It is said that those who don’t know history are condemned to repeat it and as any history buff can tell you, much of history is something you would not want to repeat. However, many well-known historical facts are myths, with no basis in fact.
Here are twenty of the most common, which have misled and misinformed people for years, decades, or centuries.
1. Eve ate a bad apple
An apple a day might keep the doctor away, but they have still had bad publicity as the forbidden fruit that Eve tasted in the Garden of Eden, thereby making life difficult for all of us. Yet nowhere in the biblical story of Adam and Eve is an apple mentioned. It is simply called the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden (Genesis 3:3). OK, it could have been an apple, but it might just as well have been an apricot, a mango, or any other sort of fruit.
2. Newton was hit by an apple
Apples continued to get bad press with the famous story that scientist Sir Isaac Newton was under a tree, minding his own business, when an apple fell on his head. Just as well it provided him the inspiration for the laws of gravity, or the poor apple would never be forgiven! But while the falling apple is a good story, it probably never happened. The story was first published in an essay by Voltaire, long after Newton’s death. Before that, Newton’s niece, Catherine Conduitt, was the only person who ever told the story. It was almost certainly an invention.
3. Walt Disney drew Mickey Mouse
One of the world’s most famous fictitious characters, Mickey Mouse, is credited to Walt Disney. However, Mickey was the vision of Disney’s number one animator, Ub Iwerks. Disney, never a great artist, would always have trouble drawing the character who made him famous. Fortunately for him, Iwerks was known as the fastest animator in the business. He single-handedly animated Mickey’s first short film, Plane Crazy (1928), in only two
weeks. (That’s 700 drawings a day.) But give some credit to Disney when sound films began later that year, he played Mickey’s voice.
4. Marie Antoinette said “Let them eat cakes”
In 1766, Jean Jacques Rousseau wrote of an incident he recalled from some 25 years earlier, in which a great princess (name unknown) was told that the country people had no bread. “Then let them eat cakes”, she replied. When Rousseau wrote of this, Marie Antoinette was an 11-year-old child in Austria. The French Revolution would not begin for another 23 years. The myth that she spoke these infamous words was probably spread by revolutionary propagandists, to illustrate her cold indifference to the plight of the French people.
5. “The Great Train Robbery” was the first feature film
When it was released in 1903, “The Great Train Robbery” pioneered several techniques, including jump cuts, medium close-ups and a complex storyline. But the first feature film? It was only ten minutes long! Even most short films are longer than that. The first feature-length film was a 100-minute Australian film, “The Story of the Kelly Gang”, released three years later. Even if you think of a feature film as the feature of a cinema program, the title would go to one of a number of French films made during the 1890s.
6. Van Gogh sliced off his ear
Van Gogh is known as the archetypal starving artist, only selling one painting in his lifetime, and in a quarrel with Gauguin slicing off his ear, not long before committing suicide.