Gargantua and Pantagruel

Gargantua and Pantagruel Summary and Analysis of Book 2, Chapters 17-34


One day, the narrator finds Panurge looking sad, and he determines that Panurge is no doubt out of money. He questions Panurge and offers to give him some money, but Panurge will only accept a small sum, provided that the narrator go with him to different churches to look at reliquaries. Even though Panurge only has a small amount of money, as far as the narrator knows, Panurge somehow manages to pay money to each of the churches. After their adventure, they rest in a tavern and the narrator discovers that Panurge has somehow acquired a large amount of money. Panurge explains that he has stolen money from each of the churches through sleight-of-hand trickery. The narrator tells him that such actions are sinful, and then Panurge explains to the narrator why his actions are just. Panurge apparently served in the Crusades and provided services to various holy men of rank. Throughout that time, Panurge was promised large sums of money that he was never paid; so, Panurge believes he is getting his just reward.       

Panurge continues to tell the narrator stories of how he has acquired money over the years through lies and misdirection. One of his stories depicts how he made deals with some of the least attractive women around. Supposedly, these women were sexually promiscuous in their youth, and, as a result, never found husbands. His deals with these women included giving them money so that he could sell them as brides to drunkards. To do so, however, Panurge jokes that he had to cover the women’s heads with bags. Panurge then tells the narrator how he has made many small fortunes by running scams in court, especially through frivolous lawsuits. While he has made money through these scams, Panurge comments that he has also lost money, since he has to invest money into the scams to make them work. The narrator concludes that while Panurge’s many schemes do make him money, the only reason he has so many scams is because Panurge spends his money as quickly as he makes it, either by spending it on drink, women, or other materialistic trifles.      

Meanwhile, Thaumast, a learned man from England, has come to Paris to converse with Pantagruel. He has heard of Pantagruel’s amazing intellect, and he wishes to discuss some of the greatest mysteries with Pantagruel. Before he can do so, however, he must test Pantagruel’s intellect. He explains that if Pantagruel is truly as intelligent as people say, than he, Thaumast will forever pledge loyalty and servitude to Pantagruel, provided Pantagruel passes the challenge. For the challenge, Thaumast and Pantagruel will debate, but they will not do so with words, and instead will only use signs via hand gestures. Pantagruel agrees to the challenge, and the two men go to their dwellings to prepare. During the night, Pantagruel fears he will not prove worthy, and begins to study his books obsessively. Panurge tells Pantagruel that he worries too much. He then begs Pantagruel to let him take his place in the debate, for he is Pantagruel’s student, so his ability to debate will prove Pantagruel’s supremacy. Pantagruel agrees to Panurge’s logic. The following day at the debate, Pantagruel announces that his student, Panurge, will take his place in the debate, if Thaumast agrees. Thaumast does agree, and the debate begins. While Thaumast starts the debate in perhaps a semi-serious manner, Panurge moves the debate into the lowbrow arena, as he uses gestures that signify derogatory statements and lewd sexual acts. Nevertheless, Thaumast responds, and the two go back and forth with their hand gestures until finally Thaumast declares that Panurge in indeed a master debater, and that his teacher, Pantagruel, has passed the challenge. Thaumast swears that he will write up a treatise explaining all the meanings to the signs, so that everyone can understand what was discussed, but the narrator does not include this information, and instead implies that the reader should go and find Thaumast’s publication.    

Later on, Panurge becomes infatuated with a particular lady of Paris, although her name is never given. The woman is noted as incredibly beautiful and kind, but also married. Panurge tells her that he is pained by his love for her, and that he must be with her; yet she refuses again and again. Panurge persists on hounding her and trying to convince her to have sex with him. She refuses him openly, claiming that she will call out for help if he does not stop, and even threatens to tell her husband. Panurge acts as if he has given up on her. In the meantime, he finds a female dog that is in heat, takes it home, kills it, and then harvests the scent glands from the dog. The following day, during a religious ceremony, Panurge sits near the woman he has been pursuing. He says nothing to her, but secretly sprinkles her with the female dog’s scent. Shortly thereafter, every male dog in the city comes to the woman to harass her and urinate upon her. Panurge is quite proud of his trick, and tells Pantagruel to come and see how all the dogs in the city have come to harass this woman. It is unclear whether Pantagruel knows that Panurge orchestrated the entire cruel prank, since Panurge never claims responsibility within the text.        

On a different note, Pantagruel receives word that his father has gone to visit the land of the fairies, presumably Avalon, just as King Arthur and Ogier the Dane had done. On top of this news, Pantagruel learns that the Dipsodes have invaded Pantagruel’s homeland. Pantagruel and all of his comrades leave Paris in such a hurry that Pantagruel is unable to bid farewell to anyone, including the unnamed woman he had been courting. In response to his lack of goodbyes, this unnamed woman sends him a message that includes a gold ring and a piece of paper, but no message on the paper. At first, Panurge believes there is a secret message, but after trying method after method to uncover any secret words, he determines that no such message exists. As nothing appears to be written on the piece of paper, Pantagruel and everyone else examine the ring to find an inscription in Hebrew that translates into, “Wherefore hast thou forsaken me?” (Chapter 24, par 3.) Panurge identifies that the diamond is false, therefore the entire message is “false lover, wherefore hast thou forsaken me?” Pantagruel feels guilty for having left his sweetheart without having said goodbye, but Pantagruel’s friends tell him there is no time, and that it is better to save his homeland than to waste more time, to which Pantagruel agrees.        

All of Pantagruel’s companions, Panurge, Carpalin, Eusthenes, and Epistemon, each pledge absolute loyalty to Pantagruel and to the cause of saving Pantagruel’s homeland. They realize that the battle will be difficult, but each of them claims to have different skills that will prove valuable in the field of battle. Upon sailing to the land, they discover that six hundred and threescore horsemen plan to attack them onshore. Pantagruel is ready to fight, but his friends tell him to stay behind in the boat to let them prove themselves to him. Pantagruel agrees, and sits back to watch his friends fight the invading armies. Through the use of traps and great cunning, Panurge, Carpalin, Eusthenes, and Epistemon lay waste to the armies, and manage to capture one of the soldiers, who they plan to interrogate to find out more about the armies of the Dipsodes.     

Once on land, Carpalin goes hunting and catches a large deer, and several other large and small game animals, providing enough food for all to feast over their victory. Pantagruel and Panurge interrogate the prisoner, and discover that the Dipsodes have a massive army that includes giants, although the giants are not as big as Pantagruel. The leader of the army is also a giant who is certainly a match for Pantagruel, and his name is Loupgarou. The prisoner also explains that the King of the Dipsodes, Anarchus, is also traveling with the armies. Lastly, the prisoner tells Pantagruel and Panurge about how the army has thousands of soldiers of every type, along with support workers and even 150,000 whores. Panurge, of course, makes countless crass jokes about how he will join the battle just to get to the women. His comrades also joke about how they wish to have their turn with these women.     

Pantagruel decides that he will release the prisoner, but he commands the prisoner to return to his own King and tell Anarchus that Pantagruel and his mighty army are coming to fight them. Pantagruel exaggerates the size of his army in hopes that the prisoner will frighten Anarchus into acting rashly. Pantagruel also tells the prisoner that his army will arrive at noon the following day. Unfortunately, Pantagruel does such a good job at frightening the prisoner that the prisoner begs Pantagruel to let him stay as their prisoner forever instead of going back to Anarchus and eventually having to fight Pantagruel’s army. Pantagruel refuses to let the prisoner stay, because he needs the prisoner to go and spread the word of Pantagruel’s fictitious forces who will be arriving at noon. Pantagruel needs the prisoner to do so, since it will make the enemy armies expect the fight to start at a later time, which will allow Pantagruel and his actual armies to strike at their enemies when they least expect it. Since Pantagruel’s actual armies are so much smaller than King Anarchus’ armies, Pantagruel must depend on cleverness and the element of surprise to win the day.     

In addition to sending the prisoner back to Anarchus, Pantagruel gives the prisoner a gift to give to the King, and that gift is a strange mixture of herbs. Pantagruel tells the prisoner that if his King can take a spoonful of these herbs in his mouth and still command his armies afterwards, then Pantagruel himself will forfeit his lands and rights to King Anarchus. The prisoner returns to King Anarchus and warns him of Pantagruel and his immense army. The prisoner also gives Anarchus the gift and explains what Pantagruel has stated. Anarchus takes a spoonful of the mixture, but in doing so his throat seizes up with immense heat and dryness, making him unable to speak. His counselors try to give him drink to help him, but that only makes it worse. His counselors then decide that they shall try the challenge and take a spoonful of the mixture, but all of them suffer the same way as Anarchus. After recovering from the spice challenge, Anarchus and his military leader, Loupgarou, decide to prepare the men to fight immediately the following day at noon, as the prisoner has foretold.     

Back at Pantagruel’s camp, Pantagruel and his friends make ready to leave for battle. Before they do so, they build monuments to the battle that occurred the previous day. They also make poetry about those battles and monuments, and enjoy each other’s company. At one point, Pantagruel’s friends are jumping about and bragging about their oncoming victory. In doing so, Pantagruel farts, which produces such a deafening sound and unnerving smell that it creates little people, both men and women. Pantagruel’s friends are astounded that Pantagruel’s passing of wind can create life, and they all decide to have the little people marry one another and start their own race, which they call the pygmies.     

After being satisfied with the monument and the creation of a new race, Pantagruel, his companions, and their soldiers make way to the big battle. They decide to move in and attack the enemy armies during the morning hours when their enemy is still asleep or hung-over from the pre-war festivities. On the way to the battle, Panurge convinces Pantagruel that the men should drink white wine to prepare themselves to fight. Panurge also has Pantagruel eat and drink certain items that will make him have highly acidic urine. When they arrive in the enemy territory, Pantagruel’s friend and footmen, Carpalin, stealthily sneaks through the enemy camp to set fires and blow up the enemy’s ammunitions. Before the fires and explosions are out of control, and while the enemy still sleeps, each man sleeping with his mouth open, Pantagruel urinates his acidic urine on to the enemy, drowning many of them. The fires and the explosions burned the majority of those who survived the urine.     

With a large portion of the regular soldiers killed or incapacitated, King Anarchus’ legion of giants come to the fray, led by Loupgarou. Instead of all-out warfare between Pantagruel’s army and this army of giants, Panurge steps in and somehow negotiates a battle between Loupgarou and Pantagruel. Loupgarou agrees and commands his giants to stay put and not assist him during the battle, else they shall be severely punished. Loupgarou and Pantagruel begin to fight, but Loupgarou possesses an enchanted mace, which gives him an unfair advantage. Nevertheless, Pantagruel holds his own for quite some time. When it appears that their leader, Loupgarou, is losing the battle, the giants decide to get involved against orders. Pantagruel sees the enemy giants approaching, so he picks up Loupgarou’s body and uses it as a weapon to obliterate the giants. Pantagruel wins the day, but not without casualties. His dear friend, teacher, and tutor, Epistemon, has been decapitated in battle.     

While Pantagruel and the others mourn over there fallen compatriot, Panurge insists that they move Epistemon’s body if they wish to save him. Through use of herbs and perhaps magic, Panurge sews on Epistemon’s head and brings him back to life. Besides having a somewhat hoarse voice and having the need to drink far more heavily than before, Epistemon is completely healed. Epistemon then regales everyone with his story about what he saw in the land of the dead. In a nutshell, Epistemon saw all of the famous members of royalty and heroes performing mundane, boring, every-day duties. All of the philosophers and dedicated scholars, on the other hand, were held above and praised.     

After Pantagruel is satisfied with his friend, Epistemon, being fully healed, he and his friends begin to celebrate. Panurge notices that King Anarchus refuses to be joyous, having just lost the battle, and so Panurge asks Pantagruel what they should do about the King. Pantagruel does not seem to care about Anarchus’ fate, and therefore states that King Anarchus will be Panurge’s prisoner, and that Panurge may do what he likes with him.     

In the city of Amaurots, which is the city that was invaded by Anarchus’ armies, Pantagruel discovers that all of the refugees have gathered there, and that there is not enough room to house everyone. Therefore, Pantagruel decides that he will take over Anarchus’ country, the country of the Dipsodes, and give it to all of the people and refugees of Amaurots, so that they may have a place to live and thrive.    

With Anarchus as his prisoner, Panurge decides to punish him in a manner inspired by Epistemon’s tale of the afterlife. Therefore, Panurge turns the King into a threadbare pauper and makes him sell green sauce throughout the town. To further embarrass and demean Anarchus, Panurge marries him to an old woman who carries a lantern. According to all reports, the old woman is abusive to her new husband, and Anarchus is apparently too bewildered or befuddled to defend himself from her.    

The following day, Pantagruel decides that he and his armies will take over the country of the Dipsodes. As they march, they also travel with all the people of Amaurots. A great rainstorm hits, and Pantagruel must cover everyone. The narrator of the story, who finally reveals his name as Alcofribas, explains that he was the last to try and find cover under Pantagruel, and therefore could not find sufficient cover. Pantagruel tries to provide even more protection to everyone by sticking his tongue out to further shelter the people on the ground. Alcofribas decides he will climb into Pantagruel’s mouth to find shelter there. Within Pantagruel’s enormous mouth, however, Alcofribas discovers a thriving world. Within each different part of the mouth is a different region, and everything that Pantagruel eats or drinks feeds not only the region but also the people who live within this strange other world. Alcofribas stays inside Pantagruel’s mouth exploring for some six months before he finally comes out. Pantagruel asks him where he has been, and Alcofribas tells him of his journeys. In the conversation, Alcofribas learns how long he has been traveling, and that he missed the siege of the Dipsode’s country.    

Shortly thereafter, Pantagruel becomes incredibly ill. The doctors give him medical remedies to help him urinate out his illness. In doing so, Pantagruel’s hot urine accidentally creates the hot springs all throughout France and parts of Italy. Although the treatments have made Pantagruel much better, he still suffers from stomach pains. The doctors decide they must remove whatever is ailing Pantagruel’s stomach, and so they along with other craftsmen construct giant copper balls that look like medicinal capsules, in which workers will use to travel safely into Pantagruel stomach to dig out whatever ails him. With all of the metal capsules locked and attached to one another by rope, Pantagruel swallows them down into his stomach, and inside his stomach the workers find the mass of wretched filth blocking the bottom of his gut. The workers dig it all out to cure Pantagruel of his ailments. After they complete their mission, Pantagruel vomits all of them out safely, and he is well thereafter.     

At the end of book 2, the narrator provides a teaser of what adventures will happen in the following books. The narrator also makes a note that these stories are meant for the true Pantagruelists, who wish to “live in peace, joy, health, making yourselves always merry,” (Chapter 34, par 2). If anyone should find fault with these stories otherwise, then they are not the intended audience, and therefore have no right to ruin the stories for others.   


The absence of women and the negativity toward women is a predominant theme in the last half of the second book. There very few women in this portion of the story, and the women who do appear typically remain unnamed. For example, the woman Panurge falls madly in love with and the woman who Pantagruel supposedly courts are never identified by name or social rank. Denying these women their names makes the side stories in which they are involved seem flat and unimportant, even though these side stories are included for the specific purpose of developing the main characters. For example, the narrator presents Panurge as a man who has sex with hundreds of women, yet he falls in love with the one woman who completely rejects him. Surely, such a woman who could not be wooed by such a womanizer deserves a proper name. Similarly, Pantagruel, the main character of the story, supposedly courts some woman, yet the narrator never reveals the tale of their romance. The relationship with this woman could not have been just some tryst or fling, for that would go against Pantagruel’s character. In addition, the woman is so distraught upon Pantagruel abandoning her that she sends him a letter and a ring with a secret message that he must decipher. If the relationship were trivial or short-lived, sending Pantagruel such an elaborate puzzle would seem strange. If Pantagruel tricked this woman into believing he cared for her more deeply than his true feelings, then that would reveal a side of Pantagruel the reader has never seen, which would warrant even more reason for the woman to have a name.                

As if letting so many female characters walk around unnamed was not problematic enough, the overall negativity toward women within the framework of the story cannot be ignored. Throughout this book as well as in the third book, women are consistently describe as unfaithful and untrustworthy. When examining the walls of the city, Panurge even makes a crass comment that the city leaders could save money if they built the walls with female sexual organs, since the women offer their parts up so quickly or for such a cheap price. The negative perspective of women’s promiscuity, as presented in this book, implies that these male characters, Panurge specifically, have no faith in the opposite sex, which is why many of these characters continually demean women and identify them as practically less than human. Even when the characters come in contact with a virtuous woman, such as the woman who resists Panurge, they cannot see her for what she represents. As they have constructed such negative and misogynistic views toward women, they have simultaneously created a twisted social perspective that deprives women of their subjectivity and reconstructs them as objects for members of the patriarchy to use or abuse. When a woman challenges this paradigm, as the virtuous woman does by remaining loyal to her husband, her existence as a woman of integrity disrupts the constructed social perspective. Thus, to maintain power within a social structure that places women as subordinate objects, a member of the patriarchy, Panurge, must punish this woman in a way so public that all the other women witness the level of shame and torment. The public display also serves to discredit the virtuous woman, because it makes people question how something so horrific could happen to a good person, therefore, in a Renaissance belief structure, the public assumes that the virtuous woman must have done something wrong to receive such punishment.            

The negative objectification of women, perhaps overemphasized as a result of the absence of women, continues throughout the story. For example, when the captured Dipsode soldier tells Pantagruel and his companions about King Anarchus’s massive army and followers, he mentions that Anarchus has also brought 150,000 whores along for the duration of the battle. Panurge instantly claims the whores for himself, as if they were nothing but toys to be used, and then the other male characters, Carpalin, Eusthenes, and Epistemon, join in on joking about who will take possession of the pretty whores, the fat whores, or the ugly whores. Pantagruel does not state which of the whores he would desire, but he laughs at the jokes the other men make, which could imply that he sees nothing questionable in his comrades’ actions of objectifying and claiming these women. The men then appear to forget their promises to Pantagruel or their oaths to protect Pantagruel’s homelands, and instead their entire motivation for war seems solely based on this opportunity to claim these women as the spoils of war. Even if these women were voluntary prostitutes, and even if Panurge and his friends planned on paying these women for services rendered, the fact that the women are objectified by their levels of attractiveness and further reduced to their biological function to please men sexually further demeans them and diminishes the role of women in this story.            

Moving away from this discussion concerning the role of women within the story, or the lack thereof, we can look at the role of each of the male characters, since the story rests on this male-dominant structure. Of all the male characters other than the main character, Panurge receives the most attention within this part of the story. Although many elements symbolize Panurge’s character, Florence M. Weinberg points out how Panurge’s codpiece represents perhaps the best identifying symbol. During the Renaissance, more decorative codpieces, such as Panurge’s, allowed males to announce sexual virility and, to some extent, a lascivious nature. Of course, the enlarged, ornate nature of the codpiece could represent a mask, since it hides the truth of his ability. By wearing such an “astonishing braguette,” Panurge need not show his true self and can, instead, play the cad without fear of repercussions (Weinberg, 3). He even uses his codpiece as a prop to distract onlookers from his true self. As Weinberg explains, during the battle of wits through signs with Thaumast, Panurge utilizes his groin and codpiece to make the contest as debauched as possible, therefore taking matters out of the intellectual arena, and putting the mask of Panurge’s codpiece and everything it represents on center stage.          

Perhaps Rabelais designed Panurge in this fashion to provide a better foil for Pantagruel. After all, Weinberg argues that, “as foil to Pantagruel, [Panurge’s] role often caricatures his master’s,” implying that Panurge may be channeling a darker part of his master, and therefore acts out what Pantagruel cannot, due to Pantagruel’s status as sovereign (3). Perhaps Panurge’s ability to act out these darker impulses explains his friendship with Pantagruel, since Pantagruel can live vicariously through his servant. It may also explain why Rabelais chose not to disclose Pantagruel’s relationship with his lover, since his darker impulses must be hidden behind the foil mask of Panurge. To maintain Pantagruel’s reputation, it makes sense why Rabelais might choose to hide Pantagruel’s affairs and instead offer his readers the elaborate side story that describes Panurge’s pursuits of the virtuous woman.