A few lines from Gargantua et Pantagruel, a book written in 1534...
We French all remember having read some of the gorgeous writings of François Rabelais (1494-1553) in school, namely Gargantua et Pantagruel, although maybe not in the early classes because his prose was often full of booze, sex and gore. Rabelais, a native from Chinon (Loire) and a Franciscan monk, is considered an illustrious case of scatological talent and joyous rebellness, and in his work you'll find drunkards, monks, blasphemers and unrepentant gluttons with no respect for the politically-correct clergy of that time __which it seems was much more tolerant than our contemporary secular clergy (to paraphrase Régis Debray), because if some one wrote a modern equivalent of Gargantua he'd be sure thrown on the pyre by the hygienists and all the victimization lobbies looking for a witch who dares raise her broom above the correct line of thinking. Reading Rabelais's vivid and colorful prose is akin to taking part to fiery pagan parties and you almost feel you're splashed with wine and meat sauce. There's even an adjective in French, gargantuesque, to express the wild, happy gluttony and unrestrained drinking practiced in a spirit of humorous debauchery.
I happen to have found during lunch break in Saint Mandé the other day a "translation" (from old French to modern French) of Gargantua et Pantagruel which Rabelais wrote in 1534. This 1936 "translation" makes it more easy to understand the language than the original which is demanding in terms of attention and going aroung strange disused words.
The book was lying among many other books (often less interesting) on a table in this weekly old-books street market, it was only 2 €, so I bought it for the fun of it. As I leafed randomly through the volume I was stunned at the vividness of these scenes and exchanges, it's so bewildering to think that this was written so many centuries ago, it's so free-wheeling and wild, some would say with a Tarantino touch in the gore side of certain scenes along with something of Charles Bukowski's excesses albeit with a more light-hearted tone.
I did a bit of research and found an English translation online, which made me decide to post two excerpts, the first being about an improvised conversation between drinkers, and the other recounting in a visually-expressive form (almost like in an action movie) how a single monk defeated an army of invaders who had been pillaging, stealing and killing in Seville and then went to this abbey and proceeded to loot the vineyard and cut the grapes, thus jeopardizing the future wine of the monks. All the monks chose to just stay indoors, pray and make litanies in hope everythings gets fine, but one monk decided to take the matters in his own hands...quite violently. Nothing related to any contemporary situation or events here, of course...
Then did they fall upon the chat of victuals and some belly furniture to be snatched at in the very same place. Which purpose was no sooner mentioned, but forthwith began flagons to go, gammons to trot, goblets to fly, great bowls to ting, glasses to ring.
Draw, reach, fill, mix, give it me without water.
A cessation and truce with thirst.
Ha, thou false fever, wilt thou not be gone?
By my figgins, godmother, I cannot as yet enter in the humour of being merry, nor drink so currently as I would. You have catched a cold, gammer? Yea, forsooth, sir.
By the belly of Sanct Buff, let us talk of our drink:
I never drink but at my hours, like the Pope's mule.
And I never drink but in my breviary, like a fair father guardian.
Which was first, thirst or drinking ?
Thirst, for who in the time of innocence would have drunk without being athirst ?
Nay, sir, it was drinking; for privatio praesupponit habitum. I am learned, you see: Foecundi calices quem non fecere disertum? We poor innocents drink but too much without thirst.
Not I truly, who am a sinner, for I never drink without thirst, either present or future. To prevent it, as you know, I drink for the thirst to come. I drink eternally. This is to me an eternity of drinking, and drinking of eternity. Let us sing, let us drink, and tune up our roundelays. Where is my funnel? What, it seems I do not drink but by an attorney ?
Do you wet yourselves to dry, or do you dry to wet you ?
Pish, I understand not the rhetoric (theoric, I should say), but I help myself somewhat by the practice.
Baste! enough! I sup, I wet, I humect, I moisten my gullet, I drink, and all for fear of dying.
Drink always and you shall never die.
If I drink not, I am a-ground, dry, gravelled and spent. I am stark dead without drink, and my soul ready to fly into some marsh amongst frogs; the soul never dwells in a dry place, drouth kills it. O you butlers, creators of new forms, make me of no drinker a drinker, a perennity and everlastingness of sprinkling and bedewing me through these my parched and sinewy bowels. He drinks in vain that feels not the pleasure of it. This entereth into my veins,—the pissing tools and urinal vessels shall have nothing of it.
I would willingly wash the tripes of the calf which I apparelled this morning.
I have pretty well now ballasted my stomach and stuffed my paunch. If the papers of my bonds and bills could drink as well as I do, my creditors would not want for wine when they come to see me, or when they are to make any formal exhibition of their rights to what of me they can demand.
This hand of yours spoils your nose.
O how many other such will enter here before this go out! What, drink so shallow? It is enough to break both girds and petrel. This is called a cup of dissimulation, or flagonal hypocrisy.
What difference is there between a bottle and a flagon ?
Great difference : for the bottle is stopped and shut up with a stopple, but the flagon with a screw (La bouteille est fermee a bouchon, et le flaccon a vis.).
Bravely and well played upon the words ! Our fathers drank lustily, and emptied their cans.
Well cacked, well sung ! Come, let us drink !
Will you send nothing to the river? Here is one going to wash the tripes.
I drink no more than a sponge !
I drink like a Templar knight !
And I, tanquam sponsus !
And I, sicut terra sine aqua !
Give me a synonymon for a gammon of bacon ?
It is the compulsory of drinkers : it is a pulley. By a pulley-rope wine is let down into a cellar, and by a gammon into the stomach.
Hey! now, boys, hither, some drink, some drink.
There is no trouble in it. Respice personam, pone pro duos, bus non est in usu.
If I could get up as well as I can swallow down, I had been long ere now very high in the air.
A little rain allays a great deal of wind: long tippling breaks the thunder.
But if there came such liquor from my ballock, would you not willingly thereafter suck the udder whence it issued ?
Here, page, fill ! I prithee, forget me not when it comes to my turn, and I will enter the election I have made of thee into the very register of my heart.
Sup, Guillot, and spare not, there is somewhat in the pot.
I appeal from thirst, and disclaim its jurisdiction. Page, sue out my appeal in form.
This remnant in the bottom of the glass must follow its leader. I was wont heretofore to drink out all, but now I leave nothing.
Let us not make too much haste; it is requisite we carry all along with us.
Heyday, here are tripes fit for our sport, and, in earnest, excellent godebillios of the dun ox (you know) with the black streak. O, for God's sake, let us lash them soundly, yet thriftily.
Drink, or I will...No, no, drink, I beseech you (Ou je vous, je vous prie.).
Sparrows will not eat unless you bob them on the tail, nor can I drink if I be not fairly spoke to.
The concavities of my body are like another Hell for their capacity. Lagonaedatera (lagon lateris cavitas: aides orcus: and eteros alter.). There is not a corner, nor coney-burrow in all my body, where this wine doth not ferret out my thirst.
Ho, this will bang it soundly. But this shall banish it utterly.
Let us wind our horns by the sound of flagons and bottles, and cry aloud, that whoever hath lost his thirst come not hither to seek it. Long clysters of drinking are to be voided without doors.
The great God made the planets, and we make the platters neat.
I have the word of the gospel in my mouth, Sitio. The stone called asbestos is not more unquenchable than the thirst of my paternity.
Appetite comes with eating, says Angeston, but the thirst goes away with drinking.
I have a remedy against thirst, quite contrary to that which is good against the biting of a mad dog. Keep running after a dog, and he will never bite you. Drink always before the thirst, and it will never come upon you.
There I catch you, I awake you. Argus had a hundred eyes for his sight, a butler should have (like Briareus) a hundred hands wherewith to fill us wine indefatigably.
Hey now, lads, let us moisten ourselves, it will be time to dry hereafter.
White wine here, wine, boys! Pour out all in the name of Lucifer, fill here, you, fill and fill (peascods on you) till it be full. My tongue peels. Lans trinque; to thee, countryman, I drink to thee, good fellow, comrade to thee, lusty, lively!
Ha, la, la, that was drunk to some purpose, and bravely gulped over. O lachryma Christi, it is of the best grape! I'faith, pure Greek, Greek!
O the fine white wine! upon my conscience, it is a kind of taffetas wine
Hin, hin, it is of one ear, well wrought, and of good wool.
Courage, comrade, up thy heart, billy! We will not be beasted at this bout, for I have got one trick. Ex hoc in hoc. There is no enchantment nor charm there, every one of you hath seen it. My 'prenticeship is out, I am a free man at this trade. I am prester mast (Prestre mace, maistre passe.), Prish, Brum! I should say, master past.
O the drinkers, those that are a-dry, O poor thirsty souls! Good page, my friend, fill me here some, and crown the wine, I pray thee. Like a cardinal! Natura abhorret vacuum. Would you say that a fly could drink in this ?
This is after the fashion of Brittany.
Clear off, neat, supernaculum! Come, therefore, blades, to this divine liquor and celestial juice, swill it over heartily, and spare not! It is a decoction of nectar and ambrosia.
So much they did, and so far they went pillaging and stealing, that at last they came to Seville, where they robbed both men and women, and took all they could catch: nothing was either too hot or too heavy for them. Although the plague was there in the most part of all the houses, they nevertheless entered everywhere, then plundered and carried away all that was within, and yet for all this not one of them took any hurt, which is a most wonderful case. For the curates, vicars, preachers, physicians, chirurgeons, and apothecaries, who went to visit, to dress, to cure, to heal, to preach unto and admonish those that were sick, were all dead of the infection, and these devilish robbers and murderers caught never any harm at all. Whence comes this to pass, my masters? I beseech you think upon it. The town being thus pillaged, they went unto the abbey with a horrible noise and tumult, but they found it shut and made fast against them. Whereupon the body of the army marched forward towards a pass or ford called the Gue de Vede, except seven companies of foot and two hundred lancers, who, staying there, broke down the walls of the clos, to waste, spoil, and make havoc of all the vines and vintage within that place. The monks (poor devils) knew not in that extremity to which of all their sancts they should vow themselves. Nevertheless, at all adventures they rang the bells ad capitulum capitulantes. There it was decreed that they should make a fair procession, stuffed with good lectures, prayers, and litanies contra hostium insidias, and jolly responses pro pace.
There was then in the abbey a claustral monk, called Friar John of the funnels and gobbets, in French des entoumeures, young, gallant, frisk, lusty, nimble, quick, active, bold, adventurous, resolute, tall, lean, wide-mouthed, long-nosed, a fair despatcher of morning prayers, unbridler of masses, and runner over of vigils; and, to conclude summarily in a word, a right monk, if ever there was any, since the monking world monked a monkery: for the rest, a clerk even to the teeth in matter of breviary. This monk, hearing the noise that the enemy made within the enclosure of the vineyard, went out to see what they were doing; and perceiving that they were cutting and gathering the grapes, whereon was grounded the foundation of all their next year's wine, returned unto the choir of the church where the other monks were, all amazed and astonished like so many bell-melters. Whom when he heard sing, im, nim, pe, ne, ne, ne, ne, nene, tum, ne, num, num, ini, i mi, co, o, no, o, o, neno, ne, no, no, no, rum, nenum, num: It is well shit, well sung, said he. By the virtue of God, why do not you sing, Panniers, farewell, vintage is done? The devil snatch me, if they be not already within the middle of our clos, and cut so well both vines and grapes, that, by Cod's body, there will not be found for these four years to come so much as a gleaning in it. By the belly of Sanct James, what shall we poor devils drink the while? Lord God! da mihi potum. Then said the prior of the convent: What should this drunken fellow do here? let him be carried to prison for troubling the divine service. Nay, said the monk, the wine service, let us behave ourselves so that it be not troubled; for you yourself, my lord prior, love to drink of the best, and so doth every honest man. Never yet did a man of worth dislike good wine, it is a monastical apophthegm. But these responses that you chant here, by G—, are not in season. Wherefore is it, that our devotions were instituted to be short in the time of harvest and vintage, and long in the advent, and all the winter? The late friar, Massepelosse, of good memory, a true zealous man, or else I give myself to the devil, of our religion, told me, and I remember it well, how the reason was, that in this season we might press and make the wine, and in winter whiff it up. Hark you, my masters, you that love the wine, Cop's body, follow me; for Sanct Anthony burn me as freely as a faggot, if they get leave to taste one drop of the liquor that will not now come and fight for relief of the vine. Hog's belly, the goods of the church! Ha, no, no. What the devil, Sanct Thomas of England was well content to die for them; if I died in the same cause, should not I be a sanct likewise? Yes. Yet shall not I die there for all this, for it is I that must do it to others and send them a-packing.
As he spake this he threw off his great monk's habit, and laid hold upon the staff of the cross, which was made of the heart of a sorbapple-tree, it being of the length of a lance, round, of a full grip, and a little powdered with lilies called flower de luce, the workmanship whereof was almost all defaced and worn out. Thus went he out in a fair long-skirted jacket, putting his frock scarfwise athwart his breast, and in this equipage, with his staff, shaft or truncheon of the cross, laid on so lustily, brisk, and fiercely upon his enemies, who, without any order, or ensign, or trumpet, or drum, were busied in gathering the grapes of the vineyard. For the cornets, guidons, and ensign-bearers had laid down their standards, banners, and colours by the wall sides: the drummers had knocked out the heads of their drums on one end to fill them with grapes: the trumpeters were loaded with great bundles of bunches and huge knots of clusters: in sum, everyone of them was out of array, and all in disorder. He hurried, therefore, upon them so rudely, without crying gare or beware, that he overthrew them like hogs, tumbled them over like swine, striking athwart and alongst, and by one means or other laid so about him, after the old fashion of fencing, that to some he beat out their brains, to others he crushed their arms, battered their legs, and bethwacked their sides till their ribs cracked with it. To others again he unjointed the spondyles or knuckles of the neck, disfigured their chaps, gashed their faces, made their cheeks hang flapping on their chin, and so swinged and balammed them that they fell down before him like hay before a mower. To some others he spoiled the frame of their kidneys, marred their backs, broke their thigh-bones, pashed in their noses, poached out their eyes, cleft their mandibles, tore their jaws, dung in their teeth into their throat, shook asunder their omoplates or shoulder-blades, sphacelated their shins, mortified their shanks, inflamed their ankles, heaved off of the hinges their ishies, their sciatica or hip-gout, dislocated the joints of their knees, squattered into pieces the boughts or pestles of their thighs, and so thumped, mauled and belaboured them everywhere, that never was corn so thick and threefold threshed upon by ploughmen's flails as were the pitifully disjointed members of their mangled bodies under the merciless baton of the cross. If any offered to hide himself amongst the thickest of the vines, he laid him squat as a flounder, bruised the ridge of his back, and dashed his reins like a dog. If any thought by flight to escape, he made his head to fly in pieces by the lamboidal commissure, which is a seam in the hinder part of the skull. If anyone did scramble up into a tree, thinking there to be safe, he rent up his perinee, and impaled him in at the fundament. If any of his old acquaintance happened to cry out, Ha, Friar John, my friend Friar John, quarter, quarter, I yield myself to you, to you I render myself! So thou shalt, said he, and must, whether thou wouldst or no, and withal render and yield up thy soul to all the devils in hell; then suddenly gave them dronos, that is, so many knocks, thumps, raps, dints, thwacks, and bangs, as sufficed to warn Pluto of their coming and despatch them a-going. If any was so rash and full of temerity as to resist him to his face, then was it he did show the strength of his muscles, for without more ado he did transpierce him, by running him in at the breast, through the mediastine and the heart. Others, again, he so quashed and bebumped, that, with a sound bounce under the hollow of their short ribs, he overturned their stomachs so that they died immediately. To some, with a smart souse on the epigaster, he would make their midriff swag, then, redoubling the blow, gave them such a homepush on the navel that he made their puddings to gush out. To others through their ballocks he pierced their bumgut, and left not bowel, tripe, nor entrail in their body that had not felt the impetuosity, fierceness, and fury of his violence. Believe, that it was the most horrible spectacle that ever one saw. Some cried unto Sanct Barbe, others to St. George. O the holy Lady Nytouch, said one, the good Sanctess; O our Lady of Succours, said another, help, help! Others cried, Our Lady of Cunaut, of Loretto, of Good Tidings, on the other side of the water St. Mary Over. Some vowed a pilgrimage to St. James, and others to the holy handkerchief at Chamberry, which three months after that burnt so well in the fire that they could not get one thread of it saved. Others sent up their vows to St. Cadouin, others to St. John d'Angely, and to St. Eutropius of Xaintes. Others again invoked St. Mesmes of Chinon, St. Martin of Candes, St. Clouaud of Sinays, the holy relics of Laurezay, with a thousand other jolly little sancts and santrels. Some died without speaking, others spoke without dying; some died in speaking, others spoke in dying. Others shouted as loud as they could Confession, Confession, Confiteor, Miserere, In manus! So great was the cry of the wounded, that the prior of the abbey with all his monks came forth, who, when they saw these poor wretches so slain amongst the vines, and wounded to death, confessed some of them. But whilst the priests were busied in confessing them, the little monkies ran all to the place where Friar John was, and asked him wherein he would be pleased to require their assistance. To which he answered that they should cut the throats of those he had thrown down upon the ground. They presently, leaving their outer habits and cowls upon the rails, began to throttle and make an end of those whom he had already crushed. Can you tell with what instruments they did it? With fair gullies, which are little hulchbacked demi-knives, the iron tool whereof is two inches long, and the wooden handle one inch thick, and three inches in length, wherewith the little boys in our country cut ripe walnuts in two while they are yet in the shell, and pick out the kernel, and they found them very fit for the expediting of that weasand-slitting exploit. In the meantime Friar John, with his formidable baton of the cross, got to the breach which the enemies had made, and there stood to snatch up those that endeavoured to escape. Some of the monkitos carried the standards, banners, ensigns, guidons, and colours into their cells and chambers to make garters of them. But when those that had been shriven would have gone out at the gap of the said breach, the sturdy monk quashed and felled them down with blows, saying, These men have had confession and are penitent souls; they have got their absolution and gained the pardons; they go into paradise as straight as a sickle, or as the way is to Faye (like Crooked-Lane at Eastcheap). Thus by his prowess and valour were discomfited all those of the army that entered into the clos of the abbey, unto the number of thirteen thousand, six hundred, twenty and two, besides the women and little children, which is always to be understood. Never did Maugis the Hermit bear himself more valiantly with his bourdon or pilgrim's staff against the Saracens, of whom is written in the Acts of the four sons of Aymon, than did this monk against his enemies with the staff of the cross.
I wonder what sort of wine Rabelais was drinking...
You can read the whole book (English version) on this page (courtesy of the Project Gutenberg)
Note : The transluscent color, the light turbidity and the vividness of the wine on this portrait of Bacchus make me think that back in the early 17th century when this painting was made, the wines were truly exciting and possibly very similar to the ones I love today...