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This report is taken from PN Review 146, Volume 28 Number 6, July - August 2002.

Polyglots and Pedigree Lawrence Sail

The Abbey of Thélème, planned and built by Rabelais' enlightened giant Gargantua, was a kind of dream Renaissance comprehensive school true to the derivation of its name (from the Greek [...], wish, desire). In pointed contrast to medieval antecedents, the Abbey would have no surrounding walls and no clocks, but there were to be women as well as men, with both alike free to leave at will: and the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience would be replaced by the possibilities of marriage, wealth and freedom. Hexagonal in design, with towers at each turn, the Abbey was to include 'libraries in Greek, Latin, Hebrew, French, Tuscan and Spanish', and inscribed over the main entrance was the Thélémites' sole rule, FAY CE QUE VOULDRAS. 'So nobly were they instructed,' Rabelais reports, 'that there was not one amongst them, man or woman, who did not know how to read, write, sing, play tuneful instruments, speak five or six languages and to compose in any of them as much in verse as in prose.' Later in the century Montaigne, too, acknowledges the place of languages in education (in 'De l'institution des enfans'), recommending foreign travel partly to study the character and customs of other nations, and so 'to rub up and hone our brain against that of others': but also 'in order to kill two birds with one stone' by beginning from earliest childhood with visits to 'neighbouring countries where the language is most removed from our own and which, unless you ...


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