The fourth book begins where the third book left off. Pantagruel, Panurge, Epistemon, Friar John, and all the other companions prepare the eleven ships for the voyage to The Oracle of the Holy Bottle in Lantern Land. Pantagruel names his flagship the Thalamege, and each of the other ten ships is identified by items hung on the stern of each ship, and these items signify different aspects of the mission or they are charms meant to attract good fortune during the mission. Pantagruel and his companions plan to leave from the port of Thalassa, and they have chartered a route that will take them around Africa and up by India within four months.
After traveling for several months by sea, Pantagruel and his companions finally make their way to the island of Medamothy. On this peculiar island, all of Pantagruel’s companions purchase unique items. Pantagruel himself purchases three unicorns, tapestries that relate the story of Achilles’ adventurers, beautiful paintings, and a beast known as a tarand, which is as big as a bull with the head of a deer and has fur that changes color based on its surroundings.
It is on the island of Medamothy where Pantagruel receives word from his father via one of his father’s servants, Malicorne, who was able to arrive so quickly, because he rode on a smaller ship, the Chelidonia, which is capable of faster speeds. Malicorne brings good tidings from his father as well as a letter. Malicorne also provides Pantagruel with a pigeon so that Pantagruel may send his father a simple message through the use of attaching a colored ribbon to the leg of the pigeon. According to their prearranged code, a black ribbon would imply that something horrible has occurred, whereas a white ribbon would explain that all was well. Having experienced no tragedies upon the voyage thus far, Pantagruel attaches a white ribbon to the leg of the pigeon, and lets it fly homeward to his father. Pantagruel also writes to his father, thanking his father for his thoughtfulness in sending a messenger to him. Within his letter, Pantagruel also explains that he will be sending back several curious items that he has recently purchased, including the unicorns, the Achilles tapestry, and the strange tarand beast. Pantagruel wishes his father well in the letter, and implies that he will write to his father as often as possible concerning the adventures of the voyage to the oracle. Pantagruel then sends the letter along with the curious items to his father by giving them over to Malicorne.
As Pantagruel and his companions set out away from the island of Medamothy, they meet a ship with passengers returning from Lantern Land. As they mingle with these other passengers, a sheep merchant by the name of Dingdong notices that Panurge does not wear a codpiece, and that he has metal spectacles attached to his hat. Dingdong whispers to those near him about how Panurge has a cuckold’s medal on his head, which of course starts a rather heated argument between Dingdong and Panurge. The two are forced to stop the fight, though, in order to maintain morale of the ship. As an attempt to smooth things over with the sheep merchant, Panurge offers to purchase one of Dingdong’s sheep. Dingdong babbles on about the quality of his sheep, how they will be sold to royal houses, how their wool will be made into luxurious fabrics, and so on. As he babbles on, Panurge repeatedly asks how much he wants for one of the sheep. Finally, one of the other sheep merchants insists that Dingdong stop giving Panurge a difficult time and simply sell him a sheep. Dingdong agrees, and then he makes the transaction.
After finally getting Dingdong to sell one of his sheep, Panurge picks up his new sheep, and throws it over the edge of the ship and into the water. Hearing their fellow sheep in the water, the rest of the sheep follow the sound and they all run over the edge of the ship and into the ocean where they will no doubt drown. Dingdong and his fellow sheep merchants try to stop the sheep, but they have no luck in the matter, and instead they get pulled over the edge by the sheep, where they too fall into the ocean and drown. Panurge asks Friar John for his opinion on the matter of what just occurred, and Friar John replies that Panurge should not have paid the man if this was his plan all along, because now the drowned man has his money. Panurge says that the payment was worth the fun, and then Panurge goes on to explain how that when he is wronged by someone, he will gladly take vengeance upon them, and the vengeance will be far greater than the initial offense. Although Panurge just murdered several people and killed a bunch of sheep, no one says anything negative about the whole situation. Friar John does say that Panurge has damned himself like an old devil, but it seems to be a passing comment, and not a serious accusation.
The next island they sail to is the island of Ennasin. Upon talking with the locals, Pantagruel and his companions learn that everyone on this island is related to one another either closely or distantly. They have not allowed marriage with outsiders for some time, although the people of the island seem to have no problem with Pantagruel his companions visiting. As they walk around the island, they listen to how the men and women talk to one another. Pantagruel and his friends notice that the people of the island don’t use such terms as mother, father, brother, sister etc. Instead, when they refer to one another, they use complementary terms, such as pear and cheese, or they use opposing terms to signify their dislike for one another. Depending on the relationship between the people, the terms can be highly sexualized.
As they journey on, they sail to the island of Chely to meet with King St. Panigon. During this visit, there is much pomp and circumstance going on. Friar John manages to avoid the ceremonies and instead chooses to sneak away into the kitchens to fill his face whilst everyone else deals with the formalities of the visit. Upon Friar John’s return to the ship, his companions question him about where he went. He explains that he did not want to deal with the formalities of royalty, and instead preferred to find food in the kitchens. They then discuss who belongs in the kitchen, and Friar John points out that the higher members of royalty tend to avoid the kitchens, for kitchens are places of servitude. Monks, on the other hand, always seem to be found in kitchens.
The next island is noted as the land of Pettifogging. In this inhospitable land, the biggest vocation is that of the catchpoles, who are people hired to serve writs and other legal papers. By doing this job, however, the catchpoles risk being beaten and abused by the people receiving the served papers. Thus, as Pantagruel and his friends describe, the catchpoles are paid to be beaten, or else they will starve. Panurge relates the story of the Lord of Basche, a man who was trying to avoid such catchpoles, and so he paid and instructed his staff to put on a fake wedding whenever one of these catchpoles arrived. His reasoning for the fake wedding was because the custom of this region was to punch people at the close of the nuptials to remind everyone of the date of the event. Therefore, through this tableau, the Lord of Basche’s servants could beat up the catchpole without being held accountable for the violent act. They perform this stunt on three different occasions, but during the third time, the catchpole got the upper hand, and he actually beats most of the servants fairly well. Unlike the catchpoles who came before, this third catchpole walks away on his own accord, beaten, but still able to move.
After passing the island full of catchpoles, they arrive at the islands of Tohu and Bohu. Here, Pantagruel and his companions hoped to capture some fresh food, unfortunately there’s not much left on the island, because of the giant Wide-nostrils. Under the guidance of his physicians, Wide-nostrils has been inhaling and swallowing up all manner of items on these islands as well as surrounding islands. He apparently enjoys swallowing windmills the most. Lately, however, Wide-nostrils had been suffering from strange indigestion pains. His physicians recommended that he heat butter on a stove and swallow it to lubricate his intestines. Upon following his doctor’s orders, though, Wide-nostrils choked on the butter and died. His death had been fairly recent, as the people on the islands of Tohu and Bohu explain to Pantagruel and his associates.
They move on and make their way to the next island, but as they do so, Friar John notices that his dear friend, Pantagruel, seems to be in a state of melancholy. Before Friar John can discover what troubles Pantagruel, a massive storm hits the ship. During the storm, Pantagruel ties himself to the mast. Friar John and the others strip down and start working the lines and the sails in an attempt to try to keep the ship afloat. Panurge, however, becomes overwhelmed with the fear that he will drown, and he starts ranting hysterically. Friar John tries to shame Panurge into proper action, but Panurge’s fear is too powerful. After fighting the storm for some time, they all begin to fear that the storm will overtake them. Some of the companions start to consider their own mortality. Others, such as Friar John, challenge the gods of the sea and the tempest. Panurge tries to bargain with God, begging that God stop the storm. Panurge also offers anyone riches untold if they could get him safely to shore. Just as everyone seems to give up hope, Pantagruel spots land. The storm begins to clear away and everyone feels relieved once again.
After the storm has passed and everyone is safe, Panurge acts as if he was never afraid. He even pretends that he provided more than his fair share of help during the storm, even though he did nothing but cry and sob the entire time. Friar John cannot stand by and listen to such lies, and he openly accuses Panurge of cowardice. Pantagruel explains that he would never tolerate his servants acting cowardly during such a conflict. Nevertheless, Pantagruel does not punish Panurge for the way he acted. All of the other supporting characters, though, comment on how Panurge acted cowardly, whereas they did their best to fight the storm.
On the island of the Macreons, Pantagruel and his companions meet with the good Macrobius. Macrobius tells Pantagruel and his companions about how the ancient heroes died fighting the great monsters of the region, and how certain astronomical signs, such as comets, foretold of the events. Pantagruel then relates a historical story about how Thamous, the pilot of a large ship, was steering his ship toward port when a ghostly voice called for him three times. He answered after the third time, and the voice told him that he must publish the announcement of the death of Pan. Uncertain if the voice was real, Thamous decides he will only make the announcement if his ship is becalmed prior to getting into port. The ship gets close to land, and just then the wind dies completely and all the currents stop pushing his ship forward, so he cries out the announcement, and all the people on the nearby shores hear of Pan’s death, and a great sadness fills the land. Pantagruel then makes the allegorical connection between Pan, the kind and mighty shepherd, and Jesus Christ. Both Pan and Christ are noted as being killed in the same fashion, and supposedly died around the same time.
Pantagruel and his companions bid farewell to the good Macrobius and set sail for the next stop on their long journey. As they pass by the Sneaking Island, Xenomanes tells everyone about Shrovetide, the sovereign of the Sneaking Island. Xenomanes describes Shrovetide as a young ruler, but a ruler who is both paranoid and shrewd. Shrovetide’s island is known for producing beautiful skewers that are sold throughout the world. Apparently, Shrovetide and his people are always at war with the Chitterlings, who reside on the Wild Island. Xenomanes continues to describe Shrovetide further with an enormous list of similes that depict every part of Shrovetide’s body, but those similes are not very favorable.
After passing the Sneaking Island, Pantagruel sees a monster in the ocean near the Wild Island. As they get closer, they realize that the monster is a whale, also known as a physeter. The narrator describes this particular whale to have three horns. Pantagruel decides that his fleet of eleven ships will go after this monster and kill it. The battle is difficult, but sure enough, they manage to slay the beast and bring the whale to the shore of the Wild Island. As Pantagruel’s servants begin to cut up the whale, Pantagruel and his close companions begin to walk around the shore of the island. Immediately they notice that they have been spotted by the wild Chitterlings, and it appears that these natives are preparing to launch a full-scale attack on Pantagruel and his followers.
Once again, Panurge acts cowardly as he tries to get himself away from the potential oncoming battle. He even volunteers to go and worn the soldiers on the ships. Friar John openly accuses Panurge of cowardice. Pantagruel, once again, ignores Panurge’s cowardly actions, and instead Pantagruel focuses on making a plan. He does not wish to start a battle, but Pantagruel will not be caught off guard either. He decides to make sure the morale of his soldiers is high by requesting that two of his ships’ commanders, Colonel Maul-chitterling and Colonel Cut-pudding the younger, join them on the beach for the potential battle, along with the soldiers whom each colonel commands over. Epistemon complements Pantagruel on his clever choice to choose these specific commanders, since their names describe what they wish to accomplish, should they enter into battle with the Chitterlings, (e.g. “maul” them or “cut” through them). Both the commanders arrive with their soldiers, and Pantagruel explains that they must prepare for battle.
The Chitterlings are described in several different ways. Since many of the Chitterlings are female, they are described as snake-like temptresses and tempters. Of course, this is a metaphorical description. Physically, they look like anthropomorphic sausages. Thus, since they look like food, Friar John convinces all the cooks to join him in the battle. As Friar John enlists the cooks, he goes over their names, and all of their names are linked closely to their cooking vocation. For example: “Sour-sauce. Crisp-pig. Carbonado. Sweet-meat,” etc. (Chapter 34, par. 3.) Friar John gets all of the cooks ready to go inside of a great machine known as the Sow. Similar to the Trojan horse, soldiers can get inside of the Sow. Much like a modern-day tank, the soldiers inside of the Sow can shoot out bolts and other ranged weaponry. Friar John plans to have all the cooks inside of the Sow to go to war against the Chitterlings.
The Chitterlings build their lines of defense, and then start the battle. Pantagruel and his companions fight the Chitterlings and cut them to pieces, forcing them to retreat. As the Chitterlings begin to retreat, a gigantic, flying, winged-pig with crimson feathers appears. If flies between the armies calling out the word, “Carnival,” again and again. As the giant pig flies overhead, mustard falls out of it, and the mustard lands in heaps on the ground. After a short while, the giant pig flies away.
With the battle over, Pantagruel and his companions seek out the leader of the Chitterlings, Queen Niphleseth. They converse with the Queen and discover that the Chitterlings started the battle due to false intelligence reports. The Chitterlings were under the impression that Pantagruel and his companions were allies of Shrovetide. The Queen makes all formal apologies and offers to send tribute to Pantagruel’s country, along with 78,000 Chitterlings to serve for a period of six months every year. The following day, she sends the first lot of Chitterlings along with her daughter, young Niphleseth, to Pantagruel’s homeland. After she does so, Pantagruel explains that it will not be necessary to send so many Chitterlings every year, nor will they be required to pay tribute on a regular basis. He also forgives all actions taken against him and his soldiers. Pantagruel then asks the Queen about the giant pig that flew in the sky after the battle. The Queen explains that Carnival, their patron God, who looks like a giant hog himself, created the flying pig as a way to protect his people, which is why the flying pig cries out Carnival’s name. Pantagruel then inquires why mustard falls out of the flying pig. The Queen then states that, for Chitterlings, mustard acts as a magical balm that cures the sick and raises the dead. Unfortunately, the cure of mustard only works on Chitterlings.
Sailing away from Queen Niphleseth and the Wild Island, Pantagruel and his companions arrive at the island of Ruach. On this island, the people do not eat food, and instead they feast upon different types of wind. To produce their food, they have even made massive windmills. The wind eaters of Ruach relate to Pantagruel about the problems they have experienced with their diet, especially since the giant Wide-nostrils swallows up their windmills and destroys other parts of their island. Pantagruel announces that they need not worry about Wide-nostrils any longer, for the giant recently died after choking on hot butter.
As Pantagruel and his compatriots sail on, they come to the island of Pope-Figland. By talking to the locals, they learn the history of the island’s name. Many years ago, the people of the island were called Gaillardets. One day, three Gaillardets went to visit the neighboring island of Papimany during a religious celebration. The Gaillardets mocked the image of the Papimen’s Pope by saying “a fig to it.” The next day, the Papimen armies overtook the Gaillardets homelands and killed practically everyone, save the women and children. Of the people who were spared, the Papimen gave them a shameful challenge that was identical to what Emperor Frederick Barbarossa did to the people of Milan. The leader of the Papimen placed a fig within the anal crevice of a donkey so that part of the fig was sticking out. He then challenged the survivors that if any of them wanted to live that they would have to remove the fig and then put it back in place without using their hands. Most of the people took part in the shameful act and became slaves to the Papimen people. The Gaillardets’ island was then renamed Pope-Figland, as a reminder of their actions against the Papimen.
While learning about the island’s history, Pantagruel and his friends see a fountain pool where a man is submerged all the way up to his nostrils. Standing around him are three priests, and they are reading a book to try and remove any devil from possessing the man. One of the people nearby explains to Pantagruel and his friends why the man is submerged in the fountain.
A few seasons previously, the man, who happens to be a farmer and a plowman, was in his field throwing corn seeds out in the dirt. The farmer had not had much luck farming this piece of land, but he was desperate to make the corn grow. Just then, a devil appears and makes a deal that he will protect the land so that the corn grows, provided that upon the harvest day the devil can keep everything under the dirt while the farmer keeps everything above the dirt. The farmer agrees, and the devil protects the land. Come harvest, the farmer and his workers arrive just as the devil and his workers arrive. The farmer and his crew work together and harvest everything above land, which is all the healthy stocks of corn, whereas the devil and his group get nothing save the dirt chaff. Both groups go to market, but the devil is unable to tempt anyone into buying his product. The devil thought he was being clever, because he thought he would gain all the corn that the farmer had thrown under the dirt. Clearly, this devil did not understand how plants grow.
The devil then offers the farmer a second deal similar to the first, but this time the devil explains that everything above ground will belong to him come harvest time, and that everything below ground will belong to the farmer. The devil then asks the farmer what he plans to grow, to which the farmer cleverly responds that he will grow radishes. Again, harvest time happens, and the farmer gets all of the delicious underground radishes, while the devil gets all the worthless leaves. Once again, the devil cannot tempt anyone to buy his wares.
Upset at how he has lost out on the first two deals, the devil offers a third and final deal to the farmer. He claims that whoever wins the third challenge will also win complete ownership of the field. The farmer agrees, and so the devil explains that the third challenge will be a clawing match. The farmer goes home in a panic, since he is uncertain of how he will win the day. His wife sees that he is upset and asks him what is going on. He explains everything and believes he is doomed. She assures him that she has a plan to beat the devil. She does not share her plan with her husband, though, so the farmer goes to the priests, confesses everything that has happened, and begs for help. To save his soul, the priests have submerged him in a pool of water and are saying prayers to ward off devil possession.
The day when the clawing match was to take place happens to coincide with the day that Pantagruel and his friends have arrived. Just as they finish hearing the story about why the farmer is now submerged in water, they receive word from members of the town that the farmer’s wife has beaten the devil. The way she did so was quite clever. She waited at the house for the devil to arrive, and placed herself in a heap on the ground, making sure to cry like a child. When the devil arrived, she told him that her husband had been practicing his clawing on her, and that he had clawed her up so bad that she will surely die. She then said that her husband was out sharpening his claws for the battle. At first the devil does not believe her, but then the woman holds up her skirts so that the devil can see her vaginal region, which to this unknowledgeable devil looks as if someone has ripped her open. Fearful that the farmer will rip him open, the devil runs away in defeat.
Pantagruel and his companions leave the island of Pope-Figland and make way to the neighboring island of Papimany. On this island, Pantagruel and his compatriots discover that people are devout Christian zealots who praise all things related to the Pope, since they see the Pope as the living God on earth. They ask Pantagruel and his companions if they have ever been in the presence of the Pope. As a member royalty, Pantagruel has had the privilege of meeting the Pope, as have many of his companions, so the people of Papimany treats Pantagruel and his friends with the utmost respect. They are then welcomed to the island by Homenas, Bishop of Papimany. From the Bishop, they learn of the Papimen’s extreme devotion and how they keep holy relics and holy books treasured under lock and key. To view such items requires people to fast for three days and give confession, as a show of worthiness. Panurge explains that they have been fasting all throughout their voyage, and are thus prepared. The bishop believes Panurge, and thus he shows Pantagruel and his companions all the holy relics, including images of the Pope as well as the holy books, known as decretals, which provide all the infinite knowledge that anyone would ever need.
After viewing such holy items, and since the bishop believes that Pantagruel and his companions have been fasting for days, he offers them a great feast in honor of their visit and religious devotion. While feasting, everyone discusses stories about how people who are disrespectful to holy relics and holy books are severely punished, while those who respect such artifacts are eternally blessed. In exchange for blessing the island with their presence, Homenas gives Pantagruel pears that only grow on the island. Homenas claims they are the best pears in the world. Pantagruel explains that he will take a cutting home, if he is allowed, and grow these pears and call them good-Christian pears.
Upon leaving the island of Papimany, Pantagruel’s fleet of ships sails toward the frozen sea. While there, Pantagruel starts to hear people talking, although he cannot see anyone. Everyone else quiets down to listen closely, but they don’t hear anything at first. After listening for a while, Pantagruel’s companion start to hear something, although they cannot make out what they hear. They then learn that a battle between the Arimaspians and the Nephelibates had taken place in this region of the frozen sea, so Pantagruel and his friends surmise that perhaps the words they are hearing are from those groups of people. Somehow, Pantagruel reaches out and finds the frozen words, grabs them up, and brings them onto the ship’s deck. Everyone starts warming up the frozen words and hears all manner of phrases, although the words are gibberish. By the tones of the words, they can determine that some of the words are beautiful, while others are said in hatred. Some words are reminiscent of the sounds of fighting, and other words are the sounds of screaming. Although some of the people on the ship, including Panurge and the unnamed narrator, wish to keep the words, Pantagruel advises against it, and so all the words are set free.
Pantagruel and his companion sail away from the frozen sea and arrive at a new island that is supposed to be where the dwelling of Gaster resides. Gaster is known as the first Master of Arts in the world. Pantagruel goes to shore to meet Gaster. It is unclear whether Gaster is a giant, a demigod, or something else, for he has no doubt lived a long time and he has the brilliance and ability to create things far beyond the capabilities of regular people.
While on the island, Pantagruel discovers that there are two groups of natives living there, including the Engastrimythes and the Gastrolaters. The first is a group of cheats and charlatans, the second is a group of thugs who walk around the island in gangs and dress up in strange elaborate costumes. The Gastrolaters have made Gaster into their god. They have also built crude statues to him, and they sacrifice exorbitant amounts of food and drink in his honor. Gaster does not want to be a God, and he often refuses many of the sacrifices.
According to the stories, Gaster created all of the arts of agriculture, animal husbandry, cooking, civilization, architecture, war, and so many other arts. His purpose for creating these arts started out as a survival technique. He needed food, so he had to figure out how to grow corn; hence, he created agriculture. He then had to find ways to turn the corn into different types of food, store the food, protect the food, and protect the people who were protecting the food. Thus, all of the arts were created for improving the survival rate of people. Pantagruel then learns about how Gaster perfected some of his art forms. For instance, Gaster supposedly found ways to prevent people from being shot by bullets or cannonballs. To avoid gunshot or cannonballs, Gaster explains that one need only place iron-like stone, known as herculean, between yourself and your enemies. The narrator explains that the bullets and cannonballs will stop and hover near the stone. Supposedly, Gaster also invented a way to stop bullets and reverse their trajectory completely, however, the narrator does not provide an explanation of this technique, and instead discusses at length how all manner of herbs and other regular items can do extraordinary things, if applied in the right fashion.
As Pantagruel and his comrades spend most of their time sailing, there is a lot of dead time where there is nothing to do. On one such occasion, each of Pantagruel’s friends tried to busy themselves with different activities, but by doing so they all became lethargic and bored. Pantagruel takes a nap during this time, but when he rises, each of his friends ask him all manner of questions, including when should one eat, how to avoid boredom, and when should one sleep. Pantagruel provides religious maxims concerning when to sleep and when to eat, but he does not provide an answer for how to eradicate boredom.
Pantagruel passes the time with his friends by chatting, talking about local lore, and asking each other questions. When they see the isle of Ganabim, Xenomanes explains that it is not a good place to visit, since it is filled with thieves. He does acknowledge that parts of the island would be suitable for stocking up on wood and water, though. On the isle, however, they can see a mountain that looks like Parnassus, where supposedly the Muses lived. Although Pantagruel has a strong feeling that he should not to visit the island, he at least wants to pay tribute to the Muses, and so he orders his ships to fire cannons as tribute.
During such time, Panurge has gone under decks, once again overcome with fear. He and Friar John had gotten into an argument earlier, and Friar John chastised him for his cowardly inclinations, which made Panurge run away and sulk below decks. While Panurge was sulking, the cannon salute to the Muses went off. Panurge panics, for he believes that they have entered into a new battle. Half dressed, Panurge severely soils himself, and gets in a fight with one of the ship’s cats, Rodilardus, who Panurge mistook for a small devil. Panurge runs to Friar John and begs him to save his soul. At this point, Panurge is rambling, stained in his own feces, and covered with cat scratches. Friar John points this all out to Pantagruel, and Pantagruel finally has to deal with situation of Panurge’s cowardice. Pantagruel politely instructs Panurge to go clean up and calm himself. Briefly, Panurge acts as if he was never afraid in the first place, and he claims that the feces on his back is not his own, but that it belongs to the ship’s cat.
Here the fourth book ends rather abruptly.
Once again, the point of view of the story has changed to an unnamed narrator. In the second book, the narrator introduces himself as a servant to Pantagruel, and at some point eventually gives his name as Alcofribas. It is unclear if Alcofribas remains the narrator throughout books three, four, and five. If he were the servant of Pantagruel, then, presumably, he would focus his perspective on everything in relationship to his master. The third book, however, focuses more on Panurge. In this fourth installment, the focus shifts periodically. Most of the time, the point of view focuses on what Pantagruel does throughout the voyage, but then the point of view shifts to Panurge’s exploits, and at times to the actions of Friar John. If Alcofribas is indeed the narrator of both the third and fourth books, then he stands in the role of the bystander who has the ability to watch the nobility at all times. Thus, from his perspective, as a virtually invisible servant, Alcofribas can watch every event that goes on, and then provide the readers with an exposition. In addition, depending on Alcofribas’s level of skill as a writer and observer, he might be writing about the exploits of the voyage as a favor to Pantagruel. When Pantagruel writes a letter to his father, he explains that he will keep a journal of their adventures for his father to read at a later time. Although Pantagruel seems like the type of person who would want to write such a journal himself, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that he may have asked his servant, this narrator, to also keep an account of the activities during the voyage.
Throughout this fourth installment of the series, Pantagruel and his companions come into contact with a full array of real and mythical creatures. From the very start of the journey, Pantagruel and his followers arrive at the island of Medamothy, where literally everything imaginable and unimaginable is for sale. Wes Williams argues that the creatures found for sale on the island, including the unicorns and the color-changing tarand, are “adynata: impossible objects, derived for the most part from Pliny’s Natural History, books 8 and 10, where they figure such creatures as lie beyond credible representation” (126). Williams posits that Rabelais includes this episode so early in the fourth book as a way to explain to the reader that this journey will explore many unknown elements. In fact, as the journey progresses, the inhabitants of the islands become more and more peculiar. Granted, some islanders are not so different from people living in the known Western world, but other inhabitants, such as the Chitterlings of the Wild Island and the wind eaters of the island of Ruach, appear so extraordinary that one would certainly question their existence. But, as Williams suggests, starting the journey off by visiting the island of Medamothy, a place full of oddities and curiosities, sets the stage for literally anything to occur throughout the fourth book, including a giant flying pig that spurts mustard.
Probably one of the most fascinating aspects of this story is the comedic imagery throughout the voyage. Early on, Panurge gets into an argument with a sheep merchant. Both Panurge and the merchant are reprimanded for their argument and are forced to make amends. Panurge offers to buy one of the merchant’s sheep to prove he is truly remorseful. The sheep merchant babbles excessively about the value of his sheep. Although he is but a lowly merchant, he has the opportunity to waste Panurge’s time, and he makes full use of that opportunity. Finally, though, he does sell Panurge one of the sheep. Panurge takes his purchased sheep and promptly throws it overboard, causing all the other sheep to follow it into the ocean, and all the sheep merchants are pulled into the ocean by their flock, thus drowning all the sheep and the sheep merchants in one fell swoop. Although this is a grotesque and gruesome image, the dark comedy shows through nonetheless. Eyewitnesses describe other comedic images in the story, in a more indirect manner. For instance, the giant, Wide-nostrils, supposedly dies by choking on melted butter. Another example would be the farmer’s wife who manages to trick an unknowledgeable devil into believing that the slit of her vaginal opening was caused by the powerful claws of her husband, whom the devil was going to battle in a clawing match.
Of all the comedic imagery, the scenes during the battle with the Chitterlings on Wild Island demonstrate the most vivid examples of personification and contextual foreshadowing. The inhabitants of this island, the Chitterlings, are literally described as walking sausages. These food items made from pork have been personified into male and female warriors, but since they are still walking sausages, they can easily be ripped in half and cut to pieces. Fortunately, thanks to the comedy Rabelais infuses into this story, the Chitterlings need not die from being cut in half. The savior is mustard sauce, for everyone knows that even the worst sausage can be improved with a little bit of mustard. As if the culinary humor was not blatant enough, Rabelais adds the image of a gigantic flying pig with crimson red plumage. While this creature that defies all reason flies over the battlefield, it spurts out mustard to save the fallen soldiers. Although the events on this island rank under the category of bizarre, the island’s very name provided contextual foreshadowing to warn outsiders that this is a wild space. The term “wild” has many interpretations. Some people may identify wild to mean disorderly. The fact that these personified sausages defy death through the aid of mustard certainly suggests that the normal laws of order and biology no longer apply.
As the opening framework of the story indicates that the characters will meet different people and face difficult challenges, the framework of the voyage itself also signifies that the characters will be tested and, as a result of those tests, some characters will change dramatically. Compared to who he was in the second book, Panurge is almost a different character by the end of the fourth book. Of the challenges he faces during this portion of the story, the first challenge is that of the storm. His failure to find his courage during the storm marks the downfall of his character throughout the rest of the story. When the storm hits, Pantagruel ties himself to the mast while Friar John and Epistemon help the crew with the rigging and the sails. Friar John calls out to Panurge, begging that he help them, but Panurge remains frozen in his fear. As he cries like a child, Panurge begs God or anyone listening to bring him safely to dry land. As soon as the storm stops, and after everyone is on dry land, Panurge feigns as if he was never afraid and he pretends that he helped the crew during the storm. Friar John refuses to listen to Panurge’s lies, and blatantly calls him a coward. Having failed his first test of the voyage, Panurge continues to falter and spiral downwards. For instance, when it appears that Pantagruel and his companions will have to do battle with the Chitterlings on Wild Island, Panurge offers to go to warn the soldiers on the ships, but he only makes this offer so that he can run away from the battle. Likewise, at the end of the story, while pouting below decks, Panurge hears the sound of cannon fire, which makes him believe that they have once again entered into battle. In this final test of his courage, Panurge soils himself in his own feces and mistakes a cat for a small demon. Truly, Panurge, the once quick-witted, womanizing, master thief and scam artist from the second book has hit rock bottom as he continues to sail on this voyage in his search for answers about cuckoldry after marriage.