Something to Think About

"I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love."
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

Monday, March 25, 2013

5 Historical Myths You May Have Thought Were True

There are a lot of historical "facts" that we take for truth without giving them much thought. We've heard many of them since childhood so we have never bothered to think much about them much less try to determine whether or not they are accurate.  I think by now most of us realize, for example,  that Columbus didn't actually "discover America" (he never made it to the mainland but landed in the Bahamas) but not all of these fabrications - or stretches - have received the same examination. Upon closer inspection, it appears that some of them aren't entirely true - or are only partially true.

Here are five of these statements that are probably not historically accurate and what we now know about them.
  1. Witches were burned at the stake in Salem - Not exactly. 19 people were found guilty of witchcraft and hung during the Salem witch trials and one other was pressed to death under heavy stones when he refused to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. Burning at the stake was a more popular punishment for witchcraft in Europe, it seems.
  2. Van Gogh sliced off his own ear  - It seems like this might have been a fabrication.  Two German historians now think that Van Gogh's friend, Paul Gauguin, cut off his left earlobe in a fit of temper. Even if it is true that Van Gogh cut it himself, the truth is that we are talking about the earlobe not the entire ear so the statement still isn't entirely accurate.
  3. Magellan circumnavigated the world - Well, Magellan's ship did circumnavigate the world.  Magellan, himself, only made it about halfway.  He was killed by natives in the Philippines.
  4. Marie Antoinette said, "Let them eat cake!" - There is no evidence that she actually said this.  What's more, the phrase appeared in Jean-Jacque Rousseau's autobiography which was published when she would have been only 9 and it wasn't even attributed to her.  Besides, the phrase is actually, "Qu'ils mangent de le brioche!"  Brioche is an especially rich bread made with eggs and butter but not what we would call cake. Cake in French is "gateau". 
  5. Napoleon was a little corporal - Actually, he was 5' 7" which was taller than the average Frenchman in his day.  His nickname, Le Petit Corporal (The Little Corporal) might have to do with the fact that he surrounded himself with tall bodyguards and therefore looked short by comparison!
Image obtained from Wikipedia and found here.

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