“He drinks in vain that feels not the pleasure of it.”
In this early portion of Book One, Rabelais uses quotes such as these to emphasize the gluttonous nature of Gargantua’s parents, Grangousier and Gargamelle. To show not only the character development of Gargantua, but also of his father, Grangousier, this quote establishes how the characters start out on the wicked side of the spectrum, obsessed with nothing but pleasure. They identify non-pleasure seekers as those who act “in vain” or erroneously, for they cannot understand disciplined lifestyles, for to do so would mean questioning their own life decisions. It is not until Grangousier compares his son, Gargantua, to a young page, Eudemon, that Grangousier finally realizes what a non-disciplined hedonistic lifestyle has done to his son and to himself. At that moment of realization, the character arcs change significantly, and the characters themselves leave their gluttonous ways behind to move toward enlightenment.
“I will not undertake war, until I have first tried all the ways and means of peace: that I resolve upon.”
Since Rabelais names Grangousier and Gargantua’s homeland Utopia, it is not surprising that they would abhor war and promote peace. Grangousier’s attempts to try diplomacy first represents a noble gesture, but such a gesture makes him appear weak to his adversaries, who believe that Grangousier fears war. From a historical perspective, warmongering indicated a more feudalistic system of social order akin to times prior to and during the Middle Ages. In a Renaissance world, which was a mixture of monarchies and the rising merchant class, going to war was costly in terms of the price of warfare and the losses in trade. Maintaining peace provided a better financial option for everyone. The Catholic Church also promoted peace between Christian nations, since killing fellow Christians was a sin. Rabelais’s decision to show a satirical comparison between warmongering leaders of real-world locations and peace-loving leaders of fictitious locations underscores the hypocrisy of Christians killing Christians.
“Anoint a villain, he will prick you: prick a villain, and he will anoint you.”
The warmongering Picrochole makes this rather malicious and paranoid statement that to treat villains with kindness is akin to openly asking them to stab you in the back. In many ways, this statement expresses a Machiavellian sentiment; however, Machiavelli’s The Prince was not published until 1532, only a few years before Rabelais published Gargantua, so one cannot definitively state if Rabelais based Picrochole’s mentality off of concepts from Machiavelli’s work. Nevertheless, this quote certainly channels some ideas from The Prince, and it definitely supports the concept that it is better to be feared by your enemies than loved by them, since fear guarantees respect.
“First, then, said Gargantua, you must not build a wall about your convent, for all other abbeys are strongly walled and mured about. See, said the monk, and not without cause (seeing wall and mur signify but one and the same thing); where there is mur before and mur behind, there is store of murmur, envy, and mutual conspiracy.”
In French, “mur” means a wall or partition, so when Friar John explains that a wall and a mur are the same thing, he is being quite literal. Gargantua, however, might be implying a slight contextual difference between the words “walled” and “mured.” With the English word, he may actually mean walls on the outside of the cities or the abbeys, but by tying together both English and French words, he may be trying to signify that not only are the walls up for protection, but they also stand as partitions separating the church from the world. That level of separation, or the mur/mur (wall/wall) creates envy in those outside the wall. Those on the outside will murmur, or gossip, and create conspiracies of what wonderful things must be inside, since someone deliberately built a wall to keep people out.
“Gold give us, God forgive us.”
Concerning the Abbey of Thelme, Gargantua and Friar John create this abbey to reconstruct the way they believe religious houses should operate. As a completely unique and different sort of religious house, Gargantua and Friar John want their abbey to be a place with absolutely no hypocrisy, unlike many of the abbeys in the real world. Although they plan to build their abbey almost in the same design as the ideals of the mythical Camelot, Gargantua and Friar John nonetheless realize that their abbey must exist within the real world, and the inhabitants therein will therefore be tempted by folly. This quote, for example, points to the temptation of materialism, lust, and envy. On the one hand, gold and currency prove themselves as essential tools for obtaining needed goods. On the other hand, though, currency can buy practically anything, including items people do not truly need. Ultimately, people can always ask for forgiveness and stop giving in to the currency-driven temptations. This quote reminds the faithful that in the end, they are always human, and subject to sin, but absolution on earth is easily obtainable.
“By this each king may learn, rook, pawn, and knight,/ That sleight is much more prevalent than might.”
Like many stories from antiquity and the Middle Ages, and even modern stories, victories appear more impressive if smaller forces conquer over larger ones. To conquer an army far mightier than your own, you require clever strategies to trick enemy forces and win the day. Pantagruel’s companions, all highly intellectual and resourceful fellows, know that they cannot beat the enemy armies easily, since the enemy outnumber them significantly. Therefore, they must resort to trickery, and they do so initially with a vanity trap. Prior to the arrival of the enemy, Panurge and the others set up ropes and pulleys to hidden weapons that will take the enemy by surprise and annihilate large numbers. To set off their trap, however, they must let the enemy get close. With a vanity trap, one lets one’s enemy believe they have the upper hand, so that the enemy will let down their guard. At that moment, the trap goes off, and the enemy is killed or captured. Thus, as this quote denotes, while Kings and leaders may want larger armies for sheer numbers, possessing clever soldiers may provide a more prudent and successful approach to warfare.
“I have dreamed too much to have so little.”
Panurge says this, and it truly reflects his character in Books Two and Three. Although he deceives and steals from people, gambles, and takes part in frivolous lawsuits, no matter what wealth he gains, he always wants more and never seems to have enough. Panurge even praises the money lenders, commenting that to be in debt is to be loved, since your debtors will always watch over you until you pay back your debts. In the third book, Panurge somehow gets to a point where he has paid off all of his debts, holds the title of Lord, and owns many properties, yet still he remains unsatisfied. He can always imagine more in his dreams, therefore everything in his waking life seems dramatically less valuable than what he believes he deserves.
“It is a shame to you, and I wonder much at it, that you do not return unto yourself, and recall your senses from this their wild swerving and straying abroad to that rest and stillness which becomes a virtuous man.”
Epistemon, the scholar of the group and the man who was healed and brought back to life by Panurge, makes this comment about Panurge, because he doesn’t understand why his friend has all of a sudden decided to completely change his ways and become a virtuous man. Practically every victory that Epistemon has shared with Panurge resulted in some part from Panurge’s moral ambiguity. Panurge might be a loyal friend, but he is neither a moral nor good man, which is what Epistemon and the others love about Panurge, since Panurge can be who they cannot be. For Panurge to no longer be himself would mean that the entire group dynamic, and everyone within it, would also have to change.
“[F]or at Rome a world of folks get an honest livelihood by poisoning, drubbing, lambasting, stabbing, and murthering; but the catchpoles earn theirs by being thrashed; so that if they were long without a tight lambasting, the poor dogs with their wives and children would be starved.”
Strangely enough, Pantagruel and his companions seem to have more respect for murderous thugs than they do for men who are nothing more than messengers. The catchpoles make their living off of delivering and serving legal papers to people. Upon receiving the papers and summonses, people project all of their anger onto the catchpoles. Therefore, literally wanting to kill the messenger, they beat the catchpoles to get out some of their frustrations. Rabelais provides this story about catchpoles as a satirical view of the legal system. The idea of a country that employs so many catchpoles indicates a country overrun by lengthy legal proceedings and frivolous lawsuits. Although Rabelais portrays this place where the catchpoles work as a fictitious island, the story mocks the French legal system.
“For necessity has no law.”
While on the island of the Apedefers, Pantagruel and his associates learn about the pseudo-legal system of the island. Essentially, the judges have no formal education and are ignorant, but it doesn’t matter, since guilt is judged by how well items are squashed in the grape presses. Pantagruel instantly realizes that such a methodology lacks any real system and uses no actual laws. He then quotes this old proverb, which, according to Martin H. Manser, is an old Latin proverb that implies how moments of urgency can result in people ignoring or breaking laws to accomplish their goals. Thus, in a place where trials must be judged continuously, the necessity to complete the trials supersedes the need for actual laws and justice. Once again, Rabelais satirizes the abhorrent French legal system through this fictitious comparison.
Gargantua and Pantagruel Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Gargantua and Pantagruel is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.