François Rabelais

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François Rabelais (anonymous portrait from the 17th century)
Signature François Rabelais.PNG

François Rabelais [ fʁɑ.swa ʁa.blɛ ] (* about 1494 , maybe 1483 in La Devinière in Chinon / Touraine ; † 9. April 1553 in Paris ) was a French writer of the Renaissance , humanist , Roman Catholic friar (since 1511 the Franciscan , from 1524 the Benedictine ) and practicing doctor.

Life and work

Musée Rabelais, Maison La Devinière

Rabelais was probably born on an estate near Chinon as the youngest of three sons of the wealthy landowner and lawyer Antoine Rabelais, seigneur de la Devinière († 1564), who held various offices in Chinon. His wife was née Marie Catherine Dusouil. Rabelais had a sister named Jeanne Françoise Rabelais.

He started his novitiate in the Franciscan monastery of La Baumette, Couvent des Cordeliers de la Baumette near Angers . Around 1511 Rabelais received his sacraments of ordination . He was occupied for 1520 as a friar in the Couvent des Puy-Saint-Martin Fontenay-le-Comte ( Département Vendée ). Here he had come into contact with the humanism radiating from Italy through an older confrere and had begun to learn ancient Greek .

In addition, he made letters to scholars, as evidenced by a letter dated 1521, apparently already the second, to the well-known humanist Guillaume Budé , the initiator of the Collège Royal , founded in Paris in 1530 . As part of his Greek studies, around 1522, Rabelais wrote a translation of the first book in the history of the Persian Wars by Herodotus, which has not survived .

In the 1520s, like so many contemporaries interested in humanism, he too was caught up in the reform ideas of Protestantism . When in 1523 all Greek studies were branded as a preliminary stage to heresy by the anti-reform Parisian theological faculty , the Sorbonne , Rabelais came into conflict with his Franciscan superiors because of his studies of ancient and above all Greek texts .

Through the mediation of the Bishop of Poitiers , Geoffroy d'Estissac , who was also abbot of a Benedictine monastery, he received papal permission to change to this in 1524, and was thus able to leave the more educationally hostile Franciscans in favor of the traditionally more educationally friendly Benedictines. Apparently he lived mostly in the entourage of Estissac in the Abbey of Saint-Martin de Ligugé near Poitiers, where he employed him as a secretary and perhaps also as a tutor for his nephew. As his companion on trips through the diocese, he visibly came into contact with people of different types and origins. He may also have attended law lectures at Poitiers University during these years .

From 1528 it can be found in Paris, presumably after stops at the universities of Bordeaux , Toulouse and Orléans . Apparently he had assumed the status of a diocesan priest , as he was freer to continue his studies, now mainly medicine , and to cultivate scholarly contacts. The relationship with a widow resulted in two illegitimate children, François and Junine. This did not keep him in Paris, rather he enrolled in the famous medical faculty of Montpellier in September 1530 , where Rabelais obtained a degree as a baccalaureus on November 1st .

At that time medicine was almost a pure book study based on the writings of Hippocrates and Galen . Rabelais seems to have primarily dealt with medicine philologically, because in a lecture in the spring and summer of 1531 he commented on texts by the above-mentioned luminaries , based on the Greek originals. Rabelais was strongly influenced by the texts of Johannes Manardus .

In the summer of 1532 Rabelais lived in Lyon , where he practiced as a doctor and at the same time published various scholarly works for the printer and publisher Sebastian Gryphius . However, he did not allow himself to be captured by this, but also wrote a novel that was also published in Lyon at the end of 1532: Les horribles et épouvantables faits et prouesses du très reputé Pantagruel, Roi des Dipsodes, fils du grand Gargantua. Composés nouvellement par maître Alcofrybas Nasier . The work was already recognizable by the title as a parody , especially of the genre chivalric novel.

At the end of 1532 Rabelais got a job at a Lyon hospital, the Hôtel-Dieu de Notre-Dame de la Pitié . In addition to his medical work, he frequented the city's intellectual circles, which at that time were on a par with Paris.

At the beginning of 1534 he got to know the Bishop of Paris and member of the Privy Council, Jean du Bellay , a highly educated man who stopped in Lyon on a diplomatic trip to Rome and hired him, the little older, as his personal physician and associate secretary.

During his stay in Rome from February to April 1534, Rabelais gained insights into the situation at the Holy See , where Pope Clement VII maneuvered between the interests of France and Emperor Charles V, with whom he had been since the conquest and sack of Rome by Imperial Spanish troops in 1530 was involuntarily allied. Rabelais was particularly interested in the numerous traces of antiquity in the city and its surroundings. Back in Lyon he edited a learned Latin work by an Italian on the topography of ancient Rome.

At the beginning of 1535 - Rabelais had just had another almanac printed - he left Lyon. Because King Franz I decided at the end of October 1534 to take a stronger stand against the reformers and to enable more extensive administrative procedures. In these uncertain times, Rabelais was able to return to the service of Jean du Bellays and to accompany him again to Rome, who had been promoted to cardinal in May. During a stay in Ferrara he met Clément Marot and other sympathizers of the Reformation who had fled there and who sought asylum with the Duchess, a daughter of King Louis XII. had found.

Then Rabelais spent a total of seven months with Jean du Bellay in Rome from 1535 to 1536. Undoubtedly through him he received the approval of the incumbent Pope Paul III in 1536 . to return to the Benedictine order as a monk in an abbey near Paris whose prior was Jean du Bellay. There, after the intended conversion of the abbey into a monastery, he was to receive a benefice as a canon with regular income, which still happened in 1536, but was not without objection from the previous beneficiary. Rabelais had to submit a petition to the Pope. The outcome of the matter is unknown.

At the beginning of 1537, since the Pope had also allowed him to remain active as a doctor, he obtained his doctorate in Montpellier and then gave lectures on the writings of Hippocrates. Once again, he used the Greek original as a basis and criticized the current Latin version as incorrect. In the summer he caused a stir in Lyon when he dissected the body of a hanged man on a visit . In the winter semester of 1537/38 he held courses in Montpellier again.

In 1538 we find him in Aigues Mortes with Jean du Bellay, who took part in a meeting between King Francis I and Emperor Charles V , who had just negotiated an armistice in their long struggle for supremacy in Italy. Then Rabelais followed his sponsor to Lyon.

François Rabelais (Anonymous, early 17th century)

Probably in 1539 (or already in 1536?) A son named Théodule was born to him, but he died at the age of two.

At the end of 1539, Rabelais was recommended by Jean du Bellay to his ailing older brother Guillaume du Bellay , seigneur de Langey (1491–1543), a senior military man who had been appointed governor of the northern Italian duchy of Piedmont , which was occupied by French troops . He was taken by him to Turin , the Piedmontese capital, where he wrote a Latin history of his campaigns under the title Stratagemata , but it is lost. For the next three years, until Langey's death in early 1543, Rabelais commuted with him between northern Italy and France. The work causes Rabelais difficulties again. He therefore left France for a while and went to the then free imperial city of Metz with a friend of Jean du Bellays. There he hired himself as a city ​​doctor and began another series at the same time. This parodied the new fashion genre of reports of voyages of discovery and describes a fictional sea voyage that "Pantagruel" and "Panurge" undertake to the oracle of the "divine [wine] bottle", dive bouteille , which is supposed to answer the question of marriage or not.

François Rabelais' home in Metz

After the death of King Francis I in 1547, Jean du Bellay traveled once more on a diplomatic mission to Rome and Rabelais accompanied him. On the way through, he handed the first eleven chapters of the new volume to a printer in Lyon, which appeared in 1548 as Le Quart livre des faits et dits héroïques . In Rome, where he stayed with Jean Du Bellay for two years until 1549, he then finished the book. In doing so, he processed his observations from the Pope's politics in several satirical passages and thus indirectly supported the new French King Henry II , who was striving to establish a national “Gallican” church.

When in early 1552, now in Paris, the Quart livre was published as a whole, the attitudes of the rulers changed. The king and the pope had come to terms, and criticism of the latter was no longer welcome. Accordingly, the Sorbonne did not hesitate to condemn the book. As a result, the Paris Parliament also banned the work. It did not help that Cardinal Odet de Châtillon had previously accepted Rabelai's dedication. The ban did not detract from the success of the book. However, in early 1553 Rabelais himself had to give up a benefice in Meudon near Paris and another in the diocese of Le Mans , which he had received through Jean Du Bellay. After this nothing is known about him. Apparently, however, he had been working on another sequel until shortly before his death in April 1553. This was, presumably on the initiative of his printer, brought to a conclusion by an unknown hand. It was published in 1563 under the title Le cinquième livre and was included in the complete editions of the cycle, which began to appear shortly after the author's death and continued to be published with great regularity.

Rabelais ′ literary work

His first printed work appeared around 1526, a Latin epistle to a befriended poet-lawyer from Ligugé .

Its name, which is known to almost every French and has become independent in terms such as "une plaisanterie rabelaisienne", is linked to the cycle of novels about the two giants "Gargantua" and "Pantagruel" , its five volumes 1532 , 1534 , 1545 , 1552 and 1564 published. The first two volumes in particular were very successful. The adjectives also found their way into everyday French language, such as pantagruélique , in the idiom "un appétit pantagruélique" (German have a pantagruelian appetite ) or "gargantuesque", in the idiom "un repas gargantuesque" (German a gargantuesque feast ).

Rabelais' success was based on the fact that he mixed playful irony and sarcasm , coarse wit and pedantic scholarship, puns and comically used real and fictional quotations at the style level . At the same time he was also active as a humanistic scholar. His extremely mobile way of life in the wake of princely and clerical supporters and the constant search for expansion of his knowledge, especially in contact with other scholars, was typical of many European intellectuals at the time. As a contemporary of Martin Luther and Jean Calvin , he was affected by the violent religious quarrels of his era. Between 1541 and 1544 he published an almanac , the latter under the title Grande et vraye pronostication nouvelle pour l'an 1544 .

In 1542 Rabelais reacted to the allegations that the "Pantagruel" and the "Gargantua" were obscene and theologically questionable, and published versions of both books in Lyon, the text of which was something, to prove himself a devout Catholic and thus to have peace of mind from persecution adjusted and slightly revised. The titles were also changed, some greatly, the other slightly: Pantagruel, Roi des Dipsodes. Restitué à son naturel, avec ses faits et prouesses épouvantables. Composés par feu M. Alcofribas, abstracteur de quinte essence or La Vie très horrifique .

At about the same time, the publisher , author, and Latinist Étienne Dolet , a former friend of Rabelais, reprinted the original versions on his own, much to Rabelais's annoyance, with “Gargantua” conceived as the first volume and “Pantagruel” as the continuation of the second volume has been.

Rabelais took over this publishing practice and in 1542 also published a two-volume edition under the title Grands annales ou chroniques très véritables des gestes merveilleux du grand Gargantua et Pantagruel son fils, roi des Dipsodes, enchroniqués par feu Maistre Alcofribas, abstracteur de quinte essence . In the foreword to the new edition (the text of which today is generally the basis for the critical editions) he attacked Étienne Dolet. Nevertheless, the edition was condemned by the Sorbonne.

Despite the conviction, Rabelais wrote a sequel with which he responded to a work from 1542, La parfaite amie des Antoine Héroët (1492-1567). In this he avoids politically explosive topics and his humor is less crude. The focus is on the question of whether "Panurge", the central figure of the plot alongside or even before "Pantagruel", should marry, or - so obviously the author's tendency - better not. When the book was completed in 1545, Rabelais was even allowed to dedicate it to Francis I's sister, Marguerite de Navarre , and have it printed in Paris with a royal privilege. It even appeared in 1546 under the name of the author, as Le tiers livre des faits et dits héroïques du noble Pantagruel, composés par M. Franc. Rabelais, docteur en médicine . Rabelais probably used a popular book published anonymously shortly before as a template Les grandes et inestimables croniques du grand et énorme géant Gargantua , in which he added a son to the giant in his version.

In “Pantagruel”, Rabelais depicts Alcofryba's childhood and adolescence, the years of study and the first military probation of the protagonist in the role of first-person narrator and domestics, but at the beginning of his studies he introduces a second, increasingly important character into the plot, the eternal student and jack-of- all-trades “Panurge”, with whom he obviously identifies more than with the first-person narrator. In the end, he turns this person into an acting person who discovers a whole world in the mouth of the young giant that resembles ours.

The success of the loosely structured work, provided with countless burlesque anecdotes, funny quotes and satirical swipes, was immediate and remarkable. It was used eight times in 1533 and 1534 alone, e.g. Partly in pirated prints , reissued. The theologians of the Sorbonne, however, clashed with passages in which their scholastic hair-splitting was caricatured and positions were represented that were close to the Protestantism of the Reformers. The high judges of the parliament also felt mocked. The reaction was a condemnation of the book by the Sorbonne.

Rabelais, on the other hand, used the success by immediately writing a satirical, e.g. T. published horoscope-like almanac for the year 1533, La Pantagruéline Pronostication , which was often added to later reprints of the Pantagruel. In the closing words of "Pantagruel" Rabelais had announced a sequel with further adventures of his hero. Instead, at the end of 1534 or beginning of 1535, he anonymously published a novel whose plot, conversely, contains a prehistory, La Vie inestimable du grand Gargantua, père de Pantagruel, jadis composée par l'abstracteur de quinte essence. Livre plein de Pantagruélisme .

Obviously, Rabelais hoped from the experiences of the publication of the "Pantagruel" to continue the success of the work, which, however, one sees the small number of reprints, was only moderately successful. At the same time, however, he concealed his identity as an author more strongly than before and shifted the time of the book to a vague “once”. Obviously, he feared another conviction by the Sorbonne. Because even more decidedly than in “Pantagruel” he caricatures the traditional scholastic learning content and methods based on the educational path that he lets his protagonist “Gargantua” go through and propagates the new humanistic educational ideals.

And the final part about the “Thélème Abbey”, an ideal, utopian place where a spiritual and social elite of young people of both sexes lead a life that is only regulated by reason , self-control and the teachings of the Gospel , everything else works as orthodox catholic .

Literary reception

His novels were probably used by the contemporary reading public as an exhilarating offer of evasion in a time when there was little to laugh about in the face of a reality that was dominated by an enormous religious and ideological polarization. This reached into the families, caused increasing intolerance of the denominational parties and their propagandists and led to increasing brutalization. Rabelais did not live to see the outbreak of the Huguenot Wars in 1562.

Today Rabelais is considered the greatest French author of the 16th century , one of the greats of French literature in general and especially as the figurehead of the morally incorrect , although he is rarely read due to his language that has become archaic and his puns and allusions, which are often barely understandable , but more popular and cheerful “ esprit gaulois ” or “rabelaisien”.


The University of François Rabelais Tours (French: Université François Rabelais de Tours or just Université de Tours) is a state university in the French city of Tours and was named after François Rabelais after it was founded on March 27, 1969. Rabelaisia Planch is also named after Rabelais . from the diamond family (Rutaceae).

Works (selection)

King Ludwig Philipp as Gargantua (lithograph by Daumier )

Original French title

  • Les horribles et épouvantables faits et prouesses du très renowned Pantagruel, Roi des Dipsodes, fils du grand géant Gargantua. Composés nouvellement par maître Alcofrybas Nasier. 1532.
  • La Vie inestimable du grand Gargantua, père de Pantagruel, jadis composée par l'abstracteur de quinte essence. Livre plein de Pantagruélisme. 1534 or 1535.
  • Le tiers livre des faits et dits héroïques du noble Pantagruel, composés par M. Franc. Rabelais, docteur en médicine. 1546.
  • Le quart livre des faits. 1548 and 1552.
  • Le cinquième livre. Posthumous 1563; this band is not authentic, at least in the second part.

German translations

The first German partial transmission of the cycle was written by the Strasbourg humanist Johann Fischart and appeared in 1575 under the title: Adventurous and monstrous history of the life, counsel and deeds of Messrs. Grandgusier, Gargantua and Pantagruel.

  • Gargantua and Pantagruel . 2 volumes, 12th edition, Insel-Taschenbuch Volume 77, Frankfurt am Main 1974, ISBN 3-458-31777-5 .
  • Gargantua and Pantagruel. 2 volumes, translated by Karl August Horst and Walter Widmer with an afterword by Horst Lothar Theweleit and 682 illustrations by Gustave Doré. Munich (and Stuttgart / Hamburg) 1968; Neudruck, Rütten & Loening, Berlin 1970


Web links

Commons : François Rabelais  - Album with pictures, videos and audio files
Wikisource: François Rabelais  - Sources and full texts (French)
Wikisource: François Rabelais  - Sources and full texts

Individual evidence

  1. Biography of François Rabelais at
  2. ^ DTV-Lexikon, Munich 2006, Lemma Rabelais.
  3. ^ Horst Heintze: François Rabelais. Reclam, Leipzig 1974, p. 24
  4. ^ Anatole France: Rabelais. Calman-Lévy, Paris 1928
  5. ^ Biographical data on François Rabelais on
  6. ^ Encyclopaedia Britannica, online
  7. Erich Köhler: The Thélème Abbey and the unity of Rabelais'schen work. Germanic-Romanic monthly journal 40 (1959), pp. 105-118. In esprit and Arcadian freedom. Athenäum Verlag, Frankfurt am Main / Bonn 1966, pp. 142–157.
  8. ^ Official website of the University of Tours
  9. Lotte Burkhardt: Directory of eponymous plant names - Extended Edition. Part I and II. Botanic Garden and Botanical Museum Berlin , Freie Universität Berlin , Berlin 2018, ISBN 978-3-946292-26-5 doi: 10.3372 / epolist2018 .