Cyrano de Bergerac, 1619-1655

Portrait

Biographical note

French dramatist and duelist. He is now best remembered for the works of fiction which have been woven, often very loosely, around his life story, most notably the 1897 play by Edmond Rostand. In these fictional works he is featured with an overly large nose, which people would travel from miles around to see. Portraits suggest that he did have a big nose, though not nearly as large as described in Rostand's play and the subsequent works about him. His work furnished models and ideas for subsequent writers.

Cyrano was a freethinker and a pupil of Pierre Gassendi, a canon of the Catholic Church who tried to reconcile Epicurean atomism with Christianity. Cyrano's insistence on reason was rare in his time. His tragedy Mort d'Agrippine (1654) was regarded at the time as the vehicle of atheistic teaching.

Cyrano de Bergerac's works L'Autre Monde: ou les États et Empires de la Lune (The Other World: or the States and Empires of the Moon) (published posthumously, 1657) and Les États et Empires du Soleil (The States and Empires of the Sun) (1662) are classics of early modern science fiction. In the former, Cyrano travels to the moon using rockets powered by firecrackers and meets the inhabitants. The moon-men have four legs, musical voices, and firearms that shoot game and cook it. His mixture of science and romance in the last two works furnished a model for many subsequent writers, among them Jonathan Swift, Edgar Allan Poe and probably Voltaire.

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