Exposing tyranny, superstition and warmongering

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François Rabelais: Gargantua Pantagruel ISBN 978-2-869-59892-8 ⭐️⭐️⭐️ When I was a student, the study of French literature compelled me to read and analyze a part of a famous Renaissance novel: Pantagruel, written by François Rabelais. “Gargantua Pantagruel” in its modern French version are two novels of a cycle of five satiric stories recounting the life and adventures of the giant Gargantua and his son Pantagruel. Behind the comic veneer lies a deeper meaning of course. Rabelais was an extremely learned man and did not write to entertain. He was master of the French language, fluent in Latin, a doctor of medicine and a close friend of Cardinal Jean du Bellay. And his endeavour was a dangerous one.

Rabelais was one of the few Renaissance authors who dared criticize the ruling powers: tyrannic kings and the Catholic church. Of course, he never mentioned any real names, he distorted facts and exaggerated in the grossest manner. The use of foul language, the depiction of crude scenes added even more to the ridicule, but all this just served to shield Rabelais from the criticism of being a heretic or a state enemy while he blamed the brutality of his time, the superstition of people, scholastic pedagogy, the betrayal of moral standards by the powerful. He voiced a severe criticism of tyranny and presented a blueprint for an enlightened, benign exercise of absolute power.

I knew none of all this when I was a student. No teacher ever explained this to me, no teacher ever put the novel and its strange style in context. My “Pantagruel moment” was one of those experiences that almost turned me away from French literature for ever. Nevertheless, for almost 30 years I had a feeling that, Rabelais being an eminent figure of French literature, I should read the two novels “Gargantua” and “Pantagruel”. The French editor Claude Pinganaud did an excellent job in translating the two works from Medieval French into modern French without sacrificing the substance or the richness of Rabelais’ language.

This said, the book remained a challenging read for me. I am glad I read it, but I won’t read it a second time. Renaissance music however, that’s a different story. I can listen to Emilio di Cavalieri’s monumental work “Rappresentatione di anima, et di corpo” over and over again:

Searching for the salvation of the soul