Today is the 402nd birthday of the novelist, playwright, epistolarian, and duelist Cyrano de Bergerac. He is the inspiration behind the play by Edmond Rostand. The world is a better place because he was in it and still feels the loss that he has left.
NAME: Cyrano de Bergerac
AKA: Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac
DATE OF BIRTH: 6 March 1619
PLACE OF BIRTH: Paris, France
DATE OF DEATH: 28 July 1655 (aged 36)
PLACE OF DEATH: Sannois, France
BEST KNOWN FOR: A bold and innovative author, his work was part of the libertine literature of the first half of the seventeenth century.
He was the son of Abel de Cyrano, lord of Mauvières and Bergerac, and Espérance Bellanger. He received his first education from a country priest, and had for a fellow pupil his friend and future biographer Henri Lebret. He then proceeded to Paris, and the heart of the Latin Quarter, to the college de Dormans-Beauvais, where he had as master Jean Grangier, whom he afterwards ridiculed in his comedy Le Pédant joué (The Pedant Tricked) of 1654. At the age of nineteen, he entered a corps of the guards, serving in the campaigns of 1639 and 1640. As a minor nobleman and officer he was notorious for his dueling and boasting. His unique past allowed him to make unique contributions to French art.
One author, Ishbel Addyman, varies from other biographers and claims that he was not a Gascon aristocrat, but a descendant of a Sardinian fishmonger and that the Bergerac appellation stemmed from a small estate near Paris where he was born, and not in Gascony, and that he may have suffered tertiary syphilis. She also claims that he may likely have been homosexual and around 1640 became the lover of Charles Coypeau d’Assoucy, a writer and musician, until around 1653, when they became engaged in a bitter rivalry. This led to Bergerac sending d’Assoucy death threats that compelled him to leave Paris. The quarrel extended to a series of satirical texts by both men. Bergerac wrote Contre Soucidas (an anagram of his enemy’s name) and Contre un ingrat (Against an ingrate), while D’Assoucy counterattacked with Le Combat de Cyrano de Bergerac avec le singe de Brioché, au bout du Pont-Neuf (The battle of Cyrano de Bergerac with the monkey of Brioché, at the end of the Pont-Neuf). He also associated with Théophile de Viau, the French poet and libertine.
He is said to have left the military and returned to Paris to pursue literature, producing tragedies cast in the orthodox classical mode.
The model for the Roxane character of the Rostand play was Bergerac’s cousin, who lived with his sister, Catherine de Bergerac, at the Convent of the Daughter of the Cross. As in the play, Bergerac did fight at the Siege of Arras (1640) a battle of the Thirty Years’ War between French and Spanish forces in France (though this was not the more famous final Battle of Arras, fought fourteen years later). During the siege he suffered a neck wound from a sword during a sortie by the Spanish defenders, a day before the surrender of the Spanish troops and the end of the siege. One of his confrères in the battle was the Baron Christian of Neuvillette, who married Cyrano’s cousin. However, the plotline of Rostand’s play, Cyrano de Bergerac, involving Roxane and Christian is entirely fictional.
Cyrano was a pupil of French polymath Pierre Gassendi, a canon of the Catholic Church who tried to reconcile Epicurean atomism with Christianity.
Cyrano de Bergerac’s works L’Autre Monde: ou les États et Empires de la Lune (Comical History of 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 (it may be the earliest description of a space flight by use of a vessel that has rockets attached) and meets the inhabitants. The Moon-men have four legs, firearms that shoot game and cook it, and talking earrings used to educate children.
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. Corneille and Molière freely borrowed ideas from Le Pédant joué.
he play suggests that he was injured by a falling wooden beam in 1654 while entering the house of his patron, the Duc D’Arpajon. However the academic and editor of Cyrano’s works, Madeleine Alcover, uncovered a contemporary text which suggests an attack on the Duke’s carriage in which a member of his household was injured. It is as yet inconclusive as to whether or not his death was a result of the injury, or an unspecified disease. He died over a year later on July 28, 1655, aged 36, at the house of his cousin, Pierre De Cyrano, in Sannois. He was buried in a church in Sannois. However, there is strong evidence to support the theory that his death was a result of a botched assassination attempt as well as further damage to his health caused by a period of confinement in a private asylum, orchestrated by his enemies, who succeeded in enlisting the help of his own brother Abel de Cyrano.
Author of books:
Historie Comique des États et Empires de la Lune (1657)
L’Historie Comique des États et Empires du Soleil (1662)
Œuvres Comiques, Galantes et Littéraires (1858)
La Mort d’Agrippine (1654)
Le Pédant Joué (1654)