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