On this day in 1655, French soldier and writer, Cyrano de Bergerac, died in Sannois, near Paris. Although arguably best-known (if he is known at all) as ‘that swordsman with the big nose’ – and, among film aficionados, as the inspiration for the Steve Martin film Roxanne – Cyrano de Bergerac is a figure of some importance to SF fans. As a writer of interplanetary fantasy, his L’Autre Monde: ou les États et Empires de la Lune (A Comical History of the States and Empires of the Moon), featured what is generally regarded as the first use of a rocket in European literature.
Cyrano de Bergerac: The form of his name under which French soldier and writer Hector Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac (1619-1655) is best known. He fought with the Gascon Guard but retired after sustaining bad wounds. He is famous as the hero of a play by Edmond Rostand (1868-1918), Cyrano de Bergerac (performed 1897; 1898), which made legends of his swordsmanship and the size of his nose. Only parts of his major work of Proto SF – the manuscript of which was significantly titled L’autre monde ou les états et empires de la lune, emphasizing his sense that his protagonist was not travelling to a mere satellite – were published in posthumous versions, censored (to tone down their heretical elements) by Cyrano de Bergerac’s timid friend, the cleric Henri le Bret (1618-1710).
The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (follow the link to read the rest of the article)