( France: c. 1494-1553)
William J. Kennedy
The paradoxes apparent in François Rabelais's life suggest how his enormous prose fiction, known to us as Gargantua and Pantagruel, would forever change the late medieval sense of folly and recast it in a distinctively early modern form. An ordained priest and noteworthy surgeon, one of the first to dissect a cadaver in public, he was immensely learned in philosophy, theology, astrology, law, folklore, and a dozen other fields. Born as the son of a provincial lawyer in the Touraine-Loire region of western France, he embarked upon a remarkable career that took him from the monastery and the university to the commercial and cultural centers of sixteenth-century Europe, the Holy See, and the court of the French king. By 1520 he belonged to a Franciscan monastery at Fontenayle-Comte, but wishing to pursue his studies in Greek, no doubt to read medical treatises by Hippocrates and Galen, he transferred five years later to the more liberal Benedictine order. As a young man, he already corresponded with Desiderius Erasmus and the eminent French humanist Guillaume Budé. Upon receiving his bachelor of medicine degree at Montpellier in 1530, he moved to Lyon to practice surgery at the Hospital of Lyon. There in his spare time he wrote Pantagruel (hereafter P), published in 1532, and after its unforeseen success a prequel about the hero's father, Gargantua (hereafter G), published in 1534.
With his patron, Bishop Jean Du Bellay, he traveled to Rome to intercede for reconciliation between the Protestant Reformers and the Holy See. Though he had long since left his monastery, he remained for the rest of his life a secular