideals. Chi­nese au­thor Guo Moruo (1892–1978) once said:

“If Ni­co­laus Coper­ni­cus is one of the pi­o­neers in at­tack­ing Me­dieval Feu­dal­ism in West­ern Europe from a sci­en­tific per­spec­tive, Ra­belais is among those that fought it on the lit­er­ary front.”

In the novel, Ra­belais bit­terly crit­i­cised the hypocrisy and cru­elty of the church, es­pe­cially how Catholic scholas­tic ed­u­ca­tion poi­soned the minds of chil­dren. In Ra­belais' ideal world, hu­man na­ture is good, and peo­ple are sim­ple. He wished every­one could “Do What Thou Wilt.” Read­ing Ra­belais' ri­otous Gar­gan­tua and Pan­ta­gruel, laughs come eas­ily and heartily—lit­tle won­der he is hailed as a great comedic mas­ter. In 1553, Ra­belais died in Paris. At the end of his life, he laughed loudly and said: “Bring down the curtain, the farce is played out.” On the stage of life, Ra­belais per­formed his play with vivid strokes, leav­ing valu­able cul­tural trea­sures for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

Mag­i­cal King­dom

Gar­gan­tua is the pro­tag­o­nist of the first vol­ume of Gar­gan­tua and Pan­ta­gruel. On the day of his birth, af­ter 11 months of preg­nancy, Gar­gan­tua en­tered his mother's hol­low vein and, emerg­ing from her left ear, shouted “some drink, some drink, some drink.”

A gi­ant, Gar­gan­tua drinks the milk of more than 17,000 cows a day, has an 18-layer chin be­fore turn­ing three, and wears a gown wo­ven with nearly 10,000 yards of vel­vet. Gar­gan­tua's fa­ther in­vites a num­ber of mas­ters to teach him, yet Gar­gan­tua be­comes more stupid. Ponocrates, Gar­gan­tua's teacher, then gives him a lax­a­tive to re­move all his bad habits, re­quir­ing the pupil to fo­cus on his stud­ies with­out wast­ing a mo­ment.

As the har­vest sea­son comes, bak­ers in Lerne are in­sulted by the shep­herds who guard the vine­yards in Gar­gan­tua's coun­try. Pi­cro­c­hole, King of Lerne, leads his army to ran­sack Gar­gan­tua's coun­try. With the coun­try in jeop­ardy, Gran­gousier, fa­ther of Gar­gan­tua, writes a let­ter to his son ask­ing him to re­turn.

When Gar­gan­tua re­turns, he uses his strength to rout the en­emy, then leads his fa­ther's army to beat Pi­cro­c­hole with the as­sis­tance of the abbey's monks. Win­ning vic­tory, Gar­gan­tua builds an abbey where men and women are al­lowed to marry and every­one is free to have money and live as they want. The only rule of the abbey is “do as thou wilt.”

In book II, Gar­gan­tua, hav­ing lived to the ripe age of 524, has a son, Pan­ta­gruel. Pan­ta­gruel drinks the milk of 4,600 cows for ev­ery meal. As he is feed­ing from a cow, he breaks free from the cra­dle rope and nearly swal­lows the cow whole. To pre­vent the child from caus­ing more trou­ble, Gar­gan­tua or­ders

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