Cyrano de Bergerac
French novelist and dramatist (1619–1655)
The Other World (1657) edit
- L'autre monde ou Les états et empires de la lune (The Other World or The states and empires of the moon), often referred to as Voyage dans la lune (Voyage to the Moon). Full text online : The Other World: Society and Government of the Moon (2003) as translated and annotated by Donald Webb
- "I think the Moon is a world like this one, and the Earth is its moon."
My friends greeted this with a burst of laughter. "And maybe," I told them, "someone on the Moon is even now making fun of someone else who says that our globe is a world."
- I had scarcely entered the room when I saw on my table an open book I had not put there. It was the works of Cardano. I did not intend to read it, but my gaze fell as though compelled on a story told by that philosopher. He writes that he was studying one night by candlelight when he saw two tall old men come in through the closed doors of his room. He asked them many questions, and they finally told him they were from the Moon; whereupon they disappeared.
I was so surprised, both by the book that had put itself on my table and by the page it was open to, that I took this chain of events for an inspiration from God, who was urging me to tell people that the Moon is a world.
- I established myself in a fairly remote country house and entertained my imagination with various means of transport. Here is how I betook myself to heaven.
I attached to myself a number of bottles of dew, and the heat of the sun, which attracted it, drew me so high that I finally emerged above the highest clouds. But the sun's attraction of the dew drew me upwards so rapidly that instead of approaching the Moon, as I intended, I seemed to be farther from it than when I started. I broke open some of the bottles and felt my weight overcome the attraction and bring me back towards the earth.
- With my equipment, I walked toward a thatched cottage from which I saw smoke emerging. I was scarcely within pistol-shot range when I was surrounded by a large number of savages. They were very surprised to meet me, because I think I was the first they had seen dressed in bottles. And, to confound even more all the interpretations they might have given to this attire, I walked almost without touching the ground. They could not know that any jostling of my body raised me off the ground because the dew was heated by the noonday sun and that more bottles of dew might have taken me upwards into the air.
- I was presented to Monsieur de Montmagny, the viceroy. He asked my nationality, name, and rank. When I had satisfied him by recounting the success of my voyage, which he either believed or pretended to, he kindly lent me a room in his apartment. I was happy to meet a man capable of enlightened opinions, one who was not surprised when I told him that the earth must have turned beneath me while I was aloft. Having begun my ascent two leagues from Paris, I had come down in almost a straight line to Canada.
- In the evening, as I was going to bed, I saw him come into my room.
"I would not have come," he told me, "and interrupt your rest unless I believed that someone who could travel nine hundred leagues in half a day could have done so without getting tired. You don't know of the fine argument I've been having about you with our Jesuit priests?" he added. "They insist you are a magician. The best you can hope for from them is to pass only for an impostor."
- Most men judge only by their senses and let themselves be persuaded by what they see. Just as the man whose boat sails from shore to shore thinks he is stationary and that the shore moves, men turn with the earth under the sky and have believed that the sky was turning above them. On top of that, insufferable vanity has convinced humans that nature has been made only for them, as though the sun, a huge body four hundred and thirty-four times as large as the earth, had been lit only to ripen our crab apples and cabbages.
I am not one to give in to the insolence of those brutes. I think the planets are worlds revolving around the sun and that the fixed stars are also suns that have planets revolving around them. We can't see those worlds from here because they are so small and because the light they reflect cannot reach us. How can one honestly think that such spacious globes are only large, deserted fields? And that our world was made to lord it over all of them just because a dozen or so vain wretches like us happen to be crawling around on it? Do people really think that because the sun gives us light every day and year, it was made only to keep us from bumping into walls? No, no, this visible god gives light to man by accident, as a king's torch accidentally shines upon a working man or burglar passing in the street."
- As God has made the soul immortal, he has made the universe infinite, if it is true that eternity is nothing other than unlimited duration and infinity is space without limits. Suppose the universe were not infinite: God himself would be finite, because he could not be where there is nothing, and he could not increase the size of the universe without adding to his own size and come to be where he had not been before.
- After a while the press of business in the province put an end to our philosophizing, and I returned with increased determination to my plans to fly to the Moon.
- I constructed a machine that I imagined was capable of taking me as high as I wanted to go. I launched myself into the air from the edge of a cliff. But I had miscalculated, and I crashed into the valley below.
I returned to my room, quite rumpled but not discouraged. I took some beef marrow and slathered it all over my body, which was bruised from head to toe. I fortified my courage with a bottle of cordial and went back for my machine.
- I ran and grabbed the arm of the soldier who was lighting the fire. I tore the fuse away from him and, furious, threw myself into my machine to break down the contraption surrounding it. But I was too late. Hardly had I stepped inside when I found myself propelled into the clouds.
I was terrified, but my mind was not too upset for me to remember all that happened at that moment. I can tell you, then, that the fire burned out a bank of rockets (which had been linked together in rows of six with a hook at the edge of each set of half-dozen). Another stage ignited, then another, so that the danger in the gunpowder was left behind as it burned. When the material was used up, the scaffolding was gone. I was thinking that all I had left to do was ram my head against some mountain when I felt (without moving in the slightest) that I was still going up. My machine separated from me, and I saw it fall back to earth.
- After falling for a very long time, as I surmise after the fact (I was falling so fast that I must have lost track), all I can remember is that I found myself under a tree. I was entangled in three or four rather large branches I had broken in my fall. An apple had squashed against my face and made it all wet with its juice.
Fortunately, as you will soon learn, this place was the Garden of Eden, and the tree I had fallen into was none other than the Tree of Life. You would be quite right to think I would have been killed a thousand times over but for this miraculous good fortune.
- The angel had told me in my dream that if I wanted to acquire the perfect knowledge I desired, I would have to go to the Moon. There I would find Adam's paradise and the Tree of Knowledge. As soon as I had tasted its fruit, my mind would be enlightened with all the truths a person could know. That is the voyage for which I built my chariot.
Finally, I climbed aboard and, when I was securely settled on the seat, I tossed the magnetic ball high into the air. The chariot I had built was more massive in the middle than at the ends; it was perfectly balanced because the middle rose faster than the extremities. When I had risen to the point that the magnet was drawing me to, I seized the magnetic ball and tossed it into the air again.
- Elijah to Cyrano
- To tell the truth, the chariot was an astonishing sight to behold, because I had polished the steel of my flying house so carefully that it reflected the sunlight on all sides. It was so bright and dazzling that I thought, myself, that I had been carried away in a chariot of fire.
- Elijah to Cyrano
- The apple of knowledge is not far from here. As soon as you've eaten it, you'll know as much as I do. But be careful not to make any mistakes: most of the apples hanging from that tree are enveloped in a thick skin. If you taste it, you will be brought low, beneath man; the inner part of the fruit will bring you up to the level of an angel.
- Angel to Elijah
- You are now bearing the punishment for the shortcomings of your world. Here, as in your world, there are benighted people who cannot tolerate thinking about things they are not accustomed to. But you realize that you are being treated here the same as there. If someone from this world came to yours with the audacity to call himself a man, your learned men would stifle him for being a monster or a monkey possessed by the Devil.
- Sun-being (démon; spirit) to Cyrano
- The people of your world became so stupid and rude that my companions and I no longer enjoyed teaching them. You must surely have heard of us: we were called oracles, nymphs, spirits, fairies, household gods, lemures, larvas, lamias, sprites, water-nymphs, incubi, shades, spirits of the dead, specters and ghosts.
- Sun-being to Cyrano
- I am not from your world or this one; I was born on the Sun. Sometimes our world becomes overcrowded because our people live so long. Our people are almost free of wars and illness, and sometimes our government officials send colonies to neighboring worlds.
- Sun-being to Cyrano
- To make myself visible as I am now, when I sense that the cadaver that I occupy is almost worn out or that the organs are no longer working very well, I breathe myself into a young body that has just died.
- Sun-being to Cyrano
- Even though they, themselves, were material beings, they could show themselves to us only by taking on bodies that our senses were able to perceive.
- You imagine that what you can't understand is either spiritual or does not exist. The conclusion is quite wrong; rather there are obviously a million things in the universe that we would need a million quite different organs to understand. For example, I perceive by my senses what makes a magnet point north, what makes tides rise and fall, and what becomes of an animal after death. Your people are not proportioned to perceive such miracles, just as someone blind from birth cannot imagine the beauty of a landscape, the colors of a painting or the shadings of an iris. He will imagine them as something palpable, edible, audible or olfactory. Likewise, if I were to explain to you what I perceive by the senses you do not have, you would interpret it as something that could be heard, seen, touched, smelled or tasted; but it is not like that.
- I felt the body I was occupying so weakened that all its organs were shutting down. I asked the way to the hospital, and as soon as I walked in I discovered the body of a young man who had just given up the ghost. I approached the body and pretended I had seen it move. I protested to all the attendants that he wasn't dead and that his illness wasn't even dangerous. Nobody noticed when I adroitly breathed myself into him. My old body immediately dropped dead, and I stood up in this fresh body. Everyone exclaimed that it was a miracle, and I didn't stop to disabuse them.
- Our host received a piece of paper from my familiar spirit. I asked if he were giving him a check or note to pay the bill. He answered no, that he had settled the account with a poem.
"What? A poem?" I asked. "Are innkeepers curious about rhymes?"
"It's the local currency," he answered. "The sextain I've just given him will cover our expenses. I wasn't afraid of coming up short. Even if we'd spent a week in luxury, it wouldn't have cost a sonnet, and I have four on me. Along with two epigrams, two odes and an eclogue."
- One day, my male companion (they took me for the female) told me what had really caused him to wander about the world and finally to leave it for the Moon. He had not been able to find a single country where the imagination was free.
- How do you think a spade, sword or dagger wounds us? Because the metal is a form of matter in which the particles are closer and more tightly bound together than those of your flesh. The metal forces flesh to yield to strength, just as a galloping squadron penetrates a battle line that is of much greater extent.
And why is a piece of hot metal hotter than a piece of burning wood? Because the metal contains more heat in a smaller volume. The particles in the metal are more compact than those in the wood.
- Do you say it is incomprehensible that there is nothingness in the world and that we are partly composed of nothing? Well, why not? Is not the whole world enveloped by nothingness? Since you concede that point, admit as well that it is just as easy for the world to have nothingness within as without.
- A man contains all that is needed to make up a tree; likewise, a tree contains all that is needed to make up a man. Thus, finally, all things meet in all things, but we need a Prometheus to distill it.
- The town was abuzz with talk of the King's animals.
We were fed regularly, and the King and Queen quite often enjoyed feeling my abdomen to see if I weren't pregnant; they were extraordinarily eager to have a whole family of little animals like us.
- I learned to understand their language and to speak it a little. Immediately the news spread throughout the kingdom that two little wild men had been discovered. We were smaller than everybody else because the wilderness had provided us with such bad food. And it was a genetic defect that caused us to have forelimbs that weren't strong enough to support us.
This belief gained strength through repetition despite the priests of the country. They opposed it, saying that it was an awful impiety to believe that not only animals but monsters might be of the same species as they.
- People were soon talking only of my bons mots, and they esteemed my wit so highly that the clergy was forced to publish a decree that forbade anyone to believe I was capable of reason, and it expressly commanded everyone of all ranks to believe — no matter how intelligently I might act — that I was guided by instinct.
- Even if a king defeats his enemy in battle, that still doesn't settle anything. There are other, less numerous armies of philosophers and scientists, and their contests determine the true triumph or defeat of nations.
One scholar is matched with another; one creative mind with another; and one judicious temperament with his counterpart. A victory won on that field counts for three won by force of arms.
- I could scarcely keep from laughing at this scrupulous manner of waging war. I cited the European example as a much more forceful policy. A monarch is careful not to overlook any advantage for victory. She had some questions about that: "Tell me," she said, "do your princes have no other pretext for war than might makes right?"
"Yes," I answered, "the justice of their cause."
"Why, then," she continued, "do they not choose to be reconciled by impartial judges? And if it is determined that both sides are in the right, then why not maintain the status quo? Or why not play a game of gin rummy for the town or province they're arguing over? But no, while they cause the death of four million men who are better than they, they stay in their strategy rooms making light of the way the poor fellows are being massacred. But I'm wrong to criticize the valour of your brave men. It's important to die for one's country when it means being the subject of a king who wears a ruffled collar or a pleated one."
- You praise a man for having killed his enemy by means of an advantage; and by praising him for boldness you praise him for a sin against nature, because boldness leads to destruction.
- The King's daughter didn't talk to me any more about military matters at the time, because she was afraid of being discovered alone with me early in the morning. The reason was not that immodesty is a crime in that country. On the contrary, any man — except for convicted felons — can ask what he wants of any woman, and any woman can bring suit against a man who refuses her. But the King's daughter didn't dare come to see me publicly because she said the priests had preached at the last sacrifice that women were mainly the ones who were saying I was a man. The priests claimed that women were disguising their execrable desire to mingle with animals and shamelessly commit sins against nature with me. That was why I went a long time without seeing her or any other female.
- The priests had been told that I had dared to say that the moon was the world I came from and that their world was only a moon. They believed that constituted an adequately just pretext to condemn me to drowning, which was their way of exterminating atheists.
- The great pontiff took the floor to argue the case against me. I don't remember his harangue, because I was too horrified to understand such a discordant voice, and because he made his speech with a musical instrument so loud it deafened me. He had deliberately chosen a trumpet. The violence of its martial tone was supposed to make the people call for my death and to keep them from thinking rationally, as happens in our armies, where the din of trumpets and drums prevents the soldier from thinking about the importance of his life.
- O just ones, hear me! You cannot condemn this man, monkey or parrot for saying that the moon is the world he comes from. If he is a man, all men are free. Is he then not free to imagine what he wants, even if he does not come from the moon? Can you force him to have only your visions? Impossible! You may make him say that he believes that the moon is not a world, but still he will not believe it. To believe something, one must imagine that it is more probable than not. Unless you show him what is probable or he realizes it himself, he may tell you that he believes and yet he will not believe.
- Sun-being to the court
- A present loses its value when it is given without the choice of the person who receives it.
Caesar was given death, and so was Cassius. However, Cassius was indebted to the slave who gave it to him, while Caesar owed nothing to his murderers, because they forced him to take it.
- According to your religion, is any part of the body more sacred or unholy than another? Why will I commit a sin if I touch myself on the part in the middle and not when I touch my ear or heel? Because it tickles? Then I should not defecate into a pot, because that can't be done without some sort of sensual pleasure. Nor should mystics elevate themselves to the contemplation of God, because they enjoy a great pleasure of imagination. I am indeed astounded at how much the religion of your country is against nature and is jealous of all the pleasures of men. I am surprised that your priests haven't made it a crime to scratch oneself, because one feels a pleasurable pain.
And yet I have noticed that far-seeing Nature has made all great, brave and intelligent people favor the delicacies of love: witness Samson, David, Hercules, Caesar, Hannibal and Charlemagne. Did Nature do so in order that they might harvest the organ of that pleasure with a sickle? Alas, Nature even went under a washtub to debauch Diogenes, who was thin, ugly and flea-bitten, and make him compose sighs to Lais with the breath he blew upon carrots. No doubt Nature did so because it was concerned lest there be a shortage of honorable people in the world.
- Tell me, is the cabbage you mention not as much a creature of God as you? Do you not both have God and potentiality for your father and mother? For all eternity has God not occupied His intellect with the cabbage's birth as well as yours? It also seems that He has necessarily provided more for the birth of the vegetable than for the thinking being... Will anyone say that we are born in the image of the Sovereign Being, while cabbages are not? Even if it were true, we have effaced that resemblance by soiling our soul in the way in which we resembled Him, because there is nothing more contrary to God than sin. If our soul, then, is no longer His image, we still do not resemble Him by our hands, feet, mouth, face and ears any more than the cabbage does by its leaves, flowers, stem, heart or head.
- I signaled to my host to try to have the philosophers expound on some aspect of their knowledge. As a good friend he immediately rose to the occasion. I won't go into the conversation that accompanied his request, and the difference between the comic and the serious was too slight to translate.
- I will prove that there are infinite worlds in an infinite world. Imagine the universe as a great animal, and the stars as worlds like other animals inside it. These stars serve in turn as worlds for other organisms, such as ourselves, horses and elephants. We in our turn are worlds for even smaller organisms such as cankers, lice, worms and mites. And they are earths for other, imperceptible beings.
Just as we appear to be a huge world to these little organisms, perhaps our flesh, blood and bodily fluids are nothing more than a connected tissue of little animals that move and cause us to move. Even as they let themselves be led blindly by our will, which serves them as a vehicle, they animate us and combine to produce this action we call life.
- You will say, 'How can chance assemble in one place all the things necessary to produce an oak tree?' My answer is that it would be no miracle if the matter thus arranged had not formed an oak. But it would have been a very great miracle if, once the matter was thus arranged, an oak had not been formed. A few less of some shapes, and it would have been an elm, a poplar, a willow, an elder, heather or moss. A little more of some other shapes and it might have been a sensitive plant, an oyster in its shell, a worm, a fly, a frog, a sparrow, an ape or a man.
- You are amazed that matter can form a man when matter is all mixed up at random and so many things go into making a person. But do you not realize that before matter forms someone it has also stopped along the way to make a stone, lead, coral, a flower, or a comet because there was too much or too little of it to make a human being? No wonder, then, that an infinite amount of incessantly moving and changing matter makes up the few animals, vegetables and minerals that we see. No wonder, either, that if you throw dice a hundred times, they will all show the same numbers at some point.
This movement of matter, then, could not fail to produce something, and whatever it is will always be admired by the unthinking person who does not realize how close it came to not being made.
- Give thought to life and liberty.
- When I opened a box, I found inside something made of metal, somewhat like our clocks, full of an endless number of little springs and tiny machines. It was indeed a book, but it was a miraculous one that had no pages or printed letters. It was a book to be read not with eyes but with ears. When anyone wants to read, he winds up the machine with a large number of keys of all kinds. Then he turns the indicator to the chapter he wants to listen to. As though from the mouth of a person or a musical instrument come all the distinct and different sounds that the upper-class Moon-beings use in their language.
When I thought about this marvelous way of making books, I was no longer surprised that the young people of that country know more at the age of sixteen or eighteen than the greybeards of our world. They can read as soon as they can talk and are never at a loss for reading material. In their rooms, on walks, in town, during voyages, on foot or on horseback, they can have thirty books in their pockets or hanging on the pommels of their saddles. They need only wind a spring to hear one or more chapters or a whole book, if they wish. Thus you always have with you all the great men, both living and dead, who speak to you in their own voices.
- We have observed for thirty centuries that a large nose is a sign on the door of our face that says 'Herein dwells a man who is intelligent, prudent, courteous, affable, noble-minded and generous'. A small nose is a cork on the bottle of the opposite vices.
- I spoke to my young host: "If you would, tell me the meaning of the bronze figure in the shape of shameful parts hanging from the man's belt.
I had seen a number of them at court when I was living in a cage, but as I was almost always in the company of the Queen's daughters, I was afraid I might show disrespect to the women and their social status if I brought up such a gross subject of conversation in their presence.
"Here, neither females nor males are so ungrateful as to blush at the sight of what has given them being; and virgins are not ashamed to like to see us wear the only thing that goes by that name, as a token of mother nature.
"The sash that honors that man carries a medallion in the form of a virile member. It is the sign of a nobleman and distinguishes the noble from the commoner."
I admit that this paradox seemed so outlandish that I could not keep from laughing at it. "This custom seems quite extraordinary to me," I said to my young host, "because in our world the mark of nobility is to wear a sword."
He replied calmly, "O little man, how insane the nobles of your world must be if they pride themselves on a tool used by executioners, one that is made only to destroy and that is, in the end, the sworn enemy of all that lives. And they hide, on the contrary, a part of the body without which we would not exist, one that is the Prometheus of every animal and tirelessly repairs the weaknesses of nature! How unfortunate a country is where the marks of generation are ignominious and those of annihilation are honorable! And you call that member one of the 'shameful parts', as though anything were more glorious than to give life and anything more infamous than to take it away."
- All that has sensation and growth — all matter, in short — will pass through man. When that has happened, the great Day of Judgment will come, and that is the end point of the mysteries in the philosophy of the prophets.
- The most competent physician of our world advises the patient to listen to an ignorant doctor who the patient thinks is very competent rather than to a competent doctor who the patient thinks is ignorant. He reason is that our imagination works for our good health, and as long as it is supplemented by remedies, it is capable of healing us. But the most powerful remedies are too weak when the imagination does not apply them.
- "I ask you only why you find the belief inconvenient. I'm quite sure you can find no reason. Since it can only be useful, why do you not let yourself be persuaded? If God exists and you don't believe in Him, you will have made a mistake and disobeyed the commandment to believe in Him. If there is no God, you won't be any better off than the rest of us."
"Oh yes I will be better off than you," he answered, "because if there is no God, the game is tied. But, on the contrary, if there is one, I can't have offended something I thought did not exist. Sin requires knowing or willing. Don't you see? Even the least wise would not take offense if some uncouth man insulted him as long as the man hadn't intended to, or had mistaken him for someone else, or wine had loosened his tongue. All the more reason then to ask: will God, who is all-imperturbable, get mad at us for not having recognized Him when He, himself, has denied us the means of knowing Him?
"But by all you believe, my little animal, if belief in God were so necessary and were of eternal importance to us, would God himself not infuse in everyone enlightenment as bright as the Sun, which hides from no one? Do we pretend that God wants to play hide-and-seek with us, like children calling 'Peekaboo, I see you!'? Does God put on a mask and then take it off? Does He disguise himself to some and reveal himself to others? That would be a God who is either silly or malicious.
- His ridiculous and diabolical opinions made me shudder. I began to look a little more closely at this person and was amazed to see something frightening in his face that I had not noticed before: his eyes were small and sunken, his skin dark, his mouth big, his chin hairy and his nails black. Oh God, I thought immediately, this miserable creature is condemned already and may even be the Antichrist that people talk about so much in our world.
- I marveled repeatedly at the providence of God, who had put these naturally impious people in a place where they could not corrupt his beloved ones and had punished them for their pride by leaving them to their own devices. That is why I don't doubt He has put off having the Gospel preached to them: He knows they would abuse it, and their resistance to it would only earn them a harsher punishment in the other world.
Quotes about de Bergerac edit
- Cyrano distills the most radical ideas of his time into a potent literary liqueur.
- Donald Webb in "The Time Traveler from The Other World" (2003) the introduction to his translation of L’Autre Monde ou les états et empires de la lune
- Voltaire's philosophical tale "Micromégas" is also considered a "classic of early science fiction." It's very well known and easily accessible, and it's easy to read in the original. But in comparison to Cyrano's novel, it is tame.
- Donald Webb in "The Time Traveler from The Other World" (2003)
- I suspect that the playwright Edmond Rostand accurately portrays his ability as a swordsman; Cyrano was something of a legend in his own time.
- Donald Webb in "The Time Traveler from The Other World" (2003)
- Encyclopedic article on Cyrano de Bergerac on Wikipedia
- Media related to Cyrano de Bergerac on Wikimedia Commons
- Profile at NNDB
- Brief biography at Kirjasto (Pegasos)
- The Other World: Society and Government of the Moon as Translated and annotated by Donald Webb
- Free eBook of Cyrano de Bergerac at Project Gutenberg (English edition)
- Cyrano de Bergerac at Wikisource (French edition)
- Discussion of themes and characters in "Cyrano de Bergerac".