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Author Topic: Most annoying historical myths?  (Read 17890 times)

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Offline Cyrano JohnsonTopic starter

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Most annoying historical myths?
« on: July 12, 2013, 01:57:45 PM »
Being a history buff can be a bit of a curse... because shitty popular history is everywhere. It's the stuff that's really 180 degrees from being true or correct that really gets on my nerves, though. I ran across something today that brought this to mind for me: this random list article which mostly isn't so bad... except for the mention of one of the most overrated battles of all time*, Thermopylae during the Persian War:

Quote
Although the Greeks had only 300 Spartans, they had a total of about 7000 troops versus Xeres' 2.6 million. Despite the lopsided numbers, the Greeks managed to win the day, eventually leading to the destruction of the Persian army and an awesome movie starring Gerard Butler.

Never mind that the movie starring Gerard Butler was literally the kind of thing Goebbels would've churned out if they'd had CGI and green-screens in his day; this guy actually believes the Greeks won at Thermopylae. Which, they didn't. At all. (Of course, subsequent Greek propaganda at the time and ever since has tried to finesse it into a moral victory and a transcendental example of Spartan badassery... so much so that I can see why some people mistakenly imagine it as a win. But five minutes on Wikipedia could've corrected this.)

"*"
Overrated because it just wasn't that important to the outcome of the war. Thermopylae was actually part of a dual action at land and sea that was intended to stop the Persian army from entering Greece; the sea action was at Artemisium. The Greek Allies fought bravely in both, but both were failures, and straightforward Persian victories. Persian power was checked later at Salamis, where they lost their fleet and thus the ability to supply their army, forcing Xerxes to withdraw. Why are there no movies about that, I wonder? (And for that matter, has the pass at Thermopylae ever been successfully used to hold off an army? There were six other Battles of Thermopylae and near as I can remember they all ended in defeat for the people trying to hold the pass.)

Any other history buffs have pet peeves to share? It'll make you feel better, I promise...
« Last Edit: July 12, 2013, 02:05:55 PM by Cyrano Johnson »

Offline Trieste

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Re: Most annoying historical myths?
« Reply #1 on: July 12, 2013, 02:17:45 PM »
Probably depends on how you define a 'win'. IIRC, in WWII the allies used it in a stall tactic and managed to stall - although not stop - the German army there.

I enjoyed 300 greatly, as well as Gangs of New York, Quills, etc and so forth - but a movie is entertainment. Books that are filed into the fiction section are entertainment. Period. People who are all "That must have been what really happened!" are woefully uninformed or willfully ignorant. Hell, if you're trained well enough at history research, even the stuff in the non-fiction section is suspect due to biases in and the occasional outright fraud of the occasional primary source.

That said, primary sources can be a pain in the ass to read, and people have to get their history from somewhere... ::)

Offline Cyrano JohnsonTopic starter

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Re: Most annoying historical myths?
« Reply #2 on: July 12, 2013, 02:23:50 PM »
I enjoyed 300 greatly, as well as Gangs of New York, Quills, etc and so forth - but a movie is entertainment. Books that are filed into the fiction section are entertainment. Period. People who are all "That must have been what really happened!" are woefully uninformed or willfully ignorant.

Very true.

I actually don't tend to be the kind of moviegoer who complains if the shapes of the soldiers' shields are wrong or something, and I don't mind liberties. (Gangs is one of my favorite films, actually.) It mostly bugs me when the filmmakers miss the dramatic opportunities afforded by recorded history (like Gladiator, whose version of Commodus was way less crazy and entertaining than the histories written about him), or when they turn historical films into "message" films (way worse when those messages are creepy, as with the open enthusiasm for hate, militarism and eugenics in 300).

Offline Trieste

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Re: Most annoying historical myths?
« Reply #3 on: July 12, 2013, 02:35:08 PM »
Commodus the demi-god. ::) There are a lot of parts of history that get a lot of attention when they're not necessarily the most interesting parts. I often wondered why someone didn't make a movie out of the end part of the Roman empire, but I figure people wouldn't believe that there was a period when there were about sixteen emperors in five minutes.

Hollywood is not a very good historian. >.>

Offline gaggedLouise

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Re: Most annoying historical myths?
« Reply #4 on: July 12, 2013, 02:48:41 PM »
Gladiator owes a good deal to Quo Vadis, which is also a highly entertaining film (and a weirdly kinky or 'gay' film...) as soon as it is not watched as history.

Offline Beguile's Mistress

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Re: Most annoying historical myths?
« Reply #5 on: July 12, 2013, 02:58:14 PM »
I never depend on movies and novels for history and take everything with a big spoon of literary license salt.  Since the textbooks I've read on history sometimes contradict each other and ancient tomes read more like an interpretation of current events I try to find as many sources as possible and I still want pictures 'cause without pictures it can't be true.  And even then...

Offline gaggedLouise

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Re: Most annoying historical myths?
« Reply #6 on: July 12, 2013, 03:09:32 PM »
A friend of mine told me about a tv cop/mystery  movie he had seen, sometime around 1980 I think, where they had thrown in Carlos the Jackal as the secret JFK assassin. In late 1963 Carlos had just turned fourteen, and he wouldn't begin to make a name for himself as a hotshot terror plot organizer and rifleman until ten years later.  :D (The docudrama tv series about him two or three years ago was excellent, though, well researched, realistic and balanced - and exciting)

Offline NiceTexasGuy

Re: Most annoying historical myths?
« Reply #7 on: July 13, 2013, 08:26:45 AM »
Most annoying historial myth?  Most annoying? 

Hmmmm.. it's difficult to choose between the one about Mahatma Gandhi and the one about Nelson Mandela.

Offline DTW

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Re: Most annoying historical myths?
« Reply #8 on: July 13, 2013, 08:35:49 AM »
Most annoying historial myth?  Most annoying? 

Hmmmm.. it's difficult to choose between the one about Mahatma Gandhi and the one about Nelson Mandela.


Oh yeah that terrible myth that the so-called "Crimes" of  Nelson Mandela weren't completely morally justifiable and historically justified? You mean , those myths?


Yeah I also hate that racist garbage myself.

Offline NiceTexasGuy

Re: Most annoying historical myths?
« Reply #9 on: July 13, 2013, 08:42:47 AM »

Oh yeah that terrible myth that the so-called "Crimes" of  Nelson Mandela weren't completely morally justifiable and historically justified? You mean , those myths?


Yeah I also hate that racist garbage myself.

 ;D  Thank you, you just made my day.

Offline vtboy

Re: Most annoying historical myths?
« Reply #10 on: July 13, 2013, 08:44:42 AM »
I have no issue with works of fiction taking license with historical events, provided they are candid about it. The problem is that so may works which purport to be true to history are less than forthright about what has been documented and what has been invented, and what critical, if troubling, facts have been edited out of the story. The deception is made all the more effective by the absence of intellectual curiosity and skepticism which plague our society, and the resulting assumption of factual reliability so many readily impute to any representation of events consistent with popular ethos, especially those labeled "documentary." Sometimes the damage done is palpable, as when, for example, D. W. Griffith's "Birth of a Nation" inspired the emergence of the second Ku Klux Klan.
   

Offline Oniya

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Re: Most annoying historical myths?
« Reply #11 on: July 13, 2013, 11:31:44 AM »
On a somewhat small scale - there's a little town in New York called Amityville.  Some of you may have heard about it.  There's a thrill-ride of a book about it, casually dumped in the non-fiction section, that resulted in the town being beset by tourists trying to vandalize a particular house - or break in - until they had to physically move the house in question from its notorious address of 112 Ocean Avenue, and change its architecture so that people wouldn't recognize it at the new site.

Having read the less-famous real history of that particular house - it's no less of a thrill-ride, but somewhat less likely to have attracted those same tourists.  What can I say?  Ghosts and demons are inherently more exciting than hallucinations.

Offline NiceTexasGuy

Re: Most annoying historical myths?
« Reply #12 on: July 13, 2013, 12:15:16 PM »






.

Offline Cthonig

Re: Most annoying historical myths?
« Reply #13 on: July 13, 2013, 02:11:33 PM »
Two candidates off the top of my head: one Hollywood and one historical.

In the "based on a true story" crap pile: "Perfect Storm". Now, I know Hollywood takes (many) liberties. But buried somewhere there are two or three facts in the story. Not so with "Perfect Storm". But they don't tell you that up front, no, they put that tidbit at the end after you've watched the movie. Then they tell you no one has a clue as to actual events on the boat. WTF? How is it at all "based on a true story" then? A fishing boat sinks in a massive storm and you have no facts beyond that but you make a movie claiming "based on a true story"? (Nasty grumbling even a long while after wasting all that time on the movie.) When you make a fiction movie just call it fiction!

Vlad Tepes aka Dracula being a pure villain: um, not so much pure villain. He wasn't a nice person by any stretch of the imagination but he did fight for his country against the invaders. And the fields of impaled people? A means to deter and intimidate the invaders. Consider for a moment - how willing are you going to be to advance when you come upon such a sight? Did he have a big ego, disdain for the lesser people, scare his own countrymen and meet a bad end? Yup. Total monster, nope.

Offline gaggedLouise

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Re: Most annoying historical myths?
« Reply #14 on: July 14, 2013, 12:00:29 AM »
I was gonna say The Da Vinci Code - not the detective story itself but the premise that the Vatican is hiding documents or stuff that could shake the foundations of Christianity if they became known. Two of the guys who wrote Holy Blood, Holy Grail had been publicizing essentially the same idea of massive cover-up of a buried religious truth during the feuding over the Dead Sea scrolls in the nineties. But I reckon many people who do care about that subject also realize that Dan Brown's book is just a novel and has no historical basis.

Offline Beorning

Re: Most annoying historical myths?
« Reply #15 on: July 14, 2013, 01:42:43 AM »
Oh dear, don't get me started on Da Vinci Code! I'm not Catholic, but this book really annoys me. Dan Brown took some issues of great importance to many people, made up a "shocking" theory involving them and sold it as real stuff... everything just to tell a second-rate detective story. It's just... offensive.

I have a similar beef with a very bad horror movie Stigmata. They did the same thing there: they made some stuff that painted the Catholic Church in extremely bad light (as in "Catholic bishops personally murder people" kind of bad). For what reason? Just to tell a crappy horror story. Ugh.

Regarding Vlad Tepes - I've heard various opinions on him... I may be mistaken, but wasn't he considered bloodthristy even by his contemporaries?

And on the subject of Hollywood being a bad historian - really, nothing beats a horror movie by the name of Stay Alive. It's a movie that claims that Elizabeth Bathory was... a plantation owner from Louisiana. I'm not kidding.

The scary thing? Over at IMDB, I've read reviews that *complimented* the movie for being based on facts... *facepalm*

Offline Trieste

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Re: Most annoying historical myths?
« Reply #16 on: July 14, 2013, 01:56:17 AM »
Stigmata is one of my favorite movies.

I dunno... movie history is bad.

But movie physics? Don't talk to me about movie physics.

Offline Beorning

Re: Most annoying historical myths?
« Reply #17 on: July 14, 2013, 02:37:48 AM »
Stigmata is one of my favorite movies.

Really? Personally - and aside from the religious controversy - I found this movie to be rather poorly done. Hmm.

Anyway, moving away from movie history - here's one historical myth I find annoying as a Pole: the Enigma code. It wasn't broken in Britain during WW2, but a few years earlier in Poland.

And another myth, this time pertaining to cultural history: vampires and sunlight. Contrary to modern conceptions, the original vampire lore doesn't describe them as being killed by sunlight. The whole bit was created by Murnau for his Nosferatu movie.

Offline Ephiral

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Re: Most annoying historical myths?
« Reply #18 on: July 14, 2013, 02:51:28 AM »
Anyway, moving away from movie history - here's one historical myth I find annoying as a Pole: the Enigma code. It wasn't broken in Britain during WW2, but a few years earlier in Poland.
Actually, it was both - it was broken and hardened and broken repeatedly through the course of the war. The Polish were the ones with the first break, using the Bomba, but it was Bletchley that refined their methods for use against later more sophisticated variants.

That said, I was actually unaware of the earlier Polish developments until today, so thanks for enlightening me.

Offline Beorning

Re: Most annoying historical myths?
« Reply #19 on: July 14, 2013, 05:21:15 AM »
I live to enlighten, sir  ;)

Offline Kythia

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Re: Most annoying historical myths?
« Reply #20 on: July 14, 2013, 07:56:42 AM »
And another myth, this time pertaining to cultural history: vampires and sunlight. Contrary to modern conceptions, the original vampire lore doesn't describe them as being killed by sunlight. The whole bit was created by Murnau for his Nosferatu movie.

Your most annoying Hollywood myth is that they have altered a myth? 

Offline Beorning

Re: Most annoying historical myths?
« Reply #21 on: July 14, 2013, 11:42:38 AM »
Your most annoying Hollywood myth is that they have altered a myth?

Yup. I'm anal :)

Seriously speaking, I simply don't like how the whole "sunlight kills vampires" myth has spread. These days, it seems to be one of the key things in the mythos - while it doesn't have to be. It's perfectly accurate to portray vampire walking in sunlight...

Offline Skynet

Re: Most annoying historical myths?
« Reply #22 on: July 15, 2013, 12:19:25 AM »
The idea that the French surrendered in almost all of their wars.

Offline Arianna de L'ombre

Re: Most annoying historical myths?
« Reply #23 on: July 15, 2013, 01:45:19 AM »
Hey guys! I am kinds interrupting, I know, but I share the horror you all have about movies (or myths, in general) that do not respect facts or at least the local lore of certain topics.
Here's my two cents about what you were all saying:
Regarding Vlad Tepes - I've heard various opinions on him... I may be mistaken, but wasn't he considered bloodthristy even by his contemporaries?
And on the subject of Hollywood being a bad historian - really, nothing beats a horror movie by the name of Stay Alive. It's a movie that claims that Elizabeth Bathory was... a plantation owner from Louisiana. I'm not kidding.
The scary thing? Over at IMDB, I've read reviews that *complimented* the movie for being based on facts... *facepalm*
Kudos, sir! Not only that I agree on the whole Da Vinci code, which Brown may have made popular, but he also turned it into fiction, by using so much wrong information... but I am seriously shocked by the Stay Alive story, which I can't believe people find as being real...
As for Vlad Ţepeş, I would not call him blood thirsty as much as extreme. He took over a country ruled by murderers and thieves, and killed them, revenging this way his father and brother's murder. He was not as bloody as people recall him, but he was extreme in his capital punishments(e.g. a thief would be sentenced with the cutting of a limb, a traitor would be impaled - conviction which was used more for the enemy hostages rather than traitors which were extremely rare, etc).
However, once his people saw how much he helped the country by cleaning it of crime, it was his political enemies who used the harsh, yet popular image about him, to nick-name him the Devilish - Draculea (his father was nicknamed the Devil, due to his association with the Dragon's order, aka as Teuton knights). He was, after all, a religious fanatic, and some of the literature books about him (Romanian ones) say he went insane because of the conflict of his religious beliefs and his style of ruling, which was merely meant to intimidate the Otomans, and scare the "nobles" who would attempt to sell him out. His wifes suicide conflicted him even more, as the Orthodox church refuses, even this day, the burial ceremony for suicidal deaths.
Though I am not a historian, yes, this is obviously the myth that kills me the most, and even though tourists do not understand why Romania does not promote "Dracula" more... we respect our history.

Yup. I'm anal :)
Seriously speaking, I simply don't like how the whole "sunlight kills vampires" myth has spread. These days, it seems to be one of the key things in the mythos - while it doesn't have to be. It's perfectly accurate to portray vampire walking in sunlight...
The vampire as seen in Eastern European and Russian culture, and you probably know this very well too, is a night creature, and only comes out to hunt at night, but there are no popular beliefs that they would be scared of the daylight. I have personally witnessed awkward burial rituals meant to keep a person in it's grave, and most of those involved tying the hands, garlic and holy water or holy oil put inside the coffin, special water and food rituals, to keep the soul at peace, and so that it doesn't return, etc. None of the old women who taught me a lot about it seemed to know anything about vampires (vampiri, strigoi, or moroi in Romanian) being affected by the sun, but they did seem bound to night-walking.

Sorry if I was nosy, but I needed to get this out. Hope that was ok...

Wishing you all a great week!

~Ari.

Offline Kythia

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Re: Most annoying historical myths?
« Reply #24 on: July 15, 2013, 06:02:57 AM »
The idea that the French surrendered in almost all of their wars.

Actually yeah, that one is pretty annoying.