Academic journal article The Romanic Review

Empires of the Sun: Colonialism and Closure in Louis Xiv's 1662 Carrousel and Cyrano's Les Estats et Les Empires Du Soleil

Academic journal article The Romanic Review

Empires of the Sun: Colonialism and Closure in Louis Xiv's 1662 Carrousel and Cyrano's Les Estats et Les Empires Du Soleil

Article excerpt


On June 5th, 1662, a procession of monkeys, bears, nobles, and slaves, spiralled through the streets of Paris in celebration of the glory of Louis XIV. Five Quadrilles of nobles, clad as Romans, Turks, Indians, Persians, and "les Sauvages de l'Amerique" were accompanied by men dressed as satyrs, tritons, and baccantes, their bodies coated in the skins of lions, leopards, tigers and monkeys, their hats and headpieces shaped in the forms of parrots, fish, dragons, and snakes. The procession entered in ritual formation into the present Place du Carrousel between the Louvre and the Tuileries, where the seventeenth-century subjects of an absolutist king held a three-day medieval jousting tournament. Even amidst a profusion of colonial images and peoples, exotic beasts and fantastic costumes, the king was represented as the serene and uncontested master of the world; each noble carried a shield bearing a device which affirmed his absolute subjugation to Louis Dieu-donne figured as the sun.

What is curious about the Carrousel is the prominent place given within this closed universe to those who have no access to power within it--to images of subjugated populations, to colonial rivals, to slaves. Rather than challenging Louis's serene, absolutist order, the exotic otherness of the extravagantly costumed princes, slaves, and animals, serves to celebrate the king's power. The potentially threatening plurality of images is enclosed in the systematic, subordinating hierarchy of the royal fete. If the first half of the Carrousel--the procession--celebrates and constructs the otherness of its exotic figures, the second half--the ritual assembly before the Louvre--rewrites the meaning of these images into a specifically French iconography that affirms the centrality of Louis XIV. This essay takes up the underpinning systems of ordering that allow the procession's sequential exotic images to be transformed into the static, fixed order of the ritual assembly before the Louvre.

That the components of each successive quadrille--field marshall, head of quadrille, nobles, retainers--replicate the king's order of parade binds Louis's Romans to the Duc de Guise's "Sauvages" with a seamlessness that glosses over the juxtaposition of exalted and abjected found within the procession:

   76. Vingt-quatre Esclaves 77. Monsieur

       Chef de la quadrille Persienne

   78. Les dix Chevaliers de Monsieur, suivis de quatre Esclaves ... 89. Vingt
   quatre Esclaves 90. Le Prince de Conde

       Chef de la quadrille des Turcs

   91. Les Dix Chevaliers de la quadrille du Prince de Conde suivis chacun de
       quatre Esclaves(1)

Taming "the wild profusion of existing things,"(2) domesticating the grotesque but unremarked-upon juxtaposition of prince and slave, is the imperturbable numerical series chaining the two together, designating the position of each and every participant in the procession, and identifying the figures in the engravings for the unenlightened onlooker.(3) The slaves that follow in the prince's steps both are and are not out of place: simultaneously excluded and always already incorporated into the place attributed to them, the `alien' participants in the procession are inserted into a signifying chain that reproduces their identity, rewrites it, and disguises the violence of wrenching people and objects from their original contexts and inserting them in a new and totalized order. Within the closed order of the fete, no voice is permitted to articulate the origins and consequences of this exercise of power. The fete silences such commentary.

Against this order that refuses to give voice to any logic other than its own may be set the various perspectives on the multiple worlds encountered by Dyrcona, the peripatetic and persecuted libertine narrator of Cyrano's Les estats et les empires du Soleil, published in 1662, the year of the Carrousel.(4) If Louis's exploration of new worlds is materially linked to their exploitation and mastery, Dyrcona's quest for freedom in new worlds involves an explosion of the boundaries of the known. …

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