Saturday Morning Quote #5: Cyrano de Bergerac on the miracle of lute music
Today’s quote is from Hercule-Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac (1619 – 1655), a French writer whose reputation as a swashbuckling yet overly-sensitive duelist with a large nose was memorialized in a play and on the silver screen. His engraved portrait suggests his nose was of ample size, but clearly not the gargantuan proboscis featured in Edmond Rostand’s 1897 play and the 20th century films that followed.
Our quote is from L’Autre Monde: où les États et Empires de la Lune (The Other World: The States and Empires of the Moon) published in 1657, two years after Cyrano’s death. A pioneer in the field of science fiction, he describes a rocket trip to the moon and the curious nature of creatures who live there; the protagonist is captured by the moon creatures and uses all the resources of his imagination to describe in detail Earth’s human race. In this excerpt, he describes in 17th century terms the sense of hearing and how sounds affect humans, using the lute as an example.
The operation of hearing is no more difficult to understand. To be more succinct, let us consider it only in terms of music. Suppose then a lute is touched by the hands of a master of the art. You will ask me how it happens that I can perceive a thing that is so far away that I cannot see it? Do sponges come out of my ears to drink up the music and bring it to me? Or does the lute player create in my head another little lute player with another little lute, who has been ordered to play the same melodies? No. The miracle is due to the plucked strings striking the little bodies which compose the air and so sends them to my brain, penetrating it gently with these tiny corporeal bodies…But that operation is quite ordinary. The wonderful thing is that by this means we are moved to joy, sometimes to rage, sometimes to pity, sometimes to reflection, sometimes to pain.