|In the court of this ingenious grand master, Pantagruel witnessed two
classes of person, both tiresome and excessively officious, which he held
in great abomination. The one was known as Engastrimyths and the other
The Engastrimyths laid claim to be descended from the ancient line of Eurycles, relying on the testimony of Aristophanes in his comedy of The Hornets or The Wasps. These were known in ancient times as Euryclians, as Plato and Plutarch, in his book On the Cessation of Oracles, have written. The Holy Decrees, 26 quest. 3, call them ventriloquists, as does Hippocrates, speaking of the belly in the Ionian language, lib. 5 Epid. Sophocles called them Sternomantes. They were diviners, enchanters, and deluders of ignorant people, who appeared to speak and respond to those who questioned them, not from the mouth, but from the belly.
Such, in about the year 1513 of our blessed Saviour, was Jacoba Rodogina,
an Italian woman of low birth. Along with many others in Ferrara and
elsewhere, we have often heard, from the belly of this woman, and obedient
to the summons of the rich lords and princes of Cisalpine Gaul, the
voice of an unearthly spirit. The voice was low, weak and tiny, yet
always well-articulated, distinct and intelligible. In order to guard
against all possibility of dissembling and magical fraud, they caused
her to be stripped completely naked and her mouth and nostrils to be
stopped up. This evil spirit wished to be known as Crespelu (Curlyhead)
or Cincinnatus, and seemed to take pleasure in the appellation.
Whenever he was called by this name, he replied instantly to questions.
Whenever he was asked about present or past matters, he responded so
aptly as to excite the admiration of his audience. But regarding things
in the future, he always lied, never uttering the truth about them.
Often he seemed to confess his ignorance by letting out a great fart
in lieu of reply, or mumbling a few words unintelligibly and in a barbarous
François Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel (1564), Book
IV, ch. 58, Oeuvres Complètes, ed. Jacques Boulenger (Paris:
Pléiade, 1953), pp. 697-8. Trans. Steven
Connor as part of The
Dumbstruck Archive, a continuing, online supplement to Dumbstruck:
A Cultural History of Ventriloquism (Oxford: Oxford University Press,