Cyrano de Bergerac
You would be forgiven for thinking that Cyrano de Bergerac was one of Bergerac’s most famous residents. Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac (he frequently changed his name before deciding on Cyrano) was actually born (and died) in Paris. While much of his short life remains a mystery, it appears that Cyrano spent little, if any time in the largest town in the Dordogne Valley.
The lack of documentation surrounding Cyrano de Bergerac’s life has led to many unfounded stories. Indeed, if it were not for the Preface written by Henri Le Bret in one of Cyrano’s books, little would be known about this extraordinary character.
Cyrano be Bergerac was born into a fairly wealthy household in 1619. His father, Abel de Cyrano, was a lawyer and Lord of Mauvières and Bergerac. His mother, Espérance Bellanger was considerably younger than her husband. Young Cyrano spent his childhood at Château des Mauvières – around 30 kilometres from Paris. (Today, the chateau is used for large social gatherings such as wedding receptions.) Cyrano was educated by a country priest before he moved back to Paris to complete his studies. Apparently, Cyrano enjoyed the lively taverns of the capital and it was in these establishments that he polished his skills as an orator.
Cyrano de Bergerac writes
At the age of 19, Cyrano joined the infantry. Around a year into his service, Cyrano was at the Siege of Arras. Here, it is said that he sustained a sword blow to the throat. Following this horrific injury Cyrano left the military and subsequently spent time working with notable intellectuals. The mathematician and philosopher, Pierre Gassendi was a big influence on him.
Cyrano de Bergerac went on to write several plays and other pieces that promoted new scientific theories (while often ridiculing current beliefs). His letters, (both political and non-political) were punctuated with original metaphors and incredible baroque prose. In 1646, Cyrano wrote the play ‘La Mort d’Aggrippine’. This tragedy struck a chord with audiences. The play went on to be published and was reprised in the late 1800s.
Cyrano’s most famous works are; Histoire comique des états et empires du soleil and Histoire comique des états et empires de la lune. These stories of imaginary journeys to the sun and the moon derided the religious and astronomical beliefs of the time. They weren’t published until after Cyrano’s death on 28 July 1655.
This playwright, novelist, poet and duelist has been immortalised in books, in film and on stage. The 1990 film starring Gérard Depardieu and Anne Brochet is probably the best known. In this production, Cyrano (played by Depardieu) is too embarrassed to woo Roxane (Brochet) the girl of his dreams . He believes that his large nose is too big an obstacle to overcome. Cyrano did have an exceptional proboscis.
A mysterious end
His death, at the age of just 36, remains a mystery. Stories abound. Some believe that Cyrano’s death was the result of being forced into an asylum by his brother. Others, that the injuries caused by a falling wooden beam were his undoing. Or was Cyrano badly injured during an attack on the Duc D’Arpajonung’s carriage? We will probably never know.