Home > Uncategorized > François Rabelais: Waging war in good earnest

François Rabelais: Waging war in good earnest

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

French writers on war and peace

François Rabelais: Born for peace, not war

François Rabelais: The magnanimity of peace

François Rabelais: Strictures against war

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François Rabelais
From Gargantua and Pantagruel
Translated by Sir Thomas Urquhart of Cromarty

Now is it that the minds of men are qualified with all manner of discipline, and the old sciences revived which for many ages were extinct. Now it is that the learned languages are to their pristine purity restored, viz., Greek, without which a man may be ashamed to account himself a scholar, Hebrew, Arabic, Chaldaean, and Latin. Printing likewise is now in use, so elegant and so correct that better cannot be imagined, although it was found out but in my time by divine inspiration, as by a diabolical suggestion on the other side was the invention of ordnance. 

(The attack)

Picrochole incontinent grew angry and furious; and, without asking any further what, how, why, or wherefore, commanded the ban and arriere ban to be sounded throughout all his country, that all his vassals of what condition soever should, upon pain of the halter, come, in the best arms they could, unto the great place before the castle, at the hour of noon, and, the better to strengthen his design, he caused the drum to be beat about the town. Himself, whilst his dinner was making ready, went to see his artillery mounted upon the carriage, to display his colours, and set up the great royal standard, and loaded wains with store of ammunition both for the field and the belly, arms and victuals. At dinner he despatched his commissions, and by his express edict my Lord Shagrag was appointed to command the vanguard, wherein were numbered sixteen thousand and fourteen arquebusiers or firelocks, together with thirty thousand and eleven volunteer adventurers. The great Touquedillon, master of the horse, had the charge of the ordnance, wherein were reckoned nine hundred and fourteen brazen pieces, in cannons, double cannons, basilisks, serpentines, culverins, bombards or murderers, falcons, bases or passevolins, spirols, and other sorts of great guns. The rearguard was committed to the Duke of Scrapegood. In the main battle was the king and the princes of his kingdom. Thus being hastily furnished, before they would set forward, they sent three hundred light horsemen, under the conduct of Captain Swillwind, to discover the country, clear the avenues, and see whether there was any ambush laid for them. But, after they had made diligent search, they found all the land round about in peace and quiet, without any meeting or convention at all; which Picrochole understanding, commanded that everyone should march speedily under his colours. Then immediately in all disorder, without keeping either rank or file, they took the fields one amongst another, wasting, spoiling, destroying, and making havoc of all wherever they went, not sparing poor nor rich, privileged or unprivileged places, church nor laity, drove away oxen and cows, bulls, calves, heifers, wethers, ewes, lambs, goats, kids, hens, capons, chickens, geese, ganders, goslings, hogs, swine, pigs, and such like; beating down the walnuts, plucking the grapes, tearing the hedges, shaking the fruit-trees, and committing such incomparable abuses, that the like abomination was never heard of. Nevertheless, they met with none to resist them, for everyone submitted to their mercy, beseeching them that they might be dealt with courteously in regard that they had always carried themselves as became good and loving neighbours, and that they had never been guilty of any wrong or outrage done upon them, to be thus suddenly surprised, troubled, and disquieted, and that, if they would not desist, God would punish them very shortly…

So much they did, and so far they went pillaging and stealing, that at last they came to Seville, where they robbed both men and women, and took all they could catch: nothing was either too hot or too heavy for them. Although the plague was there in the most part of all the houses, they nevertheless entered everywhere, then plundered and carried away all that was within…The town being thus pillaged, they went unto the abbey with a horrible noise and tumult, but they found it shut and made fast against them. Whereupon the body of the army marched forward towards a pass or ford called the Gue de Vede, except seven companies of foot and two hundred lancers, who, staying there, broke down the walls of the close, to waste, spoil, and make havoc of all the vines and vintage within that place.

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(The counterattack)

As he spake this he threw off his great monk’s habit, and laid hold upon the staff of the cross, which was made of the heart of a sorbapple-tree, it being of the length of a lance, round, of a full grip, and a little powdered with lilies called flower de luce, the workmanship whereof was almost all defaced and worn out. Thus went he out in a fair long-skirted jacket, putting his frock scarfwise athwart his breast, and in this equipage, with his staff, shaft or truncheon of the cross, laid on so lustily, brisk, and fiercely upon his enemies, who, without any order, or ensign, or trumpet, or drum, were busied in gathering the grapes of the vineyard. For the cornets, guidons, and ensign-bearers had laid down their standards, banners, and colours by the wall sides: the drummers had knocked out the heads of their drums on one end to fill them with grapes: the trumpeters were loaded with great bundles of bunches and huge knots of clusters: in sum, everyone of them was out of array, and all in disorder. He hurried, therefore, upon them so rudely, without crying gare or beware, that he overthrew them like hogs, tumbled them over like swine, striking athwart and alongst, and by one means or other laid so about him, after the old fashion of fencing, that to some he beat out their brains, to others he crushed their arms, battered their legs, and bethwacked their sides till their ribs cracked with it. To others again he unjointed the spondyles or knuckles of the neck, disfigured their chaps, gashed their faces, made their cheeks hang flapping on their chin, and so swinged and balammed them that they fell down before him like hay before a mower. To some others he spoiled the frame of their kidneys, marred their backs, broke their thigh-bones, pashed in their noses, poached out their eyes, cleft their mandibles, tore their jaws, dung in their teeth into their throat, shook asunder their omoplates or shoulder-blades, sphacelated their shins, mortified their shanks, inflamed their ankles, heaved off of the hinges their ishies, their sciatica or hip-gout, dislocated the joints of their knees, squattered into pieces the boughts or pestles of their thighs, and so thumped, mauled and belaboured them everywhere, that never was corn so thick and threefold threshed upon by ploughmen’s flails as were the pitifully disjointed members of their mangled bodies under the merciless baton of the cross. If any offered to hide himself amongst the thickest of the vines, he laid him squat as a flounder, bruised the ridge of his back, and dashed his reins like a dog. If any thought by flight to escape, he made his head to fly in pieces by the lamboidal commissure, which is a seam in the hinder part of the skull. If anyone did scramble up into a tree, thinking there to be safe, he rent up his perinee, and impaled him in at the fundament. If any of his old acquaintance happened to cry out, Ha, Friar John, my friend Friar John, quarter, quarter, I yield myself to you, to you I render myself! So thou shalt, said he, and must, whether thou wouldst or no, and withal render and yield up thy soul to all the devils in hell; then suddenly gave them dronos, that is, so many knocks, thumps, raps, dints, thwacks, and bangs, as sufficed to warn Pluto of their coming and despatch them a-going. If any was so rash and full of temerity as to resist him to his face, then was it he did show the strength of his muscles, for without more ado he did transpierce him, by running him in at the breast, through the mediastine and the heart. Others, again, he so quashed and bebumped, that, with a sound bounce under the hollow of their short ribs, he overturned their stomachs so that they died immediately. To some, with a smart souse on the epigaster, he would make their midriff swag, then, redoubling the blow, gave them such a homepush on the navel that he made their puddings to gush out. To others through their ballocks he pierced their bumgut, and left not bowel, tripe, nor entrail in their body that had not felt the impetuosity, fierceness, and fury of his violence. Believe, that it was the most horrible spectacle that ever one saw. Some cried unto Sanct Barbe, others to St. George. O the holy Lady Nytouch, said one, the good Sanctess; O our Lady of Succours, said another, help, help! Others cried, Our Lady of Cunaut, of Loretto, of Good Tidings, on the other side of the water St. Mary Over. Some vowed a pilgrimage to St. James, and others to the holy handkerchief at Chamberry, which three months after that burnt so well in the fire that they could not get one thread of it saved. Others sent up their vows to St. Cadouin, others to St. John d’Angely, and to St. Eutropius of Xaintes. Others again invoked St. Mesmes of Chinon, St. Martin of Candes, St. Clouaud of Sinays, the holy relics of Laurezay, with a thousand other jolly little sancts and santrels. Some died without speaking, others spoke without dying; some died in speaking, others spoke in dying. Others shouted as loud as they could Confession, Confession, Confiteor, Miserere, In manus! So great was the cry of the wounded, that the prior of the abbey with all his monks came forth, who, when they saw these poor wretches so slain amongst the vines, and wounded to death, confessed some of them. But whilst the priests were busied in confessing them, the little monkies ran all to the place where Friar John was, and asked him wherein he would be pleased to require their assistance. To which he answered that they should cut the throats of those he had thrown down upon the ground. They presently, leaving their outer habits and cowls upon the rails, began to throttle and make an end of those whom he had already crushed. Can you tell with what instruments they did it? With fair gullies, which are little hulchbacked demi-knives, the iron tool whereof is two inches long, and the wooden handle one inch thick, and three inches in length, wherewith the little boys in our country cut ripe walnuts in two while they are yet in the shell, and pick out the kernel, and they found them very fit for the expediting of that weasand-slitting exploit. In the meantime Friar John, with his formidable baton of the cross, got to the breach which the enemies had made, and there stood to snatch up those that endeavoured to escape. Some of the monkitos carried the standards, banners, ensigns, guidons, and colours into their cells and chambers to make garters of them. But when those that had been shriven would have gone out at the gap of the said breach, the sturdy monk quashed and felled them down with blows, saying, These men have had confession and are penitent souls; they have got their absolution and gained the pardons; they go into paradise as straight as a sickle, or as the way is to Faye (like Crooked-Lane at Eastcheap). Thus by his prowess and valour were discomfited all those of the army that entered into the close of the abbey, unto the number of thirteen thousand, six hundred, twenty and two, besides the women and little children, which is always to be understood…

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(Gargantua’s military training)

There he broke not his lance; for it is the greatest foolery in the world to say, I have broken ten lances at tilts or in fight. A carpenter can do even as much. But it is a glorious and praise-worthy action with one lance to break and overthrow ten enemies. Therefore, with a sharp, stiff, strong, and well-steeled lance would he usually force up a door, pierce a harness, beat down a tree, carry away the ring, lift up a cuirassier saddle, with the mail-coat and gauntlet. All this he did in complete arms from head to foot. As for the prancing flourishes and smacking popisms for the better cherishing of the horse, commonly used in riding, none did them better than he. The cavallerize of Ferrara was but as an ape compared to him. He was singularly skilful in leaping nimbly from one horse to another without putting foot to ground, and these horses were called desultories. He could likewise from either side, with a lance in his hand, leap on horseback without stirrups, and rule the horse at his pleasure without a bridle, for such things are useful in military engagements. Another day he exercised the battle-axe, which he so dexterously wielded, both in the nimble, strong, and smooth management of that weapon, and that in all the feats practicable by it, that he passed knight of arms in the field, and at all essays.

Then tossed he the pike, played with the two-handed sword, with the backsword, with the Spanish tuck, the dagger, poniard, armed, unarmed, with a buckler, with a cloak, with a target. Then would he hunt the hart, the roebuck, the bear, the fallow deer, the wild boar, the hare, the pheasant, the partridge, and the bustard. He played at the balloon, and made it bound in the air, both with fist and foot. He wrestled, ran, jumped – not at three steps and a leap, called the hops, nor at clochepied, called the hare’s leap, nor yet at the Almains; for, said Gymnast, these jumps are for the wars altogether unprofitable, and of no use – but at one leap he would skip over a ditch, spring over a hedge, mount six paces upon a wall, ramp and grapple after this fashion up against a window of the full height of a lance. He did swim in deep waters on his belly, on his back, sideways, with all his body, with his feet only, with one hand in the air, wherein he held a book, crossing thus the breadth of the river of Seine without wetting it, and dragged along his cloak with his teeth, as did Julius Caesar; then with the help of one hand he entered forcibly into a boat, from whence he cast himself again headlong into the water, sounded the depths, hollowed the rocks, and plunged into the pits and gulfs. Then turned he the boat about, governed it, led it swiftly or slowly with the stream and against the stream, stopped it in his course, guided it with one hand, and with the other laid hard about him with a huge great oar, hoisted the sail, hied up along the mast by the shrouds, ran upon the edge of the decks, set the compass in order, tackled the bowlines, and steered the helm. Coming out of the water, he ran furiously up against a hill, and with the same alacrity and swiftness ran down again. He climbed up at trees like a cat, and leaped from the one to the other like a squirrel. He did pull down the great boughs and branches like another Milo; then with two sharp well-steeled daggers and two tried bodkins would he run up by the wall to the very top of a house like a rat; then suddenly came down from the top to the bottom, with such an even composition of members that by the fall he would catch no harm.

He did cast the dart, throw the bar, put the stone, practise the javelin, the boar-spear or partisan, and the halbert. He broke the strongest bows in drawing, bended against his breast the greatest crossbows of steel, took his aim by the eye with the hand-gun, and shot well, traversed and planted the cannon, shot at butt-marks, at the papgay from below upwards, or to a height from above downwards, or to a descent; then before him, sideways, and behind him, like the Parthians. They tied a cable-rope to the top of a high tower, by one end whereof hanging near the ground he wrought himself with his hands to the very top; then upon the same track came down so sturdily and firm that you could not on a plain meadow have run with more assurance. They set up a great pole fixed upon two trees. There would he hang by his hands, and with them alone, his feet touching at nothing, would go back and fore along the foresaid rope with so great swiftness that hardly could one overtake him with running; and then, to exercise his breast and lungs, he would shout like all the devils in hell. I heard him once call Eudemon from St. Victor’s gate to Montmartre. Stentor had never such a voice at the siege of Troy. Then for the strengthening of his nerves or sinews they made him two great sows of lead, each of them weighing eight thousand and seven hundred quintals, which they called alteres. Those he took up from the ground, in each hand one, then lifted them up over his head, and held them so without stirring three quarters of an hour and more, which was an inimitable force. He fought at barriers with the stoutest and most vigorous champions; and when it came to the cope, he stood so sturdily on his feet that he abandoned himself unto the strongest, in case they could remove him from his place, as Milo was wont to do of old. In whose imitation, likewise, he held a pomegranate in his hand, to give it unto him that could take it from him.

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