15: A Secret Agent in a Radical Cause

So far, all the other main characters are named as soon as we meet them; Cyrano’s new friend does not yet have a name. That may be fitting: he and his companions have assumed many guises and been known by many names in their undercover work on Earth.

This episode is anything but a source of historical trivia or the aimless reminiscences of a retired spy who’s come in from the cold: it outlines a program of cultural progress and in many ways speaks to the world of today.

“In the end,” he added, “the people of your world became so stupid and rude that my companions and I no longer enjoyed teaching them. You must surely have heard of us: we were called oracles, nymphs, spirits, fairies, household gods, lemures, larvas, lamias, sprites, water-nymphs, incubi, shades, spirits of the dead, specters and ghosts.

“We abandoned your world under the reign of Augustus, shortly after I appeared to Drusus, the son of Livia. He intended to wage war in Germany, and I forbade him to go there.

“I returned for a second visit not long ago. In the last hundred years I have been commissioned to travel to your world. I spent a lot of time in Europe and talked with people you may have known. Among others, I once appeared to Cardano as he was working in his study. I taught him a number of things. By way of thanks he promised me he would tell posterity from whom he had received the miracles he intended to write about.

“I saw Agrippa, the abbot Tritheim, Faustus, La Brosse, César and a certain cabal of young men known to common folk as knights of the Rose and Cross. I taught them some techniques and principles concerning nature, which no doubt made the common people take them for great magicians.

“I also made the acquaintance of Campanella. When he was under the Inquisition in Rome, I was the one who told him to style his face and body according to the normal expressions and postures of those whose minds he had to know. By imitating them physically he could recreate for himself the thoughts his adversaries had in the same situation. In that way he could handle their minds better when he came to know them. At my suggestion he began a book that we titled In sensu rerum.

“In France I also visited La Mothe Le Vayer and Gassendi. The latter writes as much as a philosopher as the former lives it. I also met a number of other people that your world treats as divines but found in them nothing but a lot of babble and pride.”

“Finally, as I was crossing from your country to England to study the ways of the inhabitants, I met a man who was the shame of his country. That is, it is certainly a shame that the great men of your nation recognize the virtue he enthrones but do not worship it. I’ll keep my praise of him brief: he is all spirit and all heart. One of those qualities used to suffice to make a man great; to say that someone had both is to name Tristan L’Hermite. I would not have said his name otherwise, because I am sure he would consider it an unforgivable indiscretion. However, I expect I will never return to your world, and I want my conscience to bear witness to the truth.

“I really must admit that when I saw such high virtue I was concerned that it might not be recognized. That’s why I attempted to give him three flasks. The first was filled with talcum oil; the second, with projection powder, and the third, with potable gold, namely the vegetative salt that your alchemists say provides immortality.

“However, he refused them with a firmness more generous than Diogenes did when he was living in a barrel and Alexander came to pay his respects. I can add no more to the praise of this great man but that he is the only poet, philosopher and free man that you have.

“Those are the important people I talked with. All the others — at least the ones I met — are so far below mankind that I have seen animals that were better.”

Cyrano has to be one of the world’s greatest listeners. In episodes 3 through 5 he lectured Monsieur de Montmagny at length on geology, astronomy, cosmology and astrophysics. Since then, the people he has met have been returning the favor in spades. Where Elijah tells some rather odd and extremely colorful Bible stories, Cyrano’s new friend shows him people and phenomena of both ancient and modern times in an entirely new light.

The list of ghosts, goblins and fairies from ancient mythology is a little repetitive at times, but Cyrano is making it as exhaustive as he can. The implications are twofold. First, there was no need to fear specters; people could learn from them if they only knew how to listen. Second, the supernatural has a rational explanation. It may seem very strange, but it can be understood.

The space aliens have been hard at work with Earthlings in the fields of alchemy and herbalism. We may smile at that, but we must also excuse Cyrano if he points out with a trace of impatience that, once stripped of charlatanry, those efforts led directly to modern chemistry, pharmacy and medicine.

Politics is the space aliens’ least successful field of operations. It is mostly sad “what if’s.” What if Drusus had not died in an accident at the age of 29? What if Tommaso Campanella and Tristan L’Hermite had not had to spend so many years in imprisonment or exile? The viewpoint of Cyrano and his current friend is summed up in Diogenes’ answer to Alexander.

In the next episode, we will find out more about this talkative being. As it happens, he is not a native of the Moon...