I start my Sunday morning with Wikipedia’s recent deaths page and strong coffee. It’s not my macabre sense of curiosity; I’ve just found that it’s a good place to start if you want to read about random things on Wikipedia. Furthermore, it is a good companion to the informational access overload at Wikipedia, and my own post-coffee ADHD.
This Sunday’s Recent Deaths page leads me to Napoleon. Through an external link I end up on a page stating that Napoleon lost the Battle of Waterloo due to a bad case of hemorrhoids.
I set my coffee down. This is big.
I type “Napoleon” and “hemorrhoids” into a search engine. There are dozens of direct hits including a book entitled Napoleon’s Hemorrhoids and Other Small Events that Changed History. I opt for a page dedicated to a natural cream that soothes hemorrhoids. The top paragraph reads:
Suffering from Hemorrhoids? You are not alone! Several of history’s big wigs have suffered from hemorrhoids. Napoleon couldn’t sit on his horse during the Battle of Waterloo, thus preventing him from surveying his troops during the battle. Ernest Hemingway too suffered, as well as Lewis Carroll.
The entire history of western civilization hinging on the fact that Napoleon strained on the toilet. Masterpieces like The Sun Also Rises and Alice in Wonderland written because Carroll and Hemingway didn’t get enough fiber in their diets. This does provide one theory as to why Hemingway stood when he wrote.
A few minutes later I am on Smithsonian.com and reading my new favorite blog called The Past Imperfect.
This week’s blog is about the current misconception that Gavrilo Princip – the man who assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand – was in the middle of eating a cheese sandwich when Ferdinand coincidentally ended up right in front of the deli where he was eating. Wow, the sandwich that changed history. Literally.
The blog goes on to show that the story about the sandwich is apocryphal and started about ten years ago in a novel written around the events in Sarajevo that day. Still, it has been accepted by many as factual history and some teachers even include Pricip’s sandwich in history courses. One teacher offered extra credit to the student who figured out what kind of sandwich it was (cheese).
Princip’s sandwich has been debunked by historians. Moreover, upon deeper research into Napoleon’s rectal condition, it is clear that the serious history community attach more to the French loss at Waterloo than a mere case of piles.
But isn’t it fun to think that all of history altered due to one man’s love of cheese sandwiches or another’s hemorrhoids?
I have always enjoyed these tales, these apocryphal footnotes to major events, and during my Sunday afternoon nap I meditate about why.
I suppose it’s because it makes these events a little more graspable and its actors a little more human and real. The great Napoleon brought down by roid rage and the assassin Princip changing the entire course of history in the middle of his lunch. Immeasurably massive events like World War I and II caused by an early snack. Fifty years of international European peace in Europe spurred by one man’s inability to get to a drug store for some Preparation H.
Just because these myths arouse my curiosity, doesn’t mean I believe them. Though I used to retell any tale I had heard, no matter how ridiculous, with absolute confidence.
Napoleon was very short.
A person’s hair and fingernails continue to grow after death.
FUCK is an acronym for fornication under consent of the king.
It’s OK to be a fan of Texas football.
Florida is a U.S. state.
My days as a relater of the absurd ended after I had been called out about fifty times and embarrassed by being proven wrong. I started really reaping the benefits of research when I wrote a book. I further realized the glory of research when I started my master’s program and had to back up every statement with pesky resources and proof.
My mantra for the day: Don’t just have information, have correct information.
Below is a link to Wikipedia’s common misconception page, where you’ll find a huge list of misconceptions concerning history, health, language, sexuality, etc. Take a gander and see what’s on there.
What’s your favorite misconception?