Here on their bums, great battles fought, four gallant fellows…

A parody of the classical Greek practice of erecting trophies after every victory, however small – from ch 17 of Rabelais’ Pantagruel. The first translation – of the complete passage – is M. A. Screech from ~15 years ago. The second is a late 19th century predecessor, W.F. Smith (here). The third is the great 17th century Urquhart / Motteux (here). Rabelais’ original comes at bottom. I would also include Donald Frame’s rendering from ~1990 but my copy has wandered from its place. Of impossibilities for translators, Rabelais must near the top of the list so it’s always curious to compare results.

‘Before we quit this spot,’ said Pantagruel, ‘I would like to erect a fair trophy in memory of your recent prowess.’

So every man, with great merriment and little rustic songs, set up a big pike-staff on which they hung a soldier’s saddle, a horse’s head-armour, caparisons, stirrups and spurs, a hauberk, a full set of steel armour, a battle-axe, a broad-sword, a gauntlet, a mace, gussets, greaves and a gorget, with all the array required for a triumphal arch or trophy. Then, in eternal memory, Pantagruel composed the following song of victory:

’Twas here that valiant fights were fought
By four brave men, as good as gold,
Through good sense not good armour wrought,
As Fabius and both Scipios told.
Six hundred sixty lice, now cold –
All powerful rogues – were burnt like bark.
Kings and dukes from now must hold
‘Tis wit not might lights glory’s spark.
Each mother’s son
Knows victory – won
Not by man – lies
Where God’s writs run,
Whose will be done
Sans compromise.
Not to the stronger comes the prize.
But to whose works from grace have sprung.
For him do wealth and honour rise
Who hopes in faith in Him alone.

While Pantagruel was composing the above poem, Panurge hung the horns of the roe-buck on to a big stake together with its pelt and its front right foot, then the ears of three leverets, the spine of a rabbit, the chaps of a hare, [the wings of a brace of bitterns, the feet of four wood-pigeons,] a cruet of vinaigre, a horn in which they kept their salt, a wooden spit, a basting stick, a wretched cauldron full of holes, a pan for sauces, an earthenware salt-cellar and a Beauvais-ware goblet. And in imitation of the verses on Pantagruel’s trophy he composed the following lines:

Here on their bums, great battles fought,
Four gallant fellows, good as gold,
In praise of Bacchus fun have sought,
Quaffing like carps the wine out-doled.
Saddles of hare and thighs untold
Of master leverets left their mark.
Scorpion-fish, salt, vinaigre old,
Strain all their guts lest bellies bark.
Seize wine, each son
And drink for fun
’Neath blazing skies:
Let the best run
Out from the tun:
Quaffed as a prize.
But leveret’s flesh – ‘tis no surprise –
Sans vinaigre is ne’er well done.
Its soul-worth in vinaigre lies:
Gainsay it not, then all are one.


‘Twas here that squatted in Delight,
Four merry Topers on the Lawn,
Did feast, nor did they Bacchus slight;
For them like Carps the Wine was drawn.
And whenas each did cheer the Morn,
Sir Leveret lost his Joints perforce:
They drank as though by Scorpions torn,
While Salt and Vinegar did them course.
Th’ Inventory
Defensory
Against the sultry Heat
Is nought but Drinkery
Right neat and merry,
Nay of the best – ’tis meet.
To Vinegar must much Care be given
By him who would on Leveret feed,
For Vinegar is its Soul and Leaven-
Hold fast to this with strictest Heed.


Here was it that four jovial blades sat down
To a profound carousing, and to crown
Their banquet with those wines which please best great
Bacchus, the monarch of their drinking state.
Then were the reins and furch of a young hare,
With salt and vinegar, displayed there,
Of which to snatch a bit or two at once
They all fell on like hungry scorpions.
For th’ Inventories
Of Defensories
Say that in heat
We must drink neat
All out, and of
The choicest stuff.
But it is bad to eat of young hare’s flesh,
Unless with vinegar we it refresh.
Receive this tenet, then, without control,
That vinegar of that meat is the soul.


Ce fut icy, que à l’honneur de Bacchus
Fut bancqueté par quatre bons pyons :
Qui gayement, tous mirent abaz culz
Soupples de rains comme beaux carpions :
Lors y perdit rables et cropions
Mai
re levrault, quand chascun si efforce :
Sel et vinaigre, ainsi que Scorpions
Le poursuyvoient, dont en eurent l’escorce.
Car l’inventoire
D’un defensoire
En la chaleur,
Ce n’e
qu’à boire
Droit et net, boire
Et du meilleur :
Mais manger levrault, c’e
malheur
Sans de vinaigre avoir memoire :
Vinaigre e
son ame et valeur,
Retenez le en point peremptoire.

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