Historical/legendary/mythological accounts that turned out to be true

Historical/legendary/mythological accounts that turned out to be true


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Reading Herodotus' Histories, one is often baffled by passages like (3.102):

{102} [… ] Indians [… , of the North] make expeditions for the gold. For in the parts where they live it is desert on account of the sand; and in this desert and sandy tract are produced ants, which are in size smaller than dogs but larger than foxes, for there are some of them kept at the residence of the king of Persia, which are caught here. These ants then make their dwelling under ground and carry up the sand just in the same manner as the ants found in the land of the Hellenes, which they themselves also very much resemble in form; and the sand which is brought up contains gold. [… ] {105} When the Indians have come to the place with bags, they fill them with the sand and ride away back as quickly as they can [… ]

This has long been considered just a legend, until Peissel [A] observed the existence of a species of marmot, the Himalayan marmot, in the gold rich Deosai Plateau in Northern Pakistan. The local people confirmed that they have been collecting the gold dust that the marmots bring to the surface when they are digging their underground burrows. Peissel also observes that the old Persian word for "marmot" was quite similar to that for "mountain ant", so Herodotus might have confused the two words.

A similar revision must have happened at some point, about the famous passage (4.42):

[… ] as they sailed on a westerly course round the southern end of [Africa], they had the sun on their right - to northward of them.

But let's change book. In the logbook of the Carthaginian suffete Hanno, we read:

{18} In this gulf was an island, resembling the first, with a lagoon, within which was another island, full of savages. Most of them were women with hairy bodies, whom our interpreters called 'gorillas'. Although we chased them, we could not catch any males: they all escaped, being good climbers who defended themselves with stones. However, we caught three women, who refused to follow those who carried them off, biting and clawing them. So we killed and flayed them and brought their skins back to Carthage. For we did not sail any further, because our provisions were running short.

The account of these hairy women sounded unbelievable. But when the Europeans (re)discovered the giant apes in XIX century (this is 2500 year later), they called them "gorillas" after the account of Hanno.

The question: do you know any other historical/legendary/mythological account, that was believed implausible at first, but turned out to be plausible or even true? I know a few myself, but let's make a list! Please include a source/excerpt of the account, and described what changed its perception.

[A] Pessiel M., The Ants' Gold: The Discovery of the Greek El Dorado in the Himalayas, Collins, 1984


I think the Norse discovery of the Americas fit. Around year 1000, an expedition led by Norseman Leiv Eiriksson winter camped on Newfoundland.

From the Wikipedia article:

For some centuries after Christopher Columbus' voyages opened the Americas to large-scale colonization by Europeans, it was unclear whether these stories [of Leiv Eiriksson's discovery of Vinland, my remark] represented real voyages by the Norse to North America. The sagas were first taken seriously when in 1837 the Danish antiquarian Carl Christian Rafn pointed out the possibility for a Norse settlement in or voyages to North America. North America, by the name Winland, was first mentioned in written sources in a work by Adam of Bremen from approximately 1075. It was not until the 13th and 14th centuries that the most important works about North America and the early Norse activities there, namely the Sagas of Icelanders, were put into writing.

The question was definitively settled in the 1960s when a Norse settlement was excavated at L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland by archaeologist Anne Stine Ingstad and her husband, outdoorsman and author Helge Ingstad.

Icelanders (and Norwegians from the 1800s onwards) might have been "certain" all along that the stories of discovery were true, but I do not think it was accepted by everyone in the rest of Europe / North America until the archeological discoveries. There are several other, unconfirmed stories of trans-Atlantic contact, so it would have been feasible to group the Norsemen with these as long as no "hard evidence" was found.


I'll start with the archetypical story of the type: Troy.

Up till 19th century, people believed that Homer's and Virgil's troy was a legend, not a real city (unlike Greeks and Romans).

In 1865/1868, Calvert and especially Heinrich Schliemann have found what they believed to be real Troy (though later archaeology, fully detailed on Wikipedia, showed that Schliemann actually found earlier Troy II, whereas Homeric Troy is usually though not conclusively placed as Troy VIIa).


The Archimedes Heat Ray seems to be a good example.


Ancient Myths That Turned Out to be Real

The myths of the ancient world still inspire us today in literature and in pop culture. We tend to take it at face value that what history calls myth is nothing more than that. While there are those who firmly believe that every myth has a basis in reality, there’s little done to investigate that claim and prove whether it’s true or false. Sometimes it does happen that we come across evidence proving that an ancient story wasn’t just a flight of fancy by someone writing fiction.


5 Noah's Ark

Even if you've never been in the same room as a Bible, we're guessing you know the story of Noah's Ark.

God decides mankind is so utterly corrupt that it's time to hit the reset switch and just flood the planet. Similar stories come up in folklore all over the world, from the ancient Greeks to the Babylonians, always with a huge flood that kills almost everyone, and often with mankind having to recover its population. For instance, in China, it's a goddess named Nuwa who stops the flood and creates humans out of clay.

In the Bible's version, God tells Noah that he is less of a dick than everyone else on Earth, and instructs Noah to build a really big boat. Really, really big. So big that it could hold at least two of every single animal on the entire planet. It rained for 40 days, flooding the world and killing off all life except that which was on Noah's boat. When the flood ended, all of the animals got off the boat and immediately started boning for their lives, because two individuals needed to repopulate their entire species.

A worldwide natural disaster that kills everyone but a huddled few, who then have to repopulate the world? It happens all the time. When biologists analyze the past of a species they often run into what they call genetic bottlenecks, indicating evolutionary events where virtually all of a species were killed or otherwise prevented from reproducing.

For instance, cheetahs had one of these not too long ago. You know how if a human gets a skin graft or kidney transplant, we have to find a relative who's a close enough match and take immunosuppressants so our body doesn't reject the donor organ? A cheetah wouldn't have to do any of that. They had such an extreme genetic bottleneck recently (that is, so few remained) that all the Cheetahs we have now are essentially close relatives.

And humans? We've previously talked about the Toba Event, some unknown disaster 75,000 years ago that may have reduced the population of humanity to just 5,000 freaking people.

More than were supposedly on Noah's Ark, sure, but few enough you could have fit everyone left on Earth on board the Titanic.


9 The Lake Michigan Gold

There is a fortune in gold bullion somewhere at the bottom of Lake Michigan. This comes courtesy of one George Alexander Abbott, former vice president of Hackley National Bank who died in 1921.

He knew that a boxcar full of stolen Confederate gold had to be pushed off a ferry struggling to cross Lake Michigan during a violent storm in the mid-1890s.

On his deathbed, Abbott told a lighthouse keeper about the treasure. That man then told another person and so on. Currently, the story is being perpetuated by two divers, Kevin Dykstra and Frederick Monroe.

They think that the gold was stolen by former Confederate General Robert H.G. Minty who was also Abbott&rsquos brother-in-law. [2] Civil War historians are not convinced, though, and have cited several historical inaccuracies in the story.

Dykstra and Monroe actually made some headlines in 2014. While searching for the gold, they stumbled upon a shipwreck purported to be Le Griffon, an infamous barque that mysteriously disappeared in 1679. It was later determined to be a tugboat.


10 of the Biggest Lies in History

According to myth, a young George Washington confessed to cutting down a cherry tree by proclaiming, "I cannot tell a lie." The story is testament to how much respect Americans have for their cherished first president and honesty in general. Unfortunately, in the annals of history it seems there are 10 dishonest scoundrels for every honorable hero like Washington.

Supposedly, the truth can set you free. But for many, deceit holds the key to money, fame, revenge or power, and these prove all too tempting. In history, this has often resulted in elaborate hoaxes, perjuries, and forgeries that had enormous ripple effects.

In the following pages, we'll go over some of the most colossal and significant lies in history. Although such a list can't be comprehensive, we sought to include a variety of lies that influenced politics, science and even art. As a result of these, lives were lost, life-savings destroyed, legitimate research hampered and -- most of all -- faith in our fellow man shattered.

Without further ado, let's delve into one of the oldest and most successful lies on record.

If all is fair in love and ­war, this might be the most forgivable of the big lies. When the Trojan Paris absconded with Helen, wife of the Spartan king, war exploded. It had been raging for 10 long years when the Trojans believed they had finally overcome the Greeks. Little did they know, the Greeks had another trick up their sleeves.

In a stroke of genius, the Greeks built an enormous wooden horse with a hollow belly in which men could hide. After the Greeks convinced their foes that this structure was a peace offering, the Trojans happily accepted it and brought the horse within their fortified city. That night, as the Trojans slept, Greeks hidden inside snuck out the trap door. Then, they proceeded to slaughter and decisively defeat the Trojans.

This was unquestionably one of the biggest and most successful tricks known to history -- that is, if it's true. Homer alludes to the occurrence in "The Iliad," and Virgil extrapolates the story in "The Aeneid." Evidence suggests that Troy itself existed, giving some validity to Homer's tales, and scholars have long been investigating how historically accurate these details are. One theory behind the Trojan horse comes from historian Michael Wood, who proposes that it was merely a battering ram in the shape of a horse that infiltrated the city [source: Haughton].

In any case, the story has won a permanent place in the Western imagination as a warning to beware of enemies bearing gifts.

9. Han van Meegeren's Vermeer Forgeries

This lie re­sulted from a classic case of wanting to please the critics. Han van Meegeren was an artist who felt underappreciated and thought he could trick art experts into admitting his genius.

In the early 20th century, scholars were squabbling about whether the great Vermeer had painted a series of works depicting biblical scenes. Van Meegeren pounced on this opportunity and set to work carefully forging one such disputed work, "The Disciples at Emmaus." With tireless attention to detail, he faked the cracks and aged hardness of a centuries-old painting. He intentionally played on the confirmation bias of critics who wanted to believe that Vermeer painted these scenes. It worked: Experts hailed the painting as authentic, and van Meegeren made out like a bandit producing and selling more fake Vermeers. Greed apparently overcame his desire for praise, as he decided not to out himself.

However, van Meegeren, who was working in the 1930s and '40s, made one major mistake. He sold a painting to a prominent member of the Nazi party in Germany. After the war, Allies considered him a conspirator for selling a "national treasure" to the enemy [source: Wilson]. In a curious change of events, van Meegeren had to paint for his freedom. In order to help prove that the painting was no national treasure, he forged another in the presence of authorities.

He escaped with a light sentence of one year in prison, but van Meegeren died of a heart attack two months after his trial.

8. Bernie Madoff's Ponzi Scheme

When Bernie Madoff admitted that his investment firm was "just one big lie," it was an understatement [source: Esposito]. In 2008, he confessed to having conned about $50 billion from investors who trusted him with their savings. Madoff used the f­ormula of a Ponzi scheme to keep up the fraud for more than a decade.

This classic lie is named after the notorious Charles Ponzi, who used the ploy in the early 20th century. It works like this: A schemer promises investors great returns, but instead of investing the money, he keeps some for himself and uses the funds from new investments to pay off earlier investors.

Madoff may not have invented this lie, but he took it to new lengths. For one, he made a record amount of money from the scheme. But he was also able to keep it going much longer than most Ponzi schemers. Usually, the scam falls apart quickly because it requires the schemer to constantly find more and more investors. It was also an especially shocking lie because Madoff, as a former chairman of NASDAQ, had been an accomplished and respected expert in the financial field. Compare this to Chares Ponzi, who was a petty ex-con by the time he launched his scheme.

7. Anna Anderson, Alias Anastasia

With the onslaught of the Russian Revolution, the existence of a royal family was intolerabl­e to the Bolsheviks. In 1918, they massacred the royal Romanov family -- Czar Nicholas II, his wife, son and four daughters -- to ensure that no legitimate heir could later resurface and rally the public for support.

Soon, rumors floated around that certain members of the royal family had escaped and survived. As one might expect, claimants came out of the woodwork. "Anna Anderson" was the most famous. In 1920, Anderson was admitted to a hospital after attempting suicide and confessed that she was Princess Anastasia, the youngest daughter of the royal family. She stood out from other claimants because she held a certain resemblance to and surprising knowledge of the Russian family and life at court.

Although a few relatives and acquaintances who'd known Anastasia believed Anderson, most didn't. By 1927, an alleged former roommate of Anderson claimed that her name was Franziska Schanzkowska, not Anna and certainly not Anastasia [source: Aron]. This didn't stop Anderson from indulging in celebrity and attempting to cash in on a royal inheritance. She ultimately lost her case in the legal proceedings that dragged on for decades, but she stuck to her story until her death in 1984. Years later, upon the discovery of what proved to be the remains of the royal family, DNA tests confirmed her to be a fake. In 2009, experts were able to finally confirm that all remains have been found and that no family member escaped execution in 1918 [source: CNN].

6. Titus Oates and the Plot to Kill Charles II

By the time he fabricated his notorious plot, Titus Oates already had a history of deception and ­general knavery. He'd been expelled from some of England's finest schools as well as the navy. Oates was even convicted of perjury and escaped imprisonment. But his biggest lie was still ahead of him.

Raised Protestant by an Anabaptist preacher, Oates entered Cambridge as a young man to study for Anglican orders. After misconduct got him dismissed from his Anglican post, he started associating with Catholic circles and feigned conversion [source: Butler]. With the encouragement of fellow anti-Catholic Israel Tonge, Oates infiltrated enemy territory by entering a Catholic seminary. In fact, he entered two seminaries -- both of which expelled him. But it hardly mattered. By this time, he had gathered enough inside information and names to wreak enormous havoc.

In 1678, Oates concocted and pretended to uncover a plot in which the Jesuits were planning to murder King Charles II. The idea was that they wanted to replace Charles with his Catholic brother, James. What ensued was a three-year panic that fueled anti-Catholic sentiment and resulted in the executions of about 35 people [source: Encyclopaedia Britannica].

After Charles died in 1685, James became king and had Oates tried for perjury. Oates was convicted, pilloried and imprisoned. He only spent a few years in jail, however, as the Glorious Revolution swept through England in 1688. Without James in power, Oates got off with a pardon and a pension.

After ­Charles Darwin published his revolutionary "On the Origin of Species" in 1859, scientists scrambled to find fossil evidence of extinct human ancestors. They sought these so-called "missing links" to fill in the gaps on the timeline of human evolution. When archaeologist Charles Dawson unearthed what he thought was a missing link in 1910, what he really found was one of the biggest hoaxes in history.

The discovery was the Piltdown man, pieces of a skull and jaw with molars located in the Piltdown quarry in Sussex, England. Dawson brought his discovery to prominent paleontologist Arthur Smith Woodward, who touted its authenticity to his dying day.

Although the discovery gained world renown, the lie behind Piltdown man slowly and steadily unraveled. In the ensuing decades, other major discoveries suggested Piltdown man didn't fit in the story of human evolution. By the 1950s, tests revealed that the skull was only 600 years old and the jaw came from an orangutan. Some knowledgeable person apparently manipulated these pieces, including filing down and staining the teeth.

The scientific world had been duped. So who was behind the fraud? Many suspects have surfaced, including Dawson himself. Today, most signs point to Martin A. C. Hinton, a museum volunteer at the time of the discovery. A trunk bearing his initials contained bones that were stained in exactly the same way the Piltdown fossils were. Perhaps he was out to embarrass his boss, Arthur Smith Woodward, who refused to give him a weekly salary.

Like t­he conspiracy invented by Titus Oates, this scandal was built on a lie that dramatically affected national politics and was perpetuated for years by hatred. Alfred Dreyfus was a Jewish officer in the French Army in the late 19th century when he was accused of a treasonous crime: selling military secrets to Germany.

After his highly publicized trial, authorities sentenced him to life imprisonment on Devils Island, and anti-Semitic groups used him as an example of unpatriotic Jews. However, suspicions arose that the incriminating letters were in fact forged and that a Maj. Esterhazy was the real culprit. When French authorities suppressed these accusations, the novelist Emile Zola stepped up to accuse the army of a vast cover-up.

The scandal exploded into a fight between so-called Dreyfusards, who wanted to see the case reopened, and anti-Dreyfusards, who didn't. On both sides, the debate became less about Dreyfus' innocence and more about the principle. During the dramatic 12-year controversy, many violent anti-Semitic riots broke out and political allegiances shifted as Dreyfusards called for reform.

After Maj. Hubert Joseph Henry admitted to forging key documents and committed suicide, a newly elected Cabinet finally reopened the case. The court found Dreyfus guilty again however, he soon received a pardon from the president. A few years later, a civilian court of appeals found Dreyfus innocent, and he went on to have a distinguished army career and fought with honor in World War I. Meanwhile, the scandal had changed the face of politics in France.

In January 1998, citizen journalist Matt Drudge reported a sensational story tha­t turned out to be true. The president of the United States, Bill Clinton, had an affair with a White House intern, Monica Lewinsky. As suspicions mounted, Clinton publicly denied the allegations. As if this lie weren't big enough, it turned out that Clinton had lied under oath about the affair as well -- which was perjury and grounds for impeachment.

Here's how the truth came out. Paula Jones was an Arkansas state employee when then-governor Clinton allegedly propositioned her. She later sued him for sexual harassment. In an effort to prove that Clinton had a pattern of such behavior, lawyers set out to expose his sexual affairs. They found Linda Tripp, a former White House secretary and confidant of Lewinsky. Tripp recorded telephone conversations in which Lewinsky talked of her affair with Clinton. Lawyers then probed Clinton with specific questions and cornered him into denying the affair under oath.

During the highly publicized scandal, prosecutor Kenneth Starr subpoenaed Clinton, who finally admitted to the relationship. Based on Starr's report, the House of Representatives voted to impeach Clinton for not only perjury but obstruction of justice. Despite the scandal, Clinton maintained relatively high approval ratings from the American public, and the Senate acquitted him of the charges. However, in the eyes of many Americans, his legacy remained tarnished.

Two decades before the Clinton scandal, another U.S. president was caught in a web of lies, and the controversy had devastating effects on the country as a whole.

In the summer before President Richard Nixon's successful re-election to a second term, five men were caught breaking into the Democratic National Committee headquarters, housed in the Watergate Hotel. As details emerged over the next year, it became clear that officials close to Nixon gave the orders to the burglars, perhaps to plant wiretaps on the phones there. The question soon became about whether Nixon knew of, covered up or even ordered the break-in.

In response to mounting suspicions, Nixon denied allegations that he knew anything. In front of 400 Associated Press editors, famously proclaimed, "I am not a crook." He was talking about whether he had ever profited from public service, but that one quote came to represent his entire political career.

It was a lie that came back to haunt him. When it was revealed that private White House conversations about the matter were recorded, the investigative committee subpoenaed the tapes. Nixon's refusal on the basis of "executive privilege" brought the matter to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that he had to relinquish the tapes.

The tapes were exactly the smoking gun needed to implicate Nixon in the cover-up of the scandal. They revealed that he obviously knew more about the matter than he claimed. Upon the initiation of impeachment proceedings, Nixon gave up and resigned from office. The scandal left a lasting scar on the American political scene and helped usher Washington outsider Jimmy Carter into the presidency a few years later.

1. The Big Lie: Nazi Propaganda

By the time Nazism arose in Germany in the 1930s, anti-Semitism was nothing new -- not by a long shot. The J­ewish people had suffered a long history of prejudice and persecution. And although Nazis perpetuated centuries-old lies, this time those lies would have their most devastating effects. Like never before, anti-Semitism was manifested in a sweeping national policy known as "the Final Solution," which sought to eliminate Jews from the face of the Earth.

To accomplish this, Adolf Hitler and his minister of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, launched a massive campaign to convince the German people that the Jews were their enemies. Having taken over the press, they spread lies blaming Jews for all of Germany's problems, including the loss of World War I. One outrageous lie dating back to the Middle Ages claimed that Jews engaged in the ritual killings of Christian children and used their blood in the unleavened bread eaten at Passover [source: Landau].

Using Jews as the scapegoat, Hitler and his cronies orchestrated what they called "the big lie." This theory states that no matter how big the lie is (or more precisely, because it's so big), people will believe it if you repeat it enough. Everyone tells small lies, Hitler reasoned, but few have the guts to tell colossal lies [source: Hoffer]. Because a big lie is so unlikely, people will come to accept it.

This theory helps us understand so many of the lies throughout history. Although we've barely scratched the surface of all those lies that deserve (dis)honorable mentions, you can satiate your historical curiosity by browsing the lists on the next page.


Monday Mysteries | The Historical Foundations of Myth and Legend

The "Monday Mysteries" series will be focused on, well, mysteries -- historical matters that present us with problems of some sort, and not just the usual ones that plague historiography as it is. Situations in which our whole understanding of them would turn on a (so far) unknown variable, like the sinking of the Lusitania situations in which we only know that something did happen, but not necessarily how or why, like the deaths of Richard III's nephews in the Tower of London situations in which something has become lost, or become found, or turned out never to have been at all -- like the art of Greek fire, or the Antikythera mechanism, or the historical Coriolanus, respectively.

This week, we'll be looking at the possible historical foundations of myth and legend.

It is often said that many myths bear within them a seed of truth, and, in some cases, this certainly seems to be so. Mythic and legendary events and peoples can sometimes be traced back to things that actually happened, and persons who actually lived -- even if the reality, as best as we can determine it, is not always quite what the stories suggest.

In today's thread, feel free to post about:

Tall tales, urban legends or just-so stories that may have some basis in historical fact.

Archaeological discoveries that substantiate (or complicate!) certain mythic narratives.

Legendary figures who may actually have existed, and the evidence we have of this.

Abstract historical myths that aren't necessarily matters of ancient folklore -- i.e. Columbus wanting to prove the world was round, Washington and the Cherry Tree, Napoleon's personal stature, etc. Why do people believe in and propagate such myths? How did they come about?

Moderation will be light, as usual, but please ensure that your answers are polite, substantial, and posted in good faith!

Next week on Monday Mysteries: Dig through your files and bookmarks, because we'll be talking about mysterious images, whether they be photographs, drawings, paintings, films, anything. so long as they're historical!

My specialty is the Battle of Agincourt and the Hundred Years War as a whole, which isn't lacking in mythologies of its own. But today Iɽ like to talk about WWI and the Archers of Mons.

In the opening days of WWI, the German army's advance into France through Belgium seemed like it would crush everything in its path to Paris. Although the Germans were finally stopped at the First Battle of the Marne in September 1914, things seemed fairly dismal for the French army and British Expeditionary Force. It is therefore unsurprising that legends and mythologies would arise from the frightening and chaotic first months of the war.

At the Battle of Mons on August 23, 1914, the British Expeditionary Force faced two-to-one odds in its first major engagement in the larger battle for the borders of France. The well-trained British troops were eventually ordered to retreat, but they had successfully delayed the Germans and inflicted greatly disproportionate casualties upon the German First Army. The British army's heroism at Mons was a great source of pride for the public, including the Welsh author Arthur Machen. Machen was inspired by the battle to write a little story for the papers.

The story, which I recommend you read for yourself here, details the desperate fight at Mons and the retreat from the town. In the last, desperate moments of the battle, who should come to the rescue of the British army but their proud ancestors from the Battle of Agincourt! Thousands of ghosts of British archers appeared shout their war cries and wreak havoc upon the German lines.

His heart grew hot as a burning coal, it grew cold as ice within him, as it seemed to him that a tumult of voices answered to his summons. He heard, or seemed to hear, thousands shouting: "St. George! St. George!"

And as the soldier heard these voices he saw before him, beyond the trench, a long line of shapes, with a shining about them. They were like men who drew the bow, and with another shout their cloud of arrows flew singing and tingling through the air towards the German hosts.

In fact, there were ten thousand dead German soldiers left before that salient of the English army, and consequently there was no Sedan. In Germany, a country ruled by scientific principles, the Great General Staff decided that the contemptible English must have employed shells containing an unknown gas of a poisonous nature, as no wounds were discernible on the bodies of the dead German soldiers. But the man who knew what nuts tasted like when they called themselves steak knew also that St. George had brought his Agincourt Bowmen to help the English.

As is typical in these events, what was created and intended to be read as fiction became confused with reality. Other sightings of visions and spiritual happenings were reported by Spiritualist papers as well as more mainstream presses. Many people wanted to feel assured that God was on the side of the Allies, that divine punishment was in store for Germany because of its violation of Belgium. Some rather cynical people have suggested that these rumors were fed by propaganda writers seeking to rally the support of the populace.

I have no idea whether that's true or not. The Archers of Mons are obviously fictional and Machen never intended for it to be anything otherwise. But that didn't stop it from resonating with the British public in the darkness of the opening years of WWI.

This isn't much of a mystery, as the historical origin of the myth is currently more well known than the myth itself, but it may be a good way to understand how these things get started. If you were to take a guess based on my flair, you may well realize I'm talking about the Cult of Che, or the San Ernesto phenomenon.

In life, Che Guevara became an unprecedented international figure for revolution. This was the result of the convergence of Che's abilities as a revolutionary guerrillero leader, the nature of his international revolutionary actions in Latin America and Africa, his public eloquence and charisma, his youthful and handsome appearance, and a damn good photograph. However, in death, Guevara became a martyr for the left, and the international symbol of "Che" only grew to new heights. From the 1968 Mexico City student protests to the socialists in modern Venezuela, Che has become a transcendent symbol for the leftists of the Americas. Beyond just the Americas, though, Guevara really is a world symbol, his face plastered to shirts and murals from Palestine to South Africa by every leftist group you can imagine.

In parts of rural Latin America, though, and particularly in Bolivia, the country of Guevara's final guerrilla war, capture, and execution, Ernesto "Che" Guevara has become more than a revolutionary. He's become a saint, a Christ-like figure. This 2007 piece in the Guardian reports on the phenomenon in rural Bolivia. I've excerpted some key parts below, but Iɽ really recommend reading the whole thing to get a grasp on the modern phenomenon.

Father Agustin, the Polish priest, reads out prayers written down by local people: ɿor my mother who is sick, I pray to the Lord and . ', hesitantly, 'to Saint Ernesto, to the soul of Che Guevara.' 'Saint Ernesto,' the parishioners murmur in response.

ɿor them, he is just like any other saint,' Father Agustin says ruefully. 'He is just like any other soul they are praying to. One can do nothing.'

On a bench in the square, Freddy Vallejos, 27, says: 'We have a faith, a confidence in Che. When I go to bed and when I wake up, I first pray to God and then I pray to Che - and then, everything is all right.'

Susana Osinaga, a nurse who cleaned Guevara's body back then, recalls: 'He was just like a Christ, with his strong eyes, his beard, his long hair.' Today the laundry where Guevara's corpse was laid is a place of pilgrimage. On the wall above Osinaga, an engraving reads: 'None dies as long as he is remembered.' Osinaga has an altar to Guevara in her home. 'He is very miraculous.'

Melanio Moscoso, 37, sits against a wall next to a Guevara poster. 'We pray to him, we are so proud he had died here, in La Higuera, fighting for us. We feel him so close,' he says. His neighbour, Primitiva Rojas, professes devotion: 'I have lots of faith in him. Because he stopped existing does not mean he is not here with us.' A few days ago, when feeling sick, she prayed to him and soon felt better. 'That same night I dreamt of a man with a black beard and tender eyes, who was telling me: "I was the one who cured you".'

The process by which Che has been canonized, both into the folk Catholicism of the campesinos and into a sort of "secular saint" for those who otherwise hold no religious traditions, is under study, but, in my opinion, deserves more. Others, like Óscar Romero, have also been dubbed saints in rural Latin American folk Catholicism, though Romero's case differs in that the San Romero phenomenon is not as widespread or fervent as San Ernesto, and in the fact that Romero was Catholic himself and actually has a chance of being made an official saint by the church.

Anthropologist Phyllis Passariello, in her article Desperately Seeking Something: Che Guevara as Secular Saint, the power of San Ernesto is drawn from the same resolve, charisma, universal appeal, and hardness of purpose that makes other heroes and saints. That Che might hold a certain appeal in Cuba or Bolivia is unsurprising, given his revolutionary actions in those countries, but the fact of Guevara's pan-American stature represents a universal appeal unrivaled by other revolutionaries struck down in their prime (like his comrade Camilo Cienfuegos), perhaps because of the fact that, as an Argentine doctor who became a Guatemalan defender of democracy, a Cuban revolutionary, a Congolese rebel adviser, and finally a Bolivian guerrillero could be imagined to be present in any country where the people felt that they were repressed and drew inspiration from Guevara's example.

That his comrades encouraged the Cult of Che, when Guevara had, in life, expressed distress about its growth, certainly helped crystallize its role in Latin American. Régis Debray, a Frenchman who had fought under Guevara in Bolivia, speaking of the comparison between Che Guevara and Jesus Christ not long after his death, said, "Che was a modern Christ, but I think he suffered a much harder passion. The Christ of 2,000 years ago died face-to-face with his God. But Che knew there was no God and that after his death nothing remains." More recently, the comparison has been taken up even by Benicio del Toro, who said, after playing Guevara in the two part film Che, "I think Che had perseverance and morality. being the underdog and fighting against injustice and standing up for the forgotten moved him so hard. Kind of like Jesus, in a way—only Jesus would turn the other cheek. Che wouldn't."


Confucius

The philosophy of Confucianism has influenced Chinese society since its inception. But there is some debate about the historicity of its founder, Confucius. Some scholars have argued that many of the sayings attributed to him actually came from his disciples or other sources. That being said, there is pretty solid evidence that some man name Confucius existed--whether he is solely responsible for Confucianism remains to be seen.


Adolf Hitler, German dictator, genocidal maniac, bad person

The Penis: According to various rumors, Hitler had: a micropenis a missing testicle an undescended testicle and/or hypospadias (a condition where the pee hole is situated further down the shaft).

The Story: Last year, TIME did a rundown of all the Hitler genital rumors, which date back all the way to World War II, when British troops were fond of singing “Hitler Has Only Got One Ball” to the tune of “Colonel Bogey.”

The list includes a 2008 story in British tabloid the Sun, claiming that he lost a testicle in World War I, and a 2015 book entitled Hitler’s Last Day: Minute by Minute, which claimed he may have had both an undescended testicle and hypospadias. Accounts vary, though: A battlefield medic was responsible for saying that Hitler lost a ball his childhood doctor said he was totally normal a prison doctor stated he had an undescended testicle and a supposed Russian autopsy said a ball was missing. Every one of these claims has been questioned by historians.

Penis Myth Accuracy: It’s tough to say if Hitler actually had some kind of genital abnormality, or if we all just want him to have had some kind of genital abnormality. But since this is Hitler we’re talking about, whether or not he may have had a malformed penis is really the least of the questions we should be asking.


8. Running amok

“Running amok” is commonly used to describe wild or erratic behavior, but the phrase actually began its life as a medical term. The saying was popularized in the 18th and 19th centuries, when European visitors to Malaysia learned of a peculiar mental affliction that caused otherwise normal tribesmen to go on brutal and seemingly random killing sprees. Amok�rived from the 𠇊muco,” a band of Javanese and Malay warriors who were known for their penchant for indiscriminate violence—was initially a source of morbid fascination for Westerners. Writing in 1772, the famed explorer Captain James Cook noted that “to run amok is to … sally forth from the house, kill the person or persons supposed to have injured the Amock, and any other person that attempts to impede his passage.” Once thought to be the result of possession by evil spirits, the phenomenon later found its way into psychiatric manuals. It remains a diagnosable mental condition to this day.


10 False History 'Facts' Everyone Knows

We would like a word with our fifth-grade teachers. How is it that so many supposedly educated adults still believe that Benjamin Franklin discovered electricity when his kite was struck by lightning, and that Columbus discovered America while trying to prove that the world was round? It can't be because we're ignorant, or gullible, or both. Better to blame the fifth-grade teachers. For shame, Mr. Donnelly. For shame.

If you know — for a fact! — that Napoleon was the shortest emperor ever, and that Einstein absolutely failed math as a kid, then boy do we have some disappointing news for you. The real truth is that few of us have our facts straight when it comes to history. Keep reading to find out how wrong you've been, then go out and make your friends feel just as dumb! Our first false fact involves a beloved story from American history.

10: Ben Franklin Discovered Electricity Flying a Kite

American statesman and Renaissance man Benjamin Franklin was a compulsive problem-solver. Among his many inventions were rudimentary "swim fins" — glove-like pads worn on the hands to increase speed. And then there are his famous bifocals, a simple solution to carrying around two pairs of glasses [source: PBS].

But one thing that he definitely didn't discover was electricity. Electricity was a known phenomenon in Franklin's day, although not completely understood. Franklin believed that electric current was a "fluid" that went from one body to another and that lightning was simply a more dramatic form of static electricity [source: Avril].

Did Franklin actually test his theories by flying a kite in a thunderstorm? No one is sure. We know that he published his groundbreaking diagrams for a lightning rod in May 1752, a month before his alleged kite escapade [source: Avril]. The main source for the kite story is Franklin's friend, scientist Joseph Priestley, who wrote about it 15 years later [source: USHistory.org].

From there, the tale took on its own life, depicted in paintings and sealed in American lore. In no version of the story, however, was Franklin's kite actually struck by lightning. That would have resulted in chicken-fried Franklin [source: MythBusters]. Instead, when a storm approached, Franklin noticed the hairs on the kite string standing up, indicating the presence of electricity in the air. When he touched the key tied to the string, it released a nice spark, sealing the deal [source: USHistory.org].

9: Van Gogh Cut Off His Ear in a Fit of Madness

Part of the allure of Vincent van Gogh's priceless impressionist paintings is the widely accepted belief that the 19th-century artist was stark raving bananas. Exhibit A: In a fit of madness, he lopped off his left ear with a razor blade and gifted the bloody auditory organ to a local French prostitute. Need proof? How about the famous van Gogh self-portrait with a bandaged ear?

But in 2009, a pair of German art historians busted the madman myth in a book titled "Pact of Silence," which claims that van Gogh's close friend and rival Paul Gauguin sliced off van Gogh's ear lobe with a fencing rapier [source: Kucharz]. The book asserts that Gauguin and van Gogh had a violent falling out in 1888, resulting in the ear-chopping incident. Both men vowed to keep the matter quiet, although Gauguin invented the prostitute story to make van Gogh look even crazier.

Van Gogh undeniably suffered from periodic fits and ultimately took his own life in a deep bout of depression, but was he certifiable? An American microbiologist diagnosed van Gogh a century after his death with Acute Intermittent Porphyria, which is a metabolic disorder, not a neurological disease [source: Browning].

8: Richard III Was an Evil Hunchback

In William Shakespeare's classic play "Richard III," the bard conjured up one of the juiciest villains this side of the Joker. Not only was Shakespeare's Richard III a murderous usurper of the English throne — he smothered his two young nephews next in line for succession — but he was also a hunchback.

Shakespeare's fictional take on the real-life king was borrowed heavily from quasi-historical accounts written by the Tudors, the rival dynasty that stole back the throne and killed off Richard III in 1485 at the Battle of Bosworth [source: Richard III Society]. During his brief 26 months on the throne, Richard III proved a capable and just leader, but his subjects never really got over the whole "double child homicide" thing and his reputation was sealed as a colossal jerk [source: Jones].

But was he really a hunchback? After years of searching for Richard III's lost remains near the historical site of the Battle of Bosworth, his fully intact skeleton was miraculously discovered under a parking lot in 2012 [source: Richard III Society]. Richard III's spine was unmistakably curved, but further testing revealed that the cause was a bad case of scoliosis, rather than kyphosis, the medical term for having a hunchback [source: University of Leicester].

7: Columbus Was Trying to Prove Earth was Round

As we all know, everyone in 15th-century Europe thought the world was flat except for one brave and brilliant Italian-born explorer with the inexplicably English name of Christopher Columbus. And as usual, we are all completely wrong.

Not only was a round Earth an accepted fact in Columbus' day, but the ancient Greeks were calculating the size of the spherical Earth back in the 3rd century B.C.E. [source: Stern]. Even better, every ancient sailor who navigated outside of his own bath tub knew that the constellations rose in the sky as you sailed south. And then there's the whole lunar eclipse phenomenon that shows Earth's unmistakably curved shadow.

Columbus wasn't trying to prove Earth was round when he set sail in 1492. He was trying to prove that sailing due west was the quickest way to get to the Far East and the treasured spice ports of India. Not only were his calculations fabulously wrong, but he and his crew would have surely died if they had not accidentally bumped into a cluster of Caribbean islands that Columbus believed to be coastal India. In fact, in all his voyages to the New World, he continued to think he had hit on some part of Asia [source: Royal Museums Greenwich].

One more Columbus factoid: Although Columbus did briefly set foot in Panama on his fourth westward expedition, he never landed anywhere on the North American mainland [source: Royal Museums Greenwich].

6: Napoleon Was Super-short

Most of us know next to nothing about the French general and "emperor for life" Napoleon Bonaparte — a man whose military skill and political ambition made him one of the most powerful and feared figures of the late 18th and early 19th centuries — other than the fact that he was one petite dude. Even today, we say that an overcompensating short guy has a "Napoleon complex."

For years, the history books listed Napoleon's official height as 5 feet, 2 inches (1.6 meters), indisputably in "shorty" territory. But that's because they mistakenly believed that a French "foot" was the same as an English foot.

When the measurements are properly converted, Napoleon stretches to a respectable 5 feet, 7 inches (1.7 meters). That's not going to get him an NBA contract, but it's 2 inches (5 centimeters) taller than former French President Nicolas Sarkozy and nearly a head above Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev [source: BBC News]. Somehow, "Medvedev complex" isn't as catchy.

5: Lincoln Fought the Civil War to End Slavery

What caused the Civil War? This is one of the thorniest questions in American history. But one thing is for sure: Abraham Lincoln did not declare war on the Confederate states to end the practice of slavery [source: Loewen]. He declared war because the Confederate states were attempting to secede and he wanted to save a unified USA.

Why did the Confederate states want to secede from the Union? Well, slavery for one thing. Wait . didn't we just say the Civil War wasn't about slavery? No, we said that Lincoln didn't fight the Civil War to end slavery. The South was sick of federal laws that restricted the movement of its slaves in the North [source: Lichtman]. The decision to secede from the Union was to free itself of federal interference in the slave trade.

Let's let Lincoln himself explain his motivation for going to war, as written in a letter to the New York Tribune in 1862 [source: Loewen]:

In his personal beliefs, of course, Lincoln was strongly antislavery. When he finally signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 — three years into the war — it rallied the Northern forces around the abolitionist cause and gave the war effort a moral dimension. This is why most of us think the Civil War was always fought to end slavery, because that's exactly what it did.

4: Vikings Wore Horned Helmets

With most historical falsehoods, it's hard to pinpoint who exactly started the whole misinterpreted mess. But this one has a clear culprit: Professor Carl Emil Doepler, the costume designer for the very first production of Richard Wagner's epic opera cycle "Der Ring de Nibelungen" in 1876 [source: The Economist]. Thousands of stagings of "The Ring" cycle worldwide have made horns the de facto Viking helmet.

So what did real Viking helmets look like? Truth is, we're not too sure. Viking remains have been dug up across Scandinavia, but archaeologists have found only one helmet, a rounded iron cap with a nose guard, but nary a horn in sight. (It doesn't seem too practical to have a helmet with horns, since they could get tangled in tree branches). Doepler may have taken his inspiration from pre-Viking cultures in Northern Europe that used helmets with horns or antlers in religious rites [source: History.com]. Or you can blame Elmer Fudd.

3: Einstein Failed Math as a Student

This is a classic inspiration story for every kid who ever got a C- on a third-grade multiplication test. "You know who also struggled with numbers, Johnny? Albert Einstein!" Sure, and Michael Jordan was also cut from his high school basketball team. Wrong and wronger.

Yes, Albert Einstein was a late bloomer — he was slow to talk and socially awkward — and he didn't get the best grades in school. He even flunked the entrance exam to the Zurich polytechnic school [source: History.com]. But that's not because he couldn't do math. He passed the math section, but failed the botany, zoology and language requirements. By all accounts, little Al was an ingenious problem-solver who was simply bored to death by most subjects other than math.

The source of the "Einstein flunked math" myth is not clear. However, when shown the allegation in a 1935 "Ripley's Believe It or Not" column, Einstein replied, "I never failed in mathematics. Before I was 15 I had mastered differential and integral calculus" [source: Isaacson].

2: Thomas Crapper Invented the Flush Toilet

Come on, this one HAS to be true! Even if it's not, can't we all just agree to continue saying that Thomas Crapper invented the flush toilet? This little pseudo-fact has been making fourth-graders giddy for centuries. While we're at it, let's start the rumor that the lollipop was invented by a Swiss woman named Ivana Lix, and the man who invented tar for sealing driveways was the Belgian Prince Philip de Cracken.

Yes, Thomas Crapper was a 19th-century plumber and manufacturer whose brand of "water closets" — gained widespread popularity in his native England. But no, Mr. Crapper did not invent the life-altering item that often bore his name. Flush toilets were already installed in finer households by the time young Crapper started his plumber apprenticeship as a child in the 1840s. And sadly for irony-lovers, the word crappe is a 13th-century word for waste, so it was likely in use for toilet-related matters before Mr. Crapper got into the business [source: Lienhard].

The true inventor of the flush toilet was likely Sir John Harington, a 16th-century English poet, translator, rogue and occasional inventor who installed one of his ingenious "loos" for Queen Elizabeth at her country palace in Surrey [source: Encyclopaedia Britannica]. If you ever wondered why toilets are called "johns," wonder no more [source: Levitz].

1: Newton Discovered Gravity When an Apple Fell on His Head

Sir Isaac Newton is arguably the most influential and insanely original mathematician and physicist of all time. (Somewhere, he and Einstein are arm wrestling for the title.) It turns out that the inventor of calculus and the fundamental laws of motion was also an inventive storyteller.

In 1666, the University of Cambridge was shut down due to a little thing called the plague, so Newton took a break from his studies and returned to his childhood home in Lincolnshire. Newton's first biographer, William Stukeley, related that in 1726 when the two of them were having a spot of tea under the shade of an apple tree, Newton reminisced that it was in a similar place 60 years earlier that "the notion of gravitation came into his mind."

That's a bushel load of mind-blowing insight from one apple, but that's the story that Newton told and retold over the course of his life to friends and colleagues. As with most good stories (and good storytellers), the tale grew more colorful with each retelling, but never did it say anything about an apple literally plunking Newton on the head. For all know, it could have been a fig.

Author's Note: 10 False History Facts Everyone Knows

I'm not going to embarrass myself by admitting how many of these false facts I believed to be true before researching this article, but I'll give you a hint: it starts with an "n" and rhymes with "fine." In my defense, a few of these falsehoods still have their defenders, like the arguments over the true cause of the Civil War, or the controversy over van Gogh's ear. The upside of feeling tragically dense, of course, is the ability to turn around and act like an obnoxious know-it-all to friends and family. Just ask my wife and children!