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Varia - Venu d'ailleurs

Cyrano de Bergerac and his voyages to the Moon, the Sun… and the brain

Rita Benkő

Abstracts

In the 16th-17th century, many libertines hid their thoughts by obscuring their ideas and mixing old and new theories. Cyrano’s method may open a window to the methods of early modern thinkers’ ways to conceal heretic ideas. I analysed 16th and 17th century biology and modern-day understanding of the human mind to assess how Cyrano described the works of the brain, predominantly in his novels. His writings open a window into the early modern understanding of biology as well as to some new concepts of his, including probably the first investigation on twins resulting in a description of empathy as a motor function. An analysis of recent data about mental decline in the elderly in relation to his father’s words allows the consideration of their relationship. Le Combat de Cyrano de Bergerac avec le singe de Brioché, au bout du Pont-Neuf of d’Assoucy’s may give a peek into the young Cyrano’s dangerous tendencies and a portrayal of the famous battle at the Porte de Nesle.

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Author's notes

As a biologist, my main focus is physiology and, specifically, the role of oxidative and nitrative stress. It is quite far from the literary works of seventeen-century authors, I admit. However, I am interested in the history of sciences, mostly biology, and the works of Cyrano de Bergerac. His writings open a window to the landscape of the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century natural philosophy. While I read and translate his works, I always try to find the historical and philosophical background; e.g., I was quite happy when I discovered in Kepler’s Somnium that the Earth seems four times bigger from the Moon than the Moon to us. Therefore I could see why the narrator of the Voyage to the Moon starts falling toward the Moon at about three-quarters of his journey.

Full text

1Abbreviations :
Lune : L’Autre Monde ou Les États et Empires de la Lune by Cyrano de Bergerac, also known as Voyage dans la Lune (Voyage to the Moon)
Soleil : L’Histoire Comique des États et Empires du Soleil by Cyrano de Bergerac (Voyage to the Sun)

Introduction

  • 1 Dominique Descotes, « Les machines de Cyrano de Bergerac », Dix-septième siècle, 2008, 240(3) :535- (...)

2Cyrano de Bergerac’s interest in physics is unquestionable, and he managed to juggle with three different theories regarding the nature of atoms in his novel L’Autre Monde ou Les états et Empires de la Lune, without revealing, which one he favoured. His inventions are widely discussed in the literature. Many (including me) see him as a visionary in engineering, others claim that his machines are only burlesque elements1. A sentence in his Fragments of Physics, the claim that the eye must project an upside-down image to the brain, sent me to a quest of finding out how an early modern philosopher regarded the vision and the activities of the brain.

  • 2 Cyrano de Bergerac, Nouvelles Œuvres, chez Charles de Sercy, 1662, p. 269.
  • 3 Jacques Rohault, Traité De Physique, chez la veuve de Charles Saureux, 1671, p. 333-34.
  • 4 Charles G. Gross, Brain, Vision, Memory Tales in the History of Neuroscience : A Bradford Book, Cam (...)

3I realized soon that Cyrano was fascinated by the brain, not just the mind, and interested in biology in general. It is highly probable that he read multiple works on the anatomy and function of the sensory system, as the long description of how the senses work proves it in his first novel, L’Autre Monde ou Les états et Empires de la Lune2. Seemingly he accepted with ease the concept of the eye projecting a reversed image to the brain, described by Jacques Rohault3. Cyrano also incorporated many scientific concepts regarding the central nervous system in his works, primarily to L’Autre Monde ou Les états et Empires de la Lune. As it was a commonly held belief, the Sun controlled the heart, and the Moon influenced the brain; according to the anatomical principle in the 17th century, during the full Moon, the brain also swells in the skull; Thomas Bartholin, professor of anatomy in Copenhagen between 1660-1680, also cited this principle4.

  • 5 Jacques Rohault, Traité De Physique, op. cit., seconde partie, p. 116-117.

4Cyrano applies a multistage rocket to shoot Dyrcona into the skies; however, as the launch was not planned, the time and direction of the blast-off happened haphazardly. In this setting, the chances of getting Dyrcona to the Moon is lower than sending him to the Mars or Jupiter, or even to Betelgeuse. (Although I am sure Dyrcona would have got along really well with Ford Prefect.) To ensure the targeting, Cyrano uses a widely accepted, although false presumption: the lunar phases have a significant effect on the bone marrow; namely, it swells or sucked by the Moon. (Rohault rejected this notion5.)

  • 6 Charles G. Gross, Brain, Vision, Memory Tales in the History of Neuroscience, op. cit., p. 10 and I (...)

5In case of vision, visual rays originating from the eyeball are an essential part of the visual system in the Lune. This seemed odd even at the 1890s, as Curtis Hidden Page noted in the edition published in 1899 of Voyage to the Moon. Alcmaeon (cca 450 BCE) observed what is now called phosphenes occurring after a blow to the eye6. According to the observations of Alcmaeon, the eye contains water and fire, and both are necessary for vision (extramission theory). As Alcmaeon is possibly one of the greatest natural philosophers of the antiquity, his principles influenced Plato, and he became an unavoidable authority on the theories of the vision. Indeed, Alcmaeon’s idea of light in the eye was only disproved in the middle of the eighteenth century; however, most natural philosophers dismissed the extramission theory in the first half of the 17th century.

  • 7 Gerald Cottrell, A. Winer and E. Jane, « Does Anything Leave the Eye When We See?: Extramission Bel (...)

6Nonetheless, Aristotle and Epicurus contradicted Alcmaeon and Plato: according to Aristotle, it is highly unlikely, that the fire of our eye can reach the starts and carry back the information; and Epicurus insisted that if the surface of an object would release particles that our sensory systems detect, then the object diminished in time. As Cyrano often offers multiple theories for one phenomenon, e.g., about the number of different atoms that compose the matter, it is always hard to decipher, whether he accepts the presented doctrine. However, misconceptions about the extramission theory are so popular even at the very end of the twentieth century (according to professor Gross, one out of four college students believed that something comes out of the eye to see; also reviewed by Cottrell7, that I assume the Platonistic view was the one that Cyrano preferred.

  • 8 Madeleine Alcover, « Cyrano Relu et corrigé », Études de philologie et d’histoire, vol. 42, Droz, 1 (...)
  • 9 Ishbel Addyman, Cyrano : The Life and Legend of Cyrano De Bergerac, Simon & Schuster, 2008, p. 250.

7Hereby I propose a framework for understanding the biological background of the novels. I acknowledge that the text has a multitude of implications (a thousand definitions), and the scientific aspect is only one, but not the only one approach to get to the depth of the works of Cyrano. I assume that if an element recurs in a text three or more times, that forms a pattern and reveals what occupied the author’s mind at the time of writing. In L’Autre Monde ou les États et Empires de la Lune (referred hereafter as Lune), discussions about ageing form a returning motif. I accept what Madeleine Alcover8 and Ishbel Addyman9 suggested, that Cyrano de Bergerac carried on with his works after he had suffered a head injury and even after the long captivity.

Apple to apple

8Dramaturgically speaking, getting a character into trouble by sheer chance or blind fate, is correct; saving an actor by pure luck, without the character moving one finger is cheating, dramaturgically not acceptable. Cyrano is a good dramaturg; his storylines always follow a strict logic; every plot twist depends on the decision or act of one or more characters. In the Lune, the arrival of the protagonist to the lunar surface follows a quite different and strange course: he simply hits the Tree of Life in the middle of the Terrestrial Paradise. The unthinkably low probability of such accident and the curious lack of any knowledge of this Garden (and the neighbouring wilderness, where Enoch found an apple from the tree of Knowledge) by anyone else on the Moon makes this episode stand out. This chapter does not take place in the reality of the Other World; it takes place in the brain.

  • 10 Charles G. Gross, Brain, Vision, Memory Tales in the History of Neuroscience, op. cit., p. 41.
  • 11 Ibid. See also : Id., « Malpighi’s Cortical Glands. » Cortex, vol. 47, 2001, p. 903-904.
  • 12 Jacques Rohault, Traité De Physique, chez la veuve de Charles Saureux, 1671, quatrième partie p. 33 (...)
  • 13 James P.B. O’Connor, « Thomas Willis and the Background to Cerebri Anatome. », J R Soc Med, vol. 96 (...)

9According to the Aristotelian principle, the function of the brain is to cool and refine the blood, and according to the Hippocratic theory, the brain produces phlegm, one of the four humours. Archiangelo Piccolomini was the first, who made a distinction between cortex (in English: rind) and white matter in the second half of the 16th century10. As the rind is entirely insensitive to the mechanical stimulation, whereas poking the white matter results in either some sensation or alteration of body function and movements, 17th-century anatomists and physicists attributed almost no interest to the substantia cineteria, to the rind. Later, in the second half of the 17th century, the pioneers of microscopic anatomy: Leeuwenhoek and Malpighi described the rind as a glandular organ, giving further support to the Hippocratic view11. The notion that the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge has the same structure suggests that the Apple of Knowledge is the brain. The description of the Paradise contains many elements, which gives the impression of a dream; all senses are involved in the image Cyrano paints. The four rivers that form a lake may represent the four bundles of white matter ascending into the bulbus (the expanded part of the medulla oblongata behind the pons). An English anatomist, Thomas Willis discovered, that four large arteries meet at the basis of the brain, pooling their blood, one would be inclined to see the lake supplied by four large rivers as the allegory of this arterial ring. Although Willis’ anatomical model was first published in 1664, earlier descriptions of the arterial circuit existed. Rohault mentions the rete (rete mirabile, a vascular structure at the basis of the brain, filled with blood from four large arteries, which is absent from humans), which is always filled with blood and communicates with the ventricles and the heart12; therefore, it is possible, that the four large rivers forming a lake are an allegory of the blood supply of the brain13. The five Avenues represent the five senses; the doubt about whether the Earth holds the trees or the Earth clings to their roots may be understood as whether the perception defines the mind, or the mind applies the sensory information to its preconceptions. On the two sides, the endless meadows may represent the convex hemispheres, and the spiral fountain most probably is the lateral brain chamber (Figure 1. compares the depictions of the brain to the map of the terrestrial Paradise.). According to this hypothesis, the episode embedded between the Apple of Life and the Apple of Knowledge is not located in the reality of Dyrcona’s, but the brain. As no-one can avoid the vigilance of the Seraphin who guards the Paradise, whereas we are informed multiple times that Dyrcona is definitely not a worthy candidate for entering the garden of Eden; also, the unthinkable chance of hitting the Tree of Knowledge out of every possible space, although Cyrano prefers secondary causes: a chain of events that happens to point to his desired outcome; altogether conform this hypothesis. Nevertheless, in whose brain are we?

  • 14 Madeleine Alcover, « Le Cyrano De Bergerac De Jacques Prévot », Les Dossiers du Grihl, 2012, online (...)
  • 15 Cyrano de Bergerac, Œuvres Diverses, réed. par Frédéric Lachèvre, Paris, Librairie Garnier Frères, (...)

10The most earth-bound, sorry, moon-bound theory is that Dyrcona suffered a concussion when he fell to the Moon, and his delusions make the description of the Paradise, but this explanation is way too simplistic. As the guide, there is a prophet of the Old Testament (Elijah), I assume that this brain definitely belongs to a conservative, upper-middle-class man, or represents the scholastic upbringing of our protagonist. Interestingly, as Professor Alcover analysed the expression of causal relationships, Cyrano usually avoids using ‘pour ce que’, a common function word, that is widely applied in the seventeen-century literature14. In his Letters, he did not apply ‘pour ce que’, in his comedy Le Pédant joué (The Pedant Tricked) two characters (the braggart soldier Chateaufort and the dumb servant Paquier) say ‘pour ce que’ three times as a whole. In the Lune, there are seven occasions where we read ‘pour ce que’ or ‘pource que’ (Table 1.) Most probably, Cyrano avoided ‘pour ce que’, because he found this function word old-fashioned, or even pedantic, and only used it to characterise some of his actors. It seems, that ‘pource que’ introduces false conclusions. This example warns us about the comparison of Cyrano’s manuscripts and his published works: it is quite possible, that some of the changes are not insignificant corrections of style, as Lachèvre15 deemed them, but altered the connotations and associations of the text.

11Table 1. “Pour ce qu’” or “pource qu’” in two editions of Les États et Empires de la Lune. In the left column, I cite the sentence with the name of the speaker in parenthesis, according to Frederic Lachèvre et Cyrano de Bergerac Œuvres Diverses Nouvelle Édition, 1921. In the middle, I cite the function word at the same place according to Maurice Laugaa, Cyrano de Bergerac Voyage dans la Lune et Lettres Diverses 1970, and Jacques Prévot Cyrano de Bergerac Œuvres Completes. On the right, I write my assumption, whether the effect introduced with ‘pour ce que’/’pource que’ is true or false.

Lachèvre 1921.

Laugaa 1970

Prévot 1977

The causal relationship exists or not

(père Jesuite) je m’imagine que la Terre tourne, non point pour les raisons qu’allègue Copernic, mais pource que le feu d’enfer, ainsi que nous apprend la Sainte-Écriture, étant enclos au centre de la terre, les damnés qui veulent fuir l’ardeur de sa flamme, gravissent pour s’en éloigner contre la voûte, et font ainsi tourner la Terre, comme un chien fait tourner une roue, lorsqu’il court enfermé dedans

pour ce que

pour ce que

False, the jesuite assumes that the damned turn the Earth

après plusieurs explications de ce que ce pouvoit être, quand on eut découvert l’invention du ressort, quelques-uns dirent qu’il filloit attacher quantité de fusées volantes, pource que, leur rapidité les ayant enlevées bien haut, et le ressort agitant ses grandes ailes, il n’y auroit personne qui ne prit cette machine pour un dragon de feu

pour ce que

pour ce que

False, the machine is for flying, not for fireworks

(Dyrcona) pource qu’au bout d’un jour ou deux de voyage, les réfractions éloignées du Soleil venant à confondre la diversité des corps et des climats, il ne m’avoit plus paru que comme une grande plaque d’or

pour ce qu’au

pour ce qu’au

False, according to Kepler’s Somnium, on the Moon the time is measured by which continents of the Earth is visible; also, the face of the mon is visible to the naked eye.

(Hélie) Enfin après avoir beaucoup rué et volé après mon coup, j’arrivai comme vous avez fait en un terme où je tombois vers ce monde-ci ; et pour ce qu’en cet instant je tenois ma boule bien serrée entre mes mains, ma machine dont le siège me pressoit pour approcher de son attractif ne me quitta point : tout ce qui me restoit à craindre, c’étoit de me rompre le col

par ce qu’en

parce qu’en

Part of a long-winded explanation, probably true.

(Hélie) ce fut je crois cette pomme qu’Adam avoit mangée qui fut cause que nos premiers pères vécurent si longtemps, pour ce qu’il étoit coulé dans leur semence quelque chose de son énergie jusques à ce qu’elle s’éteignît dans les eaux du déluge

pour ce qu’il

pour ce qu’il

Part of a long-winded explanation, undecided, exaggerated.

(Gonzales) On m’a voulu mettre en mon pays à l’Inquisition pource qu’à la barbe des pédans j’avois soutenu qu’il y avoit du vide dans la Nature et que je ne connoissois point de matière au monde plus pesante l’une que l’autre.

pour ce qu’à

pour ce qu’à

undecided, probably exaggeration

(Le Démon de Socrate) Pour ce qui est d’exécuter, je ferois tort à votre esprit de m’efforcer à le convaincre de preuves. Vous savez que la jeunesse seule est propre à l’action

pour ce qui

pour ce qui

Part of a long-winded explanation, probably true, but exaggerated.

12The Terrestrial Paradise can be entirely removed from the novel, and it would still remain full, for the first sight, this place plays no essential role in the story. (By the way, Aristotle believed that the brain is not a vital organ.) However, the scene introduces the mind-set that the Lunar society counteracts in many ways.

Figure 1. Sixteen- and seventeen-century depictions of the human brain.

Panel A. and B. Vesalius: De humani corporis fabrica libri septem (1543), the base of the brain (A) and the ventricles hidden in the hemispheres (B).

  • 16 E. Engelhardt, « Cerebral Localization of the Mind and Higher Functions the Beginnings », Dement Ne (...)

Panel C. schematic drawing of the brain by Louis de la Forge, 1663. The drawing represents the views of René Descartes. The tree-like structure in the middle is the ventricles, the pineal gland (the place of the cognitive soul) hangs from them. The ventricles are surrounded by a compact internal layer, where sensory information project and memories are formed. The radial layer makes connections to other parts of the nervous system. (Explanation is based on the publication of Engelhardt16.)

Panel D. Sideview of the brain, according to Descartes. The pineal gland is pronounced.

Panel E. Christopher Wren’s drawing of the human brain, published in 1664 in Thomas Willis’ Cerebri anatome.

All pictures are from Wikimedia commons.

Panel F. Bird’s eye view of the terrestrial Paradise by Cyrano. In the centre, I draw the star-shaped five avenues in a forest, in front of a lake supplied by four large rivers, on both sides of the forest, there are two endless meadows with many small flowers and a rustic fountain that circles its source.

Gender fluidity, gender-neutral brain

13The following passages are about the view of Cyrano’s about gender roles; I do not regard his works as a garret window into his bedroom, but into his mind.

14When assessing the potentials of the female brain, we can distinguish two, fundamentally different descriptions in the Lune. One comes from the Terrestrial Paradise, where women can get in only if they are born there. This scene is about the traditional male-centred considerations, conveyed by an actor of the Old Testament. Eve is weak, and all her abilities come from her close relationship with Adam. The independent, self-reliant Achab here is a haughty, or even a crazy person, and not worthy of entering the Paradise. The other account is how the State of Selenians treats women. There is an event in the Selenian storyline that mirrors the endeavour of Achab: the “fille de la reine”. She is well-informed about the current events and the political philosophy of her country, and she is proven open-minded to different cultures, and, unlike Achab, she is even allowed to decide on her own to leave her world to join Dyrcona’s (to convert into Christianism) suggest that she possessed an autonomy atypical in our world. As lunar women are free to choose their sex partners, this further accounts for the independent state of Selenian females.

15When Dyrcona arrives to the Selenian people, first, we learn that he is sought to be a female, and coupled with another male earthling, Gonzales. (From now on, I will refer to the lunar social gender of Dyrcona with the pronouns.) At first, this misunderstanding creates a hilarious scene, worthy of the pen of a burlesque author.

  • 17 François du Soucy, Escuyer, sieur de Gerzan, Le Triomphe des dames, self-published, 1646. p. 206-7.

16We cannot explicitly tell from the book at which point the Selenians have to realise their mistake about the sex of the new pet, perhaps never. (As French, like many other languages, utilises the same word for "human being" as for "a male member of the human species", the reader may fall into the same mistake, as a certain Gerzan. He concluded in his book Le Triomphe des dames that God regretted the creation of men means he did not regret the creation of women; as Cyrano read Le Triomphe des dames around 1645-46, Gerzan might give him the idea of playing with this double sense of the word ‘man’17. On the following pages, until the release of Dyrcona, the author carefully crafts every sentence not to reveal Dyrcona’s assigned gender. Although there is a ridiculous accusation of Selenian women wantonly desiring the new pet, the assumption that an earthling male can fulfil the role of a Selenian lover is hilariously absurd. (Most probably an earthling is slightly smaller in body length than a Selenian new-born, and I do not show my calculations about the size of the most private body parts of the Selenians, which I based on the information about the Selenian people having similar sexual drive and body proportions than the earthlings.) The accusation is similar to those allegations by the Catholic Church, that Cyrano puts in his letter Against the Sorciers: would the Devil be a slut to seek with such ardor the coupling of women?

17As the Counsel, preparing to the audit, was under the impression to talk with a female, and still decided to ask her about the knowledge that is available only for upper-class men in Dyrcona’s world, I dare to play with the suggestion that in the Moon, females have the same access to education, and even similar independence, as males.

18Going further into the gender identity of Dyrcona’s, we see that Dyrcona follows the expectations of their social environment. As an earthling, he is expected to gain an education reserved for middle- and upper-class men and follow Christian faith and the philosophy sanctioned by the Catholic Church. In the Moon, Selenians cast the role of a female on the protagonist; when they debate her race, assigning humanity to the protagonist also means giving her immortality (an upside-down dialectic, opposing whoever has an immortal soul is a human being); and forcing her to swear on the Selenian philosophy and faith. Dyrcona follows the rules as close as possible; only her hard-wired education obstructs her career as a confirmed human being in both worlds (that I see as a form of dissimulation on the part of Cyrano). In this regard, gender identity is not ingrained, but a social construct and Dyrcona doesn’t have one on their own; the genderfluidity of the protagonist is foreshadowed in the introduction, as he claims “je demeurai gros de mille définitions de Lune, dont je ne pouvois accoucher.” (I became pregnant of a thousand definitions of the Moon, of which I could not give birth.) In the Moon, being a female only means to be coupled with males, but there are no evident gender-based restrictions for the common person.

19Interestingly, the transformations occur immediately upon the Moon-landing: while on the Earth, Dyrcona’s behaviour follows an active pattern (thinking, finding ways to get to the Moon, carrying on a conversation with the viceroy, where Dyrcona tries to convince his partner about his philosophy); whereas in the Terrestrial Paradise Dyrcona instantaneously becomes a listener. During his entire time between the Selenians, he remains passive. Cyrano depicts with the protagonist an open-minded but humble Christian earthling and also the ultimate conformist in a foreign world. In the Soleil, Cyrano exhibits hermaphroditism twice as a symbol of perfect balance in human nature, and a sex change occurs twice in the tale of the forest from Dodona.

20Epicurus started a community where women were welcome, and all persons were equal. Agrippa is considered to be a proto-feminist because of his book Declamatio de nobilitate et praecellentia foeminei sexus. Campanella openly stated that women have the same capabilities as men, and in his Sun City, the upbringing of both sexes is the same. Descartes decided to publish his works in French to make them available for women. During the mid-fifties, Rohault started an open education course at his apartment, where ladies were welcome. These intellectuals made a strong impression on the judgement of the young Cyrano. His views on changing gender according to the current necessities suggest that he also accepted the idea of the female brain being quite similar and just as capable as the male brain, even if a bit more impressionable.

The senescent brain

  • 18 Jacques Prévot, Cyrano De Bergerac. L’écrivain de la crise, Ellipses Edition Marketing, 2011, p. 25 (...)

21Cyrano is regarded to disrespect paternal authority continuously. As Jaques Prévot puts it, the father is an absolute authority who possesses unlimited power over his adult children18. As Cyrano always wrote against the institutionalised authorities (with the possible only exception of the absolutist monarchy), paternal control serves him a worthy target. In some passages, the old man is amicable and wise (Macula, Campanella). Still, in the Lune, there are three distinct passages where a character argues against the wisdom of the elderly. The State gives the honour of being the head of the family to the son when he comes of age, we are also informed about the most honourable way of passing away is committing suicide at the beginning of mental decline; lastly, even the Demon of Socrates assures us that the young are more capable for the great, or just good deeds than the aged. In the end, he reminds us that this is all satire, working like “those who wish to straighten a bent tree: they bend it back the other way so that it grows upright between the two contortions.” Is this a wink to the reader or the censor? The relationship between Savinien II. and the aged Abel I. (father and son) may give us some insight into the intention of the author.

  • 19 Henry Le Bret, Cyrano de Bergerac, « Histoire comique : contenant les états et empires de la Lune p (...)

The following description of the Cyrano family follows19.

22As Savinien I., Bergerac’s grandfather was a protestant; Abel I. did not show any interest in the Catholic religion. His library consisted of a wide range of topics, he spoke (or understood) foreign languages, he had a series of images depicting antique mythology. His wife, Espérance Bellanger, was a descendant of a Catholic family, with strong connections to the religion. Her distant cousin, Mme de Neuvilette (Madeleine Robineau), became deeply religious after the death of her family. All three siblings of Cyrano de Bergerac showed a keen interest in Catholicism. The first-born son, Denis entered the clergy; the only daughter entered a Covent. Our de Bergerac was the only exception in the entire family: a freethinker who ridiculed the principles of the Church, an erudite and a polymath, who was proud of speaking four foreign languages. Until this point, he seems to be rather his father’s son. Abel I. had less financial understanding and skills than his father, Savinien I. He continuously lost his estates. The argument that the young is more capable governing of the family than the old may refer to this.

23As a child, Savinien nagged his father for better education, and he got what he wished for. He joined the army at the age of 19, underage, most probably as a cadet, which decision needed the financial support of his father. After his return to Paris (still underage), most probably he determined to carry on with his studies, as he entered the College of Lisieux, and his father seemingly did not encumber his plans but even funded them.

  • 20 Cyrano de Bergerac, L’Autre Monde ou les états et empires de la Lune et du Soleil », nouvelle éditi (...)

24Abel I. Cyrano, the father of Cyrano de Bergerac, was an octogenarian, when his illness confined him to bed, during the late summer of 1647. He gave his bequest in October, and in November and on the 30th of December he added amendments to his last will, passing away in mid-January 1648. The second amendment contains serious accusations about “certain persons whom he does not dare to name”, claiming that these people robbed him before the beginning of his illness. In the end, he released all charges against these persons, including the housemaid. (I follow the bibliographic notes of Lachèvre20.

  • 21 J. Manthorpe, K. Samsi, and J. Rapaport, « Responding to the financial abuse of people with dementi (...)

25It is hard to tell how many elderly falls victim to financial abuse. Recent studies find the ratio somewhere between 5-15% in Europe and North-America. (This number includes all form of financial abuse, including emotionally blackmailing the victim into giving presents, betraying them by lying about studies and other prospects, making financial decisions about their funds without their consent, and, last, stealing their valuables.)21. As these studies point out, oftentimes the perpetrator views as their right to determine the use of the assets of their parents, because they step up as caregivers, or because they believe the elderly owes them on account of old regrets and neglects. When the relationship between the caregiver and the elderly carries much tension, that can be suitable bedding for elderly abuse.

  • 22 A. E. Holt and M. L. Albert, « Cognitive neuroscience of delusions in aging », Neuropsychiatr Dis T (...)
  • 23 S. Ostling, D. Gustafson, and M. Waern, « Psychotic and behavioural symptoms in a population-based (...)
  • 24 J. Nagendra and J. Snowdon, « An Australian study of delusional disorder in late life », Int Psycho (...)
  • 25 R. W. Brendel and T. A. Stern, « Psychotic symptoms in the elderly », Prim Care Companion J Clin Ps (...)

26Statistically speaking, over seventy years of age, there is a linear correlation between developing delusional symptoms and age. In non-demented, independently living elderly (65 years and older), the estimated frequency of delusions is 5%, and it raises to roughly 30% in early-stage Alzheimer’s disease, when the symptoms are not evident even for the present-day general practitioner22. Also, a more recent study suggests, that the prevalence of delusions in non-demented people at the age of 85 decreased in Sweden between 1987 (10.1%) and 2010 (3.2%), showing that understanding the connections between elderly care, social inclusion, and mental decline is possibly a major factor in the recent trends23. In elderly patients, delusional disorders usually result in a believable and not bizarre storyline, persecutory misconceptions are quite common (9 out of 10 patients show persecutory misconceptions), and roughly half of the persecutory misconceptions contain elements of theft. An Australian study of delusional disorder in elderly patients revealed that the delusional disorder correlates with social isolation24. Depression in elderly people who lose their independence is also frequent and increase the risk of delirium25.

  • 26 Jorm, A. F., and D. Jolley, « The incidence of dementia : a meta-analysis. » Neurology, 1998, 51(3) (...)

27At the end of the 20th century, the incidence of both dementia and Alzheimer’s disease rose exponentially up to the age of 90 years, with no sign of levelling off, according to Jorn and Jolley26. According to the cited meta-analysis, mild vascular dementia had a 3.9% prevalence between 80-84 years of age, which increased to 6.6% between 85-89 years of age; furthermore, mild cases of Alzheimer’s disease affected 1.2% and 2.4% of the octogenarians respectively. (More severe forms of mental decline – moderate and severe – are not included.)

  • 27 R. J. Lavizzo-Mourey, « Dehydration in the elderly : a short review », J Natl Med Assoc, 1987, 79(1 (...)

28Furthermore, dehydration and elevated serum urea (due to the observation, that at the age of 80, there is a 50% loss of kidney glomeruli) also may lead to delusions. Dehydration of the elderly may occur due to the decreased thirst (the thirst centre in their brain is less sensitive to angiotensin), and often aggravated by inconveniences experienced during or after drinking (swallowing difficulties, incontinence)27.

  • 28 F. Grimsland, A. Seim, T. Borza, and A. S. Helvik, « Toileting difficulties in older people with an (...)

29Therefore, if I estimate the probability of any, seemingly non-demented, octogenarian in the mid-17th century, that they develop mild dementia between 5 to 7%, and some form of delusional misconception between 10 to 30 per cent, I have a pretty good chance not to overestimate the real value. As Abel I. Cyrano was not able to live independently, also he suffered social isolation, and his illness, incontinence is also linked to dementia (octogenarians with dementia have two times higher risk for developing incontinence28 I assess the probability of him developing delusions of theft in the same range of the frequency of financial abuse.

  • 29 Cyrano de Bergerac, « L’Autre Monde ou les états et empires de la Lune et du Soleil, nouvelle éditi (...)

30The second amendment contains serious accusations about “certain persons whom he does not dare to name”, claiming that these people robbed him since the beginning of his illness, over four months ago. The perpetrators forced the locks of the chests and wardrobes open (does this mean that all keys were lost, and the perpetrators rather marred the furniture than called a locksmith or a cabinet-maker?) Also, he gave a long list of stolen items (paintings, tapestry, carpets, linen, a pillow, silver and tin dinner sets, vases, books), equipage sufficient for an entire household (perhaps Mauvières); whereas in his bedridden state, it must have been hard to take an inventory. Finally, he handed over 600 livres in cash (quite a large amount, in comparison: the old M. Mauvières sold his lands for 17 200 livres in 1636.) and the keys to his chests. Earlier his advocate stated that, in October, M. de Mauvières dictated his testament while he was physically and mentally in good condition, contradicting the words of the second amendment29. These data bend me to assume a higher probability to the delusion theory than to the abuse.

  • 30 Isbel Addyman, Cyrano « The Life and Legend of Cyrano De Bergerac » Simon & Schuster, 2008. p. 228.

31What did Cyrano say? He claimed that the young are abler to lead a family (as an economic unit) than the elderly. No scholar who would not admit that his father, M. de Mauvières, was terrible with money, he continuously lost his estates. As M. de Maivières was over fifty, when Cyrano de Bergerac was born, de Bergerac only saw his aged father wasting his wealth. (Addyman believes that Cyrano de Bergerac was able to maintain his heritage even during the recession in 1648-5230.) The other claim, the mental decline of the father is evident in the Lune, and I believe Cyrano de Bergerac had his reasons to assume his father’s mental decline based on his experiences. (Interestingly, most of his writings also suggest a rather affectionate relation between fathers and sons, but the mother is almost non-existent, only the nanny is present.)

32Cyrano wrote in one of his letters (Consolation for one of his friends on the eternity of his father-in-law):

“Je parlerois de cette vie jusqu’à la mort, pour soulager votre ennui ; mais le sommeil commence de causer à ma main de si grandes foiblesses qu’au lieu de vous consoler je vous ferois moi-même pitié. C’est pourquoi je vois bien qu’il me faut ici finir ma légende. Déjà mes yeux ferment boutique, mon menton vient baiser ma poitrine, Morphée a logé une trompette dans mon nez qui sonne la retraite, ma tête tombe sur le chevet et, par ma foi, je ne sais plus ce que j’écris.”

  • 31 Cyrano de Bergerac, « Œuvres diverses » réed. Frédéric Lachèvre, op. cit. p. 102-3.

(I would speak of this life until death, to relieve your boredom; but sleep begins to give so much weakness to my hand that, instead of consoling you, I would evoke your pity for myself. This is why I can see that I must finish my legend here. My eyes are already closing, my chin is kissing my chest, Morpheus has placed a trumpet in my nose that blows retreat, my head falls on the pillow and, by my faith, I no longer know what I am writing.31)

These are the words of a caregiver for an elderly, an invalided person demanding a lot of attention and losing his grasp of reality. All arguments for the sage committing suicide at the verge of mental decline may be a result of the painful sight, closely beholding the physical and mental decline of a person, who loses the ability of self-care, dignity and intelligence makes every one of us rebel against the often-cruel nature of aging.

33The suggestions above do not erase the possibility of Cyrano de Bergerac disliking his father, or even treating him shoddily, only casts doubt about his involvement in elder abuse. On the other hand, this example shows that recent understanding of human behaviour and mental disturbances may help us to evaluate historical evidences.

Intermission: the languages of Cyrano’s

  • 32 Alcover, Madeleine. « Le Cyrano De Bergerac De Jacques Prévot », op. cit.

34In the Moon, Dyrcona brags about knowing four foreign languages (the books of Gassendi’s are all in Latin, the Demon of Socrates starts a conversation in Greek, Gonzales is Spanish, and he ends up in Italy, not even realising that he carries a conversation in Italian). Also, he learns the Selenian dialects quite quickly. In another text from the very same period, that is addressed to the Stupid Reader and not to the Sage (the foreword to The Judgement of Paris of d’Assoucy’s), Cyrano boasts that “I would have written it in four languages, if I had known them, to tell you in four languages, Headless and heartless monster, that you are the most abhorrent of all things in the world, and that I would even be sorry to have you sang too good insults, for fear of giving you pleasure.” It seems that the only text from 1647-49, where Cyrano mentioned understanding only two languages (Greek and Latin) would be Le ministre d’État flambé, the only masarinade whose authorship was not entirely discredited by the analysis of professor Alcover32. I suggest counting the number of foreign languages spoken by the author of Le ministre d’État flambé against the paternity of Cyrano’s.

Even our mind is only a web of small animals?

  • 33 Bock, Ortwin. 2015. « A history of the development of histology up to the end of the nineteenth cen (...)

35One of the most intriguing scientific hypotheses is the suggestion that our flesh, blood and mind could be “une tissure des petits animaux”. As Cyrano proposes the cellular organisation of the organism in a context of microcosms and macrocosms, following Campanella at this part of the text, it can be understood as a form of atomism extrapolated to the living mass. At other parts, we see descriptions that are eerily close to how we explain the cellular immune functions. Also, it is a peculiar idea to surmise corpuscular elements in a bodily fluid. What a coincidence, calling this type of organisation "tissure”, when “tissu” enters more than a century later as the anatomical term (Marie-François-Xavier Bichat, 180133). In the Soleil, we also meet Sun-beings, who take the form of small men, and these small people form together a giant. The process, how each of the particle-men find their own organ according to their constitution, shows surprising similarities to the embryonal development, but how is it possible?

  • 34 Aristotle, « History of Animals in Ten Books. » Translated by Richard Creswell, vol. 6, George Bell (...)
  • 35 Needham, Joseph, « A History of Embryology. » London : Cambridge University Press, 1959.

36Aristotle was the first, who described the development of the chick in the egg34. He observed that the organs appear in a consistent order, e.g., the future heart appears on the third day as a pulsating, red structure. He proposed that the embryonal development is epigenetic, meaning that there are several twists and turns from the simple-looking blastodisc (a white, circular thing on the surface of the yolk, first described by William Harvey, who discovered the circulation of the blood) to the fully formed young animal. In the second half of the 17th century, a radically different opinion emerged: that the intrauterine development starts from a small human, a so-called homunculus, and our growth in the womb is mostly quantitative. (When Leuvenhoek saw a sperm, it seemed unconceivable, that an animal can develop from such a simple thing.) This concept is called the theory of preformation, and even in the second half of the nineteenth century, natural scientists debated whether the homunculus is situated in the sperm (animalists) or in the egg (ovists). Gassendi also proposed an atomistic theory: at the Creation, the germ of every living was created, but the final form develops out of the atoms of the Universe35.

37In the early sixteen-sixties, Robert Hooke recognised the “cellules” of cork, through the microscope (an optical device that was invented at or about the same time as the telescope). During the last decades of the seventeenth century, many scientists used this (and similar) optical devices that allowed them to look into the tissue of living organisms. (I already mentioned Leeuwenhoek, who saw bacteria for the first time, and Malpighi, who discovered the capillaries.)

  • 36 Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. « Jan Swammerdam », in Encyclopædia Britannica : Encyclop (...)

38The first description of the red blood cell originates from Jan Swammerdamm in 165836; he also debated Descartes’ theory of animal spirit flowing from the brain to the muscles and proved that during contraction, the volume of the contracted muscle is smaller than the relaxed.

39Therefore, all ingredients are present: we can assign a high probability that Cyrano (or, rather Rohault) played with more complex optical instruments, like telescopes and microscopes. Human blood samples are easily accessible, a drop from the fingertip is more than enough, and it is a most simple procedure to make a blood smear. As the cellular elements of the blood have the diameter of one-tenth of a human hair (human hair: 50-200 micrometre, red blood cells: 7 micrometre, white blood cells: 5-20 micrometre), to count them we still use only a tenfold magnification (magnification of the objective lens – the ocular lens adds to the size of the image but does not affect the resolution). The red blood cell has a natural colour; therefore, it can be seen without staining. Cyrano knew the works of Aristotle and Gassendi well and had access to embryonated eggs which had been brooded for different periods, as he liked to spend his time in the countryside. What surprised me the most at the first reading, I thought to recognise the self-similarity of the parts that form the whole, even the possibility of every component that builds the organism contains the information of the individuum, like the DNA. The latter concept is most improbable: the small people must be closer to the homunculus, but their assembly mimics the folding of the embryo; and in these passages, Cyrano offers a mulish theory between the epigenetic model and the theory of preformation.

Imitation is the sincerest form of mind-reading

  • 37 Rizzolatti, G., L. Fadiga, V. Gallese, and L. Fogassi, « Premotor cortex and the recognition of mot (...)
  • 38 Leslie, K. R., S. H. Johnson-Frey, and S. T. Grafton, « Functional imaging of face and hand imitati (...)
  • 39 Iacoboni, M., I. Molnar-Szakacs, V. Gallese, G. Buccino, J. C. Mazziotta, and G. Rizzolatti, « Gras (...)
  • 40 Williams, J. H., G. D. Waiter, A. Gilchrist, D. I. Perrett, A. D. Murray, and A. Whiten, « Neural m (...)
  • 41 A. F. Hamilton, R. M. Brindley and U. Frith, « Imitation and action understanding in autistic spect (...)

40Interestingly, Cyrano believes that Campanella was able to understand his inquisitors’ thoughts and intentions by imitating their expressions and gestures. I cannot find any evidence that would prove this assumption right, but we cannot deny the possibility of an urban legend stating the prospect of mind-reading by imitation. However, the following experiment gave us evidence of the scientific background of the presumption. When one learns a task by imitation, some neurons in the motor cortex are active during the observation and also during the execution of the task (e.g., the task is moving objects by hand); however, if the task is learnt by the aim, during the observation phase, the motor cortex is silent, only active during the execution phase (e.g., the instructor moves objects by a tweezer, but the student has to move them by hand)37. During the following decade, different research teams examined this phenomenon, and they recognised, that not just the movement, but the intention is monitored by these neurons located in the motor cortex38.39. The scientists call these mirror neurons, and the proper function of these mirror neurons are essential to understanding the facial expressions and gestures of the other. It is possible that the improper function of these mirror neurons participates in the development of autism spectrum disorder40,41. In the Soleil, he gives an explanation, that

“qu’ainsi conformant tout à fait mon corps au vôtre, et devenant pour ainsi dire votre gémeau, il est impossible qu’un même branle de matière ne nous cause à tous deux un même branle d’esprit.”

that thus completely conforming my body to yours, and becoming, so to speak, your twin, it is a must that the same position of matter will cause us both the same movement of mind.

  • 42 M. Sahu and J. G. Prasuna, « Twin Studies : A Unique Epidemiological Tool », Indian J Community Med(...)

Twin research is a widely used tool, to assess genetic and environmental effects, but in this case, not the best device; however, probably this is the first occasion when someone analysed twins to gain biological data42. Certainly, Cyrano was not able to draw the connection between his newly acquired awareness about the tissure of small animals making up the nervous system and the empathy generated by imitation, and rather offers a partial explanation (it is impossible to order the matter of my body to precisely the same position as the substance of your body because neither us can fully control our innards). Who could blame him, when it took three and a half centuries, and the use of a lot of complex instruments performing convoluted experiments to gain the same result as he collected with his bare eyes and wits, still with a partial explanation? (Now we see the reason in the motor cortex, but we are still far from understanding the actual, causal connections.) Of course, Cyrano’s theorem might be a by-product of sheer luck, but it would seem to me that there are one too many lucky guesses in his works.

“Un fou nommé Cyrano”

  • 43 Cyrano de Bergerac. Œuvres diverses, réed. Frédéric Lachèvre, op. cit., Lettre pour Soucidas.
  • 44 Madeleine Alcover, « L’autre Au xviie siècle. Actes du 4e Colloque du Centre International de Renco (...)
  • 45 Charles Coypeau d’Assoucy, « Les Avantures de Monsieur d’Assoucy » Paris, chez Claude Audinet, 1677
  • 46 R. A. Anselment, « Smallpox in seventeenth-century English literature : reality and the metamorphos (...)
  • 47 Ha, Tadi and Dubensky, « Neurosyphilis. » Statpearls, 2020. D. Mathew, and D. Smit, « Clinical and (...)
  • 48 Madeleine Alcover, Cyrano relu et corrigé, op. cit., p. 20.

41There are some suggestions that Cyrano de Bergerac went crazy in the medical sense. As he is sought to suffer some venereal disease, late-stage, neurosyphilis offers a sound basis for this hypothesis. Unfortunately, the only support to this presumption is a reference to a secret illness from 1645 and some correspondence between Cyrano, d’Assoucy and de la Chapelle: Cyrano accused d’Assoucy with gonorrhoea43 (describing the symptoms of gonorrhoea and not syphilis); whereas, about 15 years later, d’Assoucy accused de la Chapelle with syphilis44 that Chapelle may have contacted before, or only after breaking up with Cyrano. One of Cyrano’s letters, Consolation à une amie sur l’éternité de son beau-père was originally addressed to Chapelle, and probably described Cyrano’s own father, I see it as a proof for an intimate relationship between the two men. (Also, d’Assoucy claims that when Cyrano introduced him to Chapelle, Cyrano had already eaten Chapelle’s bread and had worn his sheets, a statement that one can read as a suggestion of Cyrano being Chapelle’s lover a few years earlier, or simply his guest45.) As untreated gonorrhoea does not lead to mental disturbances, and until the 19th century the two venereal diseases were often mentioned interchangeably46, I cannot accept or decline the neurosyphilis hypothesis; however, neurosyphilis almost completely excludes the possibility of Cyrano working on his writings (dementia, loss of sight and paralysis are typical symptoms of neurosyphilis, fever may occur, but it is an atypical symptom)47. In this case, all alterations of his Letters are made by de Sercy (contradicting Alcover48), and also the repeated mention of head wounds in the Sun would be merely accidental).

  • 49 Charles Coypeau d’Assoucy, « Les Pensées De M. D’assoucy Dans Le S. Office De Rome » Paris 1675, de (...)

42In Les Pensées de M. d’Assoucy49, d’Assoucy claims that Cyrano died mad. Unfortunately, his account is biased and unreliable, as he did not keep in touch with Cyrano after 1651. If d’Assoucy would have known an insane Cyrano, that also means that the duke of Arpajon accepted into his palace a raving madman, and lived with all the consequences for 6 to 12 months; therefore, d’Assoucy’s report is either based on hearsay or magnified the behavioural traits of a younger Cyrano. As Cyrano participated in one of the most violent wars in European history when he was only 19 years of age, there is a considerable probability of him developing post-traumatic stress disorder, that may have served a basis for d’Assoucy’s claims. This hypothesis needs further analysis that is out of the scope of this study.

  • 50 Charles G. Gross, Brain, Vision, Memory Tales in the History of Neuroscience, op. cit. H. Sutherlan (...)
  • 51 Isbel Addyman, Cyrano « The Life and Legend of Cyrano De Bergerac », Simon & Schuster, 2008, p. 248

43In the Lune, the common form of burial also serves for a bitter laugh at the expense of the Catholic Church: what the Church considers the greatest shame and punishment to the freethinker is actually a transport offered to the soul made of fire into the nearest star. (There are multiple layers of the text depicting the lunar burial customs.) In the Soleil, a philosopher dies as the result of putting too many sharp thoughts into his cerebral ventricles or chambers. The medieval philosophers and medical doctors considered the cavities of the three cerebral ventricles as the place of sensing (first), judging (second) and storing memories (third chamber)50. I have to emphasise, that not the neural tissue, but the cavity is the place of function. This three-ventricle view was ridiculed by Vesalius, and Descartes (and, of course, Jacques Rohault) also coupled functions to the compact brain tissue (see Fig. 1. Panel C.). The outdated theory serves as a thin veil over the insinuation that many were murdered for conceiving non-conforming, sharp thoughts. (Even in the literal sense, the skulls of those who were burned at the stakes exploded from the heat.) The similarities between the subtext of the Lunar burial imply that, at this part, the image of the exploding head may have come earlier than the head wound of the author. The conception of the novels took place at a time period, when heresy and libertinism were less and less seen as a crime, but as a mental disorder. Though medicalisation instead of prosecution draught less attention to the dangerous disciples of the convict, and allowed to muzzle the freethinkers persuasively, and yet Cyrano still counted on the condemnation or even execution of his kind51. The analysis of the Solar philosopher’s death serves a good example, where the author used an outdated theory to conceal his true meaning. Probably a further, detailed evaluation of libertine texts could reveal the intentions of the early modern unorthodox thinkers.

  • 52 Jacques Prévot, « Cyrano De Bergerac. L’écrivain de la crise », op. cit., p. 180.

44More, his obsession with the Moon and his description of the madness of Dyrcona in the first part of the Soleil may have triggered some rumours. The two incidents, which are brought up by Jacques Prévot, as the exhibits of the lunacy of Cyrano’s are the following52:

  • 53 abbé Guillaume-Thomas-François Raynal, « Anecdotes Littéraires », tome premier, Chez Durand et Piss (...)

451. Once Cyrano went to the Church wearing a nightcap but no doublet. My take on the anecdote: As he did not forget his breeches nor his shirt, his appearance was decent but disrespectful, and the nightcap may symbolise his intention not to pay attention to the sermon but rather sleep it through. The story is similar to the one, where Des Barreaux ate scrambled eggs on a Friday, and, when a thunderstorm arrived, he cast the food to the window, saying “Est-ce la peine de faire tant de bruit pour si peu de chose!” "Is it worth making so much noise for such a small thing!”53

  • 54 Charles Coypeau d’Assoucy, Œuvres, éditions la Bibliothèque Digitale (the 13th of June, 2012), ASIN (...)
  • 55 Charles Coypeau d’Assoucy, « Œuvres » éditions la Bibliothèque Digitale, op. cit.
  • 56 J.-A. Dulaure, « Histoire physique, civile et morale de Paris » (Tome VII), Paris, Imprimerie de Co (...)
  • 57 Henry Le Bret, Cyrano de Bergerac, « Histoire comique, op. cit.
  • 58 Cyrano de Bergerac, Œuvres Diverses, réed. Frédéric Lachèvre, op. cit., p. 377.
  • 59 Henry Le Bret, Cyrano de Bergerac, Histoire comique, op. cit.
  • 60 Cyrano de Bergerac, Œuvres Diverses, réed. Frédéric Lachèvre, op. cit., p. 82.
  • 61 Charles Coypeau d’Assoucy, « Les Avantures de Monsieur d’Assoucy » Paris, chez Claude Audinet, 1677

462. d’Assoucy wrote a short story about a battle, entitled Combat de Cyrano de Bergerac avec le singe de Brioché, au bout du Pont-Neuf. It was first published in 1704, sought to be written in 165554. As d’Assoucy refers to Cyrano as “feu Bergerac” (late Bergerac) and says, “ta mort, dont je suis faché,” (your death that annoys me) the origin of the text cannot be earlier. The short story starts with the claim that “j’entre dans l’esprit de celuy dont je decris l’avanture, et que la metaphore, l’allegorie, l’hyperbole et le reste, sont gens dont je ne me puis passer aujourd’ huy.” (I enter the mind of the one whose adventure I am describing, and that the metaphor, the allegory, the hyperbole and the rest, are people that I cannot do without today.) Later, according to the notes of the publication, it contains a chronological error that further confirms, the story is not a point-by-point description of real-life events. (Before 1654, the valets wore plain grey uniforms, and they were allowed to bear swords or other arms. In 1654, unknown valets murdered M. de Tilladet, then an edict banned for the valets to bear arms and they were required to wear clothes that showed the colour of their house55. Therefore, the depicted valets wearing colourful uniforms flailing swords may constitute an anachronism, even if an entire year passed between the murder in January of 1654 and the edict in January of 165556. Two elements of the writing can be seen as direct references to the Lune: Gonzales is categorised as a monkey by the Selenians because his garbs are the same as the monkeys’ wear in the Moon. At the Pont-Neuf, the opposite happens: if a monkey is dressed as a valet, he is categorised as a valet. In the Lune as well as in the Soleil, Dyrcona plays the role of a monkey, conceivably to demonstrate the Vaninian suggestion of humans being closely related to apes. As the cousinhood of the two species is explored recurring, it seems a strong element of Cyrano’s thinking: therefore, an element worthy of exploiting in a parody about feu Bergerac. Also, Cyrano offers to pay with the official lunar currency for the loss of Brioché’s. (Although this element originates from Sorel’s Francion.) The last word of the story, “dixit”, was conceivably a pet peeve of Cyrano’s. ("... et il traitoit de ridicules certaines gens qui, avec l’autorité d’ un passage, ou d’Aristote, ou de tel autre, prétendent, aussi audacieusement que les principles de Pithagore avec leur Magister dixit, juger des questions importantes, quoique des expériences sensibles et familières les démentent tous les jours.” …and he treated as ridiculous, when certain people who, with the authority of a passage, or of Aristotle, or of such other, pretend, as daringly as the principles of Pithagore with their Magister dixit, to judge important questions, in spite of the paucity of their prudent and mundane experiences”57) Even if the date is correct, and d’Assoucy wrote this caricature 19 months before the publication of the Lune, he was familiar with Cyrano’s novel assuredly. The placement is conveniently close to the Porte de Nesle, according to Lachèvre58 (the Porte de Nesle connected the Pont-Neuf to the Pré des Clés), where Cyrano alone fought a battle with hundred attackers, according to Le Bret59. If my logic is correct, Henri Le Bret is not the only one, who disseminates the famous, although a mostly obscure battle between Cyrano de Bergerac and a hundred attackers, and, conceivably, the mythical hundred attackers were a group of 20 to 30 henchmen, according to d’Assoucy’s account. The only element, which is sorely missing from d’Assoucy’s narrative, is the friend, for whom Cyrano fought. (As Le Bret cited honourable witnesses of the legendary battle but did not give the name of the friend; also, he left out d’Assoucy and Chapelle from the catalogue of Cyrano’s friends, one may speculate that the protégé at the Porte de Nesle was no other than d’Assoucy, and d’Assoucy chose this episode as a flippant eulogy to his former friend because of his emotional connections to the famous battle.) The other proofs are also circumstantial: about the breakup, Cyrano accused d’Assoucy of being ungrateful and selfish (the two greatest sins in the lunar state, condemning the perpetrator to natural death and burial instead of cremation), because d’Assoucy did not lend money to Cyrano, although he could have afforded the loan (Contre un Partisan qui Avait Refusé de Lui Preter de l’Argent60. D’Assuocy described a similar situation in the famous capon-incident: he had something, he could have afforded to give but denied it from Cyrano in need61. Still, threatening someone’s life for refusing a loan is an overreaction, if the supposed lender is not indebted with his life to the borrower, or had not exploited the debtor.)

  • 62 Henry Le Bret, Cyrano de Bergerac, Histoire comique, op. cit.
  • 63 Cyrano de Bergerac, L’Autre Monde, op. cit.

47The short story also includes a curious claim about Cyrano posing as a descendent of magi. Le Bret, in his biography, claims, that Cyrano, at the age of 19, showed dangerous tendencies that were somehow preventable by joining the army62. Lachèvre suggested excess alcohol consumption, gambling and frequenting brothels63, as an explanation, whereas more recently, gay relationships are the major suspect. However, none of these problems could have been solved in the army. On the other hand, Cyrano wrote uncountable references to works of suspected sorcerers and heretics (Agrippa, Cardano, Vanini, Campanella and Giordano Bruno, to name the most eminent examples). Also, he was clearly under the influence of libertines at an early age (even Le Bret dares to mention, that he compared their first teacher to the shadow of Sidias, a character of Théophile de Viau). There is no better solution for too much reading than subjecting oneself to the orders of military authority and experiencing all the horrors of the 30-year war. These three resources allow me the conclusion that those dangerous tendencies in his late teens were rather intellectual than sensual.

  • 64 Johannes Kepler, Somnium - Eine Reise zum Mond : Science-Fiction-Klassiker (Traum vom Mond, Der Däm (...)

48Is there anything that Cyrano de Bergerac added? In his letter, Pour les sorciers, Agrippa claims that “Depuis près d’une siècle que je disparus d’entre les hommes” (For almost a century that I have been disappeared among men), and Agrippa died in 1535. As the frame of this letter shows a strong resemblance to Kepler’s Somnium64, because both works set the scene with the narrator reading a magical book, then they experience some supernatural force followed by waking up in their bed, leaving to the reader, whether the body of the story is a dream or the reality. The Somnium was published in 1634; therefore I assume that the core idea of this letter (if not the entire text) came to Cyrano when he was around sixteen years of age.

49Acknowledgement

All anatomical drawings of the brain are from Wikimedia commons.

Panel A. Uploaded by cohesion https://fr.m.wikipedia.org/​wiki/​Fichier:1543,_Andreas_Vesalius%27_Fabrica,_Base_Of_The_Brain.jpg

Panel B. uploaded by Encephalon~commonswiki https://commons.wikimedia.org/​wiki/​File:Vesalius_609c.png

Panel C. uploaded by Alexei Kouprianov https://commons.wikimedia.org/​wiki/​File:Descartes_brain_section.png

Panel D. uploaded by Fæ https://commons.wikimedia.org/​wiki/​File:Descartes;_The_Nervous_System._Diagram_of_the_brain_Wellcome_L0001371.jpg

Panel E. uploaded by Fæ https://commons.wikimedia.org/​wiki/​File:Circle_of_Willis_Wellcome_M0016877.jpgd

Panel F. I created in PowerPoint, using only built-in shapes and icons.

Source of the books of Cyrano (editions 1654, 1657, 1662, 1921 and 1935), Gerzan, Rohault, d’Assoucy (Les pensées) and Lachèvre: gallica.bnf.fr / Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Source of Aristotle’s History of animals: Project Gutenberg

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Notes

1 Dominique Descotes, « Les machines de Cyrano de Bergerac », Dix-septième siècle, 2008, 240(3) :535-47.

2 Cyrano de Bergerac, Nouvelles Œuvres, chez Charles de Sercy, 1662, p. 269.

3 Jacques Rohault, Traité De Physique, chez la veuve de Charles Saureux, 1671, p. 333-34.

4 Charles G. Gross, Brain, Vision, Memory Tales in the History of Neuroscience : A Bradford Book, Cambridge : MIT Press, 1998, p. 43.

5 Jacques Rohault, Traité De Physique, op. cit., seconde partie, p. 116-117.

6 Charles G. Gross, Brain, Vision, Memory Tales in the History of Neuroscience, op. cit., p. 10 and Id., « The fire that comes from the eye », History of Neuroscience, 1999, 5, 58-64.

7 Gerald Cottrell, A. Winer and E. Jane, « Does Anything Leave the Eye When We See?: Extramission Beliefs of Children and Adults », Current Directions in Psychological Science, vol. 5, no. 5, 1996, p. 137-142.

8 Madeleine Alcover, « Cyrano Relu et corrigé », Études de philologie et d’histoire, vol. 42, Droz, 1990, p. 20.

9 Ishbel Addyman, Cyrano : The Life and Legend of Cyrano De Bergerac, Simon & Schuster, 2008, p. 250.

10 Charles G. Gross, Brain, Vision, Memory Tales in the History of Neuroscience, op. cit., p. 41.

11 Ibid. See also : Id., « Malpighi’s Cortical Glands. » Cortex, vol. 47, 2001, p. 903-904.

12 Jacques Rohault, Traité De Physique, chez la veuve de Charles Saureux, 1671, quatrième partie p. 334.

13 James P.B. O’Connor, « Thomas Willis and the Background to Cerebri Anatome. », J R Soc Med, vol. 96, no. 3, 2003, p. 139-143.

14 Madeleine Alcover, « Le Cyrano De Bergerac De Jacques Prévot », Les Dossiers du Grihl, 2012, online: https://journals.openedition.org/dossiersgrihl/5079.

15 Cyrano de Bergerac, Œuvres Diverses, réed. par Frédéric Lachèvre, Paris, Librairie Garnier Frères, 1935.

16 E. Engelhardt, « Cerebral Localization of the Mind and Higher Functions the Beginnings », Dement Neuropsychol, 2018, vol. 12, no. 3, p. 321-325, doi :10.1590/1980-57642018dn12-030014.

17 François du Soucy, Escuyer, sieur de Gerzan, Le Triomphe des dames, self-published, 1646. p. 206-7.

18 Jacques Prévot, Cyrano De Bergerac. L’écrivain de la crise, Ellipses Edition Marketing, 2011, p. 25-6.

19 Henry Le Bret, Cyrano de Bergerac, « Histoire comique : contenant les états et empires de la Lune par M. Cyrano de Bergerac » Paris, Chez Charles de Sercy, 1657. Cyrano de Bergerac, « L’Autre Monde ou les états et empires de la Lune et du Soleil, nouvelle édition. », rééd. par Frédéric Lachèvre, Paris, Librairie Garnier Frères, 1921. Jacques Prévot, Cyrano de Bergerac L’écrivain de la crise, op. cit. Ishbel Addyman, Cyrano « The Life and Legend of Cyrano De Bergerac », op. cit.

20 Cyrano de Bergerac, L’Autre Monde ou les états et empires de la Lune et du Soleil », nouvelle édition par Frédéric Lachèvre, Paris, Librairie Garnier Frères, 1921. p. XXVII-XXIX.

21 J. Manthorpe, K. Samsi, and J. Rapaport, « Responding to the financial abuse of people with dementia : a qualitative study of safeguarding experiences in England », Int Psychogeriatr, 2012, 24(9) :1454-64. E. Escard, N. Barbotz, L. Di Pollina, and C. Margairaz, « [Identification of elderly material and financial abuse]. » Rev Med Suisse, 2013, 9(405) :2061-5. Y. Yon, C. R. Mikton, Z. D. Gassoumis, and K. H. Wilber, « Elder abuse prevalence in community settings : a systematic review and meta-analysis. » Lancet Glob Health, 2017, 5(2) :e147-e56. A. B. Van Den Bruele, M. Dimachk, and M. Crandall, « Elder Abuse. », Clin Geriatr Med, 2019, 35(1) :103-13.

22 A. E. Holt and M. L. Albert, « Cognitive neuroscience of delusions in aging », Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat, 2006, 2(2) :181-9.

23 S. Ostling, D. Gustafson, and M. Waern, « Psychotic and behavioural symptoms in a population-based sample of the very elderly subjects », Acta Psychiatr Scand, 2009, 120(2) :147-52. S. Ostling, K. Backman, R. Sigstrom, and I. Skoog, « Is the prevalence of psychosis in the very old decreasing ? A comparison of 85-year-olds born 22 years apart », Int J Geriatr Psychiatry, 2019, 34(12):1776-83.

24 J. Nagendra and J. Snowdon, « An Australian study of delusional disorder in late life », Int Psychogeriatr, 2020, 32(4) :453-62.

25 R. W. Brendel and T. A. Stern, « Psychotic symptoms in the elderly », Prim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry, 2005, 7(5) :238-41.

26 Jorm, A. F., and D. Jolley, « The incidence of dementia : a meta-analysis. » Neurology, 1998, 51(3) :728-33.

27 R. J. Lavizzo-Mourey, « Dehydration in the elderly : a short review », J Natl Med Assoc, 1987, 79(10) :1033-8. S. T. O’Keeffe and J. N. Lavan, « Predicting delirium in elderly patients : development and validation of a risk-stratification model », Age Ageing, 1996, 25(4) :317-21. J. George and K. Rockwood, « Dehydration and delirium--not a simple relationship. » J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci, 2004, 59(8) :811-2.

28 F. Grimsland, A. Seim, T. Borza, and A. S. Helvik, « Toileting difficulties in older people with and without dementia receiving formal in-home care-A longitudinal study. » Nurs Open, 2019, 6(3) :1055-66.

29 Cyrano de Bergerac, « L’Autre Monde ou les états et empires de la Lune et du Soleil, nouvelle édition, », réed. Frédéric Lachèvre, Paris, Librairie Garnier Frères, 1921, p. XXVII-XXIX.

30 Isbel Addyman, Cyrano « The Life and Legend of Cyrano De Bergerac » Simon & Schuster, 2008. p. 228.

31 Cyrano de Bergerac, « Œuvres diverses » réed. Frédéric Lachèvre, op. cit. p. 102-3.

32 Alcover, Madeleine. « Le Cyrano De Bergerac De Jacques Prévot », op. cit.

33 Bock, Ortwin. 2015. « A history of the development of histology up to the end of the nineteenth century. » Research (2) :1283.

34 Aristotle, « History of Animals in Ten Books. » Translated by Richard Creswell, vol. 6, George Bell & Sons, 1887.

35 Needham, Joseph, « A History of Embryology. » London : Cambridge University Press, 1959.

36 Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. « Jan Swammerdam », in Encyclopædia Britannica : Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. See also : Windelspecht, Michael, « Groundbreaking Scientific Experiments, Inventions, and Discoveries of the 17th century. » London : Greenwood Press, 2002.

37 Rizzolatti, G., L. Fadiga, V. Gallese, and L. Fogassi, « Premotor cortex and the recognition of motor actions. » Brain Res Cogn Brain Res, 1996, 3(2) :131-41.

38 Leslie, K. R., S. H. Johnson-Frey, and S. T. Grafton, « Functional imaging of face and hand imitation : towards a motor theory of empathy. » Neuroimage, 2004, 21(2) :601-7.

39 Iacoboni, M., I. Molnar-Szakacs, V. Gallese, G. Buccino, J. C. Mazziotta, and G. Rizzolatti, « Grasping the intentions of others with one’s own mirror neuron system. » PLoS Biol, 2005, 3(3) :e79.

40 Williams, J. H., G. D. Waiter, A. Gilchrist, D. I. Perrett, A. D. Murray, and A. Whiten, « Neural mechanisms of imitation and ‘mirror neuron’ functioning in autistic spectrum disorder. », Neuropsychologia, 2006, 44(4) :610-21.

41 A. F. Hamilton, R. M. Brindley and U. Frith, « Imitation and action understanding in autistic spectrum disorders : how valid is the hypothesis of a deficit in the mirror neuron system ? », Neuropsychologia, 2007, 45(8) :1859-68.

42 M. Sahu and J. G. Prasuna, « Twin Studies : A Unique Epidemiological Tool », Indian J Community Med, 2016, 41(3) :177-82.

43 Cyrano de Bergerac. Œuvres diverses, réed. Frédéric Lachèvre, op. cit., Lettre pour Soucidas.

44 Madeleine Alcover, « L’autre Au xviie siècle. Actes du 4e Colloque du Centre International de Rencontres sur le xviie siècle. Un gay trio : Cyrano, Chapelle, Dassoucy », Tübingen, Gunter Narr Verlag, 1998.

45 Charles Coypeau d’Assoucy, « Les Avantures de Monsieur d’Assoucy » Paris, chez Claude Audinet, 1677.

46 R. A. Anselment, « Smallpox in seventeenth-century English literature : reality and the metamorphosis of wit », Med Hist, 1989 (3), 72-95. Riolan, translated by B.D.M., Chirurgie de Riolan (Vol. Traité des Maladies Veneriennes), Paris, Chez René Guignard, 1669.

47 Ha, Tadi and Dubensky, « Neurosyphilis. » Statpearls, 2020. D. Mathew, and D. Smit, « Clinical and Laboratory Characteristics of Ocular Syphilis and Neurosyphilis among Individuals with and without Hiv Infection », Br J Ophthalmol, 2020, doi :10.1136/bjophthalmol-2019-315699. A. E. Singh, « Ocular and Neurosyphilis : Epidemiology and Approach to Management », Curr Opin Infect Dis, vol. 33, no. 1, 2020, p. 66-72, doi :10.1097/QCO.0000000000000617.

48 Madeleine Alcover, Cyrano relu et corrigé, op. cit., p. 20.

49 Charles Coypeau d’Assoucy, « Les Pensées De M. D’assoucy Dans Le S. Office De Rome » Paris 1675, de l’imprimerie d’ant. de Raffle.

50 Charles G. Gross, Brain, Vision, Memory Tales in the History of Neuroscience, op. cit. H. Sutherland-Foggio, « Developing the Brain-Early Illustrations of Cerebral Cortex and Its Gyri », Pediatr Neurol, vol. 75, 2017, p. 6-10, doi :10.1016/j.pediatrneurol.2017.07.004.

51 Isbel Addyman, Cyrano « The Life and Legend of Cyrano De Bergerac », Simon & Schuster, 2008, p. 248.

52 Jacques Prévot, « Cyrano De Bergerac. L’écrivain de la crise », op. cit., p. 180.

53 abbé Guillaume-Thomas-François Raynal, « Anecdotes Littéraires », tome premier, Chez Durand et Pissot, 1750, p. 295.

54 Charles Coypeau d’Assoucy, Œuvres, éditions la Bibliothèque Digitale (the 13th of June, 2012), ASIN: B008BF397C. Jacques Prévot, « Cyrano De Bergerac L’écrivain de la crise », op. cit., p. 184.

55 Charles Coypeau d’Assoucy, « Œuvres » éditions la Bibliothèque Digitale, op. cit.

56 J.-A. Dulaure, « Histoire physique, civile et morale de Paris » (Tome VII), Paris, Imprimerie de Cosson, 1834, p. 126.

57 Henry Le Bret, Cyrano de Bergerac, « Histoire comique, op. cit.

58 Cyrano de Bergerac, Œuvres Diverses, réed. Frédéric Lachèvre, op. cit., p. 377.

59 Henry Le Bret, Cyrano de Bergerac, Histoire comique, op. cit.

60 Cyrano de Bergerac, Œuvres Diverses, réed. Frédéric Lachèvre, op. cit., p. 82.

61 Charles Coypeau d’Assoucy, « Les Avantures de Monsieur d’Assoucy » Paris, chez Claude Audinet, 1677.

62 Henry Le Bret, Cyrano de Bergerac, Histoire comique, op. cit.

63 Cyrano de Bergerac, L’Autre Monde, op. cit.

64 Johannes Kepler, Somnium - Eine Reise zum Mond : Science-Fiction-Klassiker (Traum vom Mond, Der Dämon aus Levania, Von der Halbkugel der Privolvaner, Von der Halbkugel der Subvolvaner) e-artnow, 2016.

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List of illustrations

Caption Figure 1. Sixteen- and seventeen-century depictions of the human brain.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/dossiersgrihl/docannexe/image/8387/img-1.jpg
File image/jpeg, 357k
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References

Electronic reference

Rita Benkő, « Cyrano de Bergerac and his voyages to the Moon, the Sun… and the brain », Les Dossiers du Grihl [Online], 2019-02 | 2019, Online since 20 November 2020, connection on 26 January 2021. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/dossiersgrihl/8387 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/dossiersgrihl.8387

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About the author

Rita Benkő

Semmelweis University, Department of Physiology, Budapest, Hungary
benko.rita@med.semmelweis-univ.hu

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Copyright

Licence Creative Commons
Les Dossiers du Grihl est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 3.0 France.

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