On this day: Writer Cyrano de Bergerac was born, le 6 Mars 1619
Cyrano de Bergerac, French soldier, satirist, and dramatist, whose life has been the basis of many romantic but unhistorical legends was born in Paris on this day, le 6 mars 1619 The best-known of those unhistorical legends is Edmond Rostand's verse drama Cyrano de Bergerac of 1897. Bergerac's major works were two posthumously published accounts of fantastic voyages, Voyage Dans la Lune of 1657 and L'Histoire des États et Empires du Soliel of 1662. According to Arthur C. Clarke, Cyrano must be credited both for first applying the rocket to space travel and, for inventing the ramjet. Cyrano wrote:
"I foresaw very well, that the vacuity that would happen in the icosahedron, by reason of the sunbeams, united by the concave glasses, would, to fill up the space, attract a great abundance of air, whereby my box would be carried up; and that proportionable as I mounted, the rushing wind that should force it through the hole, could not rise to the roof, but that furiously penetrating the machine, it must needs force it upon high."
The real Cyrano de Bergerac had, in real life, very little in common with the hero of the Rostand play. He was born in Paris, and educated by a priest in the village of Bergerac. Later he was sent to le Collège de Beauvais. After acquiring fame as a dueller and Bohemian, he enlisted in the army at the age of 20. However, he was an individualist and had problems adjusting to discipline - Cyrano was an opponent of the war and death penalty. His humanitarian way of thinking was acknowledged by his contemporaries and the next generations. Le Doyen's portrait of him, made after Heince, shows a sceptically smiling man, with thin moustaches and a large nose.
Cyrano was severely wounded twice, once at a fight with a Gascon Guard, and the second time at the siege of Arras in 1640. There he was hit in the neck with a sword and he never fully recovered from the wound. In the following year he gave up his military career and started to study under the philosopher and mathematician Pierre Gassendi. Influenced by Gassendi's theories and libertine philosophy, he wrote stories of imaginary journeys to the Moon and Sun, and satirized views, which saw humanity and the Earth as the center of creation. He also mocked Descartes' idea that animals are soulless machines. In his Voyage Dans la Lune, Cyrano took off from the Earth in an apparatus festooned with firecrackers. There he is classified as a bird because he has two legs. In the second journey he is tried for the crimes of humanity by a court of birds. Cyrano defends himself saying that he is not a human being but an ape. In the 1650s Cyrano de Bergerac published two plays, La Mort d'Agrippine of 1654, which was suspected of blasphemy, and Le Pédant Joué in 1654, from which Molière borrowed heavily for his play "The Cheats of Chapin."
Cyrano de Bergerac died in Paris on le 28 juillet 1655. The cause of Cyrano's death was banal: a piece of plank dropped on his head. Only parts of his major work, L'Autre Monde; Ou, Les États et Empires de la Lune, "Other Worlds: The Comical History of the States and The Empires of the Moon and the Sun," were published in posthumous versions. "Other Worlds" continued the Rabelaisian tradition of satire and was based on Lucian's "A True Story." Henri le Bret, the author's friend, censored its heretical elements. In 1676 Cyrano's collected works appeared, which included a biting poem of Mazarin (1602-61), the famous French cardinal and statesman. Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac describes the adventures of the XVII ème siecle nobleman, famous for his large nose and swordsmanship:
"'Tis well known, a big nose is indicative / Of a soul affable, and kind, and courteous, / Liberal, brave, just like myself, and such / As you can never dare to dream yourself..."Cyrano desperately loves the beautiful Roxane, but agrees to help his rival, Christian, win her heart. The historians have pointed out that Rostand's portrayal of the hero was not truthful - Cyrano was a serious writer of philosophical romances and a virile lover.
It is assumed, that the third volume in Cyrano Bergerac's series Historie Comique, "The History of the Stars," is lost or has been destroyed. Other parts were "Comical History of the States and Empires of the Moon" (1656) and "Comical History of the States and Empires of the Sun" (1661). The books, together known as L'Autre Monde, belong in the genre 'fantastic voyages', of which the oldest examples are the Sumerian "Epic of Gilgamesh," from the third millenium BC, and Homer's "Odyssey," from the first. Johannes Kepler's "Somnium" (1643), Francis Bacon's "New Atlantis" (1627), and Tommasso Campanella's "City of the Sun" were written in the XVII ème siecle. Cyrano's imaginary visits to the moon and sun satirized the people and politics of his own day. Cyrano is escorted on the Moon by the Demon of Socrates, who says: "If there is something you men cannot understand, you either imagine that it is spiritual or that it does not exist. Both conclusions are quite false. The proof of this is the fact that there are perhaps a million things in the universe which you would need a million quite different organs to know. Myself, for example, I know from my senses what attracts the lodestone to the pole, how the tides pull the sea, what becomes of an animal after its death." (from Trillion Years Spree by Brian Aldiss & David Wingrove, 2001)
In the second book he lands on the Sun, managing to invent an explanation why the heat doesn't burn. He meets Campanella, author of "Civitas Solis," to whom a woman tells that her husband has killed her child twice. He has not fulfilled his conjugal duty, because by refusing to make the child "come into existence, he caused him not to be, which was the first murder, but subsequently he caused him never to be able to be, which was the second. A Common murderer knows that the man whose days he cuts short is no more, but none of them could cause a man never to have been." Bergerac's works influenced several later writers, among them Jonathan Swift and Voltaire, whose fantastical Micromégas: Histoire Philosophique (1752) satirized our world from the viewpoint of giant visitors from space.
Cyrano de Bergerac (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)