Other Worlds
Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac
translated by Geoffrey Strachan

Cyrano de Bergerac

These pages: Other Worlds (L’Autre Monde)

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


science fiction

index pages:

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 Sun ]

L’Histoire des États et Empires du Soleil

[ 10
The traveller’s return ]

Among those who read my book there were many ignorant people who merely skimmed through it. In imitation of the wits of the top flight, they applauded with the rest, even to the point of clapping their hands at every word—for fear of making a mistake—and exclaiming joyfully, ‘How good it is!’ at places which they did not understand at all. But then, in the guise of remorse, supersition, which bites with very sharp teeth beneath the shirt of a fool, was soon gnawing at their hearts so much, that they preferred to renounce their reputations as philosophers (an ill-fitting suit for them in any case) rather than have to answer for them on the Day of Judgement.

And thus behold the medal reversed and see how they vie with one another in recanting! The work they had previously made so much of is now nothing but a hotch-potch of ridiculous stories, a heap of disjointed fragments, a collection of bedtime fairy tales for children; and men who cannot even understand the book’s syntax begin telling the author to go and light a candle to Saint Mathurin.

This contrast between the opinions of wise men and fools increased its reputation.



‘Although their accusation may be ridiculous and may well be caused by their stupidity, I should not be any the less dead if a dozen intelligent people, who had seen me roasted, afterwards declared my judges to be fools. All their proofs of my innocence would not bring me to life again and my ashes would stay as cold in a tomb as in the common sewer.’


Capital punishment

‘But the science of dreams is, after all, one which depends largely on guesswork.’

‘In faith,’ Cussan took up, ‘you are right. They are a hotch-potch of everything we have been thinking about when we were awake, a monstrous chimera, an assembly of confused elements, which our fancy—no longer guided by our reason when we are asleep—presents to us in complete disorder. Yet, none the less, we believe that, by twisting them about, we can squeeze the true sense out of them and extract knowledge of the future from dreams, as we can from oracles. For my part, I have never found any other similarity between the two, unless it be that dreams and oracles are both incomprehensible.’



[ 12
Into space again ]

For what is called ‘moisture’ [...] is nothing but a flow of bodies more continuous on account of their mobility; and what is called ‘heat’ is a light drizzle of atoms of fire, which appear rarefied on account of their interruption. But even if radical moisture and heat were two distinct things, it is still true that moisture would not be necessary for life so close to the sun, since the only function of this moisture in living creatures is to hold the heat, which would otherwise be spent too quickly and not replaced in time, and I was in no danger of running short of natural warmth in a region, where more of the little bodies of flame, which make life, were joining my being than leaving it.

Another thing which may cause surprise is why my approach to this flaming globe did not burn me up, since I had almost come within range of the full activity of its sphere; but here is the reason for it. It is not, strictly speaking, fire itself which burns, but a grosser matter, which fire drives here and there by the thrusts of its volatile nature. The powder of fine sparks, which I call ‘fire’, has its own motion, but very likely depends for all its effects on the roundness of the other atoms. For they tickle, warm, or burn according to the shape of the bodies with which they combine.

[ 13
A small world and the end of a hazardous journey ]

[...] he addressed me for three solid hours in a language, which I am perfectly sure I had never heard before and which had no connexion with any in this world, but which, none the less, I understood more readily and more clearly than my mother tongue. He explained, when I asked him about this marvel, that in the sciences there is a truth, outside of which nothing is easy. The more a language departs from this truth, the more it falls short of the concepts it seeks to express and the harder it is to understand.

‘Similarly,’ he continued, ‘in music one never encounters this truth, without the soul being at once exalted and blindly attracted to it. We cannot see it, but we sense that nature sees it, and, without our knowing how, we are absorbed by it. It never fails to ravage our souls, even though hidden from our eyes. It is exactly the same with language.’



It is common knowledge that when I wish to jump in the air, my will, aroused by my imagination, stirs up the whole microcosm of my body and strives to carry it up towards the goal it has set itself. If it does not always reach it, this is because the principles in nature which are universal prevail over those which are restricted. Since the power of the will is confined to sentient beings, while the impulse to fall towards the earth’s centre is distributed throughout all matter, my leap is halted just as I am drawing near to my goal, when my mass has overcome the insolence of my will, which had taken it by surprise.
The story of the birds

‘Briefly, it is a bald beast, a plucked bird, a chimera compounded of all kinds of creatures and which brings terror to all; man, I say, so stupid and so vain that he is convinced we were only made to serve him; man, whose mind is so perceptive, but who cannot tell sugar from arsenic, and will swallow hemlock, which his fine judgement tells him is parsley; man, who maintains that reasoning can only be based on the evidence of the senses, but who has the feeblest, dullest, and most faulty senses of all the creatures; man, in short, whom nature created out of pieces of everything, like a freak, but whom she inspired with the ambition to rule all other animals and to exterminate them.’

That is what the wisest among them said: as for the common mob, they cried out that it was horrible to believe that a beast without a face like theirs should be possessed of reason.

‘What?’ they murmured to one another. ‘It has neither beak, nor feathers, nor claws—and yet its soul is supposed to be spiritual! O gods! What impertinence!’

Indictment of an animal accused of being a man, delivered before the assembled chambers of the Parliament of the Birds

‘Furthermore, their much vaunted mastery is an imaginary privilege. On the contrary, they are so disposed to servility that for fear of having no one to serve, they sell their liberty to one another. Thus, the young are the slaves of the old, the poor of the rich, the peasants of the gentry, the princes of the monarchs, and even the monarchs are the slaves of the laws they establish. But for all that, these poor serfs are so afraid of lacking masters that, as though to guard against being surprised by liberty from some unexpected quarter, they fabricate gods for themselves all over the place: in the water, in the air, in fire, and under the ground. They will make them out of wood rather than not have any, and I believe they even delude themselves with false hopes of immortality, less because of their horror of ceasing to exist than from their dread of having no one to order them about when they are dead.

‘Such are the fine effects of this “sovereignty” of this “natural mastery” of man over the animals—and over ourselves, for his insolence goes as far as that! And as a consequence of this preposterous “dominion”, he quite gaily arrogates to himself the rights of life and death over us.’

[ 17
Verdict and sentence ]

‘Death [...] is doubtless no great misfortune, since nature, our good mother, subjects all her children to it; and it cannot be an event of much significance, since it can come at any moment and from such trivial causes. For if life were as excellent as all that, we should not have the power to withhold it; and if death brought in its wake consequences of the importance you imagine, we should not have the power to inflict it.’



[ 21
A strange agony, a ticklish dispute, and a happy meeting ]
‘The swelling of his head is due to his having used his mind too much; for although the elements, with which he has filled the three organs or ventricles of his brain, are very tiny images, they are still corporeal and in consequence occupy a large space when they are very numerous. Now you must know that this philosopher swelled his brain so much, by dint of piling image upon image, that, not being able to contain them any longer, it has exploded. This way of dying is that of the great geniuses and it is called “bursting with intelligence”.’



When I came to help them raise the anchor, I was quite astonished to see that instead of a thick cable to carry it, it was simply hung from a silken thread as fine as a hair. I asked Campanella how it could happen that a heavy mass like this anchor did not cause something so frail to snap under its weight. The good man replied to me that this cord did not snap because it had been spun so evenly throughout that there was no reason why it should give way in one place rather than another.


Logic (examples)

‘Do the laws of your country command you to fear death?’

‘Yes,’ answered the woman. ‘They command everyone to do so, except for those who have been admitted to the College of Sages. For our magistrates have discovered from painful experience that a man who is not afraid of losing his own life is capable of taking everyone else’s.’

text checked (see note) Feb 2006

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