Places: Gargantua and Pantagruel

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Gargantua et Pantagruel, first complete edition, 1567; Gargantua, 1534 (English translation, 1653); Pantagruel, 1532 (English translation, 1653); Tiers livre, 1546 (Third Book, 1693); Le Quart Livre, 1552 (Fourth Book, 1694); Le Cinquiesme Livre, 1564 (Fifth Book, 1694)

Type of work: Fiction

Type of plot: Mock-heroic

Time of work: Renaissance

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Paris

*Paris. Gargantua and PantagruelFrench city to which the affable giant prince Gargantua is sent to be educated. In the City of Light, he is exposed to the light of humanist learning. The Paris portrayed in this book is that of Rabelais’s own day. Gargantua travels there on a brood mare the size of six elephants. After his arrival, he undergoes a rigorous regimen of classical studies and physical exercise, directed by his tutor, Powerbrain, and some of Paris’s truly learned scholars. This learning is contrasted with that of Paris’s Sorbonne, the college of powerful and conservative theologians at the University of Paris. Combining mental and physical exertion, Gargantua swims across the Seine River while reading a book which he holds high above the water with one hand.

Later, Gargantua’s own son, Pantagruel, also goes to Paris to study. He falls into company with Panurge, a brilliant but almost criminal trickster, who explores the seamier side of Parisian life. Although the people of Paris, who are represented realistically in the text, marvel at the giants, they easily accept their presence in their midst.


*Touraine. Region containing the Loire valley in west-central France, the so-called “garden of France,” where Panurge was born and reared. Touraine was also the birthplace of Rabelais himself.

Thélème Abbey

Thélème Abbey. Church along the Loire River, two leagues from the forest of Port-Huault, that Gargantua builds to reward Friar John for his help in winning the mock-heroic war against Picrochole. The abbey is the thematic center of the work, with its credo that instinct forms the only valid basis for morality and social structure. Befitting his gigantic nature, Gargantua’s construction expenses are enormous: millions of gold pieces and English pounds to build and maintain the abbey. The building is hexagonal in shape with a round tower sixty feet in diameter located at each angle of the hexagon. It has six floors, counting its subterranean cellars. The abbey is immense, containing 9,332 suites, each furnished with an antechamber, a private reading room, a dressing room, and a small personal chapel. Beautiful libraries are well stocked with books in Greek, Latin, Hebrew, and the Romance languages. Large, open galleries are painted with scenes of ancient heroism, episodes from history, and fascinating plants and animals. In the inner court is a magnificent alabaster fountain featuring statues of the three Graces. Both men and women live at Thélème. In front of the women’s quarters is a playing field (for some game like lawn tennis), a horse-riding circle, a theater, and swimming pools with attached baths. Next to the river is a beautiful pleasure garden with a handsome labyrinth at its center.

Thélème is the exact opposite of the monasteries from which Rabelais was fleeing during most of his adult life. The men and women of Thélème are physically attractive, well born, intelligent, and educated (in contrast to the ugly and socially inept who, Rabelais strongly suggests, usually enter the cloistered life). They dress grandly in bright colors and are constantly attended by perfumers and hairdressers. Men and women mingle freely, ruled only by their own virtue. Should they fall in love, they are encouraged to marry. The constitution of the abbey contains but one clause–“Do what you will.” Within all Rabelais’s writings, Thélème most clearly illustrates his concept of ideal Renaissance society.

*Holy Bottle

*Holy Bottle. Fountain oracle in upper India to which Panurge, Pantagruel, and Friar John go. From Saint Malo, they sail in twelve ships, making the trip in only one month by sailing across the Frozen Sea north of Canada. They have many adventures along their way. On the Island of the Ennasins, they find a race of people with noses shaped like the ace of clubs. People on the Island of Ruach eat and drink nothing but wind. The Ringing Islands contain a strange race of Siticines who long ago turned into birds. On Condemnation Island, they fall into the power of Gripe-men-all, archduke of the Furred Law-cats, and Panurge must solve a riddle before the travelers are freed. When they finally reach the island of the Holy Bottle, they come upon a large vineyard planted by Bacchus himself. They then go down into a deep underground vault to the Holy Bottle.

BibliographyChesney, Elizabeth A., and Marcel Tetel. Rabelais Revisited. New York: Twayne, 1993. Contains a good general introduction to the four novels definitely written by Rabelais and an annotated bibliography of important critical studies on Rabelais. Explores relationships between male and female characters in Rabelais’ novels.Febvre, Lucien. The Problem of Unbelief in the Sixteenth Century: The Religion of Rabelais. Translated by Beatrice Gottlieb. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1982. Explores the many different representations of religious belief in Rabelais’ writings. Demonstrates the need for modern scholars to avoid anachronistic interpretations of Renaissance treatments of religious topics.Frame, Donald. François Rabelais: A Study. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1977. Clear, well-documented biography of Rabelais’ life as a monk, medical doctor, and novelist. Summarizes general trends in the critical reception of Rabelais’ works since the sixteenth century.Greene, Thomas. Rabelais: A Study in Comic Courage. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1970. Thoughtful analysis of the coexistence of farce and high comedy in Rabelais’ writings. Explains clearly how Rabelais uses laughter as an effective weapon for discrediting unsympathetic characters.Screech, Michael A. Rabelais. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1979. Insightful, thorough study of Rabelais’ four books. Discusses Rabelais’ work in the light of Renaissance philosophy and theology, and examines his creative imitation of biblical, classical, medieval, and Renaissance sources.
Categories: Places