Francois Rabelais: Gargantua and Pantagruel

Francois Rabelais is one of the most admired and beloved of all the French writers, but especially during the 16th century. Rabelais started off on his way to becoming a clergyman, like many in France during the 1500’s, before taking off in a different direction; the pursuit of medicine. During his schooling in Lyons, however, Rabelais came to discover his true calling as he began putting pen to paper to draft satirical prose against

quackery, astrologers, and others who reveled in the fantasies of superstition. Rabelais began working at this point on what would be his masterpiece and the work for which he is even today still best known: Gargantua and Pantagruel.

Gargantua and Pantagruel are named after the legendary Medieval giants who were notable not only for their immense size but their immensely gross appetites. The two giants were symbolically expanded by Rabelais in order for him to make very pointed and often quite funny observations about the failing of men and to further his own belief in the philosophy of naturalism. Rabelais was very much in line with the humanism of Erasmus. What that means is that Gargantua and Pantagruel reserves much of its sharpest satirical claws for the ripping up of the highly ritualistic ceremonies of the Catholic Church, while also pulling out the shears to shred the equally arrogant perspective of scholasticism. Rabelais focused his attention on denuding the idiocy of superstitious beliefs regardless of from where they stemmed.

Where Francois Rabelais differed from Erasmus was in his choice of language. While Erasmus wrote in the elevated classical style that appealed only to the educated, Rabelais wrote in an earthy style that spoke to the common French man. He was especially enjoyed because of his ability to inject crudity and even vulgarity into his tales. While this lower class of writing was doubtlessly instrumental in making Rabelais popular to the multitudes, it must also be concluded that he became popular because of his unwillingness to become too preachy and to avoid the path of moral mongering.

Gargantua and Pantagruel takes the giants as symbols of entities who lust for life. If a movie is ever made from Rabelais’ epic, in fact, Iggy Pop’s song “Lust for Life” would the perfect theme song. Rabelais himself believed that every human desire and endeavor was healthy as long as it was not directed toward oppression of others. As such, the ideal of a Rabelais utopia is one where repression of emotions that do not inflict damage upon others is the norm. A world built upon the idealization of Rabelais would be one in which laws were not constructed to interfere with any pursuit of happiness that did not inflict authority upon others.

Republicans must really, really hate Francois Rabelais.