Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Slander of Napoleon now slanders the short

I learned something shocking yesterday: Not only wasn't Napoleon short, but he was likely of at least average height for Frenchmen of his time.

Much of the confusion stems from the French inch of Napoleon's era differing slightly from the inch England used then and the whole world uses now. When measured in imperial inches the allegedly 5'2 Napoleon would approach 5'7. Further muddying the historical waters is Napoleon's nickname: Le Petit Caporal. While the literal translation of petit is "small," petit was also an universally applied term of endearment among the French (and Napoleon was adored by his soldiers) having little to do with actual size.

The caricature of Napoleon as diminutive was an invention of the British press, although it isn't clear if their misrepresentation was out of ignorance or malice. It is also hard to tell if the assumption that short people have "Napoleon complexes" originated with Napoleon's megalomania and designs on European domination, or always existed as a "small man's complex" but later took on the general's name as a homage.

It would be appropriate if it was the former. Because much like Napoleon probably wasn't short, psychologists have yet to find any evidence that short people overcompensate for their lack of height by engaging in abnormally aggressive or risky behavior.

Tune in next time when we learn that Oedipus had an awesome relationship with his father, and the ancient Greeks hung on Cassandra's every last word.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Perhaps he had a "miniature Fabio" complex.