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Androgyne, Agape, and the Abbey of Theleme.

To many a modern nose, Rabelais's work overall has an order of misogyny. There are multiple sources of this, starting perhaps with Rabelais's early firneship with Tiraqueau whose legal scholarship insists on woman's inferiority to man. The same strain is reflected in the Tiers Livre, where Rabelais creates Doctor Rondibilis who can wonder without detectible irony if women should be classified as people or animals. [1] The impression is deepened by the paucity of female characters. Pantagruel briefly has a lady-love who, however, figures in the novel only when his interest in her is past. The Dame de Paris appears briefly first as a sex-object for Panurge and then for the dogs of Paris. [2] Badebec conveniently dies giving birth to Pantagruel; presumably to avoid outright repetition, Gargamelle, Gargantua's mother, lives on, ignored, until the start of Chapter 35, where she is dismissed by the narrator when Gargantua returns from war: "Car Supplementum Supplementi Chronicorum dict que Gargamelle y mourut dejoy e. Je n'en say rien de ma part, et bien peu me soucye ny d'elle ny d'aultre femme qui soyt." [For the Supplement to the Supplement of the Chronicles says that Gargamelle died of joy at that point. Personally, I know nothing about it, and care little for her or any other woman.] [3] I grant that most of this is not, strictly speaking, misogyny, since with the exception of Rondibilis, these examples say nothing negative about women. [4] They do suggest an ambiant attitude epitomized by the narrator's response to Gargamelle's passing: "bien peu me soucye ny d'elle ny d'aultre femme qui soyt." Woman, whether as mother, potential wife, or whore, is seen as body. Issues of this sort raised in modern feminist criticism, interesting in their own right, are beyond the scope of the present discussion. While the evidence does not support the accusations of misogyny, nevertheless, it seems fair to say that the general temper of Rabelais's fictional universe understands real people to be male.

Theleme, where women are deliberately included and occasionally privileged, may be the exception that proves the rule. Despite the considerable scholarly attention that has been devoted to the Theleme episode, the cause of this exception to Rabelais's usually jaundiced attitude toward women has not to my knowledge been questioned; the presence of women is taken merely as one of the elements marking Theleme as an anti-abbey. [5] Women are included alongside men as an inversion of the rule of abbeys in the real world, which accepted gender/sexual segregation as a necessary principle of their organization. That would account for the inclusion of women, but it does not explain the fact that the rules of the Abbey systematically treat them as men's equals. The Abbey is a satirical anti-abbey, and at the moment of Gargantua's composition, such satire is not to be taken lightly. Yet satire is an appropriate but insufficient explanation for Theleme. As so often in Rabelais's polyvalent creation, the comic is also se rious. The playful inversion of the ways of the world is immediately apparent and there is much to laugh at in the Theleme chapters. The graver implications may require more reflection and they are the central concern here. Since the Abbey is named in the chapter title, we know its name (and the message that comes with it) before we learn any of its satiric aspects. Theleme, the space in which thelema, the will of God, reigns, is inhabited by a community of Christians living in the spirit of the New Testament, free of the old Law. [6] And this, as I will attempt to demonstrate, is the source and pattern of the depiction of women in this episode. The distinction between sex and gender as it was commonly understood in medieval and Renaissance thought is critical to understanding the status granted women in Gargantua chapters 50-55.

At the start of the discussion defining the Abbey, satire and utopia are placed side by side, each nourishing the other. In the same satirical spirit that rejects the construction of walls enclosing the Abbey, readers are reminded that: "en certains convents de ce monde est en usance que, si femme aulcune y entre (j'entends des preudes et pudiques), on nettoye la place par laquelle elles ont passe" (Gargantua, 28I)] [7] [In certain convents in this world it is the custom that if any woman enters (I mean modest and shamefast ones), they cleanse the place through which they have passed.] The convents to which Theleme is contrasted remain 'de ce monde," mocking the failure of walls and mechanical rules where there is also a failure of the spirit--of religious commitment--causing the monks to remain of this world, from which they ought to have been separated not by walls but by their vows. Their failure is so great that the mere presence of woman is polluting to them: the monastery, having failed as a constructi on of the spirit, cleaves the more closely to the letter, the outward form. A comic need for precision causes an almost immediate modification to the absolute: "si femme aulcune y entre," viz. "j'entends des preudes et pudiques." The monks' values are perverse, purity pollutes them; their vows of chastity cover a real vocation to debauchery. The difference in Rabelais's attitude toward women is already manifest: admitting the common existence of chaste women is a departure from the assumptions elsewhere in the text.

The women explicitly excluded by the monks, the preudes et pudiques, are just those included in Theleme's ideal world. Theleme's women mingle openly and, in the sixteenth-century sense of the term, honestly, with Theleme's men. "Ja ne seroient la les femmes au cas que n'y feussent les hommes, ny les hommes au cas que n'y feussent les femmes" (283). [Never will women be there if there are not men, nor men if there are not women.] [8] Men and women live side by side, and do so chastely. All those who seek to enter the Abbey must meet a single set of demands marked by the Platonic belief in the coincidence of the good and the beautiful: "la ne seroient repceues si non les belles, bien formees et bien naturees; et les beaulx, bien formez et bien naturez" (283) [there only the beautiful, well formed and good natured, and the handsome, well formed and good natured]. They are "good natured" assuring us that their physical beauty is not mere appearance, but a genuine indicator of goodness. [9] So great is the spirit of equality that in this list only the accidents of grammar distinguish the men's requirements from the women's. A bit later, when the communal behavior of the Abbey's residents is described (303), the text takes pains to efface any gender attribution to the person who expresses a desire. Starting with a deliberate inscription of both men and women speakers: "Si quelqu'un ou quelcune disoit: 'Beuvons,' tous beuvoient," [If some man or woman said, "let's drink," all drank]. This specifically mixed group of Thelemites drinking is a far cry from the "buveurs tres illustres" whose gender is perhaps not specified at every turn, but who are nonetheless clearly male. Here, having initially established the principle that both men and women are involved, the remainder of the sentence effaces gender by systematically suppressing the subject: "si disoit 'Jouons' tous jouoient; si disoit 'allons a l'esbat es champs' tous y alloyent" (303) [if (s/he) said, "let's play," all played; if (s/he) said "let's go sport in the fi elds," all went]. [10] Gender-specific activities do exist: the men at Theleme practice their riding; the women their needlework. However there is a wider and less worldly range of skills--reading, writing, singing, playing instruments, speaking five or six languages, writing songs and prayers--that both the men and the women of the Abbey are expected to acquire. These are skills that bring the community closer to the meaning of sacred texts, to their faith, and to an Evangelical understanding of true Christian practice.

This representation of common activities is a striking departure not only from Rabelais's practice elsewhere but from the norms of Renaissance conventions which tend to value men and women for different attributes. The degree of this departure is put in relief by a comparison of the (shared) list of the Thelemites' qualities (belles/beaulx, bien for-me(e)s, bien nature(e)s) with its satiric counterpart printed about a page earlier, the list in which Gargantua records the standard criteria for those who became monks and nuns in the world. We are back in a world of difference:

En iceluy temps on ne mettoyt en religion des femmes si non celles que estoient borgnes, boyteuses, bossues, laydes, defaictes, folles, insensees, maleficiees et tarees; ny les hommes si non catarrhez, mal nez, niays et empesche de maison...(282). [In those days, women did not take the veil unless they were one-eyed, limping, hunchbacked, ugly, undone, mad, insane, cursed, and marked; nor men except those who were dripnosed, ill-born, dull, and with difficulties of lineage.]

In sharp contrast to the Thelemites' list, here there is no common ground shared by men's and women's qualities; the lists almost seem to have been deliberately constructed to avoid creating parallel categories. The text reverts to the treatment of women as bodies noted elsewhere: while in the men's list, only "catarrez" implies men's bodies, more than half the items on the women's list are physical. The women's list, touching body, mind, and soul, is more than twice as long as the men's and their faults are more serious.

If we turn from Rabelais to Marguerite de Navarre, who functioned in broadly the same intellectual milieu, who is exempt from suspicions of misogyny, and whose Heptameron claims to be telling stories based on events in the real world, we find that there, as in these lists, an actant's gender determines how his or her actions are received. Both the nouvelles and the devisants offer a steady stream of instances in which the concept of honor in this world is gender-bound. For men, honor is tied to courage and strength while for women it implies chastity, or in the eyes of the more worldly or cynical, the appearance of chastity. In contrast, within Theleme, honor receives a single definition, applicable to all. There, Rabelais tells us, honor is "un instinct et aguillon, qui tousjours les pousse a faictz vertueux et retire de vice" (302) [an instinct and goad which always urges them to virtuous deeds and draws them from vice], what Screech tells us is a vernacular, secular synonym for synderesis in theological t erms, the tendency to be drawn to what is good, inherent in human nature (Screech 191). Synderesis causes the will of the Thelemites to echo the will of God. Its presence is a vital force of Thelemite society, necessary to a social order freed from what Rabelais calls the "joug de servitude car nous entreprenons tousjours choses defendues et couvoytons ce que nous est denie" (303) [yoke of servitude for we always undertake forbidden things and desire what is denied us], recalling two familiar passages from the Letters of Saint Paul, dear to Evangelicals. The first of these is the defense of Christian freedom in Galatians 5.1: "Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage." This is followed immediately by an evocation of Romans 7.7: "Nay, I had not known sin but by the law; for I had not known lust except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet," "nous entreprenons tousjours choses defendues et couvoytons ce que nous est denie." [11] The absence of rules in Theleme is an expression of the Pauline rule of the Spirit, the Christian liberty which reigns in the Abbey, as its name declares.

Important as these things are, alone they would not seem to be sufficient explanation for Rabelais' apparently conscious decision to suspend his usual, almost reflexive, contempt for women. Some scholars have reacted strongly to the lack of difference between the sexes which marks life in the Abbey. Jean-Yves Pouilloux (203) remarks that

Theleme a fait les hommes et les femmes si semblables entre eux que, malgre/a cause de leurs differences vestimentaires, aucune discordance n'est jamais a redouter: "d'autant se entreaymoient ilz a la fin de leurs jours comme le premier de leurs nopces." Mais leur similitude est telle qu'on ne va pas jusqu'a les faire procreer. Il est douteux qu'ils le puissent." [Theleme has made men and women so similar despite or because of the differences in their dress, that no dissonance is ever to be feared: "they will love each other as much at the end of their days as on the first day of their marriage." But their ressemblance is such that they are not made to procreate. It is doubtful that they could.]

Such a reaction from an intelligent and learned twentieth-century reader may betray an individual's preference for difference, but beyond that, it suggests how far from our expectations, how utopian, is a world in which these differences are inoperative. We are left with questions. Why does Rabelais choose to include women so explicitly in his Abbey? Why, within this special space does he present women as fully reasonable beings, women differentiated from men only in their dress and trivial pursuits, women admirable and clearly unsubordinated?

One might look for answers in other moments in the history of Western thought that permit a similar departure from the hierarchy subjugating women. There are not many. The utopian aura of Theleme prompts one to think of other models tinged with Utopia, one of which is the myth of the Androgyne, recorded in Plato's Symposium, a myth to which Rabelais refers earlier in Gargantua while creating his own Androgyne depicted on the young prince's device. Plato's original Androgynes, powerful creatures whose near-perfection is suggested by their round form, are gender-marked combinations (male-female, male-male or female-female). In their original form, the Androgynes are specifically precluded from carnal union. Plato explains that after they were parted at the belly Zeus "turned the parts of generation round to the front for this had not always been their position, and they sowed the seed no longer as hitherto like grasshoppers in the ground, but in one another" (Symposium, 191). The original form of the Androgyne is gendered; something resembling human sexuality is introduced only after their division: first implicitly in their desire to regroup into their earlier configuration, then more explicitly, in their means of reproduction (Boyarin, 4). Sex, for Plato as often in the Christian tradition, can easily distract humans from higher endeavors, and Plato's account of the myth distinguishes between gender and sex. [12]

There is a range of evidence demonstrating that medieval and Renaissance thought was capable of considering human beings without reference to their biological sex, as gendered. Gender is defined by function: life-giving, nourishing, protecting, saving. [13] Writers and painters expressed this functional gendering in descriptions or depictions of, for example, a bearded Virgin Mary (as priest since, like Christ, she offers humanity salvation). They show no hint of self-consciousness or embarrassment at producing what in modern terms one might call a cross-dressing Virgin. The figure of Christ lactating or parturient (nourishing the faithful, giving birth to the Church) is not uncommon. The well-known hermaphrodite portrait of Francois I works in the same idiom. The body here is a guide to understanding the spirit, the lower subordinated to the higher. Rabelais himself demonstrates this habit of mind in his well-known letter to Erasmus to whom he writes:

Patrem te dixi, matrem etiam dicerem si per indulgentiam mihi id warn liceret.... sic educasti, sic castissimis divinae tuae doctrinae uberibus usque aluisti...(OC, 966) [Father, I have said; I would say mother if you would indulge me so far.... you who have so well educated this point so well nourished me from the chaste breasts of your divine doctrine...]

We know that Rabelais owned the 1513 Aldine edition of Plato's works in Greek during his student days at the Franciscan abbey of Fontenay-le-Comte. The Symposium was a text he must have known directly. What is at issue then, is Rabelais's intention when, despite referring to Plato as the source of Gargantua's device, he makes a curious change, describing the heads of the Androgyne as facing each other, deliberately turning Plato's gendered figure into a sexual one. [14] What are we to make of this? And how are we meant to combine the apparently copulating Androgyne on the badge with the Pauline motto, "charity 'seeketh not her own'" (I Corinthians 13.5) which is given us only in Greek? Scholars have had problems here. Many have chosen to overlook the discrepancy; others have proposed that this is just one of Rabelais's jokes, another idle obscenity good for a laugh. This solution seems less likely given that the image is part of Gargantua's device, a defining hieroglyphic self-representation. [15] Others hav e seen in the figure a reference to Ficino's treatment of love as a first step toward the contemplation of the Divine, so the heads gaze at one another in order to rise to the Idea of Beauty and beyond, toward God, toward the time when we will be able to contemplate the Divine face to face (I Corinthians 13.12). In Ficino's commentary on this passage there is no question of bodies: "cum homines Aristophanes nominavit, more platonico animas nostras significavisse" (4.3) [When Aristophanes speaks of men, following the Platonic custom, he means our souls.] The three sexes are interpreted as virtues: fortitude (male), justice (mixed), and temperance (female) (4.5), replacing sex with function, gender, and allegorizing that. Ficino interprets the division as punishment for preferring what was accessible in the light of unaided human intelligence to that whose understanding requires the light of divine grace (4.4).

In the works of several of Rabelais's contemporaries of a Platonizing or Evangelical bent, Des Periers, Heroet, Marguerite de Navarre, the Androgyne is figured under the influence of Ficino as a soul, made in the image of God, drawn toward God, searching for its "semblable," the image of God in which it was made. The Ficinian notion of the Androgyne as a disembodied creature earnestly seeking to remedy an essential loss must have been familiar to Rabelais, shared as it was by people whose outlook had much in common with his own. But he deliberately presents his version of the Androgyne in a different light. While he names Plato as his source, he must have intended competent readers to understand that this was not the whole truth. Many must have chuckled at the comic dissonance between the conventional associations with the Androgyne in the 1530s and '40s and Rabelais's version. The changes seem intended to attract attention: heads facing each other may be multivalent, but we are also told that this creature has "deux culz," a detail which does not leave much to the imagination. Yet all this is sternly countered by the Pauline motto, shrouded in Greek. Clearly Gargantua's device demands some effort of interpretation.

Barthelemy Aneau's Picta Poesis / Imagination Poetique (1552) includes a figure resembling Gargantua's brooch, presented as an emblem of marriage. As in Gargantua, the two heads are facing each other. Aneau's Androgyne is flanked by Moses who is there as author of Genesis 2:24: "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife and they shall be one flesh." This is the verse directly following the creation of Eve (Genesis 2:21-23). It would not have been necessary to remind Evangelical readers that Gen. 2:24 is repeated in Matthew 19.5 (defining marriage; forbidding divorce), and twice in the Letters of Paul, to which we shall return.

In the branches of the tree above Aneau's Androgyne is a Pelican feeding its young from its breast, a familiar symbol of charity. Alongside the badge on Gargantua's hat there is a "grande plume bleue, prinse d'un onocrotal," [a big blue feather taken from an onocrotal], the strange name veiling the nature of the bird, a kind of pelican, just as the Greek letters do the message of charity on the badge. [16] Aneau says his figure is of his own invention. [17] Picta Poesis helps us go beyond the ribald chuckle to imagine a serious, biblically founded, reading of the Androgyne with heads facing each other in a context which justifies its sexual activity. Thanks to the reverse chronology of Rabelais's creation, readers know that when Gargantua grows older he will marry Badebec and cleave to her, producing Pantagruel, his son and heir. However, marriage should also be understood in a figurative sense: the young prince will embrace, cleave to, his evangelical Christian faith, based above all on the principle of cha rity; as a ruler, he will be married to his people, as Yahve espoused the people of Israel, as Christ did the Church and indeed as the Christian faithful, defining gender in terms of function, espouse Christ.

Renaissance theoreticians speak of the image and the motto as the body and the soul of such devices. That is what Rabelais seems to have given Gargantua, an embodied, sexual Androgyne and an inscription veiled by Greek letters, a reference to that higher love which is charity. The device is worn on a hat marked by that message in another mode: the blue (which, Rabelais tells us indicates choses celestes/heavenly things) onocratal, pelican feather (charity). Plato's Androgyne does not quite suit the spirit of the motto: what it sought was precisely its own--its other half. By reversing the figure so that it suggests marriage (spiritually as well as literally), Rabelais has modified the image to fit the motto. Charity guides Gargantua's actions toward vanquished and victor alike after the Picrocholine war. It provides principles which once "l'humaine nature a son commencement mystique" (60) was able to live by. With these words Rabelais evokes those Christian thinkers, following Philo and the Alexandrine Fathe rs, who rather than thinking first of Plato, associated the Androgyne primarily with Genesis 1.27: "male and female created He them," describing now mankind created in the image of God, the figure also evoked by Marguerite and Des Periers. Since the Fall and the Resurrection, Christians have striven to embrace charity as a mode of life, to espouse it (suggesting the power of the marriage image) as they do in the Abbaye de Theleme to which we can once again turn our attention.[8]

Renaissance readings of Plato's version of the myth tend to focus on the period after the separation and to spiritualize the Androgyne. However, as many commentators have remarked, Gargantua reveals very little Platonic influence. The cause of the Platonic Androgyne's separation, its ambition to equal the gods, echoes the story of Eve who succumbs to the serpent's promise that "in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil" (Gen 3.5). The biblical Androgyne of Gen. 1.27, which is a likely source for Gargantua's badge, has no such flaws. In the second chapter of Genesis we learn of the creation first of Adam and then of Eve (Gen. 2.7, 18, 21-24). Until then, there was only the Androgyne (male and female) created in God's image. Rabelais read widely in early Fathers of the Church, including Origen, who was also a major influence on Erasmus's biblical commentaries and paraphrases. Origen, in his Homily on Genesis, explains Gen.1.27 as follows:

We do not understand, however, this man indeed whom Scripture says was made "according to the image of God" to be corporeal. For the form of the body does not contain the image of God, nor is the corporeal man said to be "made"; but "formed," as is written in the words which follow. For the text says, "And God formed man," that is fashioned, "from the slime of the earth."

But it is our inner man, invisible, incorporeal, incorruptible, and immortal which is made "according the image of God." For it is in such qualities as these that the image of God is more correctly understood. But if anyone suppose that this man who is made "according to the image and likeness of God" is made of flesh, he will appear to represent God himself as made of flesh and in human form. It is most clearly impious to think this about God (63).

From this perspective, inasmuch as they are made in the image of God, humans continue to be androgynous, "male and female created He them," and the fact that they are sexually diffentiated is, in the philosophical sense, an accident, indifferent. Rabelais sets his Androgyne on a device-bearing brooch specifically affixed to Gargantua's hat, worn on the head, the highest and noblest part of the young prince in a description that is hierarchically arranged from bottom to top. He chooses to call it an imaige, reminding us of the creation in the image of God recounted in Gen 1.27

When the material, bodily element of humans becomes important, then we are referred to the second creation account, to the clay from which Adam was formed, and the rib which furnished the stuff of Eve in Genesis 2. Only in this second state is woman man's helpmate, his inferior. [19] The androgynous condition associated with the spirit of humans made in the divine image remains potentially present to be realized under ideal conditions, that is, utopian ones such as those at Theleme. [20]

The dual creation of human beings--as spirit and as flesh--left its mark in the letters of Saint Paul, which take on renewed importance in the sixteenth century. The Theleme episode is strewn with references to them. For all that he too has been seen as a misogynist, a good part of Paul's attitude to gender is expressed in passages such as the baptismal formula in Galatians 3:26-28 "For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ: There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor freeman; there is no male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Emphasis mine.) Rabelais's spiritual father (or mother), Erasmus, does not pause in his paraphrase of these verses to ponder or explain the inclusion--or erasure--of women:

Through baptism we are reborn and suddenly transformed as if into another creature. Whatever one was before baptism, whether Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, is not credited for or against him so far as this gift is concerned. Through baptism you all have passed over into the body of Christ, equally sharing in this gift, which flows, as it were, from the head to all the other parts of the body (114).

Erasmus understands Paul's treatment of gender as a thing neither good nor bad in itself because it is indifferent to one's salvation.

Here it may be useful to return to the linkage of agape and marriage in Gargantua's device. The creation of Eve (Genesis 2:21-23) is followed in the very next verse by the injunction "and they shall be one flesh" (2:24), which Aneau used to explain his sexual Androgyne. If this idea is the basis for Rabelais's New Androgyne, a part of his purpose would seem to be to urge readers to superimpose the two creation accounts, in keeping with his Erasmian attitude toward marriage. [21] Paul's letters cite Genesis 2:24 twice in contexts directly relevant to the issues at hand. 1 Corinthians 6:16, sets it in the context of a discussion of the body as "members of Christ" (I Cor 6:15) which leads Paul to the analogic conclusion in the following verse: "But he that is joined to the Lord is one spirit." That theme is repeated in Ephesians 5:31 where again human marriage is treated as an analogue to the bond between Christ and the church. Paul uses a primarily physical bond (to wife) to clarify a spiritual bond (to Christ) ; the same combination is reflected in the message of Gargantua's device where the depiction of the embodied, "married" Androgyne with "deux culz" is linked to espousing the Pauline principle of charity.

As the Christian who has espoused Christ is not marked by sex, we may usefully think of such people as androgynous, like the as yet unnamed Adam of Genesis I. Such a reading of Paul's teaching would explain why Rabelais, as an Evangelical and a careful reader of Paul, populated his utopian monastery with both men and women, living side by side as people made in God's image, as Genesis 1.27 tells us.

In a real abbey, monks made vows of obedience, poverty, and chastity. The statutes of Theleme operate a satiric (but also Pauline) substitution of wealth for poverty and freedom for obedience as founding principles. Only chastity is not treated by simple binary opposition with corrupt sixteenth-century monastic practice. For the real monks, chastity, often honored in the breach, meant avoidance of contact with the opposite sex to insure at least the appearance of celibacy. In Rabelais's ideal Abbey, Christians are guided by grace and the Holy Spirit which brings "love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance; against such there is not law" (Galatians 5.22-23).

Theleme, as an anti-abbey, is richly decorated, and luxuriously outfitted. Monastic establishments, whatever the realization of their vows of material poverty, are, in Rabelais's view, spiritually impoverished. Theleme's spiritual riches are indicated by an analogous material opulence (just as the good is marked by beauty in the Platonic scheme of things). Its apparent luxury is important as a visible witness to the Abbey's real, spiritual, wealth. There is no possibility here of greed, conflict, or care; material things, being amply present become unimportant, indifferent, as indeed they are from the perspective of salvation, neither harmful nor necessary. The residents of Theleme are richly clothed, although this is made into a kind of uniform by virtue of the Thelemites' choosing to dress alike, creating a display of noble wealth, free of ostentation, since no one is better dressed than another. The courtly setting, continuing the expressed initial assumption that the Thelemites will be well-born, hierarch ically marks the Abbey as the best and noblest kind of place. The luxury, like the sweet scents with which the air and the residents are perfumed, suggests an atmosphere of noble purity and an odor of sanctity in the Abbey. [22]

Odor and the two other non-material senses, sight and hearing, are privileged in Theleme. In contrast with their prominence elsewhere in Gargantua, eating and drinking have little importance. They are included in a list of things indifferent to salvation to be chosen (301-02), and cited as an example of communal will (303) (and thus an echo of thelema). The Abbey's central fountain has statues of the three Graces who "gettoient l'eau par les mamelles, bouche, aureilles, oieulx, et aultres ouvertures du corps" (294) (italics mine) [spewed water from their breasts, mouth, ears, eyes and other bodily orifices]. In the fountain in the Hynerotomachia Poliphili, which probably is, as Polizzi suggests, the source of this feature of the Abbey, water comes only from their breasts; here the Graces supply moving water (eau vive--a highly charged evangelical metaphor) from all orifices including their eyes and ears which usually only take things in, enacting a generosity marked also by their cornucopias.

Material abundance paradoxically creates a condition analogous to the desert of the ascetic, an environment without distractions from the only thing that really matters, doing God's will. Christian liberty from the Old Law means that flesh and spirit are no longer joined in a battle which keeps people from "doing the things that ye would" (Gal. 5.17). In the triumph of the spirit, Thelemites are free to do as they will, that is God's will, obeying the Abbey's only rule "Faictz ce que vouldras" (302) [Do as you would]. Within Theleme, equal participation by both men and women is a sign and demonstration of the spiritual androgyny of this community of true Christians, created in the image of God, espousing Christ.

Theleme, constructed as a self-conscious utopia, maintains ties to the world. Residents dress as contemporary men and women and learn the skills the world expected of them. The founding rules of the anti-Abbey foresee that some of the Thelemites may choose to marry: "la honorablement on peult estre marie" (283-84) [there one can honorably be married]; "quand le temps venu estoit que aulcun d'icelle abbaye, ou a la request de ses parens, ou pour aultres causes, voulust issir hors, avec soy il emmenoyt une des dames, celle laquelle l'auroit prins pour son devot, et estoient ensemble mariez" (304) [when the time came that anyone from this abbey wanted to leave, he took with him one of the ladies, the one who had taken him for her devot, and they were married]. Given the youth of the Thelemites when they enter the community (284)--ten to fifteen for women, twelve to eighteen for men--part of Rabelais's intention is to offer a satiric counter-example to the life-long bond of monks' vows, often taken before an age when people might reasonably make perpetually binding promises. Scholars have tended to assume that all Thelemites will marry, a reaction encouraged by the Evangelicals' pro-marriage position, and by reformers' suggestions that monastic establishments be turned into schools to prepare young people for Christian marriage, causing some to see Theleme as the proto-type of such an institution (Telle, "L'Ile des alliances," 167). The only specific reason the text here gives for marriage is the will of the resident's parents. This adumbrates Gargantua's paternal diatribe against clandestine marriage at the end of the Tiers Livre (ch. 48 "Comment Gargantua remonstre n'estre licite es enfans soy mariner sans le sceu et adveu de leurs peres et meres") [How Gargantua remonstrates that it is not licit for children to marry without the knowledge and consent of their fathers and mothers]. [23] Marriage is mentioned twice in the Theleme episode, in both cases as an option, not a necessary outcome. Eventually, depending on the needs and desires of their families, the residents of Theleme will choose, in Erasmus's terms, between the chastity of celibacy and the chastity of marriage. While within the Abbey, living in a world from which distractions and impediments have been filtered, all are noble, well-bred, well-trained, well-intentioned Christians, whose will can be expected to echo the will of God. Those who choose to marry leave the Abbey.

However, the equality otherwise maintained between the genders within Theleme is disturbed by even so much as the thought of marriage, a state in which sex will be more important than gender. When we move from the humans created in Genesis I to the creation described in Genesis 2, the episode's gender neutrality ends abruptly. It is not couples, joined by their separate, equal wills, who leave to marry: a young man may leave, selecting a female member of the Abbey's society to take with him. He chooses "celle laquelle l'auroit prins pour son devot" (304) so it seems she is given a role in the selection process. The word devot gives one pause. Cotgrave and Nicot record it only with religious connotations. Huguet tries harder, reading into this specific context a "terme de galanterie" [24] but the other contemporary usages he documents are all either religious or political, both of which would suggest a willing subordination of the devot to a higher power. I believe that is what is intended here as well, recall ing the Pauline order of I Corinthians II.3: "The head of every man is Christ and head of every women is the man." Hippothadee, the good theologian of the Tiers Livre also makes this assumption when he explains to the uncomprehending Panurge that divine law commands a wife to: "adhaerer unicquement son mary, le cherir, le servir, totalement l'aymer apres Dieu" (213). The young man is to leave Theleme, with the young woman who has chosen him as her leader. In the space of a single sentence we leave Theleme's pure life of the spirit, in which humans are cast androgynously in God's image. In married life grounded in sexuality, men descended from Adam are superior to women forged from Adam's rib. The harmonious communal rule "Faictz ce que vouldras" can apply only inside the walls.

The presence of women in the Abbey serves Rabelais's satiric ends, castigating the lewdness associated with monks, mocking their false celibacy adhered to by neither spirit nor flesh. At the same time, it should be understood seriously as a Utopian enactment of biblical truths and human potentialities. In Theleme, men and women, conscious that they have been made in the image of the creator, strive for the ideal of Christian charity, gaining inspiration from looking each other full in the face, like Gargantua's Androgyne device.

Carthage College


(1.) "Certes, Platon ne scait en quel ranc il les doive colloquer: ou des animaus raisonnables, ou des bestes brutes" (Tiers Livre, 227 [ch 32]). Expanding on the obverse of our argument, this passage Continues to pinpoint the cause of the low opinion here expressed about women as the uterus, a kind of internal animal, with its own, irrational, animal existence.

(2.) Francois Rigolot points to a series of close parallels between this episode and the temptation of Christ in Matthew 4.I-II, suggesting that the lady is a Christ-analogue. Rigolot sets his discussion in the context of "systematic vilification of women." Like many commentators on Rabelais, he is cautious about what conclusions we are to draw from the resemblance.

(3.) All translations mine.

(4.) Although, as Diane Desrosiers-Bonin points out (Desrosiers-Bonin, 45), even Rondibilis allows that female goddesses at least be learned.

(5.) Two broad interpretive approaches to Theleme may be characterized as the satiric and the utopian. Screech (Rabelais, 190) is an excellent example of the former; for him the creation of an anti-monastery is a fundamental reason for the inclusion of women in Theleme. Jean-Yves Pouilloux is among those who develop the politico-utopian elements of the Theleme episode, also investigated by Michael Baraz who seeks to position Rabelais in the tradition of Plato and More.

(6.) On Theleme and thelema, see Screech 188-90, Nykrog, 389-90, Miernowski. Weinberg understands Theleme as an evangelical community without especially treating women's presence there. Billacois sees the influence of Ficino, producing a world in which rather disembodied people of both sexes serve as mediators leading each other toward divine wisdom.

(7.) All further citations of Gargantua are from this edition.

(8.) The provision in the rules of the Abbey that men and women be everywhere together must be understood in the spirit rather than the letter, since it is almost immediately contradicted in a moment of realism in which we are assured that men and women chastely occupy separate wings of the monastery. The literal contradiction is noted by Freccero.

(9.) As Screech reminds us, bien naturez "refers to the natural goodness of character, to natural virtue. It is the Platonic term enethes that Rabelais seems to be rendering by bien nature." We ought not entirely discount the strong tendency in sixteenth-century thought to treat birth and ancestry as a transmitter of tendencies toward virtue. Two of the four reasons given at the start of the Theleme episode for sending men to monasteries pertain to their bad birth: they are "mal nez et empeche de maison," On mal nez as a term independent of notions of family or heredity, see Max Gauna. However, even if not all nobles are bien nes, adding the category empeche de maison suggests that all Thelemites are to be both noble and virtuously endowed by nature. On bien ne as it used by Montaigne, see Holyoake.

(10.) The suppression of the subject is not unusual in Rabelais's prose, neither is it the rule. In this particular case, whether the omission is conscious or not, it contributes to the gender-neutral atmosphere of the Abbey.

(11.) Screech (193) attributes this clause not to Saint Paul but to Ovid: "Nitimur in vetitum semper cupimusque negata," which he tells us Augustine also used in On the Spirit and the Letter for this purpose. If Rabelais had Ovid in mind, and his formulation does resemble the Latin, it would be instructive to know which of these two was his source. It seems likely that the words of Rom. 7.7 had a place close beside these others in Rabelais' memory, and given Renaissance memory and reading practices, it is unnecessary to choose between them (see note 21 below).

(12.) In all but the most recent times, sex means men's feelings--and after the Greeks, men's feelings about women. R. Howard Bloch (33-35, 65-91) sees the Christian view of woman as defined as both "'devil's gateway' and 'bride of Christ'" the willful contradiction maintained to permit the Church at once to appeal to women and control them.

(13.) For more on this in earlier periods, see the work of Caroline Walker Bynum.

(14.) I am indebted to Professor Edwin Duval for a perspicacious question when I presented part of this argument at the MLA (1995) that led me to see the connection between the gender-neutral world of Theleme and Gargantua's Androgyne badge.

(15.) One issue here is how to weight the two elements, picture and motto. Synergy is an obvious assumption but this is complicated by the observation that early editions of Alciati's Emblems exist without pictures, that Aneau's descriptions in Picta poesis are so detailed as to make the images superfluous. Screech, in the notes to his edition of Gargantua, says the "imaige" is an emblem, in the fashion newly introduced by Alciati. Schwartz ("Gargantua's Device") distinguishes between an emblem (as social; its visual element illustrative) and a device (as personal; its visual element hieroglyphic so that only properly tuned minds can understand it), although he admits that sixteenth-century usage often confused them. He identifies the device with the impresa, showing what one intended to undertake (imprendere) in which both motto and image are essential to the idea being transmitted. The difficulties we still have with Gargantua's Androgyne suggest its hieroglyphic nature, reason enough to expect the motto (e xclusionary too, in that it appears only in Greek) to point us in the right direction.

(16.) Rabelais' polyvalence may go further. Alchemical texts contain woodcuts representing the union of substances, an idea closely analogous to marriage. They depict a man and a women joined in full frontal embrace: "quatre bras, quatre pieds et deux culz" (60), as described by the narrator who is, after all, Alcofrybas, "distillateur de quintessence," an alchemical reference among many scattered through the prologue and beyond. My suspicion is that one would be hard pressed, however, to find an alchemical reference that Rabelais clearly intends to be taken seriously. Aneau too may have been inspired by the analogy suggested by the alchemical androgyne.

(17.) It is hard to assess the precise tone of such a claim at mid-century. It seems at once to be an apology for the lack of an authorizing source and a declaration of the pride of creation. See also Francois Cornillat.

(18.) It should be noted that here is another Christian association with the return of the prelapsarian Androgyne of Genesis 1.27 in the final reign of Christ recorded by Clement of Alexandria (Stromateis 3.13 [PG 8, 1194]).

(19.) "Adjutor similis ejus" in the Vulgate. R. Howard Bloch expands on the implications for women's status of this second version of human creation (Medieval Misogyny, 9-11).

(20.) On the force of the potentially present in the Renaissance, see my "Etymology, Genealogy, and the Immutability of Origins."

(21.) On superimposition as an inscribed expectation of Renaissance literature and its reception, see my Reading in the Renaissance, 71--93. Erasmus's views on marriage were most widely known in France from his Encomium matrimonii (published 1518, but written ca 1498). The French translation by Louis de Berquin, published in 1525, occasionally goes further than Erasmus himself in refusing to privilege the unmarried state. Rabelais himself in the Tiers Livre, chap. 30, has Hippothadee paraphrase rather than quote Saint Paul (1Cor. 7.9): "trop meilleur est soy marier que ardre on feu de concupiscence." As Screech's note points out, "trop meilleur" is an interpretation rather than a translation of "melius," and the Vulgate gives merely "uri," so that the fires can be interpreted as those of concupiscence or of hell. See also M. A. Screech, "Rabelais, De Billon and Erasmus," as well as his Rabelaisian Marriage. Aspects of Rabelais's Religion, Ethics and Comic Philosophy.

(22.) Carolyn Walker Bynum, Holy Feast and Holy Fast, gives examples of women who died "in odor of sanctity" whose bodies literally gave off sweet smells. The expression was current in the Middle Ages. Only the figurative sense is current in modern usage.

(23.) There is a tradition of thinking of the Tiers livre as being about Panurge's marriage decision. Things, as W. S. Gilbert cautions us, are seldom what they seem. G. Mallary Masters (63) insightfully points out that the Tiers Livre is as much about thelema, being open to God's will and to the proper uses of human freewill, as it is about marriage. Theleme, in addition to being a satirical anti-abbey, is also a pattern of the ideals of Pantagruelism, of the whole of Rabelais's fictional undertaking. See also Edwin Duval.

(24.) Huguet's attempted reading from context might be justified later in the century, when "Androgyne" in Brantome and Beroalde will mean the other half of a heterosexual union (Schwartz, Irony, 60) as it does in the poems of Ronsard. But Huguet's sexual reading is unsupported in the 1530's or '40's.

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