A. K. Dzhivelegov 1935
Author: A. K. Dzhivelegov;
First published: 1973 in Gargantua and Pantagruel, Moscow, pp. 5-26;
Translated by: Anton P.
Rabelais was the greatest artist of the French Renaissance, perhaps the greatest French writer of all time, and one of the greatest humanists of the era. His work is a great cultural milestone. His novel stands at the high rise of the Renaissance wave, as Dante’s Divine Comedy stands at the origins of the Renaissance. Both books are encyclopedias in their scope: Dante’s poem is full of pathos, Rabelais’ novel is full of irony, both are combative, directed against antiquity, which is becoming obsolete at different stages, to different extents. Rabelais inflicted heroic blows on this antiquity, from which its strongholds collapsed as irresistibly as the towers and walls of the Vedic castle under the blows of Gargantua’s club. Rabelais was cursed from all sides. He defended himself, disguised himself, maneuvered, and, despite the most severe onslaught of reaction, managed – it was not easy – not to fall on the fire.
Francois Rabelais (born probably in 1494, died in 1553) was born in Chinon. He was the youngest son of a petty court official. In 1510 he entered the Franciscan monastery and until 1524 he remained a monk at Fontenay-Leconte. There he received the priesthood. But spiritual exploits did little to tempt the gifted young man. He wanted to study. To the great temptation of his comrades in the monastery, he sat down to study, easily mastered Latin, began to study Greek, read Plato, entered into correspondence with the head of the French humanists, Guillaume Bude. In the end, irritated by this extremely un-Franciscan way of life of Rabelais (let uneducated people not try to acquire an education, Saint Francis taught), the monks took away the Greek books from him, which he obtained with the greatest sacrifices. Rabelais was saved by friends: they procured papal permission for him to transfer to the Benedictine order, which did not have such an ardent obscurantist tradition. In the Benedictine abbey at Malleus, he was supported by the friendship of the local Bishop d’Estissac. Here, no one bothered him. He not only continued his Hellenistic studies, but began to devote more and more time to natural science and medicine. In 1528 – still with the permission of the spiritual authorities – he went to Paris, and from there, without permission, further, all with the same goal.
It was still a time for tolerance. Defeated near Pavia by the leader of the Catholic reaction, Charles V, king of Spain, taken prisoner, released on very difficult conditions, Francis I, naturally, strove for rapprochement with the German Protestant princes and pursued a very liberal religious policy. Guillaume Bude congratulated himself and his associates on the “return from exile” of free knowledge. Now Rabelais could more freely, without looking back at the monastery bell towers, indulge in his studies. First, he ended up (1530) in Montpellier, where he lectured, following the doctrines of Hippocrates and Galen, and earned his living either as a doctor or as a priest. In 1532 he was already in Lyon – a doctor in a large hospital. From here he struck up a relationship with Erasmus. Here he began to print.
The impetus that prompted Rabelais to take up this book was the appearance, shortly before that, of a folk book entitled The Great and Invaluable Chronicles of the Great and Huge Giant Gargantua, which, according to Rabelais, “sold as much in two months as no Bibles can be bought for nine years”. The main interest of this book was, on the one hand, its broad folklore basis, on the other hand, its explicit satire on fantasy and adventurous heroism of old chivalric novels. Both, no doubt, attracted Rabelais, who decided to use the canvas of the popular Gargantua. Pantagruel was conceived as a continuation of the folk book, retaining to some extent the style and imitating the naive epicness of the original: the same plot, the same giants, but a completely different meaning and a completely different mood. First of all, imitation very soon, one might say – from the first pages, begins to be interrupted by an ironic attitude to the events being told, and this irony remains the leitmotif of the entire book until the end. In this regard, Rabelais followed the example of the Italian poets Luigi Pulci and Teofilo Folengo, from whom he also borrowed some of his images. But no one borrowed the ideological content with which Pantagruel was saturated. It was not quite legal and therefore was disguised, although not so much that an attentive reader, especially a reader who is in the right mood, could not see it. First of all, this is a whole series of bold parodies of the Bible in the description of miracles, for example, the resurrection of Epistemon, or the role of one of the ancestors of Pantagruel, the giant Khurtali, invented for laughs, in the flood: he escaped, saddling Noah’s ark, inside of which, due to its size, it could not fit. This is then a mockery of the popes, who quite recently left the scene – Alexander VI and Julius II. These are constant attacks on Catholicism, on the Catholic Church, on the cult, on preachers, on processions, and at the same time constantly emphasizing that the real preaching of the Gospel should be done “purely, simply and completely,” that is, in the same way as the Protestants, moreover, pre-Calvinian Protestants who did not yet have an official church. When Calvin creates his community in Geneva and begins to oppress the free faith no worse than the pope, Rabelais will laugh at him, and Servetus’ executioner will never forgive him for this.
All these things are found in Pantagruel at every step and merge into a certain declaration of free faith, adjacent to pre-church Protestantism, but already outgrowing it and barely hiding its atheistic tendencies. There is something else in Pantagruel, which is most clearly and most fully expressed in Chapter VIII, which contains the famous letter of Gargantua to his son, the true manifesto of the French Renaissance. This is an enthusiastic hymn to new knowledge and new enlightenment, a jubilant program of humanistic science, imbued with the same faith in its infallibility and the joy of joining it, like the exclamation of Ulrich von Hutten: “Minds have woken up, life has become a pleasure!”
However, the worldview, which found expression in Pantagruel, lacked system and consistency. Separate statements, allusions, sometimes mischievous antics hit the target well, but at the same time it was felt that the author wanted to say more. He lacked either an environment suitable for the systematization of thoughts that agitated him, or the necessary material.
The literary interests of Rabelais during these years (1532-1533) were not yet fully determined. He divided his time between publishing annotated ancient treatises on medicine and printing calendars. The only thing that makes one guess the future master of satire in its author is the Pantagruel Prophecy, published in 1533, a mocking parody of the usual meteorological and astrological “predictions” issued by enterprising lovers of easy money every year. Rabelais tried the pen and groped, very carefully, for ways of creativity. Rabelais published Latin works on medicine and archeology later. They do not add glory to the author of Pantagruel.
The very first trip to Italy greatly expanded Rabelais’ horizons, gave him the opportunity to return to the questions that occupied him and create something much more mature.
In 1534, Bishop Jean du Bellay arrived in Rome with an embassy from King Francis from France with a large retinue. Rabelais accompanied him as a doctor. This was the last year of the pontificate of Clement VII. Rabelais was in Italy for the first time. Only seven years had elapsed since the dreadful rout which Rome suffered during the League of Cognac against Spain. Traces of this defeat were visible at every step in the city: destroyed buildings, walls of houses black after a fire, and each of the Roman inhabitants could tell dozens of the most amazing stories about the terrible May days of 1527, when Rome became a victim of the Spaniards and the German landsknechts.
Rabelais’ first stay in Italy was short. He left Lyon in January 1534, stayed in Rome until April 1, apparently visited Florence on his way back and returned to Lyon on May 18. We know very little about what he did in Italy, whom he saw, what he read, what he thought. His youth is gone; he was about forty years old. He knew a lot, but in Italy he got the opportunity to learn even more, because the general cultural level of the Italians was higher and their political orientation was higher. Returning to his homeland, Rabelais published another volume of his epic, where he partly returned to the same questions that he dealt with in Pantagruel, and partly posed a number of new ones. This second part was entitled: The Tale of the Terrible Life of the Great Gargantua, Father of Pantagruel.
In the prologue to Gargantua, Rabelais recommended to the reader, through careful reading and intense reflection, to “gnaw the bone and suck out the brain substance” of his story, to unravel the “Pythagorean symbol,” that is, his secret thought on questions of “religion, as well as politics and economics.” Of these questions, three seem to us particularly significant: the education of Gargantua, the war between King Picrochole and Grangousier, Gargantua’s father, and Theleme Abbey.
Let us start with the education of Gargantua. King Grangousier entrusted the upbringing of his son to scholastics and theologians of the Sorbonne type, people of the old culture and old science, for whom literacy was the main content of all education. They forced him to cram so that, from the alphabet to a serious treatise, he could say everything without hesitation by heart, without being interested in the meaning. The boy did not learn anything. Then they advised the king to invite people of a different way of thinking, of a different training. Gargantua’s education was taken from the scholastics and entrusted to the humanists. And here, in the chapters that are devoted to the teaching of Gargantua by humanists, Rabelais reveals his ideals in a very vivid form.
Pedagogy in the culture of the Renaissance played a very important role. It was important for people who created a new culture that the new culture should receive such a tool in its hands, with the help of which it could prepare a person from his early childhood for the perception of this culture. The Italian humanists of the 15th century both theoretically substantiated this principle and practically implemented it. In the works of Leonardo Bruni, Vergerio, Decembrio, Guarini, a whole system of new pedagogy was developed, and the fruits of theoretical thought revived pedagogical practice there long ago. A school was founded in Mantua, headed by the enthusiast of the new pedagogy Vittorino da Feltre. This school was called la casa gloriosa – “the house of joy”.
The main points of pedagogy, which received a complete artistic expression in the novel by Rabelais, fully corresponded to the very principles in this area that were created by the Italian humanists and which, after them, were developed by Erasmus of Rotterdam and other representatives of European humanism.
Rabelais laid the foundation for public education on two principles. First, a person must receive not only mental education, but also physical education: the mind and body must develop simultaneously, in parallel and harmoniously. Secondly, no system of upbringing and education can be in any way successful if it does not alternate between different disciplines and if these different disciplines are not interspersed – as a refreshing moment – with rest. It is best to set up the system of education in such a way that the educated person does not distinguish where learning begins and where rest ends, and it is best when rest and learning alternate with each other in such a way that both are perceived with great joy for the educated person. This is the point of view of the entire new culture, and healthy pedagogy lives on these principles to this day.
Why did Rabelais once again return to questions of education, after Pantagruel had already dealt with the education of the hero? In Italy, Rabelais became acquainted with the theories of the Italian humanists, and he wanted to reveal the entire social significance of the system of new education in the light that it illuminated in his mind thanks to the books of his Italian predecessors, especially since this method simultaneously dealt a blow to the Sorbonnists and Scholastics, who were still very tenacious and harmful enemies of the new enlightenment.
It is quite understandable why Rabelais took up arms against the scholastics with all the unbridled power of his satire. Scholasticism was the ideological stronghold of the old world. It united obscurantism, fanaticism, self-satisfied ignorance into one destructive force; she blessed the Inquisition inspired by the Sorbonne; it supplied with an arsenal of theological arguments the champions of the ideologically already defeated, clearly aware of its inevitable death, but nevertheless desperately defending the feudal Catholic antiquity. The philosophical and theological arguments selected by the scholastics turned into the dregs of church sermons and led to inquisitorial bonfires, which were lit by church dignitaries with the tacit consent of the king. Therefore, the pillars of scholastic learning in the eyes of Rabelais were by no means just brainless and stupid pedants. They may not be aware of it, their brainlessness and stupidity extinguished the precious lights of new knowledge, new enlightenment, new culture. But it was safest to fight them the way Rabelais did: exposing their mental weakness to ridicule, mocking their human weaknesses. Yes, and the satirical genius of Rabelais presented an easy and rewarding task on this path – to beat enemies with deadly weapons, which he wielded with such perfection: caricature and grotesque.
The problem of the war with Picrochole concerns no less important issues. Gargantua finished or almost finished his studies in Paris. He grew up, became a strong, strong young giant, and, in essence, was already ready to enter into life and help his father in the labors of governing the state. The time has come to leave Paris and return home. But Gargantua’s departure was hastened by one circumstance. Old Grangousier lived next door to an old adversary, King Picrochole. This Picrochole, taking advantage of an absurd pretext, attacked Grangousier. The war has begun. This is the second war that Rabelais describes. The first was the plot of one of the episodes of Pantagruel, depicting epic battles, heroic deeds – in a word, the entire usual arsenal of heroic poems. Here the war is the reason.
Talking about it, Rabelais, in essence, sets out his thoughts on the main issues of politics. what is Pichrochole? He is a typical feudal king, a king in the old style, one that, perhaps, it would be difficult to find on any major European thrones, where sovereigns educated by humanists sat everywhere – a king who openly places all his hopes on rude physical force, which does not take into account any principles in the field of law and government. In the end, Picrochole was defeated, and his army was beaten. But ideologically, this is a secondary issue. It was not about the war, and not about the army, and not about the battles, but in the images of both kings, the barbarian king and the caring, but overly complacent king. Both portraits are, of course, satire, although in one case severe and merciless, and in the other affectionate, almost loving. Separate features of both Picrochole and Grangousier could be found in any of the rulers of Europe, even the most enlightened. The meaning of Rabelais’ satire is that in the existing organization of monarchical power there are many features worthy of ridicule, a lot of negative things, that not one of the monarchical states in Europe can be recognized as a real monarchy worthy of this name. For Rabelais did not reject the principle of monarchy. This was the second thing that formed in the ideology of Rabelais after Italy. Italy is far ahead in this regard. The political doctrine of Machiavelli, Guicciardini and their followers analyzed the content of the concept of power in general and monarchical in particular with sufficient attention and deep enough. Rabelais had something to learn from the Italians, and Rabelais obviously learned. For his depiction of the rivalry between the two kings shows how conscious was now his attitude to the monarchy and to power in general. Rabelais did not truly show his ideal monarch. Only a few hints allow us to think that he saw in both his heroes, Gargantua and Pantagruel, some features of this image.
From political ideals, a transition is easily made to social ideals. Rabelais paints them in the picture of Theleme Abbey.
The monk, brother Jean, performed great feats in the war with Picrochole and should have received a reward for this. When asked what he wanted, he replied that he would like a monastery to be created for him, unlike any other. Such a monastery was created in Thelema. He really turned out to be nothing like the others. Church services occupied the main place in the monasteries; there is not even a church in Thelema. In monasteries there are charters; in Thelema there is none. In monasteries, everything is measured, limited, distributed by the hour; in Thelema everything will be distributed according to convenience and need. Only crooked, hunchbacked, lame, ugly women are admitted to the monasteries, and frail, skinny, loafers, worthless men; handsome, well-built, good-tempered young men of both sexes will be received at Thelema. In the monasteries severe discipline reigns; in Thelema only freedom. In monasteries, monks take vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience; in Thelema it will be established that everyone can be married, be rich and live freely, and everyone, moreover, will have the right to leave the monastery when he pleases, completely unhindered. The entire monastic regulation of Thelema is contained in one article: fais ce que voudras – do what you want. Complete freedom: no compulsory labor; bright peaceful existence. No anguish, no fanatical speeches, no squabbles. What did Rabelais want to say with this utopian picture?
The concept of freedom was unfamiliar to the feudal Middle Ages. It knew the concept of liberties, that is, exemptions in favor of a collective from the general regime of unfreedom and coercion. The concept of freedom, referring to man as such, having any universal character, contradicted the entire feudal system and therefore simply did not exist. Italian humanists have long demanded freedom for man. But freedom in the understanding of the Italian Renaissance had in mind an individual. Humanism proved that a person in his feelings, in his thoughts, in his beliefs is not subject to any guardianship, that there should not be someone else’s will over him that prevents him from feeling and thinking as he wants. Rabelais expanded this concept. Rabelais created a picture of a large group of people – he draws Theleme Abbey not only as a separate city, not just as a small state, – where all coercion, internal and external, is eliminated from life, and not only for thoughts and feelings, but also for actions. There is no internal coercion, because such is the regime. there is no external, because the state, which can exercise coercion, has renounced its rights. Live the way you want. Freedom is proclaimed not only for the individual, but for the whole large community. A further conclusion suggests itself: if there are and can exist such hostels for which no law on coercion has been written, then all existing hostels – the city, society, state – can also be free, and for them any coercion and any organization of coercion can be eliminated. This is not anarchism: this is a definite struggle against the system of coercion in which feudal society lived and in which the whole meaning of feudal society was.
That this picture of Theleme Abbey is nothing more than a utopia – brilliant, true, radiant. looking into the distant future and passionately calling for its coming – but still a utopia, is evident from the way Rabelais depicts the material basis of this carefree life. For the construction and arrangement of the monastery, Gargantua released in cash two million seven hundred thousand eight hundred and thirty one long-haired ram (the name of the coin) and, until the end of all work, promised to issue annually one million six hundred sixty-nine thousand ecu with the image of the sun and the same amount with the image of the Pleiades. For the maintenance of the monastery, Gargantua assigned two million three hundred and sixty-nine thousand five hundred and fourteen nobles with the image of a rose a year.
But thoughts were expressed, a picture of a free hostel and a full-blooded life in it, full of beauty and joy, flowing in cultural pursuits and pleasures, was drawn. The reader had something to think about.
Thus, a beginning was added to Pantagruel. Now everything new, fresh, oppositional, humanistic, contained in two books, could have a powerful impact on society.
Further work on the novel was slowed down due to a change in the religious policy of Francis I. A frenzied persecution of Lutherans and freethinkers began, bonfires blazed. Many humanists hastened to publish declarations in which they dissociated themselves from “heretical” opinions. Many considered it prudent to change their place of residence. Among them was Rabelais. He disappeared from Lyon, and soon found a way to be out of reach of the Sorbonne and its bloodhounds. He again went to Italy, again with Jean du Bellay, who in the meantime had become a cardinal.
Now the interests of Rabelais suddenly took a different direction. Living in Rome, where Pope Clement VII was replaced by Paul III, Rabelais had the opportunity to take a closer look at the papal economy and found a lot of interesting things here. In particular, he discovered in the papal garden and orchard a lot of vegetables and fruits that were not yet known anywhere in Europe at that time (artichokes, “Roman lettuce”, renglots, etc.). Rabelais began to collect and study these seeds, unknown to him, and sent samples of them to France.
Rabelais thus returned to his interests in the natural sciences and during this stay in Rome, which lasted for seven or eight months (from August 1535 to April 1536), was mainly engaged in botany. He did not forget, of course, his other scientific love. The archeology of Rome continued to attract his attention during this period as well. He wandered a lot through the ruins. A lot of time was spent on arranging an important personal matter for him: he obtained forgiveness from the pope for the unauthorized abandonment of his Benedictine monastery. When he returned to his homeland, then he was immediately carried away into a circle of completely new questions for him.
If you pay attention to the chronology of the individual parts of his novel, it is easy to see that after the appearance of Gargantua in 1534 and until 1546, when the Third Book appeared, Rabelais seemed to be completely uninterested in this novel. Abel Lefranc, a well-known researcher of the life and work of Rabelais, recently tried to explain this strange circumstance in the comments on the Third Book. When Rabelais returned from his second trip to Italy, says Lefranc, the du Bellay family, who were entrusted by Francis I with the organization in France and especially outside France of disseminating information needed by the government, attracted Rabelais to this case. Rabelais did not evade: the new position relieved him of the anxiety for personal safety, which had become so much aggravated before the second trip. This case was not new. Even under Louis XII, in the first decade of the 16th century, similar literary commissions were carried out by such a great writer as Pierre Gringoire, author of the well-known hundreds directed against Pope Julius II. Neither he at that time, nor Rabelais now considered these activities reprehensible. Both of them were convinced that they were serving their homeland with their pen. Traces of works of this kind, belonging to Rabelais, have not been preserved, because they were largely unspoken.
He could connect these secret affairs of his, if not with the continuation of the novel, then with medicine. In 1537 he received his doctorate from Montpellier, and in the coming years he practiced as a physician in various places in the south of France. At this time, he began to have relations with King Francis. In mid-July 1538, he unexpectedly finds himself in the royal retinue on the significant day of Francis’ meeting with Charles V at Egmort. This meeting was arranged through the efforts of Pope Paul III, who was concerned about the success of the reform movement and was trying to establish an agreement between the two strongest Catholic monarchies to fight it. The agreement took place, and from that day on, the era of tolerance in France finally receded into the realm of legends. The repression intensified. The Sorbonne was again in honor, and for every person who had reason to fear her, the question arose of whether how to protect yourself. And who could feel the sidelong glances of the obscurantists more than Rabelais? Both of his books, Pantagruel and Gargantua, were already condemned: the sorbonnists were smart enough to understand how dangerous Rabelais was to them. True, he was recommended to the king by persons whom Francis trusted. But this seemed to Rabelais not enough, and he believed that it would not be superfluous to take measures to save what could still be saved from his writings. He began by reviewing both of his “sinful” first books. In 1542, he printed them together, in the logical order in which they should have followed one another: first Gargantua, then Pantagruel. In this edition, he softened the attacks on the theologians of the Sorbonne and removed places that could give rise to enrolling him as a Protestant.
In the years 1540-1542, Rabelais was at the court of the Piedmontese governor of Lange (Piedmont then largely belonged to France), the brother of Cardinal du Bellay, and in 1545 he received the king’s privilege for the further publication of Pantagruel, which was far from superfluous, since how the Sorbonne had already sharpened its claws on him. The Third Book, comparatively innocent, appeared in 1546. In it, Rabelais completely refrained from mocking the Church and the Sorbonne, and even (ch. 29) lightly stroked the heads of “good theologians” for “eradicating heresies” and “introducing the true... Catholic faith into human hearts.” He needed to make peace with the Sorbonne and achieve, if not its blessing – it was difficult to count on this, then at least its neutrality. The only thing that Rabelais still allowed himself, was ridicule, sometimes quite malicious, addressed to the monks. But it was such a current coin in those days that, one might say, not a single short story could do without it, and the most severe spiritual censors did not frown very much at antics of this kind. To a large extent, the plan and plot of the Third Book were the fruits of precaution.
This book could be titled Panurge, for Pantagruel’s dissolute friend is put forward in it in the first place, and his irrepressible desire to marry determines the whole plot. By constructing the book in this way, Rabelais was able to almost completely eliminate the elements of the heroic epic with giants as the main characters. Pantagruel becomes the background of the story rather than its protagonist. He is always present, huge, strong, inactive, but the dynamics of the story are created not by his interests, but by the interests of Panurge. The problem of the Panurge marriage gives Rabelais a reason to unfold the treasures of his scholarship: philological, philosophical, legal, natural science. The question of marriage develops into a question about the relationship between a man and a woman, into an analysis of the social and cultural role of a woman. Pantagruel recommended that Panurge seek the advice of a theologian, physician, philosopher, and jurist. And even earlier, Panurge had already turned to an astrologer and a poet, asked a certain sibyl, and after four scientific consultations, he decided, in agreement with Pantagruel, to go to China and ask the oracle of the Divine Bottle there. All this gave Rabelais a reason to reveal his erudition, and from the display of new faces a whole gallery of artistic images of tremendous realistic power arose. The satire of Rabelais received abundant food here. The advice that Panurge is given from different angles is so absurd and ridiculous, the advisers are such a magnificent gallery of human stupidity, especially the pseudo-philosophers of the scholastic school, that these pages of his new book have become a vivid picture of a feudal culture which is dead and already incapable of resurrection.
However, all the precautions taken by Rabelais did not help. The Third Book was condemned by the Sorbonne in the same way as both of its predecessors. Times were hard. The Inquisition was rampant. Soon after the publication of the Third Book, in the same 1546, Rabelais’ old comrade-in-arms and friend, Etienne Dolet, whom, despite a recent quarrel, he appreciated and respected, was burned on the Place Mauber in Paris. It was difficult to rely on royal protection. Francis, who knew Rabelais, was ill, and his death could be expected every day. He died the following year, and Rabelais had not yet established any connections with his successor, Henry II. Rabelais decided that it would be wiser not to tempt fate and hide from Paris until better times, where he had come to oversee the printing of the book. He moved abroad and found shelter in Metz, where he began to work as a doctor. Cardinal du Bellay supported him financially, and in August 1547 he took him back with him on his third trip to Italy. Leaving, Rabelais left to his Lyon publisher that part of the Fourth Book, which he had ready. It was published in 1548.
Rabelais stayed in Italy this time for quite a long time, until November 1549. He talked there with humanists, writers, artists, diplomats, replenished his education, described the festivities arranged in the “eternal city” by his cardinal. And when he returned to France, the gloomy atmosphere turned out to be much clearer.
One after another, there were changes on the thrones, French and papal. Paul III was succeeded by Julius III, and very soon the conflict between Paris and Rome, which had begun even before the new pope, began to escalate over the distribution of French beneficiaries to the curia and the dark banking machinations associated with it. The curia, and consequently the pope, became more and more in the position of an enemy, with whom it was necessary to fight with all sorts of weapons, including ideological ones.
On this occasion, the patrons of Rabelais – among them were the cardinals of Chatillon and Lorraine, through whom he moved to the position of a client of the powerful houses of Coligny and Guise – at an opportune moment reminded Henry II of Rabelais and of the services rendered to the country by the writer under his father. Rabelais’ situation immediately improved. Now even Cardinal du Bellay could patronize him more openly: in January 1551, he gave him a curate in Meudon, near Paris, associated with good incomes. It was a common benefice in those days, which did not require the actual performance of priestly duties. Rabelais could now spend all his time on scholarly and literary pursuits. He finished the Fourth Book, which was completely printed by virtue of a new royal privilege obtained by Cardinal Chatillon in 1552.
While the book was being printed, the situation for Rabelais was such that he could not be particularly afraid of attacks. The Sorbonne was sullenly silent, and only mutts, embittered by zeal, barked, like the monk Gabriel de Puy-Herbaud, who wrote a toothless denunciation of him in 1549. It is very significant that a year later Calvin also attacked him in the pamphlet On Temptations. For the “Geneva Pope” the free-thinking of Rabelais, who ridiculed any coercion in the field of religion, was especially dangerous. With such opponents, Rabelais was not afraid to grapple. Both the monk and Calvin in the Fourth Book are devoted to many evil and witty maxims.
Already in that part of it, which was published separately, there were several episodes that attracted attention. Pantagruel with Panurge and other companions go on a ship on a pilgrimage to the oracle of the Bottle and on the way they meet different islands and experience all sorts of adventures. Public satire is almost silent in that part of the book, which was published separately. Only one episode with the land of Prokuratsia, the shelter of Yabednikov, got into it – the first draft of a satire against courts and judges, foreshadowing a sharper attack on them in the episode Fluffy Cats of the Fifth Book. It opens a series of increasingly vicious satirical allegories in the following movements, and is inserted as if to show the method that Rabelais will follow in his more serious attacks on the vices and defects of his contemporary life.
In this first part of the Fourth Book there are two excellent descriptive episodes which have become famous. The first is the “panurge herd”. Its motif is borrowed from the 16th-century Italian poet Folengo, who wrote in Latin, from his ironic poem Baldus (a trick of Chingar, one of the heroes of the poem), but it is developed into a magnificent picture, full of sharp realism and deep psychological penetration. The second episode is a description of the storm, in which we find not only a majestic panorama of the raging elements, but also a number of subtly and wisely noticed features that reveal the images of the heroes of the epic – Pantagruel, Panurge, Jean’s brother, Epistemon.
It is possible that when Cardinal Châtillon transferred to Rabelais the royal privilege to print the Fourth Book, he or Cardinal du Bellay explained to Rabelais that respect for the pope would now be the least required of him. In any case, Rabelais wrote as if he felt that the bridle had been removed from him and that he could say whatever he wanted. His satirical allegories hurt more from chapter to chapter. Here is an island where Postnik, hostile to everything natural, reigns, who brings to mind the author of the parable of the Italian humanist Calcagnini about Physis (Nature) and Antiphysis (Opposition). The latter in Rabelais gives birth to children who walk upside down, as well as monks, Christ-sellers, “priests” (admirers of the pope), “irrepressible Calvinists, Genevan deceivers, possessed puterbeys” (a blow to Gabriel de Puy-Herbaud) and “other monsters, ugly and unnatural.” Postnik’s portrait is the first attack on all fanatics: it is not for nothing that the “holy saints” are on a par with the “irrepressible Calvinists”, followed by the ill-fated Puy-Herbaud. The main battle against the pope was given in the description of the island of papomans. The inhabitants of this island have just crushed their opponents of the papefigs (showing a fig to the pope, that is, the Calvinists), and their bishop Gomenatz, in order to greet Pantagruel and his retinue, utters a laudatory word to the Decretalia. As is known, the collection of papal decrees bearing this title was declared by the unilateral decision of the popes to be the source of canon law, and it was the Decretals that sanctioned all kinds of extortion of the curia; thanks to their “golden” energy, France paid Rome annually in tribute four hundred thousand ducats, which it seemed more useful to Henry II to see in his own treasury. And the eulogy of the Decretalia by the faithful papal servant Gomenats is full of deadly irony, which is worth the pathos of Luther’s first pamphlet against Rome.
The task that Rabelais set for himself was carried out brilliantly. But the work and talent of the great writer did not benefit him. The Fourth Book was published in February 1552, and in April the king made peace with the pope. Signs of such a turn have already appeared before. Rabelais apparently knew about this and, probably, just before the appearance of the book, he considered it prudent to hide once more. No wonder at the end of 1552 in Lyon there were rumors that he was arrested and imprisoned. Attempts to obtain correct information about him in Paris did not lead to anything. Rabelais has disappeared. The book was, like her three older sisters, condemned. But it is unlikely that Rabelais himself was repressed. He died in Paris and was buried there in the second half of 1553.
The legend most embellished the story of his last hours. He is also credited with a melancholic appeal to others: Draw the curtain: the farce is over, and the famous, difficult to translate skeptical words: Je vais querir le grand Peut-Etre (I am going to look for the great Be-Maybe), and mockery of the priest, who gave him the last communion: I have nothing of value, I owe a lot, I leave the rest to the poor.
In 1562, it appeared in print in part, under the title The Island of the Sonorous, and in 1564 in its entirety The Fifth Book. In it, Rabelais himself apparently owns only sketches and individual chapters, and not the entire text, in places more sluggish, heavier, more overloaded with allegory and more violently attacking the church than even in the Fourth Book.
Now it was no longer dangerous. The political struggle under religious slogans went beyond the realm of ideology. Swords were already clanging and blood was flowing. On March 1, 1562, the massacre of the Huguenots by the people of the Duke of Guise in Vassy took place, forcing the Calvinists to take up arms and rise against the king. The anti-Catholic and anti-papal pamphlets of the Huguenots, in their harshness and straightforwardness, left far behind both the mocking apology of the Decretals of the Fourth Book, and the picture of The Island of the Sonorous in the Fifth Book, with all its mockery of the Pope. Now the propaganda of the Huguenot ideas was carried out in open battles, and Rabelais, with his position, which equally ridiculed the “indefatigable Calvinists” and “Papego” (Parrot, also meaning dad), would have been defenseless between two detachments armed to the teeth.
From the light pen of Brunetiere, Rabelais was sometimes tried to be portrayed as almost an orthodox Catholic, a man in whom medieval features predominated, in whom there is nothing that would be typical of the Renaissance. All this is contrary to the facts. The French Renaissance very soon lost its carelessly cheerful, pagan character, thanks to the kindled religious struggle, just as it happened in Germany. In France, the Renaissance began, as in Italy, with classical studies and short stories. Both reflected social growth: they served as a response to the cultural demands of the bourgeoisie, but the bourgeoisie, which had not yet become “bourgeois-limited.” The furious pressure of Calvinism disturbed the calm course of the cultural process, and, starting from Lefebvre d’Etaple, humanism began to be saturated with religious interests. It has become obligatory for any humanistically educated writer to clarify his attitude to Catholicism and Protestantism. And, on the contrary, the attitude towards any ideologist of the new trend was determined by his religious assessments.
Rabelais – a monk, a humanist, a doctor, a botanist – from the very first steps tried to establish his point of view. He did not follow either the Sorbonne or Geneva. He joined Deperrier, who, in the name of freedom of thought and conscience, rejected both Catholicism and Calvinism. Moreover, the first two books of Rabelais give every reason to assert that, in the essence of his convictions, he was close to atheism. Such a position perfectly corresponded to the mood of scientific criticism of the learned philologist and naturalist-materialist. Outwardly, Rabelais could not hold on to this position. He obscured his first formulas already in the second edition of the first two books of the epic (1542) and burst into a very angry invective against an old friend, Étienne Dolet, who had printed them before that without changes. His further formulas became softer as the atmosphere thickened and fires lit up, and then again acquired sharpness, responding to his true convictions when he was given free rein. This did not confuse anyone. The Sorbonne cursed him. The Calvinists, for whom the onslaught in the name of freedom of conscience was more unbearable than anything else, struck him with their thunderbolts. But Rabelais was guarded by the patronage of the king and three powerful bishops. Yet he was sometimes forced to compromise. He refused to proclaim dangerous theories, softened a lot, not wanting to share the fate of Berken or Dole. No wonder he put into the mouth of his Panurge a statement parodying the formula of the papal exhortation to the newly appointed cardinals, which read: Defend the faith until death than anything else, Panurge, on an empty and obscene occasion, says: I affirm right up to the fire, of course, exclusively that, etc. So Rabelais himself defended his real convictions up to the fire, of course, exclusively.
Rabelais is not only the most striking expression of the culture of the French Renaissance, which carries in itself the stormy upsurge of bourgeois forces and the same stormy seething of bourgeois passions. Rabelais, like any great artist, very clearly feels his connection with the broad masses of the people, the working people. The proof of this is scattered in abundance on the pages of his novel. First of all, its plot is taken, as we have seen, from folk, popular literature: it has folklore roots. The language of the novel is basically the vernacular, which Rabelais wants to enrich by adding new, scholarly and literary elements to it. The way of presentation, especially in the first two books, goes towards popular understanding. Folklore material – sayings, proverbs, fairy tales, songs, etc. – equips the novel from beginning to end, as in Don Quixote. The whole tone is completely alien to any aristocratic aestheticism. On the contrary, there is a deliberate plebeian rudeness in it, which more than once served as a pretext for accusing Rabelais (he shared this fate, as we know, with Shakespeare) that he violates the rules of “good taste”.
Genre paintings in the novel reveal a constant and unswerving selective affinity with the people’s environment: Rabelais likes to depict the plebeian layers most of all. It is in these scenes that his realistic hero becomes especially juicy. Sometimes he is not even a stranger to the tendency to slightly embellish precisely the plebeian life and show the representatives of the lower classes as deserving a better fate. If he finds no reason for such a tendency in his observations of real life, he comes up with a picture where reality is turned upside down: representatives of the upper classes are subjected to all kinds of reproach and are forced to engage in the most contemptible professions, while the plebeians rule and enjoy life. This happens, for example, in the afterlife, according to his Epistemon, who was killed, visited the other world and miraculously returned to life.
The feeling of life that the novel expresses is suggested by the mood of the democratic masses. First of all, this elemental materialism, which (which we will say more below) determines to a large extent artistic techniques and which, in addition, develops into a general doctrine where it is told about Gaster (Stomach) and his kingdom (Fourth Book, chapters 57-62). The very idea belongs to Persius, but it is developed into such a magnificent picture that the Roman satirist did not even dare to dream of. Persius says that Gaster is “a teacher of crafts and a giver of the mind.” Rabelais turns him into the personification of the basic economic necessity, which becomes the creator of the entire civilization. The remarkable chapter 61, which was carefully hushed up by the old literary criticism, contains a well-thought-out analysis of the emergence of culture from primary economic requirements. Nature gave Gaster bread, that is, the main food, as inheritance, and he invented agriculture in order to extract grain. In order to protect grain and bread from natural disasters, devastation by animals and robbery of people, he invented medicine, astronomy, mathematics, as well as the art of war, taught people to build castles, fortresses and cities and protect them, invented weapons. To turn grain into bread, he invented a mill, yeast, a clock, obtained salt and fire, taught people to transport grain by land and water, invented carts and ships, crossed a horse with a donkey to get a hardy mule. This is how the culture evolved. There is one remarkable thing about this picture. There are no those in power and subordinates, there are no rich and poor. All people are equal, and they have one master: Gaster, that is, the stomach
Rabelais, undoubtedly, felt the connection of his ideology with the sense of vital truth inherent in the people, and the feeling of this connection supported him in this struggle. His tool was the word, and he had to use it to the end. Hence the pathos that manifests itself in the struggle of Rabelais and which arms his satire, his irony, his mighty laughter with such force. All this is combined in his ideology.
What are the further elements of this ideology? Rabelais is, of course, a humanist. It cannot be denied that among the French humanists it was difficult to find a man more learned. Only the greatest authorities of the humanist movement in France, like Bude and Henri Etienne, or their predecessors Champier and Haguin as philologists, were more learned men. Rabelais did not compete with them. We will not find in him a romantically enthusiastic admiration for ancient culture. But Rabelais is wider than the most gifted and enlightened representatives of French humanism, since Rabelais is not only a philologist, not only a humanist, but also a naturalist. In the worldview of the French Renaissance, he occupies the position that was first taken by Leon Batista Alberti in Italy and which was accepted entirely by Leonardo da Vinci. Rabelais combined both strands, into which the flow of Italian humanistic ideas was divided at the turn of the 15th and 16th centuries. He was at the same time a philologist and a naturalist, at the same time he was a representative of both literature as a necessary tool for new criticism, and natural science as an equally necessary tool for mastering the material world.
If we study Rabelais’ novel from the point of view of the natural-scientific knowledge that is invested in it, then among the works of art of the middle decades of the 16th century it is difficult to find at least one that could compare with it in this respect: such a wide erudition in it. Rabelais, unlike Leonardo, was not a great mathematician. But botany, zoology, medicine, geography – all this is his true lot. The elementary knowledge that helped Columbus to discover America was developed by Rabelais with amazing accuracy and breadth. A detailed reconciliation of Pantagruel’s voyage with a map, made recently, revealed this completely. The geography of Thomas More’s Utopia is child’s play compared to the geography of Pantagruel. The emphasis on natural science was the main core of Rabelais’ worldview and propaganda. He understood that philology had done its job, that his own share in it was rather that of an epigone. And natural science was a fighting moment, and the program of the Renaissance was to be built, as Gargantua wrote to his son, on the “restoration of all sciences”, that is, including the sciences of nature. This idea, thrown already in the book that was written first in 1533, echoes the enthusiastic hymn to nature, inserted twenty years later in the Fourth Book, the hymn to Physis, which gave birth to Beauty and Harmony. This is basically the thought of Dante (Hell, Canto XI), which reached Rabelais directly or through some later humanist. But it fully corresponded to all the points of view of Rabelais himself, above all to his love of life and his materialism. This is what should have been promoted in the first place.
For propaganda, Rabelais had several weapons. First of all, the giant size of the characters. The calculation is simple: the big one is easier to see, and therefore the big one will reach better. This is what is now called “close-up”. Of course, Rabelais received his giants from a folk book. Before him, this technique was also used in higher areas of art and culture. Rabelais did not share with us the impression that Michelangelo’s Sistine ceiling made on him. He could not see him. And in it, the close-up action was shown unusually revealing: the prophets and sibyls – after all, the same giants, and Buonarroti’s titanism – a variant of his terribilita (terrible, formidable), that is, the desire to excite the viewer as much as possible and thereby prepare his perception of the idea-image. Only Rabelais’ titanism is not tragic, like that of Michelangelo, but grotesque.
It was with laughter that Rabelais wanted to win over his reader, the mass, democratic reader. Therefore, his laugh is special. No one could laugh like him. Rabelais’ laughter is not the wise and cunning smile of Ariosto, not the petty libelous wit of Aretino, nor the subtle satirical grin of Montaigne. This is a deafening, resounding laughter at the top of its voice, which is understandable to everyone and therefore has a huge contagiousness, from which everything over which it breaks down collapses, healthy laughter, refreshing and purifying the atmosphere. Thus laughed the Miller in Chaucer, and Morgante in Pulci. This is how Sancho Panza will laugh. This is how the people of the masses laugh. And Rabelais knows how to cause such laughter among the people.
Rabelais’ laughter, like Rabelais’ grotesque, is the tool of his satire, and satire is one of the most striking features of the artistic genius of the realist Rabelais. But his realism is special. It differs from the realism of other Renaissance artists close to it in time, precisely in that it is densely colored with tones of satire.
His realism is critical, but his criticism is not calm, but combative and temperamental. Descriptions full of colors; situations that are completely naked in their social and everyday essence; images, sometimes deliberately crude, but juicy and sharply individualized – everything is taken mainly in a satirical vein. And everything reveals various aspects of true life to its very depths. Rabelais’ satirical palette is extraordinarily rich, but no matter how he portrays life – through indignant exposure, intricate grotesque or unceremonious mockery, designed for Homeric laughter – he always gives an image that is true to nature. And the most striking realist effects are often achieved in his caricature of what is directly opposite to reality.
Rabelais knows what makes him strong, and therefore makes extensive use of his visual means. There is nothing in life for him that he would consider unworthy of his pen. What exists in reality must also exist in art. Let those be the basest manifestations of the weaknesses of the human organism, sexual and digestive processes, normal and abnormal. All this is life, although hypocritical monks and scholastic theologians doubt it. Human flesh, imperfect, accessible to disease and old age, submissive to temptations, is a true piece of life. We cannot but recognize its imperfections, but we have no right to consider it “sinful” because of these imperfections. If the flesh is a piece of life, then life is a piece of the material world, Nature, Physis, and we must accept it, this world, in all its grandeur, in all the breadth of his material nature and depict him as such. Therefore, the realism of Rabelais is colored with bright materialistic tones. In life, for Rabelais, the most interesting thing is people. He enthusiastically sculpts his figures one after another. He has a different approach to them: calm, laudatory, indignant, ironic, grotesque. But they are all alive, and none repeats the other. His novel does what one could find in The Divine Comedy in a completely different way. Dante sings of his Italians, exalts, curses: passion boils in his characteristics. Rabelais laughs more, but his laughter is also not impassive. And the images here and there are equally alive. In the first two books of Rabelais, the mentors of Gargantua and the associates of Pantagruel, in the third, the advisers of Panurge, in the fourth and fifth, the inhabitants of the visited islands; this is such a gallery of types, which is rarely found in another work of art, depicted with such plastic genius. Two figures should still be singled out from this gallery as the most striking: Panurge and brother Jean.
Panurge is a student, smart, cynic and foul-mouthed, impudent, mischievous slacker and half-educated, a typical “bohemian”. It has something of Margutte from Pulci’s poem, and from Chingar from Folengo’s poem, and there is something from Villon, whose memory Rabelais dearly honored. All sorts of knowledge is chaotically piled up in his head, as in his twenty-six pockets a pile of the most diverse rubbish is heaped. But his knowledge, sometimes solid, and the arsenal of his pockets have one purpose. It is an offensive weapon against one’s neighbor, for one of the sixty-three ways of earning a livelihood, of which “the most honest and most common” was theft. There is no real, strong stability in his nature. He can lose heart at a critical moment and turn into a miserable coward, who is only capable of emitting panicky inarticulate sounds. At the moment of meeting with Pantagruel, Panurge was a typical declassed person with a corresponding, well-established character, which he cannot get rid of even when the proximity to Pantagruel plunged him into abundance. His declassed condition brought up in him moral nihilism, complete disregard for ethical principles, predatory egoism. There were many such adventurers roaming the world in the era of primitive accumulation. But at the same time he is not devoid of some great charm. There is so much clumsy Bursat grace and reckless prowess in him, he is so funny that men forgive him a lot, and women are thrilled. And he himself adores women, for nature endowed him with a volcanic temperament. He did not have to complain about the coldness of women. But the trouble is the one that will reject his harassment. He will arrange with her the latest muck – like a trick with dogs, the victim of which was a Parisian lady. There is another thing in Panurge, perhaps the most important. He vaguely, but excitedly and enthusiastically foresees some better future, in which declassed people like him will find a better place in the sun, will be able to work and develop their abilities. Panurge is a plebeian, the son of a Renaissance city.
Brother Jean is also a plebeian, but a village plebeian. Rabelais made him a monk, but this is only a grotesque device. He never lumps Brother Jean with the other monks, who invariably get evil in the novel. He is the author’s favorite. In only one respect he is like other monks: his unscrupulous habits. Dirt does not bother him, and sometimes at dinner a drop hangs unappetizingly on the tip of his long nose. But what a wonderful person! Bold, energetic, resourceful, never lost in any dangers and at the same time humane in the best sense of the word. The strength and dexterity that nature has bestowed on him, he never uses to the detriment of his neighbor. In this he is in no way similar to Panurge, whom he constantly mocks for his instability, cowardice and other weaknesses. And since brother Jean is a solid type, accepting the world joyfully and full-bloodedly, nothing human is alien to him. He loves pleasure, loves, knows and appreciates women. When Panurge hesitates, wanting to marry and fearing the horns, his brother Jean gives him the most practical advice, telling him a wise story about Hans Carvel’s ring. Therefore, the eroticism of Brother Jean is free from the thick coating of obscenity inherent in the eroticism of Panurge. Brother Jean’s mentality is as strong and healthy as his physical being. He wants life to be open with all its bright sides, not only to him – again, not like Panurge, who does not care about others – but to everyone. He is full of love for people and wants to make life better for the whole human race. The idea of Theleme Abbey is born in the head of this peasant offspring, devoid of real education, but instinctively feeling and accepting the high ideals of humanism. Brother Jean is the personification of the people. This image, created by Rabelais, once again shows that the social attitude of the great writer was brighter and more radical than the interests of the bourgeoisie. It was quite democratic.
The common friend of Panurge and brother Jean is Pantagruel, whose image in the end, as it were, absorbs the image of Gargantua and who absorbs everything that for Rabelais should have characterized an ideal sovereign and, perhaps, an ideal person. From his first appearance to the very end, he is invariably in the center of the story, although sometimes he gives way to the foregrounds of others. Balanced, wise, learned, humane, he managed to think about everything and form an opinion about everything. His calm weighty word always brings appeasement to the most heated disputes, upsets the ardent impulses of brother Jean, the ingenious dialectic of Panurge and even the full learning of the maxim of Epistemon. He is a real enlightened monarch, and, of course, identifying him with Francis or with Henry II is nothing more than idle fantasies. Rabelais could officially praise Francis and call Henry the great king, for greater solemnity he even came up with, either seriously or also ironically, the Greek word le roi megiste, but nothing makes one think that he wanted to depict this or that in the face of his wonderful giant. another of the real sovereigns of his time. Pantagruel is the perfect figure. He surpasses both kings in his virtues as much as he surpasses ordinary people in his stature. None of the ruling persons is forbidden to reach for Pantagruel: for this he is shown. But Rabelais hardly had the slightest hope that any of them would ever reach him.
The novel of Rabelais is the greatest monument of the French Renaissance. The great work of the modest Meudon cure, a fighter for a new society, an artist and a thinker, has every right to be considered the national epic of the French people. It was created at a moment in its history when it had just completed its political unification and was forging its culture in storms and torments. All the contradictions, all the “formal shortcomings” of the novel are precisely explained by the fact that it was written in an atmosphere of unfinished cultural construction, reflecting the contradictions that existed in life and were conditioned by the class struggle.
In world literature, the novel of Rabelais occupies one of the most honorable places, and in French literature its influence was absolutely exceptional. Many prominent writers admired him, followed him, learned from him, especially those who depicted life realistically and, moreover, with elements of social criticism and satire. Among those who most of all reflected his influence are Molière, Voltaire, Balzac, Anatole France, Romain Rolland (Cola Breugnon), outside of France Jonathan Swift, Jean-Paul Richter. The ideas and moods of Rabelais, the wisdom and humor of Rabelais, the pathos and laughter of Rabelais have reached and reach a reader that Rabelais himself could only dream of. And, of course, Rabelais finds and will find his most grateful reader in the Soviet Union. Bourgeois science, which did a lot to illuminate the formal aspects of Rabelais’ work and the external facts of his biography, in every way obscured the combat content of his work, the elements of revolutionary pathos inherent in his satire and his laughter, emasculated the social meaning of his ideological struggle. Meanwhile, it is precisely these aspects of Rabelais’ work, which constitute its main content, that are most interesting and dear to the Soviet reader.
For Soviet society, Rabelais is one of the greatest artists of the past, who felt the great value of feeling the truth of life inherent in the masses, drawing from this consciousness the strength and courage to fight the reaction and the temperament that helped him create his immortal novel. Nowhere will the laughter of Rabelais, which shook the strongholds of obscurantism and misanthropy, possess such contagious power as in our society, which finally crushed these strongholds.