Cyrano de Bergerac and seventeenth-century French free thought
Davis, Ann Mayfield
Master of Arts
Cyrano do Bergerac (1619-1655) has traditionally been grouped with some early seventeenth century thinkers known as libertins. An examination of these people and a reading of Cyrano’s works, especially L'autre monde, show that Cyrano's connection with libertinage is tenuous. Thus, the traditional appraisal of his position is not a helpful one, and to a large extent it accounts for the little attention he has received from those studying the intellectual history of seventeenth century France. L'autre monde is an important book for several reasons. Its social, religious, and political criticism foreshadows the point of view taken by many during the Enlightenment, and Cyrano's emphasis on reason as the best criterion for value judgments deserves attention. Also, Cyrano enthusiastically supported heliocentricity, and the book is worth consideration as an easily read, popular propaganda effort on behalf of the new astronomy. In this case, as in the case of the criticisms Cyrano made of French life, the connection with Enlightenment thought is striking. Nevertheless, it is no more useful to consider Cyrano a philosophe than it is to treat him as a libertin. His work is permeated with a mysticism -- taken from the Italian naturalists -- that sharply distinguishes what Cyrano has done from what the philosophes did. Instead, Cyrano is important in French intellectual history as a transitional figure. He illustrates the modifications which had taken place in men's ways of thinking between the highpoint of humanism and the Enlightenment. While Cyrano is not a philosophe, he is a precursor of Enlightenment thought and should be studied as such.