Other Worlds
Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac
translated by Geoffrey Strachan

Cyrano de Bergerac

These pages: Other Worlds (L’Autre Monde)

translator’s introduction (here)
Voyage dans la Lune (here)
L’Histoire des États et Empires du Soleil


science fiction

index pages:

Introduction to

Other Worlds

by Geoffrey Strachan

Copyright © 1965 Oxford University Press

Here he worked over the manuscripts of L’Autre Monde until they were stolen—or removed by friends in order to save them from destruction at the hands of the pious nuns, who were also in attendance. They later came into the hands of Le Bret, but he, in turn, was robbed of the third book, L’Étincelle, which has never come to light.

In 1657 Le Bret published the first book of L’Autre Monde as the Voyage dans la Lune. Himself about to take orders, Le Bret undoubtedly whitewashed his friend in the prefatory account of his life, not merely glossing over the more disreputable aspects of it, but also apologizing for the very idea of presenting the moon as a world. [...] Le Bret also cut out all the obviously blasphemous or bawdy passages. The full version of the first book (the second book remains incomplete) was preserved in a manuscript in either Cyrano’s hand or that of a friend. This was published in 1920.

Bowdlerized by Le Bret, the book achieved some success as a comical history, and was soon joined in print by the second part, L’Histoire des États et Empires du Soleil (the source of the manuscript is unknown).

Rostand cannot be blamed for using legends and superficial local colour in order to write good theatre rather than good history. His borrowings from Cyrano’s own work, however, now seem rather feeble and his portrayal of the man who satirized the tearful amorous swains of precious literature as one of them himself is rather a cheek.

Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac

Our age has outgrown the sweetly reasonable straitjacket of classicism and the heroic individualism of the romantics. Cyrano can speak to us directly now as a voice from an age of fragmented culture, like our own, in which there are many authorities demanding subservience but no one Authority; in which the physical world is seen to be governed by huge forces we observe at work but cannot quite fathom; and in which solid matter melts away into infinitesimal particles as we try to define it.

text checked (see note) Feb, Mar 2006

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This is neither the first science fiction published, nor an independent invention of the form: Cyrano includes a meeting on the moon with the hero of Francis Godwin’s The Man in the Moone, and one on the sun with Campanella, author of The City of the Sun. Cyrano offers a “hard science” approach (extensive theoretical explanations of its wonders, albeit based on mid-17th-century science), intermixed with alternative societies, social satire, and topsy-turvy logic – Clarke, Heinlein, Swift, and Carroll are all brought to mind.

Most divisions and chapter titles are the translator’s; his introductions are marked with brackets [ like these ] in hopes of reducing confusion for anyone consulting other translations or the original.

Other Worlds

(L’Autre Monde)

The Comical History of the States and Empires of the Moon and the Sun

translated by Geoffrey Strachan

Copyright © 1965 Oxford University Press

[ The States and Empires of the Moon ]

Voyage dans la Lune

[ 1
Journey to the moon ]

[...] I believe that the moon is a world like ours, which our world serves as a moon.’

Some of the company treated me to a great outburst of laughter. ‘And that, perhaps,’ I said to them, ‘is just how someone else is being ridiculed at this very moment in the moon for maintaining that this globe here is a world.’

[...] I would claim that the earth, being in need of the light, heat, and influence of this great fire, revolves about it in order to receive in all its parts an equal measure of the virtues which conserve it. For it would be as ridiculous to believe that this great luminous body revolved round a speck, which is useless to it, as to imagine when we see a roast lark, that the hearth has been revolved about it in order to cook it. Otherwise, if the sun had to perform this task, it would seem as if the medicine needed the sick man, the strong should yield to the weak, the great serve the small and, instead of a ship sailing along the shores of a province, the province would have to be navigated round the ship. And if you find it difficult to understand how such a heavy mass can move, I pray you tell me if the stars and the heavens, which you would have so solid, are any lighter? Since we are certain of the rotundity of the earth, it is easy for us to deduce its motion from its shape. But why should you suppose the sky to be round, since you cannot know for sure? And if, out of all the possible shapes, it does not happen to possess this one, it is certain that it cannot move.

‘I am not going to reproach you for your eccentrics, your concentrics, and your epicycles, all of which you could only explain very confusedly and from which I have rescued my own system. Let us simply discuss the natural causes of this motion. You are all forced to fall back on intelligences which move and govern your spheres. But I, on the other hand, do not disturb the repose of the Supreme Being, who doubtless created nature all perfect, and who is wise enough to have accomplished the task in such a way that, having made it complete in one respect, He did not leave it defective in another.’

Note (Hal’s):
This was a dangerous position to take in Cyrano’s time. The Holy Office had declared it heretical in 1633.

— end note

‘As for me, far from agreeing with their impudence, I believe that the planets are worlds surrounding the sun and the fixed stars are also suns with planets surrounding them; that is to say, worlds which we cannot see from here, on account of their smallness, and because their light, being borrowed, cannot reach us. For how, in good faith, can one imagine these globes of such magnitude to be nothing but great desert countries, while ours, simply because we, a handful of vainglorious ruffians are crawling about on it, has been made to command all the others? What! Just because the sun charts our days and years for us, does that mean to say it was only made to stop us banging our heads against the walls?’

‘This vast continent of America forms a half of the earth which, despite our ancestors having sailed the ocean a thousand times, had never been discovered. It is evident that it was not yet there; nor were many of the islands, peninsulas, and mountains which have since appeared on our globe, when the dross from the sun, as it purged itself, was driven far enough and condensed in clusters heavy enough to be attracted by the centre of our earth—possibly little by little, in tiny particles, perhaps all at once in a mass. This theory is not so unreasonable that Saint Augustin would not have applauded it, if the discovery of this continent had been made in his time, for this great man, whose genius was enlightened by the Holy Spirit, affirms that in his time the earth was as flat as a pancake and floated upon the water like half a sliced orange.’
[ 2
The earthly paradise ]
‘You have the impudence to jest about sacred things. But you would not go unpunished if the All-Wise God did not wish to leave you to the nations as a famous example of His mercy. Go from hence, impious man, and publish abroad [...] the irreconcilable hatred which God bears towards atheists!’
[ 3
The friendly demon ]
‘Philosophers only permit themselves to be convinced by reason and neither the authority of a scholar, nor that of the majority can outweigh the opinion of a thresher on the farm, when his arguments are as good as theirs. In this country, briefly, only logic-choppers and tub-thumpers are reckoned to be mad.’



[ 5
On trial ]
‘By your faith, if you had conquered your enemy in the field in single combat, would you consider you had vanquished him in a fair fight if you were in armour and he were not; if he had only a dagger and you a sword; in short if he were one-armed and you had two arms? For despite all the fairness you are always recommending to your gladiators, they are never evenly matched. One will be tall, the other short; one will be skilled, the other will never have wielded a sword before; one will be robust, the other a weakling. And even if these discrepancies are evened out and they are each as skilful and as strong as the other, they would still not be equals, for one of the two may have more courage than the other. [...] Thus you praise a man for killing his enemy when the advantage was on his side, and in praising him for his daring you are in fact praising him for a sin against nature, since his daring spurs him on towards his own destruction.’
[ 6
Dinner with two philosophers: youth, age, and vegetables ]

Moreover, fathers obeyed their children as soon as they had reached what the Senate of Philosophers considered to be the age of discretion.

‘You may be surprised,’ he went on, ‘at a custom so contrary to that of your country, but it is in no way repugnant to common sense. For tell me, in all conscience, is not a hot young man, who still has the power to imagine, judge, and act, more capable of ruling a family than an infirm sixty-year-old—a poor dullard, his imagination chilled by the snows of sixty winters, guided only by what you call his experience of successful achievements (which were in fact the simple effects of chance, contrary to all the rules governing human prudence)?

‘As for judgement, he has little enough of it, although the common herd in your world makes it an attribute of old age. But if they want the truth, they should realize that what is called “prudence” in an old man is no more than a panic apprehension, a wild fear which obsesses him of undertaking anything at all. So when he refuses to take a risk, in a situation where a young man comes to grief, it is not that he has foreseen the young man’s fate, but merely that he lacked sufficient fire to spark off those noble impulses which make us dare to act.’



‘Indeed, when I see how much the religion of your country is against nature and jealous of all the gratifications of men, I am astonished that your priests have not made it a crime for you to scratch yourselves, on account of the agreeable pain you feel in doing it.’
[ 7
Dinner with two philosophers: bodies great and small ]
‘I say, then, that the first obstacle standing in our way is the eternity of the universe. Since men’s minds were not powerful enough to conceive of this and were not capable, moreover, of imagining how this great cosmos, so beautiful and so well ordered, could have made itself, they have had recourse to the idea of Creation. But like the man who plunges into a river for fear of being soaked by the rain, they escape from the clutches of a dwarf only to find themselves at the mercy of a giant. Besides they do not escape: this eternity of which they rob the universe, because they fail to understand it, they then give to God—as if He needed the gift, and as if it were easier to conceive of in the one than in the other!’
’Yet you are still astonished at the way this matter, mixed up pell-mell at the whim of chance, could have produced a man, seeing how many things were necessary for the construction of his person. Are you not aware that this matter has stopped a million times on its way towards the formation of a man, sometimes to make a stone, sometimes a lump of lead, sometimes coral, sometimes a flower, sometimes a comet? All this happened because there were more or less of certain shapes, which were necessary, or certain shapes, which were superfluous to the design of man. Hence it is no marvel that they should have come together, from among an infinity of substances which are shifting and changing incessantly, to make the few animals, vegetables, and minerals which we see, any more than it is a marvel for a triple number to come up in a hundred throws of the dice, since it is impossible for this movement not to produce something. And a fool will always marvel at this thing, not knowing how near it came to not being made.’

Note (Hal’s):
More than two centuries before Darwin was to publish The Origin of Species, Cyrano demolished the underlying argument of “intelligent design” pseudo-science.

— end note

[ 8
Some lunar customs and inventions ]
‘It is The Great Works of the Philosophers composed by one of the best brains upon the sun. In it he proves that all things are true and states how the truths of all contradictions may be reconciled physically, such as for example that white is black and black is white; that one can be and not be at the same time; that there can be hills without valleys; that nothingness is something and that everything, which is, is not. But take note that he proves all these unheard-of paradoxes without any fallacious or sophistical reasoning.’


Books (particular)

When someone desires to ‘read,’ he winds up this machine with a great quantity of little threads of all kinds, then he turns the needle to the chapter he wishes to hear and at once there issue from it, as from the mouth of a man or from a musical instrument, all the distinct and different sounds which the great lunarians employ for the expression of their language.


This gift occupied me more than an hour. Finally, having attached them to myself in the form of ear pendants, I went out for a walk [...]

Note (Hal’s):
The Walkman or iPod, described in the 17th century!

— end note



‘Now, in case you want to know why everyone in this country has a large nose, learn that as soon as a woman is brought to bed, the midwife takes the child to the Prior of the Seminary and if at the end of the year when the experts are assembled, its nose is found shorter than a certain measure kept by the Syndic, it is declared snub-nosed and handed over to people who castrate it. You will ask me the cause of this barbarousness and how it can be that we, among whom virginity is a crime, should establish continence by force. But learn that we do it after having observed for thirty centuries that a large nose is the mark of a witty, courteous, affable, generous, and liberal man and that a small one is a mark of the opposite.’



[ 9
The fate of an unbeliever ]

‘What!’ he answered with a shout of laughter, ‘do you hold your soul to be immortal to the exclusion of the beasts? To be frank with you, my dear friend, you have a most insolent pride. From whence, pray, do you deduce this immortality at the expense of the beasts? Might it be because we are gifted with reason and they are not? In the first place I deny this and I will prove to you, any time you please, that they can think just like us. But even if it were true and reason had been handed out to us as a prerogative, a privilege reserved solely for our species, would this mean that God must enrich man with immortality because He had already lavished reason upon him? Then, by that reckoning, I must give this pauper a pistole today because I gave him a crown yesterday? You can see for yourself the fallacy in this logic and that, on the contrary, if I am just, instead of giving this man a pistole, I should give the next man a crown, because he has had nothing from me. And from that one must conclude, O my dear companion, that God, being yet a thousand times more just than us, would not have given everything to some and left nothing for the others.’



‘But by your faith, my little animal, if a belief in God were so necessary to us, in short, if eternity were at stake, would not God himself have flooded this truth with light, making it as clear to us as the sun, which hides from no one? [...] For if the force of my genius makes me recognize Him, the credit is all His, since he could easily have given me the soul and faculties of an imbecile, which would have kept me from knowing Him. And if, on the contrary, He had given me a mind incapable of understanding Him, that would not have been my fault either, but His, since He could quite well have given me one lively enough for me to understand Him.’

text checked (see note) Feb 2006

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