Dr Rabelais's 500 year old prescriptionBMJ 1994; 308 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.308.6932.803 (Published 26 March 1994) Cite this as: BMJ 1994;308:803
- Ian MacLean
Laughter really is the best medicine
Next month France begins year long celebrations of the 500th anniversary of the birth of Francois Rabelais. To readers of the BMJ he is probably best known as a rumbustious writer of ribald tales during which whole armies are drowned in urine issuing from one of his giant heroes, ingenious but coarse solutions are found to intimate problems (for example, the use of a gosling's neck as an arsewipe in Pantagruel (chapter 28),1 and “Gargantuan” feasts take place, marked by gluttony and bawdy jokes. (Gargantua (chapter 13)).1 This vulgar Rabelais, in all senses of the word, can indeed be found in his works; but there is another, wise, medical, and Christian Rabelais who is found there too.
Born in the Loire valley in 1483 or 1494, Rabelais completed his medical training at the celebrated school of Montpellier, taking his MB in 1530 and his doctorate seven years later. But before settling on medicine as a career he had been successively a Franciscan friar, possibly a law student, a Benedictine monk, and a secular priest.2 3 He was thus unusually erudite, even for his day, with a strong enthusiasm for the new learning of the …