19 July, 2007


A little bagatelle for your pleasure. The Rabelais Club existed from 1880-1888, and its membership comprised a Who's Who of cultural giants: Edward Bellamy, Walter Besant, Victor Hugo, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Robert Louis Stevenson, Ernest Renan, James Russell Lowell, George du Maurier, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Thomas Hardy, W. E. Henley, Charles Godfrey Leland, John Everett Millais, George Saintsbury, Lawrence Alma-Tadema, F. W. Maitland and Andrew Lang, as well as many unfamiliar names. The Club's published Recreations consist largely of humorous poetry (mostly in English, Latin and Rabelaisian French) and homages to the Good Doctor; but take this, from the third volume (1885-88), the menu for a rather pataphysical repast—

Harnais de Gueule.

Pour le sacrifice des magnigoules gastrolatres à leur
Dieu Ventripotent.

‘A l’entrée du
premier service,
la royne prit, en guise
de pillules qui sen-
tent si bon pour soy
desgraisser l’estomac
une cuillerée de pe-

Soupe Petasinne.
De Pasque de Soles.
Des Ambares de Mer.
Des Ballivarnes en Paste,
Des Conquiguoles Savoreuses.
Des Coquemares à la Vinaigrette.
Les quatre quartiers du Mouton que porta Hellé et
Frixus au destroit de Propontide
Le Boeuf Apis de Memphis en Egypt que reffussa
la pitance de la main de Germanicus Cezar.
Les cramastères du Toreau tant aymé de Pasiphé.
Longes de Veau routy, sinapisées de pouldre zinziberine.
Oysons couvez par la digne oye limatique, laquelle
par son chant saulva la Rocque Tarpée.
La foye de l'ourse Calixto.
De la friande vestampenarderie.
De la gallimaffrée a l'estifignade.
Des moque croquettes.
Brededins-brededas glacés.
Le tout associé de brevaige sempiternel de
Vin de Chinon.

‘Les vezes, bouzines et cornemuses sonnerent harmonieusement
et leur furent les viandes apportees.’

‘Et la ne considerons l’harmonie des contrehastiers,
la temperature des potages, l’ordre du service de vin?’



Some further notes, though not as many as I would have wished. 'Harnais de Gueule', or 'gullet equipment', is a Rabelaisian kenning for posh nosh. 'Magnigoules gastrolatres' (Quart Livre, ch. 59) are 'great-throated belly-worshippers'. The quotation preceding 'Soupe Petasinne' is unknown to me, as is petasinne itself, but googling the word turns up a Dutch reference (pdf, from this Rabelais site) to Mireille Huchon on the pseudo-Rabelaisian Disciple de Pantagruel (1538), apparently the source of the soup in question. [Update: I've skimmed through the Disciple and can't find the quote. Possibly I overlooked it.] I have also failed to trace 'ambares', 'conquiguoles', 'limatique', 'estifignade', and 'brededins-brededas'; not one seems to be in Rabelais.

However, the news is not all bad. 'Coquemares' is an archaic form of 'cauchemars', ie. nightmares. The story of Germanicus and Apis is from Natural History 8, ch. 46. 'Vestampenarderie' derives from an altered spelling of 'vistempenarde', which Cotgrave defines as 'a duster made of a foxtaile fastned unto a staffe'. Sainéan tells us it is Anjou dialect: 'plumeau monté sur un long bâton. . . En Anjou, le mot designe (suivant [Jacob] Le Duchat [1658-1735, important Rabelais editor]) des torchons liés avec du fil au bout d'un bâton.' The foxtail, according to the OED, was a common symbol of the court fool. Rabelais also has vistempenardé, which Cotgrave has as 'Dusted, or slapped with a Fox-taile; also, raggedly, vilely, or basely attired'. When Rabelais writes, 'voyez comment le monde est vistempenardé' (III.29), Urquhart, who used Cotgrave religiously, translates 'you see yourself how the world is vilely abused, as when with a foxtail one claps another’s breech to cajole him'. Sainéan does not attempt an etymology of the word, but vi- or - often seems to signify a prick in Rabelaisian compounds.

What else? Chinon, supposedly founded by Cain, was Rabelais's hometown, and 'brevaige sempiternal' features in the meal of the Gastrolastres at IV.59. Cotgrave tells us that 'veze' is a bagpipe in Poitevin dialect, while 'cornemuse' is another word for the bagpipes. Cotgrave gives 'bouzine' as a 'rusticall Trumpet or wind-instrument, made of pitched barke'. 'Contrehastier' is an archaic word for a roasting-spit, found throughout Rabelais.


Phanero Noemikon said...

amazing post! wow.

i've been playing with the vistempenard thing

viss is too young
videlicet is old enough
but the viz shortening not
and certainly vid(ere) or vi

but vis as a shortened
form of vice goes way back
and connects to wise

making wisdom and vicedom
ironic cognates, not really
to the thinking person, but

tympan is old enough

narr was a fool
as in narrenschiff

and nard is the persian
form of backgammon

the image then becomes
a compound vision of the
shamaic drum, and the game
like worlding of sound/language

of the 1 and 0
being the matrix of the sign /sine
or heaven / hell, real / virtual,

the language game of the wise fool..

I've been saying that Witgenstein
got the theory of language-game from Bakhtin via Rabelais, just to see if some real scholar would bite. I'm certainly not smart enough to prove it. But there is in Rabelais a mention of the 'old meaning of games' mentioned in Bakhtin.. The dates don't make sense anyway. My theories are usually crap, but i keep them on file for a joke.

At any rate I do think this vistempenard is a lovely
animal to flay open


The proper name of a charming valley in Thessaly, watered by the Peneus, between Mounts Olympus and Ossa; used (already by the Roman writers) as a general name for a beautiful valley; hence for any delightful rural spot.

Rabelais recalling an idyllic rustic Boetian heritage of bardic
coding to relieve the hum-drum odium and show that in the mind

and otium

are simply one letter apart

or is it an even more ominous message
about the ills of over consumption
of blogging's


deliri, um trememedusting

Conrad H. Roth said...

> tempe

And also my place of exile, now long gone.

And no, the dates don't work, but it's a nice theory, and facts should never get in the way of a good poem.

Raminagrobis said...

Thanks for this, it’s keeping me very amused.

A few glosses to add to yours:

‘Petasinne’ is presumably related to ‘pétasse’, not in the modern French misogynistic sense of the word, but in the sense of a state of fear and alarm so intense that it causes disturbances in the lower digestive tract… (something Panurge suffered frequently). ‘Soupe petasinne’ must be soup that induces a fit of flatulence in the consumer, which explains why you would take a spoonful of it ‘pour soy desgraisser l’estomac’. Don’t know what the quote’s about, though.

The goose that saved the Tarpeian Rock with its song is a reference to Aeneid 8.655-6, which describes the image on the shield of Aeneas of the goose that sang to warn the Romans that the Gauls were attacking the Capitol (‘atque hic auratis uolitans argenteus anser / porticibus Gallos in limine adesse canebat’). Maybe ‘limatique’ relates to ‘limen’ here, i.e. the ‘threshold goose’? Anyway, the joke is that the Romans subsequently refrained from eating the sacred goose even in times of famine (Livy, 5.47).

‘bredi-breda’ is an expression broadly equivalent to ‘pell-mell’. ‘brededin, brededac’ appears in the episode of the paroles gelées, Quart livre, Ch 56.

Anyway, time for a drink! Cheers!

Anonymous said...

There exists a village in the Gironde department (33) called Ambares, situated on (or near) the estuary of the Gironde. A claret lover in the bunch, highly likely among the literati gliterati, would have known the name.

Anonymous said...

No doubt the "claret lover" was George Saintsbury, author of "Notes on a Cellar-Book." It would not be surprising if Saintsbury had a hand in choosing the menu; many similar menus are listed in his "Notes," which is one of the great older books on wine that have fallen into neglect thanks to the recent popularity of the dreadful Robert Parker.

I suspect the "vis-" in "vistempenardé" is derived from "virer," to turn, to twist, to tack about or change direction. From this are derived "virebrequin" (now "vilbrequin") a drill, and "vis," a screw. "Voyez comme le monde est vistempenardé" could be idiomatically tanslated "see how the world twists (or 'screws') around."

Phaneronoemikon's point about the abbreviation of videlicet as "viz." not being that old, while I'm sure it has nothing to do with the etymology of "vistempenardé," deserves a bit of explanation from the standpoint of early printing. In the days of manuscript books, there were many contractions in use, said to have been derived (but probably not in fact) from the early shorthand of Tiro, Cicero's freedman and amanuensis, called "Tironian notes." Some of these survive today, as in the physician's prescription shorthand of a minuscule c with a horizontal bar written over it to mean "with," an abbreviation of "cum." In similar fashion the tilde (~) over a vowel meant that an "n" was omitted following it, and the circumflex (ˆ) in modern French means that an "s," "c," or sometimes some other consonant that would have been written out in the time of Rabelais has been omitted, e.g., "paraître" for "paroistre," etc.

Originally "videlicet" was abbreviated by writing the first two letters followed by a symbol that looked like an arabic numeral 3 so positioned that its lower half hung beneath the baseline of the minuscules like the descenders of the letters g, j, p, q, or y. Gradually printers simplified their type-cases and eliminated most of the special characters that replicated the old manuscript abbreviations. The symbol that had been set in the abbreviation for videlicet looked rather like a cursive "z" and when that character was not available a lower-case "z" was set in its place.

At the time of Rabelais's first editions the use of typographic abbreviations was still current, and no one would have

Anonymous said...

Somehow the last line of my previous comment was omitted when I posted it. It should have finished with:

"...been confused by their use."

Phanero Noemikon said...

nice convolvuli michael..
"vid-elicit-ing" the viz



yes, truly
knowledge flowing from the ?

claret sss-pilled on a cell(ular)



Raminagrobis said...

One of the books in the library of Saint-Victor is Le Vistempenard des prescheurs, composé par Turelupin ('The Preachers' Featherduster'). Pierre Michel notes that there is a pun on 'vist', which means cane or rod, therefore membrum virile.

Raminagrobis said...

Come to think of it, doesn't that explain the etymology of the word, vist-empennardé, an 'en-feathered rod' so to speak, 'penna' being the Latin word for feather?

Phanero Noemikon said...

I'm gonna get up in the mornin',
I believe I'll dust my broom (2x)

Conrad H. Roth said...

Rami: yes, excellent work! I should have known the Vergil reference, tsk tsk me. I was looking in Livy but couldn't find the reference. I thought 'petasinne' might be connected to farting, but wasn't sure. And your vistempenarde derivation seems very plausible.

Michael, I haven't read Saintsbury's wine-writings, I only know his manifold histories of English literature and style. Most of the Tironian notes are mediaeval accretions; though I believe the ampersand is reliably attributed to Tiro.

Anonymous said...

On vistempenardé, if the etymology is indeed as Raminagrobis has proposed, vist would better be translated as shaft than rod or cane; it would then be a feathered shaft. And what has a feathered shaft but an arrow - a suitable instrument of penetration, certainly more allusive to the membrum virile than a feather-duster. "Empennage" is the finned tail of an aircraft or rocket, derived in its turn from the fletching of an arrow; it derives in its turn from penna or quill, as does pen when applied to a writing instrument, and panache, originally a plume in the hat (cf. Henri IV's order to his troops, "ralliez-vous à mon panache blanc.")

It has long seemed to me that the adjective "Rabelaisian" has inaccurately been applied to a type of earthiness or frankness about the sexual and excretory functions that is shared by many authors from the late mediæval period to the early modern period. It seemed coarse to the Victorians and was unfairly associated with the good Alcofribas, when they could equally well have found such verbiage in Chaucer, Villon, Macchiavelli, the Restoration playwrights, or Swift, to name only a few examples.

What seems genuinely Rabelaisian is his intoxication with words and the fun he has with them. His use of elaborate compounded words and neologisms has something in common with the slightly earlier Italo-Latin of Colonna (or whomever actually wrote the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili) and with the nearly contemporary phenomenon of euphuism in England. The difference is that Rabelais is making sport of what these other authors took seriously. The lightness with which he wears his own erudition, and the amusement he takes in the learned follies of others, is a great part of his continuing appeal.

Conrad H. Roth said...

Michael, I'd agree that 'Rabelaisian' has become a shorthand for a series of mediaeval values--but he did take it so much further than most. (There are more pornographic writers of the period, e.g. Aretino, but the latter was far less read, and far less interesting.)

Curiously, although there are a lot of cocks and cunts in Rabelais, there is very little sex. (There is, however, the legendary 'beast with two backs', which Shakespeare was happy to pinch.) What's interesting about the Victorians, and quite unexpected, is that they loved Rabelais. Charles Kingsley read G and P once a year, and it's obvious from The Water Babies. It was highly fashionable to see R as basically a pious moralist who'd had a few too many drinks. Charles Whibley wrote a notable essay on Rabelais (in Literary Portraits, 1904), as well as penning an introduction to a new edition, and he described R as hiding his light 'not under a bushel, but under a dung-heap'. And the Rabelais-as-good-Christian reading became entrenched in the 1930s when Lucien Febvre decisively refuted the brief French notion (propounded by Abel Lefranc in the 20s) of Rabelais as a libertarian free-thinker and atheist.

I wrote about Colonna's language, if you're interested, here. Euphuism was quite a bit later, and I think a very different phenomenon--no neologisms, rather a heightened classicism. Sadly, there's nothing quite like Rabelais in English--not Urquhart (who was arguably more exuberant), not Sterne, and certainly not Lyly.

Also, I can't agree that Rabelais wears his erudition lightly. Take Tiers Livre 39, for instance--the trial of Bridlegoose (Bridoye). It is a mocking portrait of someone not wearing his erudition lightly, but in doing so it too must show off its erudition--I think this is characteristic.

Raminagrobis said...

Maybe the Victorians were on the right track though. Rabelais was no ‘pious moralist’, of course, but he was a moralist. He had lots of fun with words, and loved to take the piss out of the senes severiori, but all his work is informed by very strong moral convictions. He took mockery seriously, and knew that laughter has moral value. The satirical elements in Rablelais are not entirely separable from the games with words, the conviviality, the celebration of good wine and good cheer. We all know that he concealed the precious matter of his philosophy within a Silenus box decorated with ‘figures ioyeuses et frivoles’.

I’ve never really thought of the epithet ‘Rabelaisian’ as being connected primarily with sexual and scatological obscenity; it’s always seemed to me to be about celebration and exuberance. But there is a lot of obscenity in Rabelais, and it’s often very funny; it doesn’t always have an underlying moral point. I was at a conference last week and one of the speakers was arguing that the obscenity in Rabelais was intended to act as a sort of ‘lightning conductor’, to draw the attention of the blue-pencil lot away from the ideas in his work that were really dangerous. Interesting idea, but it risks undervaluing the laughter (which, as I say, has a moral value all of its own). In any case, Rabelais shares the obscene elements in his work not only with Chaucer et al., but with a respectable (pius and castus, at least) tradition stretching back to antiquity.

Whether Rabelais ‘wears his learning lightly’ is difficult to assess without taking fully into account the context in which he was writing. He certainly dislikes pedantry; but, as you correctly say, Conrad, he rarely misses an opportunity to signpost his references, and all those lists of learned authorities and exempla and encyclopaedic antiquarianism, which require so many pages of footnotes in our modern editions, are markers of a copious erudition that always threatens to overwhelm the text.

Conrad H. Roth said...

"Maybe the Victorians were on the right track though"--absolutely, and Febvre's book is highly convincing. It's just surprising (to me) that they would have thought so, even if they did want to cut away the 'chaff' which is today (esp. in a post-Bakhtin world) so treasured by academe.

"a sort of ‘lightning conductor’"

I instinctively don't like the idea, but of course I'd have to hear it argued well.

"lists of learned authorities and exempla and encyclopaedic antiquarianism, which require so many pages of footnotes in our modern editions"

And the first great English footnoted edition (maybe still the best) is the translation by W. F. Smith from 1895--Smith, who was a member of the Club, and who translates into the Lang / Leaf dialect so common in the 1890s. It's one of my prize possessions.

Anonymous said...

The difficulty of any Menippean satire, the aim of which is to ridicule pedants, is that it must be more learned than the pedants it ridicules; and is thus open to the charge of pedantry itself. Varro, according to Quintilian "the most learned of the Romans," and Petronius (particularly in the discourses of Eumolpus) anticipate Rabelais in this. Maybe to say these writers wore their learning lightly is a bad turn of phrase, but they certainly used it without taking themselves very seriously.

Euphuism is indeed a little later than Rabelais, and still later is the style Dame Frances Yates called "Arcadian" in her biography of John Florio; they seem to me to have a little of the same flavor as does Rabelais, but without the fun. I'm not sure Godwin's translation of the Hypnerotomachia into plainer language than the original was so much done from laziness as from a desire to make it possible to read more than small bits at a time without fatigue. Godwin gives an effort at more literal translation of a sample of the text; the style of this fragment reminds me a little of Fr. Rolfe's "Don Tarquinio."

I have re-read G&P III, 39, which seems to me mostly a parody of legalese - always a ready target. As a further typographic note, the citations always preceded by an italic double-f ligature are supposed to be to the Pandects of Justinian. Whether any of them is genuine I'm not well enough acquainted with Justinian to know. Certainly some are fictitious. The ff derives from a manuscript tradition of preceding the citation with the Greek letter pi, which eventually became transformed into something like two italic letters "f" tied together. He also cites, again whether fictitiously or not I do not know, Bartolus of Saxoferrato.

I'm not familiar with the Smith translation (I have the old Urquhart/Motteux translation) nor with modern footnoted editions, so if I've written here something that is obvious from the footnotes please forgive the redundancy.

Conrad H. Roth said...

"The difficulty of any Menippean satire, the aim of which is to ridicule pedants, is that it must be more learned than the pedants it ridicules; and is thus open to the charge of pedantry itself."

I think this is the essential appeal of the genre; other forms of satire can imitate a subject without really being like it, whereas academic satire cannot imitate erudition without being erudite (unless it makes things up, I suppose). In this way the satirist cannot remain aloof from his subject, but must become complicit with it.

Anonymous said...

A side-walk bagatelle, indeed -- or Menippean, if you prefer.

Phanero Noemikon said...

maybe the vistempenarde might be
like a jester's bladder cane..

what is the "vulgar proverb"
or proverbe vulguaire" that
Rabelais mentions.. he says the
'wise may be instructed by a fool'?

this is a great discussion!

Raminagrobis said...

On the point of Rabelais not hiding his light under a bushel but under a dungheap, here’s (somewhat surprisingly) Voltaire:

Son livre est un ramassis des plus impertinentes et grossières “cochonneries” qui puisse être vomies par un moine ivre; mais il faut convenir que c’est une sanglante satire du pape, de l’Eglise et des événements de son temps. Ce livre ne fut jamais prohibé en France, parce que tout y est caché sous un amas d’extravagances qui ne laissent pas le temps de découvrir le véritable but de l’auteur.

An early proponent of the ‘lighning conductor’ argument, then?

Conrad H. Roth said...

And there was me thinking that his book escaped censorship due to some powerful patrons of the Du Bellay variety...

Still, the idea that the questionable elements are hidden under the ribaldry (an old idea, as we know, and older than discussion of Rabelais) is somewhat different to the image suggested by the 'lightning conductor'--ie. the obscenity distracting eyes from the moral truths, which are separate from it.

Where's the quote from?

Raminagrobis said...

You’re right, it isn’t quite the same idea; but it’s also not quite the same as the old defence that the difference between gratuitous obscenity and edifying moral truths is merely a matter of knowing how to read it properly. Voltaire is suggesting that the point of the obscenities is to get the censors so exercised about the trivialities, that they won’t have time to uncover the really dangerous satire – the implication being that the ‘cochonneries’ are just a distraction from the really dangerous stuff hidden in among them. Voltaire seems to concede that the ‘cochonneries’ themselves are indeed nothing other than ‘impertinentes et grossières’ – the satire is elsewhere.

Hmm, perhaps not. It’s difficult to say without putting Voltaire’s remarks in their proper context. Unfortunately, I don’t know where the quote’s from. For all I know it might be a fabrication – I got it from Grasset d’Orcet, after all!

Anonymous said...

Soupe Petasinne:

Comment furent les dames Lanternes servies à soupper.

Common Butterbur traditional medicine for digestive spasm.

Conrad H. Roth said...

Ah, tres bien.

Conrad H. Roth said...

Just found this, on the Capitoline geese, from Aelian De natura animalium XII.33:

Dogs are less useful at keeping watch than geese, as the Romans discovered. At any rate the Celts were at war with them, and had thrust them back with overwhelming force and were in the city itself; indeed they had captured Rome, except for the hill of the Capitol, for that was not easy for them to scale. For all the spots which seemed open to assault by stratagem had been prepared for defence. It was the time at which Marcus Manilius, the consul, was guarding the aforesaid height as entrusted to him. (It was he, you remember, who garlanded his son for his gallant conduct, but put him to death for deserting his post.) But when the Celts observed that the place was inaccessible to them on every side, they decided to wait for the dead of night and then fall upon the Romans when fast asleep; and they hoped to scale the rock where it was unguarded and unprotected, since the Romans were confident that the Gauls would not attack from that quarter. And as a result Manlius himself and the Citadel of Jupiter would have been captured with the utmost ignominy, had not some geese chanced to be there. For dogs fall silent when flood is thrown to them, but it is a peculiarity of geese to cackle and make a din when things are thrown to them to eat. And so with their cries they roused Manlius and the guards sleeping around him. This is the reason why up to the present day dogs at Rome annually pay the penalty of death in memory of their ancient treachery, but on stated days a goose is honoured by being borne along on a litter in great state.