Savinien Cyrano 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, most notably the play by Edmond Rostand which bears his name. In those fictional works he is featured with an overly large nose.
Life and works
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. The real Cyrano de Bergerac had, in real life, very little in common with the hero of the Rostand play.
Though not as famous as classical writers of this time, Cyrano de Bergerac was a successful writer in his time, Molière even borrowing his most famous part, the scene of the galley, from Cyrano's work Le Pédant Joué. His most prominent work is now published under the title 'Other Worlds' 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. It may have been Cyrano's homosexuality, evident in various episodes in 'Other Worlds', that forced him to defend himself against continual attacks.
No Roxane has been discovered in his life, but he did fight at the siege of Arras (1640), which should not be confused with the more famous final Battle of Arras (1654), and the historical Baron of Neuvillette, who was in fact married to Cyrano's cousin, did die in this fight.
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 in 1655, at the age of 36.