In A Nutshell
In the early 16th century, French monk Francois Rabelais released his famous comic work Gargantua and Pantagruel. A satire on (among other things) Renaissance learning and the Europe of the time, it nonetheless contained plenty of digressions on all sorts of odd topics. The oddest of these would probably be the passage where Rabelais recommends a goose’s neck as an ideal alternative to toilet paper.
The Whole Bushel
Gargantua and Pantagruel is a book that has to be read to be believed. Written in the 16th century by a French monk, it still somehow manages to be cruder than an entire season of South Park. Ostensibly the tale of two giants and their misadventures in a grotesque version of Europe, it’s also famous for its long passages giving advice on everything from managing debt to foretelling the future. But the passage everyone remembers is the one about the goose.
In Chapter 13 of the first book, the characters take time out to discuss the best method for wiping oneself without toilet paper. After a long and heated debate on the merits of using everything from old hats to attorney’s bags to a spare slipper, they finally settle on the feathers of a goose. But they don’t mean any old feathers; they specifically mean the feathers of a goose’s neck. And for best results, they should still be attached to the goose. According to the book:
“But, to conclude, I say and maintain, that of all torcheculs, arsewisps, bumfodders, tail-napkins, bunghole cleansers, and wipe-breeches, there is none in the world comparable to the neck of a goose, that is well downed, if you hold her head betwixt your legs. And believe me therein upon mine honour, for you will thereby feel in your nockhole a most wonderful pleasure, both in regard of the softness of the said down and of the temporate heat of the goose, which is easily communicated to the bum-gut and the rest the inwards, in so far as to come even to the regions of the heart and brains.”
Quite why Rabelais settled on a goose has long been a matter for critical debate. Some have seen the whole discussion as emblematic of the “new era” of the Renaissance, when old certainties were washed away and the purpose of everything had to be rediscovered afresh. Others think it’s simply the perfect way to crown a diabolically funny scene. One thing’s for sure: Next time you get caught short in the woods, you’ll know to keep an eye out for any wandering geese.