Sad Cypress

The magpie instructs Cyrano on some customs of the kingdom of the birds in the empire of the sun:

“Every week a parliament is held, where anyone may complain of him [the king of the birds]. If there are only three birds dissatisfied with his government he is dethroned and they proceed to the new election. During the day the parliament is held, our king is placed on the top of a tall yew on the edge of a pond, with his feet and wings bound. All the birds one after another pass in front of him, and if any one of them knows he deserves the last punishment, it may cast him into the water; but it must justify itself for what it has done, otherwise it is condemned to a sad death.”

I could not forbear interrupting him to ask what he meant by a sad death; and this is what he replied:

“When a bird is judged culpable of a crime so enormous that death is too small an expiation, they try to choose a death which contains the pain of several; and they proceed as follows: those among us whose voices are the most melancholy and the most funereal are attached to the guilty person, who is carried to a sad cypress. There these sad musicians gather around him and fill his soul through his ears with such lugubrious and tragical songs that the bitterness of his grief disorders the economy of his organs and so presses upon his heart that he pines visibly and dies suffocated with sadness. However, such a spectacle never happens; for since our kings are very gentle they never provide anyone with the opportunity of desiring to risk so cruel a death for the sake of vengeance. The reigning monarch at present is a dove, whose temper is so peaceful that the other day when two sparrows had to be reconciled there was all the difficulty in the world to make him understand what enmity is.”

Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac, Voyage to the Sun, translated by Richard Aldington (in Voyages to the Moon and the Sun)

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