25: A Fool for a Client

Not only are armies supposed to be equal, so are men and women...

The King’s daughter didn’t talk to me any more about military matters at the time, because she was afraid of being discovered alone with me early in the morning. The reason was not that immodesty is a crime in that country. On the contrary, any man — except for convicted felons — can ask what he wants of any woman, and any woman can bring suit against a man who refuses her. But the King’s daughter didn’t dare come to see me publicly because she said the priests had preached at the last sacrifice that women were mainly the ones who were saying I was a man. The priests claimed that women were disguising their execrable desire to mingle with animals and shamelessly commit sins against nature with me. That was why I went a long time without seeing her or any other female.

However, someone must have rekindled the arguments over the definition of my nature. As I was beginning to think I would live out my days in a cage, I was once again summoned to an audience. In the presence of many members of the court I was questioned on a point of physics. I think my answers were somewhat satisfactory, because the presiding officer told me informally how he thought the world was structured.

His ideas seemed ingenious, and if he hadn’t said that the world has existed from eternity, I would have found his philosophy much more reasonable than ours. As soon as I heard him expound a daydream so contrary to what faith teaches us, I asked him what answer he might give to the authority of Moses. The great patriarch said clearly that God created the world in six days. Instead of answering, the ignoramus only laughed.

Since that was his reaction, I couldn’t help saying that I was beginning to think his world was only a moon.

“But,” they all replied, “you see we have land, forests, rivers, seas. What’s all that?”

“It doesn’t matter,” I answered, “Aristotle tells us it’s just the Moon. And if you’d said the opposite in class when I was in school, everybody would have made fun of you.”

At that, they all burst out laughing. You don’t have to ask whether it was out of ignorance that they had me taken back to my cage.

Meanwhile, the priests had been told that I had dared to say that the moon was the world I came from and that their world was only a moon. They believed that constituted an adequately just pretext to condemn me to drowning, which was their way of exterminating atheists. They came in a body to ask the King to do just that. He promised justice, and I was ordered back into the prisoner’s box.

So I was out of my cage for a third time. The great pontiff took the floor to argue the case against me. I don’t remember his harangue, because I was too horrified to understand such a discordant voice, and because he made his speech with a musical instrument so loud it deafened me. He had deliberately chosen a trumpet. The violence of its martial tone was supposed to make the people call for my death and to keep them from thinking rationally, as happens in our armies, where the din of trumpets and drums prevents the soldier from thinking about the importance of his life.

When he had spoken, I rose to defend my case; but I was spared the trouble by an adventure I will now recount. Just as I was opening my mouth to speak, a man who had somehow managed to force his way through the crowd came and threw himself at the feet of the King. He groveled on his back for a long while. That did not surprise me, because I had long since known they assumed that posture when they wanted to address the public. I refrained from speaking. Here is what he said:

“O just ones, hear me! You cannot condemn this man, monkey or parrot for saying that the moon is the world he comes from. If he is a man, all men are free. Is he then not free to imagine what he wants, even if he does not come from the moon? Can you force him to have only your visions? Impossible! You may make him say that he believes that the moon is not a world, but still he will not believe it. To believe something, one must imagine that it is more probable than not. Unless you show him what is probable or he realizes it himself, he may tell you that he believes and yet he will not believe.

“I will now prove to you that you must not condemn him if you classify him as an animal. Suppose he is an animal incapable of reason. What reason then do you have to accuse him of sinning against reason? He has said that the moon is a world. Animals act only by natural instinct; therefore it is nature speaking, not he. Nature in its wisdom made the moon and this world; does nature itself not know what they are? And you, whose knowledge comes only from nature, do you possess any more certainty than nature? That would be plainly ridiculous. But even if you abandon your basic principles in a fit of temper and suppose that nature does not govern animals, at least be ashamed that the antics of an animal disturb you.

“Indeed, sirs, what would you think if you met a grown man who was governing an anthill: sometimes he smites an ant that has struck down a comrade; sometimes he imprisons one that has stolen a grain of wheat from another; sometimes he brings to justice one that has abandoned its eggs. Would you not think he was crazy to concern himself with things so beneath him and to try to subject animals to reason when they have none? What, then, venerable pontiffs, will you call the interest you take in the antics of this little animal? O just ones, I have spoken.”

When he finished, the music of applause thundered through the room. After opinions were debated for a while longer, the King pronounced judgment: Henceforth I would be considered a man. As such I would be set free and the punishment of drowning would be commuted to a shameful apology (there is no such thing as an honorable one in that country) whereby I would publicly renounce having taught that the moon was a world, since the novelty of the opinion might have scandalized the minds of the weak.

The decision having been issued, I was taken out of the palace and dressed magnificently. I stood on the bed of a splendid chariot drawn by four princes who had been yoked to it. This is what they made me say at the five large squares of the city: “People, I declare to you that this Moon is not a moon but a world and that that world is not a world but a moon. Such is what the priests wish you to believe.”

After I had shouted the same thing at the most important intersections in the downtown area, I saw my advocate extend a hand to help me get down from the cart. When I looked at him closely, I was astonished to see that it was my old familiar demon. We gave each other a big hug.

“Come to my house,” he said. “It would be taken amiss if you returned to the court after making a shameful apology. And I must tell you that you would still be with the monkeys, along with your Spanish friend, if I had not spread the word about the vigor and strength of your mind and not lobbied with the nobles on your behalf and against the prophets.”

Cyrano invents women’s liberation — indeed, equality — a century and a half before Mary Wollstonecraft, but it can take place only in his satirical “world turned upside down,” and even there over the opposition of the clergy. To appreciate how revolutionary the King’s daughter’s intellect and initiative are, we have to go back to episode 8, where Eve is clearly subordinated to Adam; and to episode 9, where Noah’s “daughter,” Achab, is able to exercise her qualities of leadership only at the price of ridicule and exile on the Moon.

Viewed as drama, Cyrano’s trial is comical in several ways:

  • The proceedings are raucous (a satire of oratorical bombast), and Cyrano's advocate is slightly grotesque in his inverted groveling before the King (a satire of excessively mannered ritual).
  • The premise of the trial is absurd: neither monde (world) nor lune (moon) is given a definition. The issue is summed up when the point of view of the moderne emerges as an outburst of sheer common sense; in effect: “If you think this is a moon, take a look around.”
  • The content of Cyrano’s forced public recantation is sheer double-talk; his “punishment” practically amounts to an exoneration.
  • Cyrano the author’s sly wit provides the dramatic tension in the scene: for all that the Moon-beings vaunt the intelligence of Cyrano the character, every time he opens his mouth, he puts his foot in it. He merely says in his own terms the same thing as the prosecutors.

However, the trial scene has a very serious side: it is a parody of the trial of Galileo, who was forced to recant his theory of the earth’s motion.

The world turns right side up when the Sun-being — Cyrano’s “familiar demon” and ad hoc legal counsel — speaks as the raisonneur (the voice of reason) in defense of freedom of speech and religion: tout homme est libre. However, when the audience applauds, we know we are back on the Moon. On Earth, Louis XIV will revoke the Edict of Nantes 35 years hence. The act will put an end to 75 years of religious tolerance and will prove disastrous for France.