Parallel Lives

Hear ye not the Vestals singing? It is the seventh of June, and the bows are strung for the Virgin’s birthday. Vanilla priestesses prance around the fire on the plain of Jane, tubers transfixed by their rustic forks. Any fire which has a cast of potatoes on it burns forever, because Mary was once allowed to cook potatoes in such fashion when she was entertained at the Castlewick of Salmiguondin. She thought she could hear the murmurs of a vestal who had been immured in a wall as punishment for a transgression against chastity. “Vade in pacem,” she said in her high-school Latin. Some years ago her skeleton was still on display, before it was cast about during the recent reconstruction. Fondes faictes. Come to us, us to them.

Also on this date, Brutus conquered Spain, and Crassus was vanquished by the Parthians.

The Kalendar and Compost of Shepherds, dating to 1493,  claims that in the seven dolours of the Blessed Virgin lie the seeds of the seven deadly sins, not to mention the source of the seven petitions of the Lord’s prayer, the seven virtues, the seven planets,  the parts of man, and the days of the week.

Honorius in De imagine tempers the distances between planets to the musical scale. Albertus Magnus notes that  the seven gifts of the spirit correspond to the seven words of Christ on the Cross (Commentarii in Psal. LVI). Bonaventura correlates the seven petitions with the seven gifts, beatitudes, virtues and vices, and outpourings of the Holy Ghost (Expositio in cap. sextum evang. S. Matth).

From the East came three wiseguy anchormen: the Babylonian Pleiade, the Egyptian Hathor, and the seven devils of Middle Age: headache, impotence, death, knots in a handkerchief, stains on a scarf,  groats on a girdle, and true belief.

Tristram in his time learned seven arts and seven kinds of music.  Shortly thereafter he obtained seven kinds of birds. Seven sleepers slept at Ephesus, seven wise masters went off their nut, Tannhauser spent seven years at Venusburg, and St. George endured seven years of torture for killing the last of the dragons. In the same measure that they had been put there.

But let us discard this embarrassing display of learning and give thanks that our King has rocked the verses and rolled the numbers since the hour of his nativity. Pantagruel speaks all tongues, has mastered all sciences, and knows all knowledge of every sort, out-Solomoning Solomon in wisdom. He is the last we know of the race of giants, but The Third Book hints that he produced heirs.

His name can be decomposed into “Pan” and “Gruel” according to the non-Abelian logic of the psycholinguists. Pan must be the god of flocks and herds, who frolicked in the boxelder grove on the hour of his death — also the hour of Christ’s crucifixion, as Rabelais relates in Chapter 38 of The Fourth Book, citing Plutarch’s The Decline of the Oracles. At his death some say the ancient oracles shut up forever, a story deep-sixed by Plutarch.

rabelais-reefer“Gruel” is Arabic for “altered.” Pantagruel’s coming totally altered the world, as is verified in the second chapter of Pantagruel, published in Lyon in 1532 by Master Alcofribas Nasier, abstractor of the quintessence.

Some say Pantagruel’s name refers to a violent sore throat, a fatal sort of angina, quinsy, or tonsillitis, which suffocates the sufferer with an unquenchable thirst, and strikes him or her dumb, summoning visions of the heavenly host and fatal adumbrations of sudden death. Simon Gréban’s The Acts of the Apostles portrays Pantagruel as a little devil who scours the seashore for salt to toss down the throats of drunkards. But Pantagruel is a mover, not a shaker.

“Fools! They know not how much more the half is than the whole, nor what great advantage there is in mallow and asphodel, ” said Hesiod. But the ringing hammer of Pythagoras came down on the head of he who ate mallow, because mallow was the messenger first sent by the gods to earth.

“Mallow that is sown is more fit to be eaten than that which is wild. It is bad for the stomach and good for the belly,” said Dioscorides. The author of Five Wheys to Cut the Cheese said, “This wort, which one nameth hock leaf, is produced everywhere in cultivated places.” Malva sylvestris cleanses the bowels, has hairy stems and leaves, and deeply-cleft reddish-purple flowers. But the mallow of Theophrastus is Labetera arborea., Gerard calls it called Hollyhocke, Rosa ultra-marina, or outlandish Rose. To the Greeks it was known as Malache agria, Malache Kepaia and Hortensis. Pythagoras called it Anthema, Zorastres Diadesma, the Egyptians Chocorten, the Magi Carpae lien, and others Muris cauda.

The Castlewick of Salmiguondin is where ragoût was first served. It came to Pantagruel among the spoils of the war against the Dipsodes. Pantagruel conferred the fiefdom upon Alcrofrybas Nasier after said abstractor returned from his six-month tour of Pantagruel’s mouth. However Pantagruel later assigned the domain to Panurge, who proceeded to consume the blade in the ear. Yesterday the body of a man was cast up on the strand at the Castlewick.

Out of nowhere Gargantua stepped into a convocation at Pantagruel’s castle just, as you would have guessed, in time for dessert. Moments earlier one of the serving girls, after stashing the bundle of kindling she had picked up from the woodpile on the path to the privy, had whispered to Panurge, “Keep your fork, Duke, the pie’s coming.” As Panurge parted his lips to respond, Pantagruel spotted Gargantua’s dog Kyne and commanded, “All stand for the King.” Gargantua begged the crowd to do him the favor of not leaving their seats or interrupting their discourse, and in compliance, discussion continued on a question posed by Panurge—should he marry, or should he not.

The philosopher Trouillogan had offered two pieces of advice: “Both the two together,” and “Neither the one, nor the other.” Gargantua chimed in that the answer “is like the one given by an ancient philosopher, when asked whether he had a certain woman as his wife. ‘I’ve had her,’ he answered, ‘but she hasn’t got me. I possess her, but I’m not possessed by her.’” Pantagruel smiled. “A similar answer was made by a Spartan wench when she was asked whether she had ever fucked a man,” he said. “She answered, ‘Never, but they sometimes fuck me.’” See also on this intercourse, the Apothegms of Erasmus of Rotterdam, and Book Three, 49.11

“That same wench,” said Garganuta, “if I be not mistaken, used to fill her mouth full of wheat and run around the neighborhood, listening at doors. If a boy’s name was mentioned, it was he who was to be her husband.”

“Yes,” said Epistemon, “She would buy a penny’s worth of pins, stick nine into an apple, throw the tenth away, and put the apple in her left stocking. She tied the stocking with her right garter and then went to bed, hoping to dream of her future husband. On Halloween she would go into a strange garden and steal a head of cabbage. She would take the cabbage into a field, find a dunghill, and standing on it and eating the cabbage, would look into a mirror, hoping for a glimpse of her future husband.”

“But the Fates were cruel to her in the end,” said Pantagruel. “When she was groping, blindfolded, for her wedding ring, the children tricked her into dipping her hand in a bowl of clay.”

Panurge then said that the mention of a wedding ring put him in mind of the story of Hans Carvel, which he would relate in its proper time, and also of an affair he had lately had with a lady in Paris. Although pressed to tell this story, he would only say, “The whole shooting match was a pain in the butt. I’m glad it’s behind me now.”

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