Born at Seuilly near the city of Chinon in the Touraine, François Rabbelais was a French Renaissance writer, a Franciscan monk, humanist surgeon and physician. He was also the writer of classic comic novels which belittled the Catholic Church and extolled the use of cannabis. He was part of a tradition of many medieval esoteric and alchemical authors and the writings of Rabbelais highlighted the link between cannabis and esoteric knowledge. His works have influenced a long line of writers including Cervantes, Swift, Laurence Sterne, James Joyce and Céline.
François’s father, Antoine Rabelais, had a vineyard in the famous wine growing district of Chinon. But Antoine is also known to have cultivated hemp on a large scale at his property at the village of Cinais, south-west of Chinon. Maybe it was here that François first gained knowledge of cannabis which, in his written works, he calls ‘the herb Pantagruelion’ ~ meaning ‘feast’. He said cannabis was the king of the vegetable world and showed cannabis seeds as part of any great meal.
In his comic stories, Pantagruel is a giant named after the herb. Rabelais describes Pantagrule loading for a voyage: “amongst other things, it was observed how he caused to be fraught and loaded with a herb of his called Pantagruel ion, not only of the green and raw sort of it, but of the confected also.” The confection version is Turkish delight — a hashish delectation.
As a monk Rabelais studied Greek, Latin, law, astronomy, and ancient Greek medical texts, which had been ignored for centuries. He left monastic life and started to study medicine, becoming a bachelor of medicine in 1530
Rabelais’ books were banned by the Catholic Church and later placed on The Index librorum prohibitorumon (the Index of Forbidden Books). The following extracts give some idea of their nature:
“Afterwards I wiped my tail with a hen, with a cock, with a pullet, with a calf’s skin, with a hare, with a pigeon, with a cormorant, with an attorney’s bag, with a montero, with a coif, with a falconer’s lure. But, to conclude, I say and maintain, that of all torcheculs, arsewisps, bumfodders, tail-napkins, bunghole cleansers, and wipe-breeches, there is none in the world comparable to the neck of a goose, that is well downed, if you hold her head betwixt your legs. And believe me therein upon mine honour, for you will thereby feel in your nockhole a most wonderful pleasure, both in regard of the softness of the said down and of the temporate heat of the goose, which is easily communicated to the bum-gut and the rest the inwards, in so far as to come even to the regions of the heart and brains.” (from Gargantua, 1534)
Arabians, Indians, Sabeans,
Sing not, in hymns and paens,
Your incense, myrrh, or ebony:
Come here a nobler plant to see;
And carry home at any rate,
Some seed, that you may propagate.
If in your soil it takes, to heaven
A thousand thousand thanks be given
And say, with France, it goodly goes
Where the Pantagruel ion grows!
— François Rabelais
Sources of further information:
- The Pursuit of Oblivion, Richard Davenport-Hines, Weinfield & Nicholson, 2001
- H.E.M.P., Paul Benhaim
- The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Substances, Richard Rudgley, Pub: Little, Brown and Company (1998)
- Green Gold: the Tree of Life, Marijuana in Magic and Religion, by Chris Bennett, Lynn Osburn, and Judy Osburn
If you are ever in the Centre Region of France do visit: Musée Rabelais, Maison de la Devinière, 37500 Seuilly