Rabelais added dog piss to Flamenca’s mockery of elite pretenses

Gently mocking the absurdities of courtly love, the thirteenth-century Old Occitan romance Flamenca narrates an elite man, through meetings in church, soliciting an elite woman for sexual trysts in a nearby bathhouse. Flamenca inspired singer-songwriter Rosalía to produce her recent, high-selling Latin pop album, El mal querer {The Bad Loving}. Known only through a single manuscript recovered in the nineteenth century, Flamenca apparently had significant influence centuries earlier. Pantagruel, authored by the learned Benedictine monk François Rabelais in 1532, similarly mocked courtly love through sexual solicitation in church. Rabelais in Pantagruel added to Flamenca’s story-pattern a radical attack on elite pretenses and gender domination. Pantagruel depicts a hypocritical, highly privileged “great lady of Paris {grande dame de Paris}” drenched in streams of dog piss. That’s an outrageous fantasy of gender revolution.

Deeply entrenched systemic sexism vastly disproportionately burdens men with soliciting amorous relationships and enduring amorous rejections. Gynocentric governance of penal systems in turn tends to criminalize seduction and acutely bias punishment toward persons with penises. In Rabelais’s Pantagruel, the character Panurge repeatedly recognizes that he is vulnerable to penal punishment. Yet particular social circumstances embolden him:

Panurge started to grow in reputation in the city of Paris because of that disputation he had won against the Englishman. From then on, he embellished his codpiece and decorated it on top with embroidered stitching in the German style. Fashionable society praised him publicly, and a ballad was composed about him that young boys knew well. He was welcomed at all gatherings of old women and young women. As a result, he became vainglorious, so much so that he undertook to come to be above one of the great ladies of the city.

{ Panurge commença à estre en reputation en la ville de Paris par ceste disputation qu’il obtint contre l’Angloys, et faisoit des lors bien valoir sa braguette, et la feist au dessus esmoucheter de broderie à la Tudesque. Et le monde le louoit publicquement, et en fut faict une chanson, dont les petitz enfans alloient à la moustarde: et estoit bien venu en toutes compaignies de dames et damoyselles, en sorte qu’il devint glorieux, si bien qu’il entreprint de venir au dessus d’une des grandes dames de la ville. }[1]

Great ladies are the true rulers of gynocentric society. Men are expected to know and accept subordination to the ruling women controlling the nominal head-men-in-charge.

Panurge goes to great lady of Paris

Using men’s gender burden of amorous solicitation as a vehicle for social mobility, Panurge sought, through a mutually beneficial sexual relationship, to achieve gender equality with the great lady of Paris. He proposed to her:

Madame, it would be of very great utility to the whole republic, delightful to you, an honor to your lineage, and a necessity to me, if you would make a covering of my breed. Believe me, for the experience will so demonstrate it to you.

{ Ma dame, ce seroit ung bien fort utile à toute la republicque, delectable à vous, honneste à vostre lignée, et à moy necessaire, que feussiez couverte de ma race, et le croyez, car l’experience vous le demonstrera. }

Panurge here mocks elite public discourse. He links broad claims of public utility to narrow interests of personal delight and sexual need. He ridicules the great lady’s pretense of hereditary superiority with his claim that her being on top in having sex with him (her making a covering of his breed) would bring honor to her lineage. In short, Panurge with great rhetorical sophistication resists structures of gender domination.[2]

The great lady of Paris responded in accordance with her socially privileged position. She not only harshly rejected him, but also invoked her social superiority and her capacity to command that he be brutally punished:

At these words the lady thrust him more than a three hundred miles away, saying: “You evil fool, why do you presume such remarks interest me? And to whom do you think you are speaking? Go away, never again be found in front of me! Don’t you know that it would be a trivial matter for me to have your arms and legs cut off?

{ La dame à ceste parolle le reculla plus de cent lieues, disant. Meschant fou vous appertient il de me tenir telz propos? Et à qui pensez vous parler ? allez, ne vous trouvez iamais devant moy car si n’estoit pour ung petit, ie vous feroys coupper bras et iambes? }

All Panurge did was speak to this great lady. She in response threatened to invoke the penal authority to have his arms and legs cut off. That’s utterly disproportionate punishment for what shouldn’t be regarded as a crime. The great lady’s response indicates both her socially constructed superiority to Panurge, her implicit common sexual interest, and the brutal gender bias of penal systems.

Panurge at first accepted the woman’s social privilege and attempted to bargain personally with her. He declared that his bodily wholeness was less important than providing her with an occasion of intense pleasure that might lead to marriage:

“Now,” he said, “it would be nothing to me to have my arms and legs cut off, on the condition that we, you and me, would make a cheerful deal, connecting to play with the little man on your lower steps. Because,” (he displays his long codpiece), “here’s my Mr. John Goaty. He’ll strum you in an ancient way such that you’ll feel your body to the very marrow of your bones. He’s a chivalrous scholar who can find well for you the alternate stallholders and the little young horses that you seed in the ratcatcher, and after him there’s nothing to do but some spousal dusting.”

{ Or (dist il) ce me seroit tout ung d’avoir bras et iambes couppez, en condition que nous fissions vous et moy ung transon de chere lie iouant des manequins à basses marches: car (monstrant sa longue braguette) voicy maistre Iehan ieudy, qui vous sonneroit une antiquaille, dont vous vous sentiriez iusques à la mouelle des os: car il esrt galland, et vous sçait bien trouver les alibitz forains et petitz poullains grenez en la ratouere, que apres luy il n’y a qu’espousseter. }

Panurge emphasizes the natural, agricultural reality of living bodies. Panurge is the great lady’s equal as a human being, even though he’s a male human being. The great lady’s socially constructed sense of superiority denies natural reality.

The great lady responded to Panurge’s words with another threat to invoke the penal system. She demonized him as evil and insisted that he be silent in her presence:

Go away, evil one, go way! If you say even one more word to me, I’ll call in the world and right here you’ll be slaughtered with blows.

{ Allez meschant allez, si vous m’en dictes encores ung mot, ie appelleray le monde, et vous feray icy assommer de coups. }

A woman’s words can easily get a man slaughtered. Is it any wonder that most men today remain silent about being deprived of any reproductive rights?

After being amorously rejected, Panurge shifted to acting like a courtly lover flattering a human woman having the imagined status of a goddess. Many men today are still indoctrinated to address women in this way:

Your beauty is so excellent, so singular, so celestial, that I believe Nature placed it in you as a model in order to give us understanding of what Nature can do when She wants to employ all Her power and all Her knowledge. Nothing but honey, nothing but sugar, nothing but manna from Heaven, is all that’s in you. It’s to you that Paris should have awarded the golden apple, not to Venus, nor to Juno, nor to Minerva, for never did Juno have such greatness, nor Minerva such prudence, nor Venus such elegance, like there’s in you. Oh, gods of the heavens, what happiness will be his to whom will be given the grace to embrace you, to kiss you, and to rub his bacon with you.

{ la vostre est tant excellente tant singuliere, tant celeste, que ie croy que nature l’a mise en vous comme en parangon pour nous donner à entendre combien elle peult faire, quand elle veult employer toute sa puissance et tout son sçavoir. Ce n’est que miel, ce n’est que sucre, ce n’est que manne celeste, de tout ce qu’est en vous. C’estoit à vous à qui Paris debvoit adiuger la pomme d’Or, non à Venus non, ny à Iuno, ny à Minerve: car oncques n’y eut tant de magnificence en Iuno, tant de prudence en Minerve, tant de elegance en Venus, comme il y a en vous. O dieux desses celestes, que heureux sera celluy à qui ferez ceste grace de vous accoller, de vous bayser, et de frotter son lart avecques vous. }

Panurge’s concluding reference to rubbing bacon deflates the ridiculous, learned pretenses of courtly love. In response to Panurge’s mock-courtly words, the great lady pretended to summon her neighbors to slaughter him. He wisely fled immediately.

annunciation preceding Mary's Magnificat

Panurge then played Flamenca’s game of courtship in church. When the great lady went to Mass the next morning, Panurge bowed to her at the church door and offered her holy water. He then went in and knelt beside her in the pew. Perhaps hoping that the church would offer sanctuary from punishment, he daringly spoke to her:

Madame, you know that I am so in love with you that I can neither piss nor shit. I don’t know what you’ve heard of it. If I should come to some harm, what would that be?

{ Madame saichez que ie suis tant amoureux de vous, que ie n’en peuz ny pisser ny fianter, ie ne sçay comment l’entendez. Si m’en advenoit quelque mal, qu’en seroit il? }

Men with serious bodily ailments deserve concern and compassion, especially from faithful Christians. But the great lady responded with hard-hearted indifference:

“Go away, go away,” she said. “I don’t care at all. Leave me alone here to pray to God.”

{ Allez allez, dist elle, ie ne m’en soucie pas: laissez moy icy prier dieu. }

Guillem wooed Flamenca in church with extensive knowledge of the liturgy and learned, poetic words. Panurge similarly sought to display to the great lady his well-developed mind:

“But,” he said, “do you know how to say differently with equal parts ‘to Beaumont-le-Viconte’?” “I don’t know,” she said. He responded, “It’s ‘up the beautiful cunt a cock mounts {à beau con le vit monte}.’ And by this I pray to God that He grants me what your noble heart desires.”

{ Mais (dist il) equivoquez sur A beau mont le vicomte. Ie ne sçauroys, dist elle. C’est (dist il) à beau con le vit monte. Et sur cella priez dieu qu’il me doint ce que vostre noble cueur desyre }

Such word-play draws on a rich tradition of Latin literature. Only a few years after Rabelais had published Pantagruel, Théodore de Bèze, who in 1564 succeeded John Calvin as the spiritual leader of the Calvinists, wrote a Latin epigram engaging in fleshly word-play:

Recently I greeted my little Candida.
I said, “Greetings, my mind, my joy,
my lovely little ass.” Then eloquently,
wishing to prove herself to me,
she said, “Greetings, my little dickhead.” O eloquent
and well-learned intellectual woman!
If I’m accustomed to saying “lovely little ass,”
why can’t she say “little dickhead”?

{ Nuper, Candidulam meam salutans,
Salve, inquam, mea mens, mei et lepores,
Corculumque meam. Illa tunc disertam
Cum sese cuperet mihi probare,
Salve, inquit, mea mentula. O disertam
Et docto bene feminam cerebro!
Nam si dicere corculum solemus,
Cur non dicere mentulam licebit? }[3]

Men have a gendered burden of performance in relation to women. Misconstruing that gender inequality, some women in response compete aggressively with men. Women striving to compete with men neither helps men nor promotes social justice.

Panurge immediately followed his demonstration of cultivated, broad-minded learning by boldly requesting that the great lady of Paris extend to him her gold-laced rosary. Perhaps through the success of his word-play stunner, she compliantly did so. He whipped out one of his knives and immediately cut it loose. Obliquely referring to another so-called knife accompanied with balls, he asked her if she would like to have his knife. She emphatically declined, “No, no {Non non}!” Panurge then again mockingly invoked men’s courtly subservience to women: “it is fully yours to command — body and goods, stomach lining and guts {il est bien à vostre commandement corps et biens, tripez et boyaulx}.” With that, he went off to sell the great lady’s gold-laced rosary. She lamented losing it “because it was one of her marks of status in the church {car c’estoit une de ses contenances à l’esglise}.” She resolved to tell her husband that a thief had stolen it.

Recognizing the great lady’s avariciousness, that evening Panurge visited her. He brought with him a purse stuffed with fake coins. He began by questioning her about love:

“Between the two of us, which loves the other more, you me, or me you?” To that she responded, “As far as I’m concerned, I certainly don’t hate you, because as God has commanded, I love everyone.” “But on this subject,” he said, “don’t you love me?” “I have said to you many times already,” she declared, “that you should no longer address such words to me. If you talk of it to me again, I will show you that I’m not one to whom you should thus talk of dishonor. Get out of here, and bring me back my rosary in case my husband asks me for it.”

{ Lequel des deux ayme plus l’aultre ou vous moy, ou moy vous? A quoy elle respondit. Quant est de moy ie ne vous hays point : car comme dieu le commande, ie ayme tout le monde. Mais à propos (dist il) n’estes vous pas amoureuse de moy? Ie vous ay (dist elle) ià dit tant de foys que vous ne me tenissiez plus telles parolles, si vous m’en parlez encores ie vous monstreray que ce n’est pas à moy à qui vous debvez ainsi parler de deshonneur allez vous en, et me rendez mes patenostres, que mon mary ne me les demande. }

The great lady hypocritically makes Jesus’s commandment to love a matter of dishonoring in practice. Testing her love, Panurge offered her a luxurious rosary made from gold, rubies, and diamonds, or better yet, one composed of emeralds and a large Persian pearl. Shaking the fake coins in his bulging purse, Panurge offered the great lady gifts worth up to fifty thousand ducats:

The power of these words made her mouth water. But she said to him, “I thank you, yet no, I don’t want anything from you.”

{ Par la vertuz desquelles parolles il luy faisoit venir l’eau à la bouche. Mais elle luy dist. Non, ie vous remercie ie ne veulx riens de vous. }

Despite her apparent desire, the great lady insisted on maintaining her position of superiority with respect to Panurge. She claimed that she needed nothing from him. Her privileged position and unyielding, hypocritical support for the oppressive social-gender hierarchy angered Panurge:

“By God,” he said, “I want a good thing from you, and this thing will cost you nothing, and you will not be dishonored. Get hold of this!” Displaying his long codpiece, he said, “Here’s he who asks for lodging!”

{ Par dieu (dist il) si veulx bien moy de vous: mais c’est chose qui ne vous coustera riens, et n’en aurez de riens moins, tenez: monstrant sa longue braguette, voicy qui demande logis }

Men’s sexuality is a blessing, irrespective of the wealth and social status of men. In contrast to misandristic common descriptions, men having consensual sex with women doesn’t “deflower” or “defile” women. Sex with men typically makes women joyful, particularly if the man is endowed like a donkey. Wrongfully and inexplicably, Panurge attempted to embrace the despicable great lady of Paris. She cried out, not even loudly, and he immediately stopped. He fled quickly for fear of being beaten by the vast penal apparatus addressing such crimes.

The next day was the festival of Corpus Christi. The wealthy, privileged Parisian women went to church dressed in their magnificent finery to celebrate this festival of the beaten and crucified Christ. The great lady “clothed herself in a very beautiful robe of crimson satin and a tunic of very costly white velvet {s’estoit vestue d’une tresbelle robbe de satin cramoysi, et d’une cotte de veloux blanc bien precieux}.” The colors of the great lady’s luxurious clothes parallel Christ’s bare white skin and bleeding wounds.[4]

Panurge contrived to humiliate brutally the great lady. The previous day he had sought and found a female dog at the time in her reproductive cycle when she is eagerly receptive to male dogs. He fed her well to stimulate her lust. Then he extracted from the female dog a drug well-known to ancient Greek authorities.

The next morning Panurge went to the church where the great lady was attending the Corpus Christi festival. He sat next to her and handed her a letter. In it was a rondeau written in the pathetic spirit of courtly love, except for its penultimate verse. In that verse, Panurge crudely expressed his desire that they join vagina and penis. As the great lady opened the letter, Panurge seeded the folds of her sleeves and gown with the drug he had extracted from the female dog in heat.

That natural drug had revolutionary effects. It put down the great from her privileged place and inspired those of low degree:

Attracted by the smell of the drug that he had spread on her, all the dogs in the church came to this lady. Dogs little and big, fat and small — all came there to pull out their dicks and smell her and piss all over her. And Panurge chased them a little and then left the lady and went to a side-chapel to watch the sport. Those common dogs fully shitted and pissed all over her clothes. It went to the point that a huge hound was pissing on her head and humping her neck from behind, others her sleeves, others were at her buttocks, and the little ones were humping her slippers.

{ tous les chiens qui estoient en l’esglise ne s’en vinssent à ceste dame pour l’odeur des drogues qu’il avoit espandues sur elle, petitz et grans, gros et menuz tous y venoient tirant le membre et la sentant et pissant partout sur elle. Et Panurge les chassa quelque peu et print congié d’elle, et s’en alla en quelque chapelle pour veoir le deduyt: car ces villains chiens la conchioent toute et compissoient tout ses habillemens, tantq u’il y eut ung grand levrier qui luy pissa sur la teste et luy culletoit son collet par derriere, les aultres aux manches, les aultres à la crope: et les petitz culletoient ses patins. }[5]

The unruly, uppity Panurge laughed at the great lady’s distress. Men historically have been disparaged and dehumanized as being sexually like dogs. Now the dogs were having their day. Panurge sought out his counterpart Pantagruel:

And arriving at Pantagruel’s lodgings, he said to him: “Master, I pray that you come to see all the dogs of this city that have assembled around the most beautiful lady of this city. They all want to hot-cock her. Pantagruel readily agreed to go. He witnessed this mystery that he found very beautiful and new. But the best was during the procession, because then six hundred dogs were about her. They inflicted a thousand ordeals on her. And wherever she passed, fresh dogs came and followed her trail. They pissed along the road where her robes had touched. Everyone stopped at that spectacle, pondering the faces of these dogs who were mounting her up to her neck and ruining her beautiful attire. She didn’t know where to find a remedy, except to go back to her shelter. And the dogs went after her, and when she had entered her house and closed the door after her, all the dogs from a mile and half around gathered and pissed so well on the door of her house that they formed there a urine stream in which ducks could easily swim.

{ Et arrivé au logis dist à Pantagruel, maistre ie vous pry venez veoir tous les chiens de ceste ville qui sont assemblez à l’entour d’une dame la plus belle de ceste ville et la veullent iocqueter. À quoy voulentiers consentit Pantagruel, et veit le mystere qu’il trouva fort beau et nouveau. Mais le bon fut à la procession: car il se trouva plus de six cens chiens à l’entour d’elle, qui lui faisoient muille hayres: et partout où elle passoit les chiens frays venuz la suyvoient à la trace, pissans par le chemin ou ses robbes avoient touché. Et tout le monde se arrestoit à ce spectacle consyderant les contenances de ces chiens qui luy montoient iusques au col, et luy gasterent tout ses beaulx acoustremens, qu’elle ne sceut y trouver remede, sinon s’en aller à son hostel. Et chiens d’aller apres, et quand elle fut entrée en sa maison et fermé la porte apres elle, tous les chiens y accouroient de demy lieue, et compisserent si bien la porte de sa maison, qu’ilz y feirent ung ruysseau de leurs urines, ou les cannes eussent bien noué. }[6]

In ancient Greek literature, Socrates’s students threw bones at the philosophical gadfly / dog Diogenes the Cynic. Diogenes in turn pissed on them. Rabelais apparent built upon that literary inheritance to depict an astonishing, scarcely permissible fantasy of rude revolution in the world’s usual gender order. Men throughout history have largely licked the boots of an oppressive gender order. Perhaps dogs pissing is a superhuman path for change.

dogs piss on great lady of Paris

Recent decades’ scholarly criticism of Panurge overthrowing the great Parisian lady is best regarded as a crude, risible spectacle of ignorance and bigotry. In 1982, a gynocentric scholarly article on Rabelais set the context for grotesque scholarship:

I have chosen the feminist challenge as perhaps the most important, if only because it is the only one that is presented directly to everybody who deals with any literature of any period or culture. As I offer a version of it now, I naturally hope that you will find it recognizably close to what you think about misogyny or androcentrism in literature, in any of their forms, open or disguised.[7]

Gynocentrism directs everyone, at all time, in all matters, to focus on feminism, filled out with feminism’s world-encompassing counterparts misogyny and anti-feminism. Gynocentrism has been a fundamental social problem at least since the Sabine women insisted on special privileges at Rome’s founding. Yet this scholar, and many others before and after him, have solemnly pondered:

What might it mean to say, as many have said before me, that Rabelais’ great works, Gargantua and Pantagruel, are flawed by their sexism — or, in the earlier language, their antifeminism?

What does it mean to recognize that, going all the way back to Peisistratus with respect to Megacles’s daughter, men have lacked reproductive rights? That would require actually thinking, rather than merely seeking credit in academic status markets through comic confusion of learned gravitas and idiocy:

neither Rabelais nor Bakhtin can be given the credit for vexing me out of laughter and into thought: it is feminist criticism that has done it.

A good man, truly a good man! Such fetishes have developed to the extent that an edited volume of leading academic authorities on Rabelais includes one excluded scholar solemnly prophesizing the death of the “fetishized master” Rabelais. According to this included, excluded scholar, Rabelais’s death is necessary to enjoy the “pleasure” of this scholar’s tedious, tendentious included contribution.[8] A woman scholar, taking advantage of gendered freedom to offer a scholarly judgment that would be career-canceling for any man academic, aptly characterized the intellectual merit of this excluded contribution: “Carla Freccero’s bad-tempered rehash of her objections to Wayne Booth, with added references to Anita Hill, has no discernible relevance to Rabelais.”[9] Can dogs somehow be drugged enough to piss on such a contribution? The editor of the volume of leading authorities on Rabelais, a volume which included no meninist studies, lamented:

Feminist studies, conspicuously absent at the Tours quincentenial conference, is still struggling to assert its place and its voice within or against the current male-dominated scholarship.[10]

At the heights of academia, the answer is clearly no. No drugs are powerful enough to enable dogs to regain their sense of smell.

Literature students must be taught. Appreciating rhetoric is fundamental to understanding language. Here’s how to fail in a university course on Rabelais:

Few modern readers may fail to interpret the attitude of Panurge toward the Parisian lady as a classic case of sexual harassment.[11]

A student writes in her notes: “Panurge attitude to Parisian lady = sexual harassment.” At least that student won’t be among the few modern readers who fail in their reading of Rabelais. But what about the liberal arts enlarging students’ minds and engaging them in practices of critical thinking? Consider:

Recent critics have presented radically opposite views: is Panurge subverting the foundations of social order by “dissolving all respect for hierarchy, feminine honour and marriage”, or is he humbling a rich, haughty, pharisaical character who has sinned against caritas and thus serving the larger “redemptive design” of Rabelais’s “Christian epic”?

Those are radically opposite views only to a scholar ignorant of the gynocentric social order. Panurge outrageously overthrowing the great lady of Paris both subverts the gynocentric social order and serves the redemptive design of God’s incarnation as the fully masculine human being Jesus Christ. Such reasoning isn’t permitted within the constraints of today’s scholastic orthodoxy. Laughing at the absurdities of that orthodoxy isn’t permitted either: “misogyny is the precondition for lightness.”[12] One scholar in one instance let a little of the postmodern truth slip out:

this approach ultimately raises the question whether, in a postmodern reading of Rabelais, misogynist ideology is represented by the “little jollities” and feminist ideology assumes the place of the holy text.[13]

Feminist ideology has become the holy text in modern societies. Go ahead and laugh heartily at that grotesque spectacle. But don’t just laugh. Start thinking. Then act to incarnate true gender justice as best as you can.

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Read more:


[1] François Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel, Pantagruel, Ch. 14, French text from the first edition that Claude Nourry of Lyons published probably in 1532 (via Wikisource), my English translation, benefiting from that of Screech (2006) p. 110. Subsequent quotes are similarly sourced. For a freely available English translation of Gargantua and Pantagruel, Le Clercq (1936).

The books of Gargantua and Pantagruel were published serially across years. Although Pantagruel is usually placed as the second book of Gargantua and Pantagruel, it was published first. It’s thus Book 1 in Screech’s translation of the first editions. Rabelais made significant changes to Pantagruel in its subsequent editions. Since Rabelais was subject to censorship and various forms of social coercion as a result of what he wrote in Pantagruel, the first edition is to be preferred for fully appreciating Rabelais’s critique of gynocentric gender domination.

The above quotes from Pantagruel come from the chapter entitled, “How Panurge was in love with a haughty lady of Paris, and about the trick he played on her {Comment Panurge fut amoureux d’une haulte dame de Paris, et du tour qu’il luy fist}.” This is chapter 14 in the first edition. In later, revised editions, chapter 14 was moved and split into Book 2, Chapter 21, “How Panurge was in love with a haughty lady of Paris {Comment Panurge feut amoureux d’une haulte dame de Paris}” and Book 2, Chapter 22, “How Panurge played a trick on the lady of Paris, which was not at all to her advantage {Comment Panurge feist un tour à la dame Parisianne, qui ne fut poinct à son adventage}.”

The full title of Pantagruel is:

The Horrifying and Dreadful Deeds and Prowesses of the Very Famous Pantagruel, King of the Dipsodes, Son of the Great Giant Gargantua, newly composed by Master Alcofrybas Nasier

{ Les Horribles et Espoventables Faictz et Prouesses du très renommé Pantagruel, roy des Dipsodes, filz du grand géant Gargantua, composez nouvellement par Maistre Alcofrybas Nasier }

Alcofrybas Nasier a pseudonym and anagram for François Rabelais.

[2] Panurge’s amorous solicitation of the great lady of Paris parodies “the four topics essential to any set rhetorical theme: utile, iucundum, honestum, and necessarium.” Bowen (1998) p. 129, cited in Hayes (2007) p. 51, n. 19.

[3] Théodore de Bèze, Iuvenilia (first edition, 1548), Epigrams 67, “To Candida {Ad Candidam},” Latin text from Summers (2001) p. 272, my English translation, benefiting from that of id. p. 273. For more on Théodore de Bèze, see note [8] and associated text in my post about Guillem’s prayers, Rosalía’s “Di mi nombre,” and gyno-idolatry.

Screech noted that Rabelais’s writings attracted widespread acclaim and admiration, including from Théodore de Bèze:

Calvin’s successor Theodore Beza both admired him and enjoyed him; he was astonished at the philosophical depths of Rabelais even when he was jesting and wondered what he must be like when he was serious.

Screech (2006) p. xiv.

[4] In the subsequent edition of Pantagruel, Rabelais changed the feast of Corpus Christi to the “the great feast of the coronation {la grande feste du sacre}.” That change mutes the biting contrast between Christ’s suffering and the great lady’s finery. On the significance of the great lady’s finery in relation to medieval French farce, Hayes (2007) pp. 47-8. Cf Rigolot (1994) p. 231.

[5] Screech silently bowdlerized the last line of the above quote. His translation:

until there was one huge hound which was pissing all over her head while others did it over her sleeves and her crupper and the puppies did it over her shoes

{ tantq u’il y eut ung grand levrier qui luy pissa sur la teste et luy culletoit son collet par derriere, les aultres aux manches, les aultres à la crope : et les petitz culletoient ses patins. }

Screech (2006) p. 116, French text from the Pantagruel first edition of Claude Nourry. Cf. Screech’s editorial note on culleter at id. p. 115.

The French text “Panurge les chassa quelque peu” could mean that Panurge encouraged the dogs to befoul the great lady. That’s Screech’s interpretation: “Panurge chased them up a bit.” Screech (2006) p. 116. But Panurge would have feared punishment for his abuse of the great lady. He plausibly would have wanted to pretend that he wasn’t at fault for what was happening to her. That’s Le Clercq’s interpretation: “Panurge pretended to chase them off.” Le Clercq (1936) p. 248. My translation leaves open either possible interpretation.

[6] The dogs pissing even where the great lady’s robe had touched the road parodies Matthew 14:34-6 (the sick seeking to touch even just the hem of Jesus’s garment). Broadly interpreting the great lady of Paris as a Christ figure isn’t warranted. The point is that pissing even merely on traces of her is a redemptive act for dehumanized men.

[7] Booth (1982) p. 55. The subsequent two quotes are from id. pp. 56, 58. Booth’s gynocentric focus remains prevalent:

this episode raises the issue of misogyny that must be central to any interpretation of Rabelais’s cruel prank

Simon (2019) p. 426. Will the penal authorities cut off the arms and legs of any scholar who doesn’t make misogyny central to interpreting Rabelais’s literary story? Everyone knows that there isn’t and never has been any great ladies of Paris. Any such great lady of Paris is merely “a paranoid projection of misogyny.” Id. p. 433.

[8] Freccero (1995) p. 82.

[9] Bowen (1997) p. 915. Freccero’s earlier, highly acclaimed article is Freccero (1985). Apparently unable to get a grip on his penis or on his Phallic language, Rigolot, who called Panurge a “typical sexual aggressor,” singled out Freccero (1985) for praise as providing “probing critical scrutiny” of Panurge amorously soliciting the great lady of Paris. Rigolot (1994) pp. 226, 233 (“typical sexual aggressor”), nearly identically Rigolot (1995) pp. 85, 99 (“typical sexual harasser”).

[10] Carron (1995), Carron’s introduction, p. xiii.

[11] Rigolot (1994) pp. 226-7, identically Rigolot (1995) p. 85. The subsequent quote is from Rigolot (1994), identically Rigolot (1995) p. 85. I’ve omitted from the second quote internal references to the internal quotes. Those references are serially Schwartz (1990) p. 39 and Duval (1991) pp. 75, 119, 140.

Rather than presenting with tendentious rhetoric Panurge conspiring to have six hundred dogs piss and shit all over a great lady of Paris as a “classic case of sexual harassment,” this literary story from Rabelais’s sixteenth-century Pantagruel could be better used to instruct students in techniques of rhetoric. Panurge himself is a master of rhetoric. On that, Bowen (1998).

With praiseworthy scholarly integrity and courage, Bowen forthrightly stated:

{Rigolot (1994)} repeats almost word for word his differently titled article {Rigolot (1995)}. I don’t find his Parisian Lady as a figure for the suffering Christ any more convincing on second reading.

Bowen (1997) pp. 915-6. A crude measure of scholarly merit, one commonly invoked implicitly and explicitly, is counting publications. Such a measure is obviously subject to strategic manipulation.

As a Benedictine monk extensively learned in sophisticated medieval literature, Rabelais makes many references in various ways to the Gospels. Overall, the best Biblical intertexts for understanding Panurge dethroning the great lady and elevating dogs is 2 Kings 9:36-7 (Jezebel being thrown to dogs) and Luke 1:46-55 (Mary’s Magnificat). On the former reference, Hayes (2007) p. 52, n. 27. Describing the great lady of Paris as a figure of Christ is utterly inconsistent with faithful interpretation of Rabelais.

[12] Simon (2019) p. 439.

[13] Rigolot (1994) p. 235, which are the concluding words of the article. This reference to the holy text of feminist ideology is excluded in Rigolot (1995). Perhaps that exclusion is an instance of a scholar’s repentance for offense against the dominant gynocentric order.

While Hayes (2007) insightfully connects the story of Panurge and the great lady of Paris to medieval French farces, that article remains doctrinally faithful to the holy text of feminist ideology. The analysis is thus fully colored with the women-are-wonderful effect and poor-dearism:

A distinguishing characteristic of this farcical episode is the fact that it is a woman who is being exposed. Women are nearly universally cast as the winners in traditional farce, owing to the misogynistic stereotyping of women as being crafty and deceptive. Also, in farces that focus on sexual desire, it is almost always the woman who is portrayed as being concupiscent. The Lady of Paris represents a drastic reversal from a female role in farce: she is guilty of excessiveness; she is neither cunning nor wily, nor sexually aggressive. While this episode may employ another form of gender-based stereotyping, it is important to note that it also represents a radical departure from the standard female characterizations found in the genre from which it draws its structure.

Hayes (2007) p. 43, identically in Hayes (2010) pp. 131-2.

[images] (1) Panurge goes to see the great lady of Paris. Illumination by Gustave Doré. From Urquhart & Motteux (1894) (excerpted, color-corrected), preceding Book 2 (Pantagruel), Chapter 21. (2) The Annunciation to Mary by the angel Gabriel, prompting Mary’s Magnificat. Salomon Koninck painted this oil-on-canvas work in 1655. Preserved as accession # HWY XXXII:B.119 in the Hallwyl Museum (Amsterdam, Netherlands). Via Wikimedia Commons. (3) Dogs mobbing the great lady of Paris. Wood print (excerpted, color-corrected) in Bracquemond (1872). From The New York Public Library, via Wikimedia Commons. Here’s another print depicting this story. It’s by Albert Robida and published in Oeuvres de Rabelais (1928)


Booth, Wayne C. 1982. “Freedom of Interpretation: Bakhtin and the Challenge of Feminist Criticism.” Critical Inquiry. 9 (1): 45-76.

Bowen, Barbara C. 1997. Review. “Jean-Louis Carron, ed. François Rabelais: Critical Assessments. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995. xxi + 227 pp. $38.50. – André Tournon. “En sens agile”: Les acrobaties de l’esprit selon Rabelais. Paris: Champion, 1995. (Etudes et Essais sur la Renaissance, 9.) 193 pp.” Renaissance Quarterly. 50 (3): 915-917.

Bowen, Barbara C. 1998. “Rabelais’s Panurge As Homo Rhetoricus.” Pp. 125-133 in James V. Mehl, ed. In laudem Caroli: Renaissance and Reformation studies for Charles G. Nauert, Jr. Sixteenth century essays & studies, v. 49. Kirksville, MO: Thomas Jefferson University Press.

Bracquemond, Félix. 1872. Eaux-fortes de Rabelais. Paris: A. Lemere.

Carron, Jean-Claude, ed. 1995. François Rabelais: critical assessments. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press.

Duval, Edwin M. 1991. The Design of Rabelais’s Pantagruel. New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press.

Freccero, Carla. 1985. “Damning haughty dames: Panurge and the Haulte Dame de Paris (Pantagruel, 14).” Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies. 15: 57-67.

Freccero, Carla. 1995. “Feminism, Rabelais, and the Hill/Thomas Hearings: Return to a Scene of Reading.” Pp. 73-82 in Carron (1995).

Hayes, E. Bruce. 2007. “Putting the ‘Haute’ Back into the ‘Haute Dame de Paris’: The Politics and Performance of Rabelais’s Radical Farce.” French Forum. 32 (1-2): 39-52.

Hayes, E. Bruce. 2010. Rabelais’s Radical Farce: Late Medieval Comic Theater and Its Function in Rabelais. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate. This work incorporates Hayes (2007).

Le Clercq, Jacques, trans. 1936. The Complete Works of Rabelais: the five books of Gargantua and Pantagruel. New York: Random House.

Rigolot, François. 1994. “Rabelais, Misogyny, and Christian Charity: Biblical Intertextuality and the Renaissance Crisis of Exemplarity.” PMLA. 109 (2): 225-237.

Rigolot, François. 1995. “The Three Temptations of Panurge: Women’s Vilification and Christian Humanist Discourse.” Pp. 83-102 in Carron (1995).

Screech, M.A., trans. 2006. François Rabelais. Gargantua and Pantagruel. Penguin Classics. London: Penguin Books. (review by Barbara Bowen)

Schwartz, Jerome. 1990. Irony and Ideology in Rabelais: structures of subversion. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Simon, David Carroll. 2019. “Vicious Pranks: Comedy and Cruelty in Rabelais and Shakespeare.” Studies in Philology. 116 (3): 423-450.

Summers, Kirk M., ed. and trans. 2001. A View from the Palatine: the Iuvenilia of Théodore de Bèze. Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies, v. 237. Tempe, AZ: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies.

Urquhart, Thomas and Peter Anthony Motteux, trans. 1894. The Works of Rabelais, faithfully translated from the French, with varioram notes, and numerous illustrations by Gustave Doré. Derby, England: Moray Press.

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