Find out who else has been lied about in history, and learn the truth.
#1. THE LIE: Thousands of years ago, there was one easy way to get large-scale construction done: slaves! That's doubly true if you want to get a wonder finished one time. We took thousands of unfortunate souls from far and wide and put them to work just so our leaders could be buried in elaborate tombs. THE TRUTH: Slaves? Why would we need slaves? We had such loyal followers that they willingly chose to build those tombs, and those that died in the process were buried honorably near their leaders. Those that worked on the tombs weren't mistreated or required to stay, no matter what Hollywood might tell you. Who are we?
The myth that Jewish slaves built the pyramids is traced back to only 1977, when Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin said “We built the pyramids” on a trip to Egypt. The Greek historian Herodotus claimed that slaves built the pyramids, but he was born circa 484 BCE, while the last pyramid was built over 1,000 years before that. Professor Amihai Mazar of the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem pointed out in early 2010: “No Jews built the pyramids because Jews didn’t exist at the period when the pyramids were built.” However, their cultural ancestors, the Hebrews, did exist during this period.
In 1990, the first tomb of the pyramid-builders in Egypt was discovered by accident. These workers were not mummified, but were buried with their heads pointing west and their feet facing the east, and they each had provisions for the afterlife around their bodies. No culture would afford this ritual to mere slaves, showing that those who worked on the pyramids in Egypt were there on their own accord, and some historians think that the workers may have even been paid to be there. Whether or not they were paid, the remaining skeletons show that they received quick medical attention for any injuries and were relatively well-fed based on the amount of animal bones and fish scales found around the area.
#2. THE LIE: As Roman emperors go, this man was not the most sympathetic. After the Great Fire of Rome started in AD 64, he decided not to help out in the relief effort, and determined that the best course of action was to fiddle as Rome burned, completely detaching himself from the disaster. THE TRUTH: Nobody fiddled while Rome burned. First of all, the fiddle (violin) wasn't invented for roughly 1,500 years. Secondly, the emperor wasn't even in Rome at the time - he was in Antium - decreasing the odds significantly that he performed the act with any instrument. Which Roman emperor was this?
Not only did Nero not fiddle while Rome burned, when he returned from Antium, he helped in the relief effort. For several days, he personally helped sort through the rubble for survivors while he paid for rebuilding with his own money. The main historians who make mention of the fire were Tacitus (who was nine years old at the time of the fire), Suetonius (born at least five years after the fire), and Cassius Dio (born in 155 at the earliest). Tacitus told of Nero’s efforts following the fire, while the two who were not alive at the time attempt to even pin the start of the fire on Nero himself. In some cases, history is not kind at all.
#3. THE LIE: As any Shakespearean scholar knows, this English king was deformed, not only with a terrible hunchback but also a withered arm and a limp. Those deformities more than anything personified his evil, as later English historians noted. THE TRUTH: History is written by the victors. Though he had slight scoliosis, this king did not have a hunchback or any of the other physical maladies, and he was a very good jouster (very hard with a hunchback and weak arm). Historians from the Tudor dynasty started the fiction that he was deformed, which they believed demonstrated his wickedness. Which king was this?
After Edward IV died on April 9, 1483, his oldest son, Edward V, was appointed king despite only being 12 years old. Richard III (Edward IV’s brother) was named as his Lord Protector, but quickly took actions to consolidate the throne for himself. On June 22, it was announced that Edward IV’s marriage to his wife was illegitimate, and therefore his children were not fit to take the throne. Richard III was named king, and Edward V and his brother, Richard, Duke of York, disappeared forever from the Tower of London. Shakespeare later took Thomas More’s twisted history of Richard III’s acts and dramatized them to lead to the myth we know today.
#4. THE LIE: Until Christopher Columbus came along and proved otherwise, everybody knew that Earth was flat. In fact, most probably thought he would tumble over the edge on his doomed route going to Asia heading west. Luckily for him, the planet ended up being round, even if he didn't make it to Asia. THE TRUTH: Humans knew that Earth was round about 2,000 years before Columbus sailed the ocean blue. While perhaps more famous for his mathematical theorem, Pythagoras is credited with being the first man to theorize the Earth was in fact a sphere - and he was born around 570 BCE. The myth was actually started in a fictional biography of Columbus written by a famous author, better known for his book "Rip Van Winkle." Who was this author?
“The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus,” published in 1828, is often regarded as historical truth. In the work, Irving notes that Columbus’ voyages convinced Europeans that Earth was round, despite the popular thinking at the time that it was flat. No educated member of society even considered that Earth was flat, including Columbus himself. Even if the world believed the Earth was flat, Columbus still would not have proven anything, as he only made it to North America. Ferdinand Magellan’s expedition, where 18 members of his crew successfully circumnavigated the globe (Magellan died in the Philippines), would have put an end to the argument.
One of the main reasons for reluctance to try to sail across the Atlantic from Europe was the much more down-to-earth reason that mariners had no idea how far they would have to sail before finding land, and feared that they would run out of food and fresh water.
#5. THE LIE: When this American Founding Father was a small boy, he received a hatchet and began using it to the best of his ability. While out and about, he chopped down his father's favorite cherry tree and promptly confessed to the crime because he could not tell a lie - a beginning fitting for such a hero. THE TRUTH: There is nothing in any scholarly work to suggest anything of the kind happened. The story is attributed to Mason Locke Weems, who in the same work elevated this early American leader to the status of a Demigod. There is little doubt that this story was only written to build up his status from an early age. Who was this American hero?
Mason Locke Weems published “A History of the Life and Death, Virtues and Exploits of General George Washington” after Washington’s death, possibly because the man who he held in such high regard would have been able to dispute so much of it. Not only did Weems make out Washington to be a demigod, but he also claimed that angels considered switching their allegiance from God to Washington at the mere sight of him. With that kind of power, one wonders how the British lasted eight years fighting the American Revolutionary War.
#6. THE LIE: After hearing that the French population had no bread to eat, this royal consort to Louis XVI let loose the phrase "Qu'ils mangent de la brioche" - "Let them eat cake." This showed how oblivious and unattached the rich were to the plight of the peasants, and helped fuel the fire of the French Revolution. THE TRUTH: The best propaganda has a grain of truth, but distorts the rest. The first time the phrase was recorded was in 1769 by Jean Jacques Rousseau. She was born in late 1755, making her 13 or 14 years old at the time, and 20 years away from the beginning of the French Revolution. Who was this consort the quote is misattributed to?
Supposedly, the phrase in question had been around for decades before Rousseau finally jotted it down in his work “Confessions.” There, he wrote of a “great princess” who uttered the phrase, so even if he heard it, it could not have possibly been Marie Antoinette, as she was not royalty until she was 14 years old. Also, there were no famines during Louis XVI’s reign, so the likelihood that the point ever came up would be slim at best. Several historians have actually claimed that Marie Theresa of Spain (Louis XIV’s consort) originated the statement.
#7. THE LIE: George Washington may have been a great military and political leader, but that doesn't mean he got everything right. When it came to choosing one part of his physical appearance after losing the original, he chose the replacement made out of wood! THE TRUTH: Washington never used wood to replace any part of his body. In fact, the feature in question was replaced by hippopotamus ivory and gold - not exactly the shabbiest of choices. What part of Washington's body was this?
The myth of George Washington’s wooden teeth has lived on for a long time. While he did lose his teeth at a young age (in his 20s), the dentures he used to replace them, while incredibly uncomfortable, were not made of wood. The most famous was made of hippopotamus ivory and gold, and held together by springs. It is said that due to the springs, he had to actively clamp down his jaw to keep the dentures from springing open, which might just explain why you never see a picture of him smiling.
#8. THE LIE: If there's one thing we know about this military leader, it's that he was short. He was so short that a psychological complex was named after him where someone who is short is more motivated than usual to make up for his or her small stature. THE TRUTH: As the French noted, he was 5 feet 2 inches tall. However, the French foot was longer than English feet, which would measure him at 5 feet, 6-7 inches tall, making him slightly taller than the average Frenchman in actuality. Who was this French military leader?
There are several purported reasons why Napoleon is always remembered for being short, but the French-to-English measurements is generally the most accepted. Others say that he constantly surrounded himself with taller members of the Imperial Guard, and that his nickname (“Le Petit Caporal” – “little corporal”) was taken too seriously as it was only meant as an affectionate nickname. At any rate, the ‘Napoleon complex’ is generally accepted when a smaller person/animal becomes more motivated to accomplish a task to make up for being short. Had Napoleon really been short, one might argue that taking over continental Europe might be a clue.
#9. THE LIE: Some artists aren't known for being the most mentally stable, but this Dutch post-Impressionist takes the cake. Following a fight with his (former) friend Paul Gauguin, he took out a razor and cut off his left ear! THE TRUTH: There are two possible truths. In the most widely-believed story, he cut off part of the left lobe himself at a brothel and told a prostitute to be careful with it after he wrapped it up. Recently, however, art historians have claimed that during a fight Gauguin (who was rather good with a sword) mutilated his ear. Either way, when it was all said and done most of his ear was still attached. Who was the painter in question?
At the time of the quarrel, Van Gogh and Gauguin had only known each other for just over a year. However it happened, part of his ear was cut off and he was constantly hospitalized over the next few months for mental instability. Soon afterwards, he committed himself into another hospital, but continued to paint. While committed, he painted “Starry Night” – perhaps his best-known work. However, just over a year later he would end his own life after another breakdown at the age of 37.
#10. THE LIE: As many children are told in school, they should always keep trying because at one point, even this amazing mind failed math. Though he would eventually theorize of relativity, he was relatively poor at numbers as a child. THE TRUTH: In his own words: "I never failed in mathematics. Before I was fifteen I had mastered differential and integral calculus." The lie began in 1935 when Robert Ripley ("Ripley's Believe it or Not!") printed "Greatest Living Mathematician Failed in Mathematics." Don't believe it. Who was this mathematical genius?
While it might be a nice, uplifting story to tell children that may be struggling in school, it’s completely false. To theorize on quantum physics, you need a mind capable of doing vast computations that greatly exceed what most people can. Not only did Einstein stay at the top of his classes throughout school, but did outstandingly well in math and physics throughout his collegiate career as we would expect.