Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Join the commemoration of the sheep of Panurge

“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. Things are changing for the better, nonetheless. In France, I am busy promoting the creation of a Society for the Remembrance of the Sheep of Panurge. My initiative aims at commemorating François Rabelais' death every year on April 9th.

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.

My plan for the Society for the Remembrance of the Sheep of Panurge foresees the creation of a web page with links to sister societies around the world. “It is in the nature of sheep to follow any of their kind in any random direction it may go,” explained Rabelais. “This is what makes them the most silly and foolish animals in the world.”

Since this is our first year, our celebration will be modest. In the morning of April 9th, we will gather at a restaurant in Chinon, the French town where Rabelais was born. After a hearty lunch, we will walk to a nearby farm in order to pick up the sheep that we have hired for the occasion.

It goes without saying that we are not going to drown any animals during our commemoration. It's all symbolic, of course. Instead of the ocean, we will be using a rubber pool, so that sheep can jump happily inside, one after the other, splashing water all over the place.

When all sheep are in the rubber pool, one of us, the honour falls on me this year, will read out some lines of Rabelais and lament that lessons from History are never learned.

As I said, this is the first time we do it, so the ceremony might be a bit messy. Anyway, if you want to join us for the event, you are most welcome. Remembering the Sheep of Panurge might never become a popular fashion, but it has the potential to change your life.

[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]