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Franco Giacone, ed. Le Cinquiesme Livre: Actes du colloque international de Rome (16-19 octobre 1998).

(Etudes Rabelaisiennes, 40, Travaux d'Humanisme et Renaissance, 354.) Geneva: Librairie Droz S. A., 2001. 636 pp. index, tbls. 230 [euro]. ISBN: 2-600-00637-0.

If Francois Rabelais' fifth book has been relatively neglected by critics, this collection of thirty-eight articles goes some way towards redressing the balance. Conferees were presumably asked to address problems other than the still-vexed authenticity question, since Richard Cooper's introductory article (9-22) provides an excellent summary of the most influential arguments. For convenience, I have divided the essays into three groups.

First, those which provide a pleasant read but little strikingly new information. In this group I would place Matteo Majorano on incongruity in Rabelais, Arnaud Tripet on the fifth book's prologue, Giulio Ferroni (in Italian) on Italian literary descent-into-underworld narratives, Giorgio Patrizi (in Italian) on "anticlassical" Italian works which could be compared to Rabelais, Claudio Marazzini (again in Italian) on the linguistic situation in sixteenth-century Italy (using the delightful term mistilinguismo), and Franco Giacone on exactly which biblical references occur in the fifth book.

A second, much larger group presents ingenious hypotheses about the book or parts of it. The late Michel Simonin speculates about the publication circumstances of the fifth book; Frank Lestringant about the fifth book as voyage literature; Guy Demerson on the themes of wine and ivy; Lionello Sozzi on hermetic elements; Claude Gaignebet on Quinte, quintine, and Henri Cotiral; Jacques Berchtold on the related metaphors of chessmen, teeth, and bees; Yvonne Bellenger on the ecphrastic mosaic in the Temple of Bacbuc; and Niloufar Sadighi on the aesthetics of ugliness in the fifth book. Bruno Pinchard discusses Rabelais and the Kabbalah, Daniel Menager the Pays de Satin and its echoes of Erasmus, Hope Glidden the island of Odes and the general question of mirabilia, while Olivier Pot sees the fifth book as Rabelais' "testament litteraire" (401). Claude La Charite reflects on the fable of the horse and the donkey, Andre Tournon on the theme of imagination, Maurizio Calvesi (in Italian) on true and false alchemy (the Quinte is false alchemy, with references to Paracelsus), and Gilles Polizzi on the narrative motifs Rabelais took from earlier works. Marie Madeleine Fontaine provides a detailed list of parts of the book she concludes to be by Rabelais or by other authors, plus a discussion of authors cited by Rabelais and a useful summary of the relations between Rabelais, Du Bellay, and Ronsard.

The third group, the most congenial to me, consists of erudite contributions of new information. Mireille Huchon supports her authenticity thesis with the aid of a copy of Macrobius owned by Rabelais; Jean Coard with his usual prodigious learning throws light on unicorns, philosophers, fish, and more; Paul J. Smith explores zoology and suggests that the Pays de Satin recalls the Latin question Satisne?; and Marie-Madeleine Fragonard provides fascinating information about plants and birds. Christine Escarmant tells us about Christian and Jewish jubilees, a propos of the "jubile" of 1550; Yves Cambefort studies beetles with reference to Grippeminaud's enigma, and Philippe Desan, the connection between economics and the law, gold and excrement in the Isle Sonnante episode. Jean-Francois Maillard contests Huchon's alchemical reading of the fifth book, while Marie-Luce Demonet explores quintessence and distillation (Alco-frybas = maker of alcohol).

Two contributors discuss music in the fifth book: Madeleine Lazard on "musico-therapie," and Olivier Millet on music and noise in general. Roy Rosenstein starts from the Musee Conde copy of Rabelais' Aristode and details similarities in style and content between the two authors. Rosanna Gorris Canos analyzes astonishing resemblances between Rabelais and Gelli--but who read whom? And Marie-Elisabeth Boutroue describes the work of an early twentieth-century Rabelaisant, Canon Lesellier.

The stars of this collection do not disappoint us; Cooper, Huchon, Ceard, Lestringant, Smith, Fragonard, Demerson, Desan, Demonet, Glidden, La Charite, Tournon, and Polizzi are as riveting as ever, whether or not we agree with them. But it is also a pleasure to see lesser-known names among the genuine scholars here: Escarmant, Cambefort, Sadighi, Canos, and Boutroue, whose erudition is as admirable as that of their seniors. The book can be heartily recommended to all Rabelais specialists.


Vanderbilt University, Emerita
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Author:Bowen, Barbara C.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 2003
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