‘R’-Rated Rabelais

November 8, 2007

Caveat lector – Please, if you are easily offended do not read this post.

François Rabelais (c. 1494 – April 9, 1553) was a French humanist writer, contemporary with Calvin. He had a wicked sense of humour and his lurid satires are fantastic and surreal. His greatest work is Gargantua and Pantagruel, a series of five novels about two giants, father and son, and their adventures. Toilet humour and mindless violence are the order of the day.

It is interesting reading, if only for the anticlericalism; monks and monkery being favourite targets. The following except is a good example, taken from Burton Raffel’s translation (Norton, 1990) which preserves the full force of the original. The words are Gargantua’s.

…if you understand why a family that keeps a monkey is always mocking and teasing it, then you’ll also understand why monks are rejected by everybody, old and young alike. A monkey isn’t a watchdog; it doesn’t pull a plow, the way an ox does; it doesn’t produce milk or wool, like a sheep; you can’t use it to carry things, like a horse. All he does is shit all over himself and break things, which is why all he gets in return is insults and blows. It’s just the same with monks – I mean the lazy ones, of course. They don’t work the way peasants do, they don’t watch over the land like warriors, they don’t cure sickness like doctors, they don’t preach and teach the way a good evangelical doctor and teacher does, they don’t carry the things that people in a republic need, as a merchant does. And this is why everyone mocks at them and despises them…They mumble their way through yards of saints’ lives and psalms, without understanding a word they’re saying. They’re more than happy with a lot of ‘Our Father Which Art in Heaven’ mixed with some good long ‘Hail Mary, Mother of Grace,’ without stopping to think or even listen – and I call that making fun of God, not praying to him.

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