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Chapter 1 of François Rabelais's novel Pantagruel contains a long list of ancestors of Pantagruel (quoted from the edition on Wikisource, emphasis added):

Et le premier fut Chalbroth,
Qui engendra Sarabroth,
Qui engendra Faribroth,
Qui engendra Hurtaly, qui fut beau mangeur de souppes et regna au temps du deluge,
Qui engendra Nembroth,
(...)

In the translation by Thomas Urquhart and Peter Antony Motteux, this passage reads as follows:

And the first was Chalbroth,
Who begat Sarabroth,
Who begat Faribroth,
Who begat Hurtali, that was a brave eater of pottage, and reigned in the time of the flood;
Who begat Nembroth,
(...)

This list goes on for quite some time. The list reads like a parody of genealogical lists that can be found elsewhere, see for example the Generations of Noah. Does this list have any other meaning? For example, are the names meaningful in some way?

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  • See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hurtaly – mikado May 31 at 20:54
  • And apparently Nembroth is en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nimrod – mikado May 31 at 21:21
  • @mikado I know. There are a few dozen names on that list, some of which are well-known, whereas others are obscure. – Tsundoku May 31 at 21:42
  • There's a lot of soup in this list. Everyone's name ends in "broth" except Hurtali, Hurtali is a "brave eater of pottage" and of course Pantagruel's name ends in "gruel". Does this hold up in French? I'd have thought not, but it's an odd coincidence. (Although I see that it doesn't continue in the rest of the list.) By the way, your second link is wrong - it's the same as the first. – A. B. Jun 1 at 11:40
  • @A.B. I have corrected the link. With regard to the names, you are barking up the wrong tree: "broth" doesn't mean anything in French and "Pantagruel" has nothing to do with "gruel". – Tsundoku Jun 1 at 18:32
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This is Rabelais, so yes, you can expect a lot of meaning that is not apparent to the casual reader, especially the casual modern reader. Some names are classic references (you've probably spotted Goliath, Polyphemus, Sisyphus…), others are allusions to more recent authors, others are puns, others are purely made up to sound in a certain way.

My answer is based on the Pléiade edition with commentary by Mireille Huchon. Almost every name in this list has a footnote. I'll first translate the footnote regarding the list in general.

This mention summarizes the genealogy and leads to a long development. Biblical and mythological names names alternate with characters from medieval novels and crafted names with obscene allusions. See Officina by Ravisius Textor, 1532, f° 142 r°, which enumerates a list of giants and tall men: (…). From Atlas to Gemmagog, all the names cited here are present in Ravisius Textor's writings, except for Eryx and Cace (two giants killed by Hercules), Enay, Sisyphus and the Titans.

As indicated in A. Lefranc, La Généalogie de Pantagruel, Revue des études rabelaisiennes, V, 1907, p. 194, the Titans are mentioned in the commentary on the list, Cacus in the list of “fortissimi homines”, Eryx in the list of Athletae, Sisyphe in the list of dwarfs. The mention of Giants is based on Genesis, VI, 4: according to the Vulgate, Giants are the issue of sons of God and daughters of men, the former being considered in the Middle-Ages to be descendants of Abel, the latter of Cain. In Ovid's writings as well (Metamorphoses, I, 135 ff.) as well, the earth, impregnated by the blood of giants, produces a new race of men (see E. M. Duval, The Design of Rabelais's Pantagruel, p. 22).

Even without any reference material, there's a visible progression: first Hebrew-sounding names, then Greek names, then Latin, then mixed origins for a while, then old French, then modern French. So the order follows the expected cultural references for the main periods of history in chronological order.

Here's some anecdotal information about some of the names, based on Mireille Huchon's footnotes. I picked footnotes that I considered to be interesting, this is not a statistically significant sample.

  • Nembroth (known today as Nimrod) is cited in Boccacio's Genealogy of the Gods as one of the two Biblical giants who were instrumental in building the Tower of Babel. The other -broth names are made up.
  • Hurtaly is based on Og according to [M. A. Screech]'s edition of Rabelais: this is a parody of a tale by Rabbi Eliezar (I don't know which of the several famous rabbis whose name this could be a transliteration of). Og sat on the ladder outside Noah's arch and Noah passed him food through a hole. According to Lazăr Șăineanu, La Langue de Rabelais, 1922, II, p. 35, the name is a deformation of the Hebrew Ha-palit, meaning “he who escaped”, based on a Biblical commentary that Rabelais is known to have read.
  • Eryx is the son of Venus and either Butes (mentioned Virgil's Aeneid) or Neptune. He fought with enormous gloves made of ox skin with iron barbs which he threw at his opponents.
  • Etion is cited by Ravisius Textor. His body was supposedly unearthed in Crete after an earthquake. Giovanni Bertachini is an Italian legal scholar whom Rabelais didn't like. I have no information about his drinking habits or illnesses.
  • Encelade, Cée, Typhoe, Aloe (Alous), Athlas, Briaré are sons of Titan. Briareus has a hundred hands in Greek mythology.
  • Gabbara is mentioned in Pliny and Ravisius Textor. Offot is mentioned in Ravisius Textor. I have no information on their drinking habits.
  • Happe mousche is still recognizable in modern French as meaning “fly-swallower”.
  • Bolivorax is a Greek coinage meaning “earth-eater”.
  • Gayoffe is the name a character in Teofilo Folengo's Baldo, which is known to have inspired Rabelais. I don't know if the characteristics attributed to him by Rabelais are from Folengo.
  • Galehault (at least the name) is from Arthurian tales.
  • Galaffre, Sortibrant and Mabrun and a few others are the names of Saracen kings, taken from the Song of Roland or other Charlemagne legends.
  • Foutasnlon (Foutasnon in my edition) sounds obscene. I can't fully explain the name, especially given the two variant spellings, but the beginning fout- means “fuck”. According to Roland Antonioli, Rabelais et la médecine, p. 40, this may be an allusion to a medical doctor from Montpellier called Denis Fontanon.
  • Vitdegrain means “grain-dick”. (I don't know what “grain” connotes here, if anything.)
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According to Pierre Michel's edition of the novel, the list combines names from the Bible, Greek and Roman literature, medieval literature and names that Rabelais invented. The list parodies Matthew, chapter 1: "Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judas and his brethren; (..)".

It is also worth mentioning that the number of generations that separate Chalbroth from Pantagruel is exactly the same as the number of generations that separates Adam from Jesus (G. Defaux, page 27-28) and Rabelais makes up names to makes sure that both numbers match.[1]

For the convenience of most readers here, I will go through the list as presented in the translation by by Thomas Urquhart and Peter Antony Motteux:

  1. “And the first was Chalbroth”: According to Pierre Michel, Chalbroth Sarabroth and Faribroth are names invented by Rabelais, who made them sound Biblical by the ending "broth".
  2. Sarabroth
  3. Faribroth
  4. Hurtali, that was a brave eater of pottage, and reigned in the time of the flood”: also known as Ha-palit or Og. According to Hebrew Bible commentaries, he was the only survivor of the Flood, besides Noah and his family. He sat astride the roof of Noah's ark and received food from Noah (Pierre Michel). He is also mentioned in Nicholas of Lyra's Postillae, a commentary on the Bible (Gérard Defaux).
  5. Nembroth”: “Nemrod” in Pierre Michel's edition: king of Chaldea, also known as a hunter (Pierre Michel).
  6. Atlas, that with his shoulders kept the sky from falling”: a Titan from Greek mythology. Rabelais now begins listing names from Greek mythology (with the exception of Golia(t)h).
  7. Goliah”: spelled "Goliath" in the editions by P. Michel and G. Defaux. Well-known Philistine giant from the Book of Samuel.
  8. Erix, that invented the hocus pocus plays of legerdemain”: Eryx, a Sicilian giant killed by Hercules (and mentioned by Virgil) (P. Michel). (Wikipedia says Eryx may refer to two personages.)
  9. Titius”: after being killed by Apollo and Diana, two vultures eat his liver in hell (P. Michel). Spelled "Tiyus" in Price and Kearns's dictionary, which points out that he was a son of Gaia.
  10. Eryon”: actually the hunter Orion, who was turned into a constellation together with his dog Sirius.
  11. Polyphemus”: Polyphemus, the Cyclop duped by Ulysses in the Odyssey. Son of Poseidon (Price and Kearns, see entry "Cyclopes").
  12. Cacus” (Cace in P. Michel's edition, Cacé in G. Defaux's edition): Cacus, "fire-breathing giant and the son of Vulcan" (Wikipedia). "Fire-breathing monster inhabiting the Palatine hill in Rome"; killed by Heracles (Price and Kearns).
  13. Etion, the first man that ever had the pox, for not drinking fresh in summer, as Bartachin witnesseth”: possibly Otus, a giant from Crete mentioned by Pliny the Elder, or Eetion, father of Andromache (P. Michel). (Otus does not seem to match the description of the Aloadae or Otus of Cyllene.) Bertachim or Bertachim was an Italian jurist mocked by Rabelais (P. Michel, G. Defaux).
  14. Enceladus”: the giant Enceladus, who, according to some authors, was struck down by Zeus and lies buried under Mount Etna in Sicily (P. Michel).
  15. Ceus”: a Titan (P. Michel).
  16. Tiphaeus”: son of Tartarus and Gaia who led the revolt of the Giants against Jupiter and whom Jupiter killed with a thunderbolt (P. Michel). Note the confusion with Titans and others mentioned on Wikipedia, where Typhon is mentioned as the son of Gaia and Tartarus.
  17. Alaeus” or Aloeus, a Titan.
  18. Othus”: a mythical giant (P. Michel).
  19. Aegeon”: another name for Briareus, a giant with one hundred arms (P. Michel). Hecatoncheires on Wikipedia.
  20. Briareus, that had a hundred hands”: see above. (Rabelais is probably pulling our leg here.)
  21. Porphyrio”: a giant (P. Michel).
  22. Adamastor”: a giant (P. Michel).
  23. Anteus”: giant son of Neptune and Gaia. Since he derived his strength from the earth, his mother, Hercules held him aloft until his strength had drained away and then strangled him (P. Michel).
  24. Agatho” or Agathon: a son of King Priam of Troy (P. Michel).
  25. Porus, against whom fought Alexander the Great”: king in India whom Plutarch described as a giant (P. Michel).
  26. Aranthas”: giant defeated by Nicephorus (P. Michel). It is not clear which Nicephorus P. Michel has in mind.
  27. Gabbara, that was the first inventor of the drinking of healths”: giant mentioned by Pliny the Elder but without a reference to drinking to other people's health. Gabara, with just one 'b', according to Wikipedia.
  28. Goliah of Secondille”: a giant who lived during the reign of Augustus, according to Pliny the Elder (P. Michel).
  29. Offot, that was terribly well nosed for drinking at the barrel-head”: a giant shepherd mentioned by the humanist Ravisius Textor, a contemporary of Rabelais. Many of the strange names in this genealogy of giants are borrowed from Ravisius Textor's Officina vel Naturae historia per locos (P. Michel).
  30. Artachaeus”: a giant from Antiquity (P. Michel).
  31. Oromedon”: a giant from Antiquity (P. Michel).
  32. Gemmagog, the first inventor of Poulan shoes, which are open on the foot and tied over the instep with a lachet”: a giant mentioned by Ravisius Textor. The type of shoe mentioned here had already gone out of fashion by Rabelais's time (P. Michel).
  33. Sisyphus”: the famous trickster who was punished by being forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill which keeps rolling back (Price and Kearns).
  34. “the Titans, of whom Hercules was born”: Sisyphus was by no means to father of the Titans, who were actually a generation of gods preceding the Olympians (Price and Kearns: entry "Titans"). Hercules's / Heracles's parents were the god Zeus and the the mortal woman Alcmene.
  35. Enay, the most skilful man that ever was in matter of taking the little worms (called cirons) out of the hands”: Biblical giant, whose descendants, the Enacim, still lived in the time of Moses; the cirons are of Rabelais's invention (P. Michel). Anak on Wikipedia.
  36. Fierabras, that was vanquished by Oliver, peer of France and Roland's comrade”: the Saracen giant Fierabras; the first of a series of names that Rabelais borrows from chivalric literature (P. Michel, G. Defaux).
  37. Morgan, the first in the world that played at dice with spectacles”: giant from medieval literature, which inspired Luigi Pulci's Morgante (published in 1483) (G. Defaux).
  38. Fracassus, of whom Merlin Coccaius hath written, and of him was born Ferragus”: Fracassus is a character in Macaronées (1530) by Merlino Coccajo or Merlinus Cocaius, pseudonym of Teofilo Folengo (1491–1544). Fracassus knocked his enemies over the head with the clapper of a church bell (P. Michel).
  39. Ferragus”: character from the Roman de Fierabras (see "Fierabras", above; P. Michel).
  40. Hapmouche, the first that ever invented the drying of neat's tongues in the chimney”: literally "fly eater"; the first of a series of names from folk tales and invented names (G. Defaux). P. Michel assumes that this and the next two names were made up by Rabelais.
  41. Bolivorax”: literally "earth eater" (P. Michel).
  42. Longis” or Longys, the "slow one" (P. Michel; see also longis in Wiktionary.fr).
  43. Gayoffo” or Gayoffe, "Good-for-nothing" (P. Michel).
  44. Maschefain”: literally "hay chewer" (P. Michel).
  45. Bruslefer”: according to Maschefain and Bruslefer belong to a popular tradition about giants and goblins.
  46. Angoulevent”: literally "wind eater". Engoulevent is also the name of a captain in Chapter XXIV of Gargantua and the name of a bird that flies wiht its mouth wide open (P. Michel).
  47. Galehaut, the inventor of flagons”: king of Great Britain and friend of Lancelot (P. Michel). Wikipedia says that Galehaut is "a very tall knight in the Arthurian legend" and that he should not be confused with Lancelot's son Galahad.
  48. Mirelangaut”: a name made up by Rabelais (P. Michel).
  49. Gallaffre”: a Saracen king in the 13th-century chanson de geste Huon of Bordeaux (P. Michel).
  50. Falourdin”: name derived from falourde, a faggot or bundle of sticks for burning (P. Michel, G. Defaux).
  51. Roboast”: Saracen giant (P. Michel).
  52. Sortibrant of Conimbres”: Saracen king of Coimbra (P. Michel).
  53. Brushant of Mommiere”: a Saracen from the Roman de Fierabras (see "Fierabras", above; P. Michel).
  54. Bruyer that was overcome by Ogier the Dane, peer of France”: Bruyer was a Saracen giant. Ogier the Dane / Ogier le Danois was a knight of Charlemagne and a giant (P. Michel).
  55. Mabrun”: Maubrun d'Aigremalée: Saracen character from the Roman de Fierabras (see "Fierabras", above; P. Michel).
  56. Foutasnon”: name made up by Rabelais (P. Michel).
  57. Haquelebac”: according to the French writer and diplomat Philippe de Commines, Haquelebac was the name of a guard at the Château d'Amboise (P. Michel, G. Defaux).
  58. Vitdegrain”: name made up by Rabelais (P. Michel).
  59. Grangousier” or Grandgousier: a name from French folktales (P. Michel) whose name literally means "Big Throat". See the novel Gargantua, which Rabelais wrote after Pantagruel.
  60. Gargantua

References:

  • Price, Simon; Kearns, Emily (editors): The Oxford Dictionary of Classical Myth and Religion. Oxford University Press, 2003.
  • Rabelais, François: Pantagruel. Publié sur le texte définitif établi et annoté par Pierre Michel. Préface de Jacques Perret. Éditions et Librairie Générale Française / Le Livre de Poche, 1964. (Based on the edition published by François Juste in Lyon in 1542, which is often referred to as the "definitive" edition. Unmodernised French text on the right-hand side with notes on the facing page. Out of print.)
  • Rabelais, François: Pantagruel. Édition critique sur le texte de l'édition publiée en 1534 à Lyon par François Juste. Introduction, variantes et notes par Gérard Defaux. Librairie Générale Française / Le Livre de Poche, 1994. (Based on the rarely reprinted 1534 edition. Modernised French text on the right-hand side with notes on the facing page. Out of print.)

[1] For what it's worth, sources on the internet give other numbers of generations from Adam to Jesus. For example, a user named SummaScriptura based on Luke 3 (American Standard Versio (compare Luke 3 in the KJV). How many generations were there from Adam to Jesus? on eBible.com has answers that suggest that the number varies.

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