(g hard), according to Rabelais, was son of Grangousier and Gargamelle. Immediately he was born he cried out “Drink, drink!” so lustily that the words were heard in Beauce and Bibarois; whereupon his royal father exclaimed, “Que grand tu as!” which, being the first words he uttered after the birth of the child, were accepted as its name; so it was called “Gah-gran'-tu-as,” corrupted into Gar-g'an-tu-a. It needed 17,913 cows to supply the babe with milk. When he went to Paris to finish his education he rode on a mare as big as six elephants, and took the bells of Notre Dame to hang on his mare's neck as jingles. At the prayer of the Parisians he restored the bells, and they consented to feed his mare for nothing. On his way home he was fired at from the castle at Vede Ford, and on reaching home combed his hair with a comb 900 feet long, when at every “rake” seven bullet-balls fell from his hair. Being desirous of a salad for dinner, he went to cut some lettuces as big as walnut-trees, and ate up six pilgrims from Sebastian, who had hidden themselves among them out of fear. Picrochole, having committed certain offences, was attacked by Gargantua in the rock Clermond, and utterly defeated; and Gargantua, in remembrance of this victory, founded and endowed the abbey of Theleme [Te-lame]. (Rabelais: Gargantua, i. 7.)
Gargantua is said to be a satire on Francois I., but this cannot be correct, as he was born in the kingdom of the butterflies, was sent to Paris to finish his education, and left it again to succour his own country. Motteux, perceiving these difficulties, thinks it is meant for Henri d'Albret, King of Navarre.
Gargantua's mare. Those who make Gargantua to be Francois I. make his “great mare” to be Mme. d'Estampes. Motteux, who looks upon the romance as a satire on the Reform party, is at a loss how to apply this word, and merely says, “It is some lady.” Rabelais says, “She was as big as six elephants, and had her feet cloven into fingers. She was of a burnt-sorrel hue, with a little mixture of dapple-grey; but, above all, she had a terrible tail, for it was every whit as great as the steeple pillar of St. Mark.” When the beast got to Orléans, and the wasps assaulted her, she switched about her tail so furiously that she knocked down all the trees that grew in the vicinity, and Gargantua, delighted, exclaimed, “Je trouve beau ce!” wherefore the locality has been called “Beauce” ever since. The satire shows the wilfulness and extravagance of court mistresses.
(Rabelais: Gargantua and Pantagruel, book i. 16.)
Gargantua's shepherds, according to Motteux, mean Lutheran preachers; but those who look upon the romance as a political satire, think the Crown ministers and advisers are intended.
Gargantua's thirst. Motteux says the “great thirst” of Gargantua, and “mighty drought” at Pantagruel's birth, refer to the withholding the cup from the laity, and the clamour raised by the Reform party for the wine as well as the bread in the eucharist.
Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894