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Taking the Piss Out of Pantagruel - review.docx

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ENGL 1102

Perhaps one of the most noticeable aspects of Gargantua and Pantagruel is Rabelais’ seemingly distracting use of “bathroom humor,” with the tool for this humor being the “superfluity” of Pantagruel’s bladder. Although some might argue that this type of humor is unnecessary, Jeff Persels argues that the historical context of urine makes its use in the book significant when analyzing Pantagruel’s character. Persel’s argument begins with an analysis of idiomatic phrases at the time concerning urine. One particularly telling saying goes like this: “Pour veoir de leur urine,” which, roughly translated, means “To see what you’re made of (in the context of your urine).” This adage has both societal and “scientific” ramifications. On the surface, the saying is almost a “macho” way of questioning one’s character and temperament. The majority of Persel’s argument, however, is based on the accepted scientific theories of the time. Uroscopy, at the time of Rabelais, was considered an effective way to determine the balance of humors (blood, bile, etc.) in one’s body through the examination of one’s urine. This “science” was common enough and very much accepted by society but not supported by anything even remotely scientific. Uroscopists at the time were known as “pisse-prophets,” and their work was shady at best. The majority of Rabelais’ medical knowledge was supposedly based off a book by 14 century surgeon Guy de Chauliac in which he describes the “complexion theory”: “Evacuation is an operation…which rids the body of the entire quantity of the bad humor and separates it from the nature of the blood.” Interestingly enough, an obstruction of the urethra was most often associated with venereal disease - if someone experienced any trouble urinating, it had social repercussions. Rabelais could have very well been influenced by the “scientific” theories on the nature of urine at the time. Persel also makes a connection between Rabelais and urine (though an odd one at that) through print. Urine was considered to be a plentiful natural source of ammonia – this was used to clean the printing presses of the
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