Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac (March 6, 1619 – July 28, 1655) was a French dramatist and duellist 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 (see Cyrano de Bergerac). In those fictional works he is featured with an overly large nose.
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 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. Even Molière 'borrowed' a scene from Cyrano's work Le Pédant Joué. Cyrano's most prominent work is now published under the title 'Other Worlds', 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. Cyrano fought many duels to defend his honour, though this was probably less because of his large nose than his homosexuality, as is evident in various episodes in 'Other Worlds'.Arras (1640), which should not be confused with the more famous final Battle of Arras (1654). One of his confreres in the battle was the historical Baron of Neuvillette, who was married to Cyrano's cousin.
Cyrano was a free thinker 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, and and he would have been very much at home in the Enlightenment that came a century after his death. His free thinking, 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 based on the rules of Aristotle.
He died in Sannois in 1655, at the age of 36.
|French literary history|
In 1897, 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. 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 1987 comedic Hollywood version, Roxanne, starring Steve Martin. A Japanese samurai version, Samurai Saga (1959), was directed by Hiroshi Inagaki and starred Toshiro Mifune.
Operatic Adaptations: Victor Herbert(1859-1924) libretto by H.B. Smith & S. Reed in 1899 in New York City; Walter Damrosch (1862-1950) libretto by W.J. Henderson performed at the NY Metropolitan Opera in 1913; Franco Alfano libretto by Henri Cain first shown in