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Cyrano de Bergerac

Entry updated 19 December 2022. Tagged: Author.

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The form of his name under which French soldier and author Hector Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac (1619-1655) is best known. He fought with the Gascon Guard but retired after sustaining bad wounds. He is famous as the hero of a play by Edmond Rostand (1868-1918), Cyrano de Bergerac (performed 1897; 1898; trans Gladys Thomas and Mary E Guillemard 1898), which made legends of his swordsmanship and the size of his nose. Parts only of his major work of Proto SF – the manuscript of which was significantly titled L'autre monde ou les états et empires de la lune ["The Other World or the States and Empires of the Moon"], emphasizing his sense that his protagonist was not travelling to a mere satellite – were initially published in posthumous versions, censored (to tone down their heretical elements) by Cyrano de Bergerac's timid friend, the cleric Henri le Bret (1618-1710), who might have had cause in the seventeenth-century world to muffle Cyrano's atheism, his sense that the Bible was a gallimaufry, that neither miracles nor the Resurrection were possible, and that the earth revolves around the Sun (see Astronomy). His positive beliefs were also radical: that something like Evolution existed, that there must be a force of Gravity, and that the planets were solid.

The first part appeared as Histoire comique, par Monsieur de Cyrano Bergerac, contenant les estats et empires de la lune (1657; trans T St Serf as Selenarchia: Or, The Government of the World in the Moon: A Comical History 1659); this version is – except for le Bret's censoring excisions and interventions – complete; but the text of the second part, Fragment d'Histoire comique par Monsieur de Cyrano Bergerac, contenant les etats et empires du soleil (1662; trans by A Lovell together with the former item as The Comical History of the States and Empires of the Worlds of the Moon and Sun 1687), is partial. The Moon section of the censored text is best presented [see Checklist below for earlier restorations of the text] in Oeuvres de Cyrano de Bergerac (coll 1957), though the original manuscript of the Sun section seems permanently lost; both books – Moon and Sun – are translated from that edition as Other Worlds: The Comical History of the States and Empires of the Moon and Sun (trans Geoffrey Strachan omni 1963). It is possible that the remainder of the second part and a third part ("The History of the Stars") were written but subsequently lost or destroyed.

Part one: The protagonist, whose name is Cyrano though he also calls himself Dyrcona, attempts Space Flight to the Moon first by an absurd method (involving bottles of dew), but later by a Rocket (which drops away after getting him free of Earth); this is generally accepted as the first use of a rocket, certainly in European interplanetary fiction. His arrival at the Garden of Eden on the Moon gives him the chance to Satirize the Bible so severely that one of his jokes – linking the serpent to the human penis – causes the Prophet Elijah to exile him, giving him the chance to visit various lunar Cities whose Utopian propensities are satirized. He then encounters a race of giants (see Great and Small), along with the ghost of Socrates, and Domingo Gonsales from Francis Godwin's The Man in the Moone (1638): in discussions with the latter, the uselessness of the idea of God is established; throughout, the protagonist's understanding of the workings of the universe, and other issues of natural philosophy, are explicitly non-supernatural. After immortality and the existence of the soul have been dismissed, Cyrano is dumped back on Earth.

Part two: Cyrano has been arrested after the controversial publication of part one (this did not of course actually happen then, see above). He escapes in a second flying machine – driven by hot blasts of air generated by focused mirrors – which eventually deposits him on a Sun spot, whose inhabitants explain the solar system to him in terms of something like the movement of atoms; it is clear there is a plurality of worlds to discuss. He then descends to the Sun itself, where he is tried for the crimes of humanity by a court of birds. After a parrot he has known saves him, he encounters Tommaso Campanella and they talk about Sex in Utopia, at which point the story (as published) ends abruptly, almost certainly because le Bret lost his nerve. No conclusion to part two, nor the continuation of the tale in a journey to the stars, has survived. But even in truncated form, Cyrano de Bergerac's Cosmology provides a link between Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) and later authors; his Proto SF was deeply influential, specifically inspiring aspects of the work of Jonathan Swift and Voltaire. [JC/BS]

see also: Fantastic Voyages; France; History of SF; Religion; Weird Comics.

Hector Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac

born Paris: 6 March 1619

died Sannois, near Paris: 28 July 1655


original publications of the two parts

later editions (selected)

further reading


previous versions of this entry

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