Wednesday, 22 February 2012

The lesson from Francois Rabelais


"Old people have long forgotten and the young have no time to learn," deplored writer François Rabelais five centuries ago. What was he complaining about? The subject of his lamentations was neither social injustice nor bad manners. What bothered Rabelais was that his contemporaries ignored the lessons of History. That problem constitutes a plague that no society has been able to eradicate.

The Sheep of Panurge is one of Rabelais' best known stories. The dispute between Panurge, a malicious drunkard, and Dindenault, a merchant, is recounted in the fourth book of Rabelais' series "Gargantua and Pantagruel." The scene takes place on board of a ship that transports not only passengers, but also forty sheep "of delicate and savoury flesh," which Dindenault is taking to the market to be sold.

Panurge requests to purchase one of Dindenault's sheep, but the merchant demands an exorbitant price. After a heated negotiation, Panurge agrees to meet Dindenault's terms, but with the secret goal of taking revenge for being overcharged. Before the merchant can figure out what's going on, Panurge throws his sheep overboard into the sea, "bleating and making a sad noise."

When the other sheep see this, they immediately begin to run after the first one "all crying and bleating in the same tone." One after the other, the animals leap into the sea before the astonished eyes of merchant Dindenault, who in desperation, tries to prevent his last sheep from jumping off the ship, with the only result of being carried overboard himself and drowning.

"It is in the nature of sheep to follow any of their kind in any random direction it may go," explained Rabelais, "and this is what makes them the most silly and foolish animals in the world."

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by David Masters under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]