Francois Rabelais

Rabelais, François

François Rabelais (răb´əlā, Fr. fräNswä´ räblā´), c.1490–1553, French writer and physician, one of the great comic geniuses in world literature. His father, a lawyer, owned several estates, including "La Devinière," near Chinon, the presumed birthplace of Rabelais.

Early Life

Becoming a novice in a Franciscan monastery early in his life, Rabelais went as a monk to Fontenay-le-Comte. He studied Greek and Latin, as well as science, law, philology, and letters, becoming known and respected by the humanists of his time, including Budé. Harassed because of his humanist studies, Rabelais petitioned Pope Clement VII and received permission to leave the Franciscan order and enter the Benedictine monastery of Maillezais; the monastery's scholarly bishop became his friend and patron.

The facts concerning Rabelais's study of medicine are obscure, but it is probable that he studied in Paris and at other universities before receiving (1530) his degree of bachelor of medicine at the Univ. of Montpellier. In 1532 he went to Lyons, then an intellectual center, and there, besides practicing medicine, he edited various Latin works for the printer Sebastian Gryphius. For another publisher he composed burlesque almanacs.

Gargantua and Pantagruel

At Lyons in 1532 there appeared Gargantua: Les grandes et inestimables cronicques du grand et énorme géant Gargantua, a chapbook collection of familiar legends about the giant Gargantua. Their popularity apparently inspired Rabelais to write a similar history of Pantagruel, son of Gargantua. Pantagruel appeared in 1532 or 1533. His book had great success and he followed it, in 1534, with a romance concerning Pantagruel's father: Gargantua: La vie inestimable du grand Gargantua, père de Pantagruel.

The third book of the romance, which differed greatly from the first two, was published in 1546; an incomplete edition of the fourth book appeared in 1548 and a complete one in 1552. After Rabelais's death a fifth book appeared (1562); the question of its authorship remains unsettled. Rabelais's novel is one of the world's masterpieces, a work as gigantic in scope as the physical size of its heroes. Under its broad humor, often ribald, are serious discussions of education, politics, and philosophy. The breadth of Rabelais's learning and his zest for living are evident.

Later Life

Rabelais made several trips to Rome with his friend Cardinal Jean du Bellay; he lived for a time in Turin with du Bellay's brother, Guillaume. Francis I was for a time a patron of Rabelais. Rabelais apparently spent some time in hiding, threatened with persecution for heresy. Du Bellay's protection saved Rabelais after the condemnation of his novel by the Sorbonne. He taught medicine at Montpellier in 1537 and 1538 and after 1547 became curate of St. Christophe de Jambe and of Meudon, offices from which he resigned before his death in Paris in 1553.


The classic translation of Rabelais is that of Sir Thomas Urquhart (Books I–II, 1653, Book III, 1693); Books IV and V were translated by P. Motteux. W. F. Smith made a translation of the five books, with other writings (1893, new ed. 1934). More recent translations include those by J. M. Cohen (1955) and J. Le Clercq (1936, repr. 1963). See biographies by J. Plattard (1931, repr. 1969) and A. Tilley (1907, repr. 1970); studies by A. J. Krailsheimer (1963) and D. G. Coleman (1971).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

Francois Rabelais: Selected full-text books and articles

Rabelais and the Franciscans By A. J. Krailsheimer Clarendon Press, 1963
Pilgrimage and Narrative in the French Renaissance: The Undiscovered Country By Wes Williams Clarendon Press, 1998
Librarian's tip: "Rabelais: Fantasizing Resurrection" begins on p. 273 and "Rabelais: Pilgrims and Tourists" begins on p. 283
Fools and Jesters in Literature, Art, and History: A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook By Vicki K. Janik; Emmanuel S. Nelson Greenwood Press, 1998
Librarian's tip: "Francois Rabelais" begins on p. 370
A History of the French Novel (To the Close of the 19th Century) By George Saintsbury MacMillan, vol.1, 1917
Librarian's tip: Chap. VI "Rabelais"
FREE! A History of French Literature By C. H. Conrad Wright Oxford University Press, 1912
Librarian's tip: Chap. V "Rabelais"
Visions and Revisions: A Book of Literary Devotions By John Cowper Powys Core Collection Books, 1978
Librarian's tip: "Rabelais" begins on p. 25
Titans of Literature: From Homer to the Present By Burton Rascoe G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1932
Librarian's tip: "Rabelais and Medieval Gusto" begins on p. 162
The Life and Death of an Ideal: France in the Classical Age By Albert Guérard George Braziller, 1956
Librarian's tip: Chap. 1 "The Renaissance and Medieval Tradition: Rabelais"
The Classical Tradition: Greek and Roman Influences on Western Literature By Gilbert Highet Oxford University Press, 1985
Librarian's tip: Chap. 10 "Rabelais and Montaigne"
Distant Voices Still Heard: Contemporary Readings of French Renaissance Literature By John O'Brien; Malcolm Quainton Liverpool University Press, 2000
Librarian's tip: Chap. 1 "The Highs and Lows of Structuralist Reading: Rabelais, Pantagruel, Chapters 10-13" and Chap. 2 "Rabelais' Strength and the Pitfalls of Methodology"
Gargantua and Pantagruel By François Rabelais; Burton Raffel Norton, 1990
A primary source is a work that is being studied, or that provides first-hand or direct evidence on a topic. Common types of primary sources include works of literature, historical documents, original philosophical writings, and religious texts.
The Histories of Gargantua and Pantagruel By François Rabelais; J. M. Cohen Penguin Books, 1955
A primary source is a work that is being studied, or that provides first-hand or direct evidence on a topic. Common types of primary sources include works of literature, historical documents, original philosophical writings, and religious texts.
Looking for a topic idea? Use Questia's Topic Generator
Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.