François Rabelais: Wikis


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François Rabelais

Born between 1483 and 1494
Chinon, France
Died 9 April 1553
Paris, France
Occupation Writer, doctor, humanist
Nationality French
Alma mater University of Poitiers, University of Montpellier
Literary movement Humanism of the Renaissance
Notable work(s) Pantagruel, Gargantua and other major writings
François Rabelais Museum Official website

François Rabelais (c. 1494 – April 9, 1553) was a major French Renaissance writer, doctor and Renaissance humanist. He has historically been regarded as a writer of fantasy, satire, the grotesque, and both bawdy jokes and songs.



Although the place or date of his birth is not reliably documented, and some scholars put it as early as 1483,[1] it is probable that François Rabelais was born in November 1494 near Chinon, Indre-et-Loire, where his father worked as a lawyer.[2] La Devinière in Seuilly, Indre-et-Loire, is the name of the estate that claims to be the writer's birthplace and houses a Rabelais museum.

Later he left the monastery to study at the University of Poitiers and University of Montpellier. In 1532, he moved to Lyon, one of the intellectual centres of France, and not only practiced medicine but edited Latin works for the printer Sebastian Gryphius. As a doctor, he used his spare time to write and publish humorous pamphlets which were critical of established authority and stressed his own perception of individual liberty. His revolutionary works, although satirical, revealed an astute observer of the social and political events unfolding during the first half of the sixteenth century.

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Using the pseudonym Alcofribas Nasier (an anagram of François Rabelais minus the cedilla on the c), in 1532 he published his first book, Pantagruel, that would be the start of his Gargantua series. In this book, Rabelais sings the praises of the wines from his hometown of Chinon through vivid descriptions of the eat, drink and be merry lifestyle of the main character, the giant Pantagruel and his friends. Despite the great popularity of his book, both it and his prequel book on the life of Pantagruel's father Gargantua were condemned by the academics at the Sorbonne for their unorthodox ideas and by the Roman Catholic Church for their derision of certain religious practices. Rabelais's third book, published under his own name, was also banned.

With support from members of the prominent du Bellay family, Rabelais received the approval from King François I to continue to publish his collection. However, after the king's death, Rabelais was frowned upon by the academic elite, and the French Parliament suspended the sale of his fourth book.

Afterwards, Rabelais traveled frequently to Rome with his friend Cardinal Jean du Bellay, and lived for a short time in Turin with du Bellay's brother, Guillaume, during which François I was his patron. Rabelais probably spent some time in hiding, threatened by being labeled a heretic. Only the protection of du Bellay saved Rabelais after the condemnation of his novel by the Sorbonne.

Rabelais later taught medicine at Montpellier in 1534 and 1539 and, in 1547, became curate of Saint-Christophe-du-Jambet and of Meudon, from which he resigned before his death in Paris in 1553.

There are diverging accounts of Rabelais' death and his last words. According to some, he wrote a famous one sentence will: "I have nothing, I owe a great deal, and the rest I leave to the poor", and his last words were "I go to seek a Great Perhaps."[3]


Titlepage of a 1571 edition containing the last three books of Pantagruel: "Le Tiers Livre des Faits & Dits Heroïques du Bon Pantagruel" ("The Third Book of the True and Said Heroic Deeds of the Noble Pantagruel

Gargantua and Pantagruel tells the story of two giants – a father, Gargantua, and his son, Pantagruel – and their adventures, written in an amusing, extravagant, and satirical vein.

While the first two books focus on the lives of the two giants, the rest of the series is mostly devoted to the adventures of Pantagruel's friends – such as Panurge, a roguish erudite maverick, and Brother Jean, a bold, voracious and boozing ex-monk – and others on a collective naval journey in search of the Divine Bottle.

Even though most chapters are humorous, wildly fantastic and sometimes absurd, a few relatively serious passages have become famous for descriptions of humanistic ideals of the time. In particular, the letter of Gargantua to Pantagruel and the chapters on Gargantua's boyhood present a rather detailed vision of education.

It is in the first book where Rabelais writes of the Abbey of Thélème, built by the giant Gargantua. It pokes fun at the monastic institutions, since his abbey has a swimming pool, maid service, and no clocks in sight.

One of the verses of the inscription on the gate to the Abbey says:

Grace, honour, praise, delight,
Here sojourn day and night.
Sound bodies lined
With a good mind,
Do here pursue with might
Grace, honour, praise, delight.

But below the humor was a very real concept of utopia and the ideal society. Rabelais gives us a description of how the Thélemites of the Abbey lived and the rules they lived by:

All their life was spent not in laws, statutes, or rules, but according to their own free will and pleasure. They rose out of their beds when they thought good; they did eat, drink, labour, sleep, when they had a mind to it and were disposed for it. None did awake them, none did offer to constrain them to eat, drink, nor to do any other thing; for so had Gargantua established it. In all their rule and strictest tie of their order there was but this one clause to be observed,

Do What Thou Wilt;
because men that are free, well-born, well-bred, and conversant in honest companies, have naturally an instinct and spur that prompteth them unto virtuous actions, and withdraws them from vice, which is called honour. Those same men, when by base subjection and constraint they are brought under and kept down, turn aside from that noble disposition by which they formerly were inclined to virtue, to shake off and break that bond of servitude wherein they are so tyrannously enslaved; for it is agreeable with the nature of man to long after things forbidden and to desire what is denied us.[4]

Rabelais and language

The French Renaissance was a time of linguistic controversies. Among the issues debated by scholars was the question of the origin of language. What was the first language? Is language something that all humans are born with or something that they learn (nature versus nurture)? Is there some sort of connection between words and the objects they refer to, or are words purely arbitrary? Rabelais deals with these matters, among many others, in his books.

The early 16th century was also a time of innovations and change for the French language, especially in its written form. The first grammar was published in 1530, followed nine years later by the first dictionary. Since spelling was far less codified than it is now, each author used his own orthography. Rabelais himself developed his personal set of rather complex rules. He was a supporter of etymological spelling, i.e., one that reflects the origin of words, and was thus opposed to those who favoured a simplified spelling, one that reflects the actual pronunciation of words.

Rabelais' use of his native tongue was astoundingly original, lively, and creative. He introduced dozens of Greek, Latin, and Italian loan-words and direct translations of Greek and Latin compound words and idioms into French. He also used many dialectal forms and invented new words and metaphors, some of which have become part of the standard language and are still used today. Rabelais is arguably one of the authors who have enriched the French language in the most significant way.

His works are also known for being filled with sexual double-entendre, dirty jokes and bawdy songs that can still surprise or even shock modern readers.

Views of Rabelais

Most scholars today agree that the French author wrote from a perspective of Christian humanism.[5] This has not always been the case. Abel Lefranc, in his 1922 introduction to Pantagruel, depicted Rabelais as a militant anti-Christian atheist.[6] M.A. Screech opposed this view and interpreted Rabelais as an Erasmian Christian humanist, the view that commands majority support today.[7] Timothy Hampton writes that "to a degree unequaled by the case of any other writer from the European Renaissance, the reception of Rabelais's work has involved dispute, critical disagreement, and ... scholarly wrangling ..."[8] But at present, "whatever controversy still surrounds Rabelais studies can be found above all in the application of feminist theories to Rabelais criticism."[9]

Contemporary writers on Rabelais

In his novel Tristram Shandy, Laurence Sterne quotes extensively from Rabelais.[citation needed]

Anatole France lectured on him in Argentina. John Cowper Powys, D. B. Wyndham Lewis, and Lucien Febvre (one of the founders of the French historical school Annales) wrote books about him. Mikhail Bakhtin, a Russian philosopher and critic, derived his celebrated concept of the carnivalesque and grotesque body from the world of Rabelais.

Mikhail Bakhtin wrote "Rabelais And His World", praising the author for understanding and unbridled embrace of the carnival grotesque. In the book he analyzes Rabelais' use of the carnival grotesque throughout his writings and laments the death of the purely communal spirit and regenerating laughter of the carnival in modern culture.

George Orwell was not an admirer of Rabelais. Writing in 1940, he called him "an exceptionally perverse, morbid writer, a case for psychoanalysis."[10]

Milan Kundera, in an article of January 8, 2007 in The New Yorker, wrote: "(Rabelais) is, along with Cervantes, the founder of an entire art, the art of the novel." (page 31). He speaks in the highest terms of Rabelais, calling him "the best", along with Flaubert.

Rabelais was a major reference point for a few main characters (Boozing wayward monks, University Professors, and Assistants) in Robertson Davies's novel The Rebel Angels, part of the The Cornish Trilogy. One of the main characters in the novel, Maria Theotoky, writes her Ph.D. on the works of Rabelais, while a murder plot unfolds around a scholarly unscathed manuscript. Rabelais was also mentioned in Davies's books The Lyre of Orpheus, and Tempest-Tost.

Honours, tributes and legacy

Bust of Rabelais in Meudon, where he served as Curé
Monument to Rabelais at Montpellier's Jardin des Plantes
  • The public university in Tours, France is named Université François Rabelais.
  • Honoré de Balzac was inspired by the works of Rabelais to write Les Cent Contes Drolatiques (The Hundred Humorous Tales). Balzac also pays homage to Rabelais by quoting him in more than twenty novels and the short stories of La Comédie humaine (The Human Comedy). Michel Brix wrote of Balzac that he "is obviously a son or grand son of Rabelais... He has never hidden his admiration for the author of Gargantua that he cites in Le Cousin Pons as "the greatest mind of modern humanity."[11][12] In his story of Zéro, Conte Fantastique published in La Silhouette on 3 October 1830, Balzac even adapted Rabelais's pseudonym (Alcofribas).
  • Rabelais also left a tradition at the University of Montpellier's Faculty of Medicine: no graduating doctor can undergo a convocation without taking an oath under Rabelais's robe. Further tributes are paid to him in other traditions of the university, such as its faluche, a distinctive student headcap styled in his honour with four bands of colour emanating from its centre.
  • Asteroid (5666) Rabelais is named in honor of François Rabelais.
  • In its August 26, 2009 obituary for Senator Edward M. Kennedy, the New York Times described the late Senator as a "Rabelaisian figure in the Senate and in life".[13]
  • In Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio's 2008 Nobel Prize lecture, Le Clézio referred to Rabelais as "....the greatest writer in the French language".
  • In the present day Rabelais can be found basking under the shade of a hackberry tree. The Jardin des Plantes in Montpellier has him immortalized with a statue, which watches over hundreds of species in its botanical garden.
  • In France the moment at a restaurant when the waiter presents the bill is still sometimes called le quarte d'heure de Rabelais, in memory of a famous trick Rabelais used to get out of paying a tavern bill when he had no money.[14]

In popular culture

  • British progressive rock group Gentle Giant wrote lyrics based in Rabelais' books, such as Advent of Panurge and Pantagruel's Nativity.
  • The notorious student magazine Rabelais at the La Trobe University campus in Bundoora, Australia, is named after him.
  • Meredith Willson refers to Rabelais in the song "Pick-a-little, Talk-a-little/Goodnight Ladies" from his hit musical "The Music Man"
  • Author John Green uses Rabelais' last words ("I go to seek a Great Perhaps") as a philosophical focal point of his debut novel, Looking for Alaska.

Works of Rabelais

  • Gargantua and Pantagruel, a series of four or five books including:
    • Pantagruel (1532)
    • La vie très horrifique du grand Gargantua, usually called Gargantua (1534)
    • Le tiers livre ("The third book", 1546)
    • Le quart livre ("The fourth book", 1552)
    • Le quint livre (A fifth book, whose attribution to Rabelais is debated)


  1. ^ The Rabelais Encyclopedia, p. xiii
  2. ^ "Rabelais, François". The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001–07.. Retrieved 2008-05-27. 
  3. ^ "Rabelais to Surratt". Last Words of Real People. Retrieved 2008-05-28. 
  4. ^ Rabelais, François. Gargantua and Pantagruel. Everyman's Library. ISBN 978-0679431374
  5. ^ Bowen 1998
  6. ^ Davis, Natalie Zemon. "Beyond Babel" in Davis & Hampton, "Rabelais and His Critics". Occasional Papers Series, University of California Press.
  7. ^ Screech 1979, p. 14
  8. ^ Hampton, Timothy. "Language and Identities" in Davis & Hampton, "Rabelais and His Critics". Occasional Papers Series, University of California Press.
  9. ^ Bruno Braunrot, "Critical Theory" entry in The Rabelais Encyclopedia. p. 45.
  10. ^ Review of Nailcruncher by Albert Cohen, included in The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell Volume 2.
  11. ^ Bibliothèque de la Pleiade, 1977, t.VII, p.587
  12. ^ Michel Brix,Balzac and the Legacy of Rabelais, PUF, 2002–2005, vol. 102, p.838
  13. ^ Broder, 26 August 2009.
  14. ^ Brillat-Savarin, Anthelme, La Physiologie du Gout, Meditiation 28.


  • "François Rabelais". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved 2008-05-27. 
  • Alex Online. (2003). Alex Online. Retrieved on April 20, 2006.
  • Bowen, Barbara C. (1998), Enter Rabelais, Laughing, Vanderbilt University Press, ISBN 0826513069 
  • Broder, John M. Edward Kennedy, Senate Stalwart, Dies, The New York Times, 26 August 2009. Retrieved 2009-08-26.
  • Del Campo, Gerald. Rabelais: The First Thelemite. The Order of Thelemic Knights.
  • Febvre, Lucien. Gottlieb, Beatrice trans. The Problem of Unbelief in the Sixteenth Century: The Religion of Rabelais (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1982)
  • Lee, Jae Num. "Scatology in Continental Satirical Writings from Aristophanes to Rabelais" and "English Scatological Writings from Skelton to Pope." Swift and Scatological Satire. Albuquerque: U of New Mexico P, 1971. 7–22; 23–53.
  • Dixon, J.E.G. & John L. Dawson. Concordance des Oeuvres de François Rabelais. Geneva: Librairie Droz, 1992.
  • Screech, M.A. (1979). Rabelais. London: Duckworth. ISBN 0715616609. 
  • Thelemapedia. (2004). François Rabelais. Retrieved on April 14, 2006.

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Speak the truth and shame the Devil.

François Rabelais (ca. 1493 -1553-04-09) was a French humanist writer of satirical romances.



  • Je m'en vais chercher un grand peut-être; tirez le rideau, la farce est jouée.
    • I am going to seek a grand perhaps; draw the curtain, the farce is played.
    • Last words, according to Peter Anthony Motteux, in his Life of Rabelais
  • Je n'ai rien vaillant; je dois beaucoup; je donne le reste aux pauvres.
    • I have nothing, owe a great deal, and the rest I leave to the poor.
    • His one line will, as quoted in Arthur Machen : A Short Account of His Life and Work (1964) by Aidan Reynolds and William E. Charlton, p. 186

Pantagruel (1532)

Les horribles et espouvantables faictz & prouesses du tres renommé Pantagruel Roy des Dipsodes, filz du grand géant Gargantua
  • Readers, friends, if you turn these pages
    Put your prejudice aside,
    For, really, there's nothing here that's outrageous,
    Nothing sick, or bad — or contagious.
    Not that I sit here glowing with pride
    For my book: all you'll find is laughter:
    That's all the glory my heart is after,
    Seeing how sorrow eats you, defeats you.
    I'd rather write about laughing than crying,
    For laughter makes men human, and courageous.
  • [Mais par ce que selon le sage Salomon,] Sapience n’entre point en ame malivole, & science sans conscience n’est que ruyne de l’ame.
    • [But as wise Solomon said,] Wisdom entereth not into a malicious mind, and science without conscience is but the ruin of the soul.
    • Ch. 8

Gargantua (1534)

La vie inestimable du grand Gargantua, père de Pantagruel
  • Pour ce que rire est le propre de l'homme.
    • To laugh is proper to man.
    • Rabelais to the Reader (prefatory note on leading page)
  • [Puis pour curieuse leczon, & meditation frequente] rompre l'os, & sugcer la substantificque mouelle.
    • [And then for strange lesson and frequent meditation,] break the bone and suck out the substantific marrow.
    • Prologue
  • Les heures sont faictez pour l'homme, & non l'homme pour les heures.
    • Translation: I never follow the clock: hours were made for man, not man for hours.
    • Ch. 39 (frère Iean des Entommeures)
  • Et guerre faicte sans bonne provision d'argent, n'a qu'un souspirail de vigueur. Les nerfz des batailles sont les pecunes.
    • Translation: War begun without good provision of money beforehand for going through with it is but as a breathing of strength and blast that will quickly pass away. Coin is the sinews of war.
    • Ch. 44

Le Tiers-Livre des faicts et dicts héroïques du bon Pantagruel (1546)

Le Quart-Livre des faicts et dicts héroïques du bon Pantagruel (1548, 1552)

  • Certaine gayeté d'esprit conficte en mespris des choses fortuites.
    • A certain jollity of mind, pickled in the scorn of fortune.
    • Prologue de l'autheur
  • A son [Timon le Misanthrope] exemple ie denonce à ces calumniateurs diaboliques, que tous ayent à se pendre dedans le dernier chanteau de ceste lune. Ie les fourniray de licolz.
    • Following his example, I encourage all these diabolical calumniators to go hang themselves before the last moon's quarter is done. I will supply the rope.
    • Prologue of the 1548 "old" edition
  • He that has patience may compass anything.
    • Ch. 48
  • We will take the good will for the deed.
    • Ch. 49
  • ...l'estomach affamé n'a poinct d'aureilles, il n'oyt goutte.
    • The belly has no ears nor is it to be filled with fair words.
    • Ch. LXIII

The Works of Francis Rabelais (1854)

As translated by Sir Thomas Urquhart and Peter Anthony Motteux
  • Appetite comes with eating...but the thirst goes away with drinking.
    • Book I, Treating Of the Inestimable Life of the Great Gargantua, Father Of Pantagruel, Ch. 5
  • There was left only the monk to provide for, whom Gargantua would have made Abbot of Seville, but he refused it. He would have given him the Abbey of Bourgueil, or of Sanct Florent, which was better, or both, if it pleased him ; but the monk gave him a very peremptory answer, that he would never take upon him the charge nor government of monks. For how shall I be able, said he, to rule over others, that have not full power and command of myself: l If you think I have done you, or may hereafter do you any acceptable service, give me leave to found an abbey after my own mind and fancy.
    • Book I, Ch. 52, How Gargantua caused to be built for the monk the abbey of Theleme
  • All their life was spent not in laws, statutes, or rules, but according to their own free will and pleasure. They rose out of their beds when they thought good : they did eat, drink, labour, sleep, when they had a mind to it, and were disposed for it. None did awake them, none did offer to constrain them to eat, drink, nor to do any other thing ; for so had Gargantua established it. In all their rule, and strictest tie of their order, there was but this one clause to be observed,
Because men that are free, well-born, well-bred, and conversant in honest companies, have naturally an instinct and spur that prompteth them unto virtuous actions, and withdraws them from vice, which is called honour. Those same men, when by base subjection and constraint they are brought under and kept down, turn aside from that noble disposition, by which they formerly were inclined to virtue, to shake off and break that bond of servitude, wherein they are so tyrannously enslaved; for it is agreeable with the nature of man to long after things forbidden, and to desire what is denied us.
  • Book I, Ch. 57 How the Thelemites were governed, and of their manner of living. The famous dictum of the abbey of Theleme presented here, "Do what thou wilt" (Fais ce que voudras), evokes an ancient expression by St. Augustine of Hippo: "Love, and do what thou wilt." The expression of Rabelais was later used by the Hellfire Club established by Sir Francis Dashwood, and by Aleister Crowley in his The Book of the Law (1904): "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law."
  • Subject to a kind of disease, which at that time they called lack of money.
    • Book II, Ch. 16
  • So much is a man worth as he esteems himself.
    • Book II, Ch. 29, How Pantagruel discomfited the three hundred Giants armed with free-stone, and Loupgarou their Captain (Loup-garou is the french term for werewolf)
  • Loupgarou was come with all his giants, who, seeing Pantagruel in a manner alone, was carried away with temerity and presumption, for hopes that he had to kill the good man. Whereupon he said to his companions the giants, You wenchers of the low country, by Mahoom, if any of you undertake to fight against these men here, I will put you cruelly to death. It is my will, that you let me fight single. In the meantime you shall have good sport to look upon us.
    • Book II, Ch. 29
  • Plain as the nose in a man's face.
    • Book V, author's prologue
  • Looking as one pea does like another.
    • Book V, Ch. 2

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