The Balance Between Worldly Pleasures and Piety in "The Histories of Gargantua and Pantagruel"

According to the works of Marguerite de Navarre and Francois Rabelais, there must be a balance between worldly pleasures and piety. There must not only be a balance between these two forces, but also between righteousness and sin. Marguerite de Navarre illustrates through bawdy stories of love and lust in The Heptameron that show how much the sixteenth century French people value virtue and chastity, and how they manage their religious duties and secular pleasures, With sometimes crude humor, Francois Rabelais shows in The Histories of Garganlua and Pantogruel that a person cannot live in worldly excess and be a good religious follower.

Both Navarre and Rabelais have similar approaches to the questions of how to balance these juxtaposing forces. Navarre concludes that when people are faced with trying situations, virtuous people will naturally continue to show their virtue, and unrighteous people will show their true nature as well. Similarly, Rabelais concludes that when given the freedom of choice, people will naturally behave virtuously, but if they are restricted they will only look to gain back their freedom instead of act righteously.

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Though there is not a singular evangelical approach, both works show equal concern that people maintain an equal balance between worldly enjoyment and piety, as well as righteousness and sin. in Marguerite de Navarre’s tales The Hepmmeron she creates an intricate balance between worldly enjoyment and religious duties. With the characters searching for pass-times that will occupy them as they wait for heavy rain and flooding to pass, Madame Oisille and Hircan begin to set up this balance.

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When asked what they should do to pass the time, Madame Oisille replies that she finds reading the bible to be the most enjoyable way to pass time. Hircan suggests that they need something that is more corporeal to occupy them. In this situation, Madame Oisille clearly represents religious duties, while Hircan represents worldly enjoyment.

Reading of the scripture was a staple in the Evangelical faith, and was a clear way to establish a relationship with God and Christ (Bernstein, Lecture 1/14/16). Through Madame Oisille, one can see the principles of the Evangelical faith come to light, but Hircan’s ideas represent a challenge to this thinking. He believes that the young group needs something that will provide more exercise and entertainment for them, while still having some scripture reading in the morning (Navarre, 8). With the help of Parlamente, they come to a compromise. They will attend mass in the morning, and in the afternoon they will tell each other true stories that they believe to be notable (Navarre, 9), Through the introduction, Marguerite de Navarre creates a clear balance between worldly pleasures and piety where religious duties must be observed before any secular enjoyment Francois Rabelais also creates a similar balance in his work The Histories ofGargantua and Pantogruel. In chapter 21, Gargantua is clearly not a fine example of a good evangelical Catholic He eats to excess, plays frivolous games, farts, belches, and does a number of other crude behaviors that leave his tutor shocked and appalled (Rabelais, 82). After tutoring from Ponocrates, Gargantua becomes the model of a perfect evangelical Catholic Gargantua no longer eats everything in sight, but rather he eats only what will nourish him (Rabelais, 91). He becomes well mannered, well groomed, and overall well behaved, There is also a huge emphasis placed on his education in mathematics and science, as well as his religious education, Gargantua ends his days “worshipping Him” and “glorifying Him for His immense goodness” (Rabelais, 92) Gargantua not only practices a more religious lifestyle, but he engages in worldly enjoyment, such as hunting, dancing, swimming, and wrestling With the contrast between the lewd and crude Gargantua and the well behaved Gargantua we see by the end of the text, Rabelais creates a balance between secular pleasures and piety. Rabelais asserts that a well- rounded person should take part in both worldly enjoyment and religious duties, and do nothing.

The back and forth narrative between the female characters and male characters in The Heptameron illustrate that there is not only an issue of the balance between worldly enjoyment and religious duties, but also the balance between righteousness and sin. The placement of men and women within this ideology becomes very important in this work as well. The stories that Simontault and the other men tell highlight the ways that women try to tempt men into sin The women in the men’s stories are all adulterous and seek out sin at every corner. In order to balance things out, the women create a counterpoint to the men’s opinions with stories of women who maintain virtue and chastity above all things. In the first tale on the first day, Simontault tells of an adulterous woman who creates havoc when she goes after multiple men (Navarre, 11-18). As a counterpoint to the first tale, Madame Oisille recounts the story of a woman who defended her virtue and chastity against an unwanted intruder and how she died defending her honor (Navarre, 18-21), Throughout the stories, the men and women counter balance each other with alternating stories of men and women behaving badly, and men and women behaving righteouslyr These alternating Viewpoints serve to show the overriding importance of righteousness in the face of sin. They also illustrate how the good and bad people balance each other out For every story about a sinful woman and a righteous man, there is another story about a Virtuous woman and a lustful man. Here, Navarre shows that there cannot be one without the other; there cannot be sin without righteousness and vice versa Both works seem to come to a similar conclusion that when people are left to make their own decisions, the righteous will carry out their lives righteously, and others will not choose that path.

In The Heptameron, the characters discuss the duality of moral women and immoral women and how their character is defined and balanced. Saffredent explains that “love makes bad acts be done by persons of bad heart; it also makes people of worth do things deserving of praise; for love is good in itself, but the depravity of the individual often makes it take a new title” (Navarre, 15), This passage explains how the balance between righteousness and sin is almost naturally established, perhaps by God. According to this approach, every individual balances each other out through their true nature. The characters also further discuss that there is a balance that must be maintained between a persons‘ worldly pleasures and their commitment to God. Hircan comments that ”sin displeases” him, and he is “vexed at offending God,” but he is pleased from his secular pleasures (Navarre, 14). Ultimately, they must always balance their worldly enjoyment in accordance with their pietyt Similarly, Rabelais asserts that when given freedom, people who are naturally virtuous will continue to live honorably, and if those same people are restricted and enslaved they will throw off the balance and live without virtue (Rabelais, 159). In constructing his abbey, Gargantua only has one rule “Do What You Will” (Rabelais, 159) This approach, much like Navarre’s, creates a natural balance where good people will naturally balance their worldly pleasures and piety, while bad people will favor sin over righteousness Through the lust filled depictions of men and women in Marguerite de Navarre‘s The Heptameron and disgustingly brutish giants in Francois Rabelais’ The Histories of Gargantua and Pantagruel, both authors manage to show the intricate balance between worldly enjoyment and piety, as well as righteousness and sin Both works show how in this balance, piety and righteousness are often favored over worldly pleasures and sin. They also show the evangelical approach to these matters was that ultimately good people would act righteously when faced with corruption, while bad people would naturally sin.

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The Balance Between Worldly Pleasures and Piety in "The Histories of Gargantua and Pantagruel". (2022, Jul 15). Retrieved from

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