in the scientific fundamentals of rocketry, many writers of popular
literature and science fiction discovered one of the most vital elements
in the formula for space travel, a fertile imagination. Under the impression
that the sun "draws up" dewdrops, Cyrano de Bergerac suggested
fancifully that one might fly by trapping dew in bottles, strapping
the bottles to oneself, and standing in sunlight.
de Bergerac (March 6, 1619 – July 28, 1655) was a French dramatist
born in Paris, who is now best remembered for the many works of fiction
which have been woven around his life story.
Cyrano was born
into an old Parisian family and spent much of his childhood in Saint-Forget
(now Yvelines). He went to school in Paris and spent his adult life
there when he was not on campaign. He was not, therefore, a Gascon,
but many of his fellow-soldiers would have been. The myth of his Gascon
origins may even have been cultivated by him during his lifetime, since
the swash-buckling manners of the Gascon soldiers were much admired
in his day.
Cyrano de Bergerac
was not a hugely talented writer, but the Rostand
line about his works being stolen by Molière
probably has some basis in fact. His most prominent work is now published
under the title 'otherworlds' and is a collection of stories describing
his fictional journeys to the Moon and Sun. The methods of space travel
he describes are inventive and often ingenious, detailing ideas often
broadly original and sometimes rooted in science. Cyrano rests alongside
such minds as Kepler
and Jules Verne under
the genre of 'scientific travel fiction'. In his time, de Bergerac was
a popular poet; however, his abilities were much exaggerated by Rostand
in his dramatic work. Cyrano was expert, however, in the art of dueling,
whether from a touchy disposition or because of the many gibes to which
he was subject on account of his appearance is uncertain. The real Cyrano
did not have an exceptionally big nose, but that has become the prominent
feature in all fictive versions of his life.
No Roxane has been
discovered in his life, but he did fight at the Battle of Arras, where
the historical Baron of Neuvillette, who was in fact married to Cyrano's
Cyrano was a free
thinker, although he was a pupil of Pierre Gassendi, a Canon of the
Catholic Church, albeit one who tried to reconcile Epicurean atomism
with Christianity. Cyrano had the insistence on reason that was not
common until the following century, and he would have been very much
at home in the Enlightenment. This, of course, did not fit well in a
period in which the Church and the State were supreme, and when even
the laws of art were the rules of Aristotle.
He died in Sannois
at the age of 36.
Cyrano de Bergerac
the French poet Edmond Rostand published a play, Cyrano de Bergerac,
on the subject of Cyrano's life. This play, by far Rostand's
most successful work, concentrates on Cyrano's love for the beautiful
Roxane, whom he is obliged to woo on behalf of a more conventionally
handsome, but less articulate, friend, Christian de Neuvillette, with
whom she already is in love.
The play has been
translated and performed many times, and is responsible for introducing
the word panache into the English language. It has been the subject
of several films, including a 1950 film starring José Ferrer
(for which he won an Academy Award), a 1990 French-language version
starring Gérard Depardieu, and a comedic Hollywood version, Roxanne,
starring Steve Martin.
version of Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac is one of the main characters
in Philip José Farmer's Riverworld novels.
and dramatist whose works combining political satire and science-fantasy
inspired a number of later writers. He has been the basis of many romantic
but unhistorical legends, of which the best known is Edmond Rostand's
play Cyrano de Bergerac (1897), in which he is portrayed as a gallant
and brilliant but shy and ugly lover, possessed (as in fact he was)
of a remarkably large nose.
As a young man,
Cyrano joined the company of guards and was wounded at the Siege of
Arras in 1640. But he gave up his military career in the following year
to study under the philosopher and mathematician Pierre Gassendi. Under
the influence of Gassendi's scientific theories and libertine philosophy,
Cyrano wrote his two best known works, Histoire comique des états
et empires de la lune and Histoire comique des états et empires
du soleil (Eng. trans. A Voyage to the moon: with some account of the
Solar World, 1754). These stories of imaginary journeys to the Moon
and Sun, published posthumously in 1656 and 1662, satirize 17th-century
religious and astronomical beliefs, which saw man and the world as the
centre of creation.
Cyrano's use of
science helped to popularize new theories; but his principal aim was
to ridicule authority, particularly in religion, and to encourage freethinking
materialism. He “predicted” a number of later discoveries
such as the phonograph and the atomic structure of matter; but they
were merely offshoots from an inquiring and poetic mind, not attempts
to demonstrate theories in practical terms.
include a tragedy, La Mort d'Agrippine (published 1654, “The Death
of Agrippine”), which was suspected of blasphemy, and a comedy,
Le Pédant joué (published 1654; “The Pedant Imitated”).
As long as classicism was the established taste, Le Pédant joué,
a colossal piece of fooling, was despised; but its liveliness appeals
to modern readers as it did to Molière, who based two scenes
of Les Fourberies de Scapin on it. La Mort d'Agrippine is intellectually
impressive because of its daring ideas, and the direct and impassioned
character of the tragic dialogue makes it interesting theatrically.
As a political
writer, Cyrano was the author of a violent pamphlet against the men
of the Fronde, in which he defended Mazarin in the name of political
realism as exemplified in the tradition of Machiavelli. Cyrano's Lettres
show him as a master of baroque prose, marked by bold and original metaphors.
His contemporaries regarded them as absurdly farfetched, but they came
to be esteemed in the 20th century as examples of the baroque style.