Gargantua and Pantagruel

Gargantua and Pantagruel Summary and Analysis of Book 2, Chapters 1-16

Summary         

The beginning of book two reveals the genealogy of giants all the way down to Pantagruel, the son of Gargantua. The narrator of the book does not provide his name at first, but explains that he is a servant to Pantagruel. In chapter 32, we discover that his name is Alcofribas. Before Pantagruel came out of his mother’s womb, out of her womb came food vendors, salt sellers, and other individuals, which put on quite a show for the midwives. And then came out baby Pantagruel, who was covered in hair “like a bear,” which according to local superstitions, meant that he would do wonderful things. Unfortunately, Pantagruel’s mother, Badebec, did not survive such a birth. Gargantua is emotionally split, for he feels overwhelming sadness for the loss of his wife, but unbelievable joy for the birth of his son. Although he goes back and forth as to what emotions he should feel, in the end he decides he must be strong for his son and be happy about his son’s birth.      

Pantagruel receives his name to mark the great drought that had been plaguing the land. In a combination of Greek and Hagarene, his name literally translates to “all of these thirsty.” As a baby giant, Pantagruel had no restraint, and would pick up animals and start to eat them. Gargantua feared his son would hurt himself, so he ordered that he be tied and chained down. Although Pantagruel could not break the chains, the chains were attached to his crib, which he could break. On one occasion, when his nurses had forgotten to feed him before leaving for a large party, Pantagruel breaks through part of his crib and manages to stand up with his crib on his back. When he walks around, he looks like a turtle with a crib for a shell. He walks into the party and tries to grab food, but his chained hands cannot grab anything, so he plants his face into the food trays. Gargantua realizes that his son was left unattended and starving, and from that moment on Gargantua orders that Pantagruel never wear his chains again.     

Much like his father, young Pantagruel went off to learn from all the great masters and tutors about philosophy, art, law, and science. His main tutor, Epistemon, provides him with excellent guidance, just as Ponocrates did when he guided Gargantua. Pantagruel seems to enjoy learning, and even earns degrees in various fields, but he is not as disciplined in the pursuit of knowledge as Gargantua. Pantagruel also seems more mischievous or brash that his father. In one instance, Pantagruel and his friends were walking in Paris, when they come across a young man, Limousin, who spoke some strange amalgamation of French and bad Latin. Pantagruel exclaims that he wants to teach the boy how to speak properly, and does so by beating the young man until he speaks correctly. Pantagruel reasons that the great philosophers were against changing languages, and that scholars should aim to maintain languages.     

While visiting schools in Orleans, Pantagruel learns that a large bell needs to be moved to its tower, but that no manner of men or devices had successfully been able to move it. As a giant, he decides to use his strength and move the bell as a favor to the town. Unfortunately, once the bell is put in place, the sound of its gong somehow turns all of the wine bitter and undrinkable, making everyone thirsty. Of course, the story reflects the meaning of Pantagruel’s name – “all these thirsty.”       

Pantagruel leaves Orleans and makes his way to the University of Paris. The people of Paris come out to see the son of Gargantua, for they remember the legends about the first-time Gargantua came to their city, flooded the streets with his urine, and then stole the church bells to adorn his horse. Fortunately, nothing bad happens upon Pantagruel’s entrance into Paris, and so he proceeds to the library of St. Victor to find all manner of books.       

Pantagruel then receives a letter from his father. In the letter, Gargantua explains how he feels that he is close to death, and so he wishes to send a final letter to his son. He warns his son that the circle of life goes on, as was deemed by God, and as parents die their children live on to have children of their own and so forth. Gargantua commends his son on his pursuit of knowledge. Gargantua then provides Pantagruel with a long list of all of the things he wishes his son would learn, particularly foreign languages, including Greek. He also wants his son to be skilled in theology, scripture, the natural sciences, geography, and so forth. He wants his son to be well-versed in politics and warfare as well, for Gargantua knows that his son will carry his name and his legacy, so he asks Pantagruel always to act nobly, pursue God, and be just. After reading the letter, Pantagruel becomes even more dedicated to his studies, as he desires to fulfill all his father’s wishes.       

While walking in Paris, Pantagruel and his companions come across a bruised and beaten young man whom Pantagruel believes is of a noble lineage. They offer to feed and clothe the young man, and ask that he tell them what has befallen him. The young man tells his story in several languages, but no one can understand him. Pantagruel and his companions keep begging the young man to try different languages, and then finally they request that the man speak French. At that point, they learn that the young man’s name is Panurge, and that he claims to be of noble birth. Panurge explains how fortune has not smiled upon him. Pantagruel and his companions ask to know more about what happened, but Panurge begs to be fed and clothed first, before he passes out. Pantagruel agrees to do so, and offers Panurge a position in Pantagruel’s company, provided that Panurge swears loyalty to Pantagruel. Panurge swears his loyalty, and the group goes off to find Panurge food, clothing, and a bed.       

In the meantime, Pantagruel goes about the schools of Paris and argues the great debates in philosophy, law, and the natural sciences. He proves himself to be a skilled debater and a brilliant man. At the same time, the high courts of Paris are trying to decide the verdict on a very difficult case. One of the men consulting on the case, Du Douhet, hears of Pantagruel’s skill and asks that Pantagruel help him and his counsel decide on what to do.         

Pantagruel listens to Du Douhet and the other men of the council concerning the case. They offer to give Pantagruel all the written documents about the case, so that he may better understand the situation. Pantagruel states that he does not wish to read through pointless writs and printed treatises, since he sees them as nothing more than papers filled with foppish language and jargon, not facts. Pantagruel explains that he will only offer his assistance if Du Douhet and his fellow council members agree to burn all of these unnecessary documents. Pantagruel believes that the only way to come to a verdict is by talking directly to the parties involved. Du Douhet and his fellow council members agree to the terms.       

The plaintiff, Lord Kissebreach, and the defendant, Lord Suckfist, each explain their sides of the story to Pantagruel and the group of learned men. Both the plaintiff and the defendant’s stories are elaborate and pretty much nonsensical, yet both stories are supposedly true. Essentially, the plaintiff accuses the defendant of several wrong doings and/or bad choices; however, the only reason that anything bad happened to the plaintiff was because of so many other factors outside of the defendant’s control. Pantagruel somehow manages to see through these nonsensical stories and realizes that each man reacted in a particular way due to a certain set of circumstances. Although Pantagruel understands the nonsense, Du Douhet and his fellow council members cannot seem to follow either the plaintiff’s or the defendant’s stories, let alone determine what actually happened. Since Pantagruel alone seems to understand the situation, Du Douhet and his counsel agree that Pantagruel will be the judge and provide the only verdict. Pantagruel finds in favor, in part, for both parties. As a result, the plaintiff walks away feeling as if he acted in the right all along. Likewise, the defendant walks away overjoyed that he was cleared of the more serious charges and will only have to pay a small fee for damages.         

After great success with this difficult court case, Pantagruel decides to take some time off to find out more about his new compatriot, Panurge. Pantagruel asks Panurge to explain the story of how he found his way to Paris. Panurge tells the tale of how he was a prisoner in Turkey. During his imprisonment, his captors decided to tie him to a spit and roast him alive. In his darkest hour, Panurge prayed for mercy, and, at that moment, one of his captors who had been turning the spit magically fell asleep, providing Panurge with the time he needed to free himself, kill his captor, set the prison on fire, and make his way out of the city. Just when he thought he was free, hundreds of dogs swarmed on him, since they could smell his burning flesh. He prayed again for a miracle, and knew that if he threw some of his burned stomach fat then the dogs would then chase it and he would have the ability to escape. His plan worked, and he found his way to safety.      

After fully recovering from his ordeal, Panurge joins Pantagruel and his other companions for a walk around Paris. While walking, they discuss whether cities should have protection walls. Pantagruel argues metaphorically and states that the best walls of defense are the loyal citizens of the city. He also comments that while exterior walls are good for protection, they are often too expensive to build. Panurge makes crass comments that there are cheaper ways to build walls, in which he explains that, instead of using stones, it would be cheaper to use ladies’ sexual organs. He continues to make derogatory statements about the benefits of his plan, which make Pantagruel and his party all laugh.       

The narrator then reveals a rather contradictory review of Panurge. On the one hand, the narrator explains that Panurge is a noble and good man, but on the other hand, the narrator states that Panurge is a cheat, a gambler, a lustful man, and a man who is always out of money. The narrator then goes on to explain all of the mean-spirited tricks and vile pranks Panurge performs on a regular basis. By all accounts, Panurge does not seem to be a good or noble man.     

Analysis

There is a large degree of parallelism between the second book and the first book. Although Rabelais wrote the second book first and the first book second, it does not diminish the parallelism portrayed within these stories. Many of Pantagruel’s early adventurers mirror those of his father. For example, both he and his father deal with church bells in some way. The difference being that Gargantua stole the church bells, whereas his son, Pantagruel, tries to help a local church replace their oversized bells that no one else could move. Although Pantagruel’s actions are nobler than his father’s, the end result is equally as embarrassing. When the fixed bells ring out, the sound turns all the wine sour. It is unclear why Rabelais chose to have Pantagruel’s experience with replacing the bells end so badly. Perhaps Pantagruel’s name curses his good deed, since his name implies all thirsty, and, after all the wine went sour, there was nothing suitable to drink. If this were the case, one would imagine that there would be more instances of Pantagruel’s good deeds going awry, but that pattern does not repeat.          

There are significant parallels between Pantagruel’s companions and his father’s companions, especially in regards to the tutors, Ponocrates and Epistemon. Although the tutors are supposed to be two different people, for the roles they play within the story, they could just as well be the same person. Ponocrates appears more concerned with Gargantua’s well being, though, whereas Epistemon seems more focused on the pursuit of knowledge and lecturing. Had Gargantua not started out as such an undisciplined whelp, perhaps Ponocrates would not have been portrayed as such a caregiver. Although Ponocrates and Epistemon fulfill similar roles, Epistemon definitely seems more actively involved with the plot. In addition, his relationship with Pantagruel appears more egalitarian, whereas Ponocrates always took the role of authoritarian with Gargantua.          

Although the characters of Friar John and Panurge vary significantly, the construction of their characterization has several similarities. Like Friar John, Panurge’s character seems split in two. The narrator tells us that Panurge is a noble man, and even Pantagruel claims he can see a noble lineage in Panurge’s countenance. The darker side of Panurge, however, is that of the bawdy, lecherous man who enjoys pulling malicious pranks. As Pantagruel and Epistemon represent moral characters, Panurge cannot act overtly immoral in front of them. Just as Friar John had to separate from the group to channel his warrior side, Panurge’s dark side only seems to show when he too is separated from Pantagruel.          

Besides parallelism, this portion of the second book also includes excellent examples of farce. One of the main farcical moments includes the court case between Lord Suckfist and Lord Kissebreach. In his research, E. Bruce Hayes highlights the absurdity of the trial being so complex that the highest legal authorities cannot make sense of the matter. Through a farcical treatment, Hayes explains that the audience is meant to believe that no one, save our protagonist, Pantagruel, possesses the skill to untangle this legal mess. The defendant and the plaintiff each tell their side of the story, but those stories are so convoluted that neither we as the reader nor the characters involved in the tale can seem to understand the case, but therein lies the point. As a farce, the ridiculousness must be exaggerated. Hayes comments that Pantagruel finds a solution that “satisfies the litigants and humiliates the legal establishment,” which is the start of a trend throughout the books (155-156). In this instance, the mockery stays more farcical instead of going fully into a satirical treatment. As the story progresses, however, the style of mockery sharpens into almost harsh satire at times.          

At this point in the story, though, the level of satire has not reached such harshness, because the mood remains playful. Just like his father, Pantagruel is at that pleasant point in his life where he has immersed himself in education, but he is yet to be truly tested outside the world of academia. Thus he can take part in all of these intellectual pursuits, be they legal cases or philosophy, because at this point he really has nothing to lose. As a prince, he possesses wealth to supply himself with the means to continue his education in any manner he sees fit. He also possesses enough finances to support his entourage and even add on new followers, such as Panurge. Nevertheless, since Pantagruel’s story parallels that of his father’s, the momentum of the story is starting to pick up speed, even though the mood has yet to change trajectory at this point.