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Rabelais’s Gargantua and Pantagruel, The Subversive Power of Laughter

By Béa Aaronson


Rabelais Statue Cour du Louvre

More than ever, we need to read Rabelais again, savor his wit, and appreciate his wisdom. He rehabilitates the human body, deflates arrogance, ridicules pedants, warmongers, greedy profiteers, lawyers. As we say in French, and excuse my language: “one should not fart higher than one’s butt!”

“Rabelais’s Gargantua and Pantagruel, The Subversive Power of Laughter”
Wed, Jan 28, 4:30 and 6:30pm
La Ostra Roja
A Casa Verde Annex
San Jorge 45
Colonia San Antonio (off Refugio Sur)
130 pesos
Reservations: 121 1026 or

We’ve all heard of a “gargantuan appetite,” of the Moutons de Panurge, Panurge’s sheep, of the Divine Bottle, but have you heard of the Box of Silenus? The Dignity of Codpieces? Have you heard of the Battle between the Sausages and the Pâtés? We all remember this famous saying, which led to so much trouble in the universities throughout time:


fais ce que tu voudras

“do what you will

and we all remember”

Rire est le propre de l’homme

“Laughter is man’s thing”


It is actually the last line of Rabelais’s Avis Aux Lecteurs, his advice to the readers:


Readers, friends who read this book

Shed off all affections

And, while reading, do not be scandalized

This book does not contain any evil nor infectious diseases

True, you will not here learn any perfection

You will learn about laughter

There is no choice for my heart

Seeing this sadness that consumes you and gnaws at you

It is better to laugh than to cry

Because laughter is man’s thing

Vivez joyeux!

Live joyously!


As a man of transition between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, Rabelais was the witness of huge changes and shifts in thoughts and ideas, changes in religion with the Protestant Reformation, changes in education from Scholasticism to Humanism … changes in the perception of the universe with Copernicus’s heliocentric system. His Gargantua and Pantagruel ridiculed the arrogance of man and pushed forward the limits of human understanding.

Rabelais ranks among the greats—Shakespeare, Cervantes, Dante. It took the 19th century to discover his genius, and the 20th century to write about him. Salvador Dali created a startling series of artwork to illustrate his vision.

Why is Rabelais so close to us after so many centuries? It is because he touches upon everything human. He is driven by an unquenchable thirst to better understand human nature and human institutions, and he knows how make us laugh at ourselves and our pretensions. He inspires us to be curious and learn all life long, and we are all characterized by the desire to learn, to know, even if sometimes it goes beyond our ability to understand. Most of all, Rabelais’s frank, crude, grotesque, farcical, cynical, satirical, obscene, scatological words liberate us from too much “civilization.”

I invite you to meet François Rabelais, a 16th century French Renaissance man and revel in the subversive power of his laughter.


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