The Most Horrific Life of the Great Gargantua and Pantagruel by Maitre Francois Rabelais is a must read. Filled with scathing social criticism and satire, it opens a window for us on what Tuchman calls a “Distant Mirror”. There are numerous translations in English, all with their own peculiarities. The Urquhart translation is available online here: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/1200/1200-h/1200-h.htm with illustrations by Gustave Dore. Numerous other translations are available second hand at very low prices here: http://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?an=rabelais&sts=t&tn=gargantua&x=56&y=8
A great passage on problems in education:
“Chapter 1.XIV.—How Gargantua was taught Latin by a Sophister.
The good man Grangousier having heard this discourse, was ravished with admiration, considering the high reach and marvellous understanding of his son Gargantua, and said to his governesses, Philip, king of Macedon, knew the great wit of his son Alexander by his skilful managing of a horse; for his horse Bucephalus was so fierce and unruly that none durst adventure to ride him, after that he had given to his riders such devilish falls, breaking the neck of this man, the other man’s leg, braining one, and putting another out of his jawbone. This by Alexander being considered, one day in the hippodrome (which was a place appointed for the breaking and managing of great horses), he perceived that the fury of the horse proceeded merely from the fear he had of his own shadow, whereupon getting on his back, he run him against the sun, so that the shadow fell behind, and by that means tamed the horse and brought him to his hand. Whereby his father, knowing the divine judgment that was in him, caused him most carefully to be instructed by Aristotle, who at that time was highly renowned above all the philosophers of Greece. After the same manner I tell you, that by this only discourse, which now I have here had before you with my son Gargantua, I know that his understanding doth participate of some divinity, and that, if he be well taught, and have that education which is fitting, he will attain to a supreme degree of wisdom. Therefore will I commit him to some learned man, to have him indoctrinated according to his capacity, and will spare no cost. Presently they appointed him a great sophister-doctor, called Master Tubal Holofernes, who taught him his ABC so well, that he could say it by heart backwards; and about this he was five years and three months. Then read he to him Donat, Le Facet, Theodolet, and Alanus in parabolis. About this he was thirteen years, six months, and two weeks. But you must remark that in the mean time he did learn to write in Gothic characters, and that he wrote all his books—for the art of printing was not then in use—and did ordinarily carry a great pen and inkhorn, weighing about seven thousand quintals (that is, 700,000 pound weight), the penner whereof was as big and as long as the great pillars of Enay, and the horn was hanging to it in great iron chains, it being of the wideness of a tun of merchant ware. After that he read unto him the book de modis significandi, with the commentaries of Hurtbise, of Fasquin, of Tropdieux, of Gualhaut, of John Calf, of Billonio, of Berlinguandus, and a rabble of others; and herein he spent more than eighteen years and eleven months, and was so well versed in it that, to try masteries in school disputes with his condisciples, he would recite it by heart backwards, and did sometimes prove on his finger-ends to his mother, quod de modis significandi non erat scientia. Then did he read to him the compost for knowing the age of the moon, the seasons of the year, and tides of the sea, on which he spent sixteen years and two months, and that justly at the time that his said preceptor died of the French pox, which was in the year one thousand four hundred and twenty. Afterwards he got an old coughing fellow to teach him, named Master Jobelin Bride, or muzzled dolt, who read unto him Hugutio, Hebrard(‘s) Grecism, the Doctrinal, the Parts, the Quid est, the Supplementum, Marmotretus, De moribus in mensa servandis, Seneca de quatuor virtutibus cardinalibus, Passavantus cum commento, and Dormi secure for the holidays, and some other of such like mealy stuff, by reading whereof he became as wise as any we ever since baked in an oven.
Chapter 1.XV.—How Gargantua was put under other schoolmasters.
At the last his father perceived that indeed he studied hard, and that, although he spent all his time in it, he did nevertheless profit nothing, but which is worse, grew thereby foolish, simple, doted, and blockish, whereof making a heavy regret to Don Philip of Marays, Viceroy or Depute King of Papeligosse, he found that it were better for him to learn nothing at all, than to be taught such-like books, under such schoolmasters; because their knowledge was nothing but brutishness, and their wisdom but blunt foppish toys, serving only to bastardize good and noble spirits, and to corrupt all the flower of youth. That it is so, take, said he, any young boy of this time who hath only studied two years,—if he have not a better judgment, a better discourse, and that expressed in better terms than your son, with a completer carriage and civility to all manner of persons, account me for ever hereafter a very clounch and bacon-slicer of Brene. This pleased Grangousier very well, and he commanded that it should be done. At night at supper, the said Des Marays brought in a young page of his, of Ville-gouges, called Eudemon, so neat, so trim, so handsome in his apparel, so spruce, with his hair in so good order, and so sweet and comely in his behaviour, that he had the resemblance of a little angel more than of a human creature. Then he said to Grangousier, Do you see this young boy? He is not as yet full twelve years old. Let us try, if it please you, what difference there is betwixt the knowledge of the doting Mateologians of old time and the young lads that are now. The trial pleased Grangousier, and he commanded the page to begin. Then Eudemon, asking leave of the vice-king his master so to do, with his cap in his hand, a clear and open countenance, beautiful and ruddy lips, his eyes steady, and his looks fixed upon Gargantua with a youthful modesty, standing up straight on his feet, began very gracefully to commend him; first, for his virtue and good manners; secondly, for his knowledge, thirdly, for his nobility; fourthly, for his bodily accomplishments; and, in the fifth place, most sweetly exhorted him to reverence his father with all due observancy, who was so careful to have him well brought up. In the end he prayed him, that he would vouchsafe to admit of him amongst the least of his servants; for other favour at that time desired he none of heaven, but that he might do him some grateful and acceptable service. All this was by him delivered with such proper gestures, such distinct pronunciation, so pleasant a delivery, in such exquisite fine terms, and so good Latin, that he seemed rather a Gracchus, a Cicero, an Aemilius of the time past, than a youth of this age. But all the countenance that Gargantua kept was, that he fell to crying like a cow, and cast down his face, hiding it with his cap, nor could they possibly draw one word from him, no more than a fart from a dead ass. Whereat his father was so grievously vexed that he would have killed Master Jobelin, but the said Des Marays withheld him from it by fair persuasions, so that at length he pacified his wrath. Then Grangousier commanded he should be paid his wages, that they should whittle him up soundly, like a sophister, with good drink, and then give him leave to go to all the devils in hell. At least, said he, today shall it not cost his host much if by chance he should die as drunk as a Switzer. Master Jobelin being gone out of the house, Grangousier consulted with the Viceroy what schoolmaster they should choose for him, and it was betwixt them resolved that Ponocrates, the tutor of Eudemon, should have the charge, and that they should go altogether to Paris, to know what was the study of the young men of France at that time.”
There is an outbreak of war precipitated by cake peddlers that seems to satirize the Wars of Religion:
“Chapter 1.XXV.—How there was great strife and debate raised betwixt the cake-bakers of Lerne, and those of Gargantua’s country, whereupon were waged great wars.
At that time, which was the season of vintage, in the beginning of harvest, when the country shepherds were set to keep the vines, and hinder the starlings from eating up the grapes, as some cake-bakers of Lerne happened to pass along in the broad highway, driving into the city ten or twelve horses loaded with cakes, the said shepherds courteously entreated them to give them some for their money, as the price then ruled in the market. For here it is to be remarked, that it is a celestial food to eat for breakfast hot fresh cakes with grapes, especially the frail clusters, the great red grapes, the muscadine, the verjuice grape, and the laskard, for those that are costive in their belly, because it will make them gush out, and squirt the length of a hunter’s staff, like the very tap of a barrel; and oftentimes, thinking to let a squib, they did all-to-besquatter and conskite themselves, whereupon they are commonly called the vintage thinkers. The bun-sellers or cake-makers were in nothing inclinable to their request; but, which was worse, did injure them most outrageously, calling them prattling gabblers, lickorous gluttons, freckled bittors, mangy rascals, shite-a-bed scoundrels, drunken roysters, sly knaves, drowsy loiterers, slapsauce fellows, slabberdegullion druggels, lubberly louts, cozening foxes, ruffian rogues, paltry customers, sycophant-varlets, drawlatch hoydens, flouting milksops, jeering companions, staring clowns, forlorn snakes, ninny lobcocks, scurvy sneaksbies, fondling fops, base loons, saucy coxcombs, idle lusks, scoffing braggarts, noddy meacocks, blockish grutnols, doddipol-joltheads, jobbernol goosecaps, foolish loggerheads, flutch calf-lollies, grouthead gnat-snappers, lob-dotterels, gaping changelings, codshead loobies, woodcock slangams, ninny-hammer flycatchers, noddypeak simpletons, turdy gut, shitten shepherds, and other suchlike defamatory epithets; saying further, that it was not for them to eat of these dainty cakes, but might very well content themselves with the coarse unranged bread, or to eat of the great brown household loaf. To which provoking words, one amongst them, called Forgier, an honest fellow of his person and a notable springal, made answer very calmly thus: How long is it since you have got horns, that you are become so proud? Indeed formerly you were wont to give us some freely, and will you not now let us have any for our money? This is not the part of good neighbours, neither do we serve you thus when you come hither to buy our good corn, whereof you make your cakes and buns. Besides that, we would have given you to the bargain some of our grapes, but, by his zounds, you may chance to repent it, and possibly have need of us at another time, when we shall use you after the like manner, and therefore remember it. Then Marquet, a prime man in the confraternity of the cake-bakers, said unto him, Yea, sir, thou art pretty well crest-risen this morning, thou didst eat yesternight too much millet and bolymong. Come hither, sirrah, come hither, I will give thee some cakes. Whereupon Forgier, dreading no harm, in all simplicity went towards him, and drew a sixpence out of his leather satchel, thinking that Marquet would have sold him some of his cakes. But, instead of cakes, he gave him with his whip such a rude lash overthwart the legs, that the marks of the whipcord knots were apparent in them, then would have fled away; but Forgier cried out as loud as he could, O, murder, murder, help, help, help! and in the meantime threw a great cudgel after him, which he carried under his arm, wherewith he hit him in the coronal joint of his head, upon the crotaphic artery of the right side thereof, so forcibly, that Marquet fell down from his mare more like a dead than living man. Meanwhile the farmers and country swains, that were watching their walnuts near to that place, came running with their great poles and long staves, and laid such load on these cake-bakers, as if they had been to thresh upon green rye. The other shepherds and shepherdesses, hearing the lamentable shout of Forgier, came with their slings and slackies following them, and throwing great stones at them, as thick as if it had been hail. At last they overtook them, and took from them about four or five dozen of their cakes. Nevertheless they paid for them the ordinary price, and gave them over and above one hundred eggs and three baskets full of mulberries. Then did the cake-bakers help to get up to his mare Marquet, who was most shrewdly wounded, and forthwith returned to Lerne, changing the resolution they had to go to Pareille, threatening very sharp and boisterously the cowherds, shepherds, and farmers of Seville and Sinays. This done, the shepherds and shepherdesses made merry with these cakes and fine grapes, and sported themselves together at the sound of the pretty small pipe, scoffing and laughing at those vainglorious cake-bakers, who had that day met with a mischief for want of crossing themselves with a good hand in the morning. Nor did they forget to apply to Forgier’s leg some fair great red medicinal grapes, and so handsomely dressed it and bound it up that he was quickly cured.
Chapter 1.XXVI.—How the inhabitants of Lerne, by the commandment of Picrochole their king, assaulted the shepherds of Gargantua unexpectedly and on a sudden.
The cake-bakers, being returned to Lerne, went presently, before they did either eat or drink, to the Capitol, and there before their king, called Picrochole, the third of that name, made their complaint, showing their panniers broken, their caps all crumpled, their coats torn, their cakes taken away, but, above all, Marquet most enormously wounded, saying that all that mischief was done by the shepherds and herdsmen of Grangousier, near the broad highway beyond Seville. 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. To which expostulations and remonstrances no other answer was made, but that they would teach them to eat cakes.”
“Chapter 1.XXVII.—How a monk of Seville saved the close of the abbey from being ransacked by the enemy.
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, and yet for all this not one of them took any hurt, which is a most wonderful case. For the curates, vicars, preachers, physicians, chirurgeons, and apothecaries, who went to visit, to dress, to cure, to heal, to preach unto and admonish those that were sick, were all dead of the infection, and these devilish robbers and murderers caught never any harm at all. Whence comes this to pass, my masters? I beseech you think upon it. 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. The monks (poor devils) knew not in that extremity to which of all their sancts they should vow themselves. Nevertheless, at all adventures they rang the bells ad capitulum capitulantes. There it was decreed that they should make a fair procession, stuffed with good lectures, prayers, and litanies contra hostium insidias, and jolly responses pro pace.
There was then in the abbey a claustral monk, called Friar John of the funnels and gobbets, in French des entoumeures, young, gallant, frisk, lusty, nimble, quick, active, bold, adventurous, resolute, tall, lean, wide-mouthed, long-nosed, a fair despatcher of morning prayers, unbridler of masses, and runner over of vigils; and, to conclude summarily in a word, a right monk, if ever there was any, since the monking world monked a monkery: for the rest, a clerk even to the teeth in matter of breviary. This monk, hearing the noise that the enemy made within the enclosure of the vineyard, went out to see what they were doing; and perceiving that they were cutting and gathering the grapes, whereon was grounded the foundation of all their next year’s wine, returned unto the choir of the church where the other monks were, all amazed and astonished like so many bell-melters. Whom when he heard sing, im, nim, pe, ne, ne, ne, ne, nene, tum, ne, num, num, ini, i mi, co, o, no, o, o, neno, ne, no, no, no, rum, nenum, num: It is well shit, well sung, said he. By the virtue of God, why do not you sing, Panniers, farewell, vintage is done? The devil snatch me, if they be not already within the middle of our close, and cut so well both vines and grapes, that, by Cod’s body, there will not be found for these four years to come so much as a gleaning in it. By the belly of Sanct James, what shall we poor devils drink the while? Lord God! da mihi potum. Then said the prior of the convent: What should this drunken fellow do here? let him be carried to prison for troubling the divine service. Nay, said the monk, the wine service, let us behave ourselves so that it be not troubled; for you yourself, my lord prior, love to drink of the best, and so doth every honest man. Never yet did a man of worth dislike good wine, it is a monastical apophthegm. But these responses that you chant here, by G—, are not in season. Wherefore is it, that our devotions were instituted to be short in the time of harvest and vintage, and long in the advent, and all the winter? The late friar, Massepelosse, of good memory, a true zealous man, or else I give myself to the devil, of our religion, told me, and I remember it well, how the reason was, that in this season we might press and make the wine, and in winter whiff it up. Hark you, my masters, you that love the wine, Cop’s body, follow me; for Sanct Anthony burn me as freely as a faggot, if they get leave to taste one drop of the liquor that will not now come and fight for relief of the vine. Hog’s belly, the goods of the church! Ha, no, no. What the devil, Sanct Thomas of England was well content to die for them; if I died in the same cause, should not I be a sanct likewise? Yes. Yet shall not I die there for all this, for it is I that must do it to others and send them a-packing.
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. Never did Maugis the Hermit bear himself more valiantly with his bourdon or pilgrim’s staff against the Saracens, of whom is written in the Acts of the four sons of Aymon, than did this monk against his enemies with the staff of the cross.”
So, there you have it. Hope it inspires you to read it all. Incidentally, the Samuel Putnam translation doesn’t shy away from satire of religion. It may be found here: http://www.abebooks.com/servlet/BookDetailsPL?bi=6763449918&searchurl=an%3Dputnam%26sts%3Dt%26tn%3Dgargantua%26x%3D58%26y%3D13
“Readers, friends, if you turn these pages
Put your prejudice aside,
For, really, there’s nothing here that’s outrageous,
Nothing sick, or bad — or contagious.
Not that I sit here glowing with pride
For my book: all you’ll find is laughter:
That’s all the glory my heart is after,
Seeing how sorrow eats you, defeats you.
I’d rather write about laughing than crying,
For laughter makes men human, and courageous.