Rabelaisian Dialectic and the Platonic-Hermetic Tradition

By George M. Masters

Hardcover : 9780873950398, 152 pages, June 1969

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In this study, Professor Masters looks beyond the few critical attempts that heretofore have analyzed only isolated aspects of Platonism and Hermetism in Rabelaisian literature. He examines the closely related themes of Platonism, the Dionysian mysteries, and the Hermetic sciences in Rabelais's work and concludes that Rabelais shared with the Platonic-Hermetic tradition both its dialectic and perception of man's position in the universe.

In the perspective of Platonic dialectic, Professor Masters analyzes Rabelaisian allegory, symbolism, and imagery as a play on appearance and reality. Through the allegorical myths of Gargantua and Pantagruel, Rabelais rejects the seemingly dichotomous extremes of materialism and ascetic spiritualism, while his philosophy of Pantagruélisme shows a positive acceptance of both the physical world and contemplative thought. Through the symbolism of wine, Rabelais manifests the Platonic ideal of Love-Harmony-Order on the literal level of conviviality, in the philosophical dialogue of the symposium, and in the intuitive dialectic of Socratic contemplation.

In Rabelais's view, man can achieve self-knowledge only through reasonable control and by actively establishing a balance with society, nature, and God. The magus may diabolically use the "sciences" of astrology, magic, alchemy, and the Cabala in an attempt to subject the world to his own will, or he may achieve unity with himself and his total environment by restoring in himself the harmonious order he finds in the cosmos.

In an appendix, Professor Masters examines the continuity of the several themes of the Platonic-Hermetic tradition as they occur in the five books of the Rabelaisian corpus. He concludes, as two corollaries of the main thesis, that their constant recurrence demonstrates the thematic unity of the five books and the authenticity of Book Five.

G. Mallary Masters is assistant professor of romance languages at the State University of New York at Binghamton.