Thursday, March 26, 2009


Francois Rabelais was born in Chinon and studied at Fontenay-le-Comte, where Greek studies under Bude directged his interest toward humanism. His friends included were Pierre Amy, Geoffroy d’Estissac, and Andre Tiraqueau.

Having received his baccalaureate in medicine at Montpellier (1530), he lectured on the Aphorisms of Hippocrates and the Ars Medico of Galen. While serving as physician at the Pont du Rhone Hospital at Lyons, Rabelais wrote a remarkable letter to Erasmus (1532).

At Lyons, the avowed center of the French Renaissance, Rabelais began his great work which made him “the founder of modern French prose.” The protagonists of the narrative, the giants Gargantua and Pantagruel, continue their adventures through five books: Pantagruel (1532), Gargantua (1535), the Third Book (546), the Fourth Book (1552), and the Fifth Book (1562).

Pantagruel’s eulogy of Debt, and Gargantua’s letter to his son, sometimes called “the triumphal human of the Renaissance,” voice the liberated intelligence of the age.

Rabelais was a skillful and successful physician. He edited Galen and Hippocrated. However, his dissectionb of a cadaver is more consistent with his empiricism and more significant to medical history.

HE believed that life should be lived to the fullest, both on the physical and the intellectual planes. He felt that all that frustrates or mutilates nature is evil.

In his earlier work, Rabelais appears sympathetic to the religious reformers, yet in Book III he flays “the demoniac Calvinists.” Rabelais style, as buoyantly exuberant as life itself, “overflows his page.”

Rabelais made at least three visits to Rome in the service of his patron the Cardinal Jean du Bellay (1534, 1535, and 1549). During his final stay, he wrote La Sciomachie, a series of letters describing his patron’s celebration of the birth of the Duke of Orleans.

The hostility of the Sorbonne, roundly satirized in Book I, doubtless accounts for his prolonged absence from the Lyons hospital; and his temporary replacement in 1535.

After Rabelais’ appointment as curate of Meudon by du Bellay (1551), the publicastion of the Fourth Book. Condemned by the Sorbonne and by Parliament, again placed him in jeopardy. He soon resigned his charge and there is no further account of his activities.

In Rabelais’ opinion, life was the greatest teacher, experience the eternal solvent. Rabelaisian realism, wholesome and sane, inspired the common sense of Montaigne and Moliere.

Rabelais reasoned that in the pursuit of the aim there is no medievalism, no asceticism in the sublime freedom of the Abbey of Thelema: “Do as thou wilt.”

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