Monday, September 28, 2015


Bacbuc threw something into the fountain, and suddenly the water began to boil fiercely, as the great cauldron at Bourgueil does when there is a high feast there. Panurge was listening in silence with one ear, and Bacbuc was still kneeling beside him, when there issued from the sacred Bottle a noise such as bees make that are bred in the flesh of a young bull slain and dressed according to the skillful method of Aristaeus, or such as is made by a bolt when a cross-bow is fired, or by a sharp shower of rain suddenly falling in summer. Then this one word was heard: Trink.

'By God almighty,' cried Panurge, 'it's broken or cracked, I'll swear. That is the sound that glass bottles make in our country when they burst beside the fire.'

Then Bacbuc arose and, putting her hands gently behind Panurge's arms, said to him: 'Give thanks to heaven, my friend. You have good reason to. For you have most speedily received the verdict of the divine Bottle; and it is the most joyous, the most divine, and the most certain answer that I have heard from it yet, in all the time I have ministered to this most sacred Oracle.'
Translation by J. M. Cohen (1955).

Harry Mathews:
Consulting his watch, he continued: "The hour is right, you won't have to wait. Here's what you do: take the boot off your right foot, and your sock if you're wearing one, and stick your leg in up to the knee. Keep it there for a minute plus eight seconds, which I'll time for you; then remove it quickly. The prophecy will follow."

I did as I was told, although I could not believe we had reached the bog. It was nearly dark.

Supporting me by my left elbow, the Count said, "Ready? Now," and I stepped forward. My foot sank slowly into heavy mud still warm from the sun.

A minute passed. Renée counted the final seconds: ", eight," and I extracted my leg from the mire.

Following the Count's example, I knelt down. In a moment there was perhaps a liquid murmur or rumble and out of the ooze, as if a capacious ball of sound had forced its passage to the air, a voice distinctly gasped,


The mud recovered its smoothness. After a pause, the Count shook his head and said, "Aha! Rather enigmatic. But there won't be more. And," he chuckled, "you can't try again for another year."
I've found only passing mention of the possible influence of Rabelais on Harry Mathews (truth to tell, there isn't all that much critical literature on the latter), but here the inspiration seems clear enough. Since I've been reading Mathews for decades but Rabelais only recently, this gives his novels an interesting new light — as does the description of the intricately contrived, magnetically opened temple in Chapter 37 of Le cinquième livre de Pantagruel, wherein is engraved the motto "All Things Move to their End." Readers of the last chapter of The Conversions will no doubt know what I mean.

N. B. J. M. Cohen regarded the chapters describing the Temple of the Bottle as "so dull that it would be charitable to ascribe them to another hand." Without weighing in on the debate over the authorship of parts of the cinquième livre, I can't quite agree. They're certainly bizarre, but maybe they just were ahead of their time.


Michael Leddy said...

Yes, ahead of their time. (I’d say the same of Cervantes.) I haven’t read Gargantua and Pantagruel for many years, but I would now think of that temple as something that might be found in the work of Raymond Roussel. (I still don’t know that much of Mathews.)

Chris said...

I've got to get busy on Roussel.