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History Rewritten: Myths Busted & New Truths Uncovered


Gone But Not Forgotten
Aug 7, 2001
Caravaggio was actually Merisi of Milan
Malcolm Moore in Caravaggio, Sunday Telegraph
Last Updated: 12:25am GMT 11/03/2007

Each year, the sleepy northern Italian town of Caravaggio throws a week-long festival to honour its most famous citizen, the fiery Renaissance artist who took his home town's name.

This year, however, the celebrations are likely to be muted. An art historian in Milan has discovered that Michelangelo Merisi - the artist's original name - was not born in Caravaggio. He was born in Milan, on September 29, 1571, and baptised at the church of Santa Maria della Passarella.

The revelation has shocked the town's 15,000 inhabitants. In one main street, a public notice board displays a selection of newspaper articles about the discovery. Two old ladies stood nearby digesting the news.

The mayor, Giuseppe Prevedini, has decided not to give up his town's only claim to fame without a fight. After all, there is the income from the two million tourists who visit every year to consider.

He said he had no idea why Milan wanted to "steal" Caravaggio.

"Perhaps they are lacking a famous 16th century artist to call their own," he said. "This is Italy, there is probably someone who has a birth certificate claiming Leonardo Da Vinci was also from Milan."

The attempt by Milan to claim Caravaggio centres on a document discovered by accident in the diocesan archives at the parish of Santa Stefano, in the city's Brola district.

Leafing through volumes of church records, Vittorio Pirami, a retired employee of Silvio Berlusconi's Fininvest conglomerate, claimed a "special light" guided him to a page which records the baptism of Caravaggio.

"Today, the 30th, Michel Angelo, the son of Mr Fermo Merisi and Mrs Lucia Aratori, was baptised. Mr Francesco Sessa was present," read the Latin document.

No other records of the artist's birth or baptism have been found, although his parents were married at the St Peter and St Paul church in Caravaggio.

"It was just like any other day," said Mr Pirami, who began studying art history in his retirement. "I went to the archive and studied. When I turned the page, I needed to turn the light on because the paper was a bit worn. But the parents were clearly marked."

The discovery has been applauded by Milanese scholars. Francesco Tresoldi, the author of Caravaggio: Assumptions and Truth, said it supported the legend that Caravaggio was the son of Marchese Francesco Sforza, a member of Milan's ruling family. The Sforzas were considered to be the equivalent of the Medici family.

"I think there could have been a relationship between his mother and the marchese. Her subsequent marriage to [Caravaggio's father] Fermo Merisi, one of Sforza's loyal men, could have been a way of dealing with the birth of an illegitimate son, who, not by chance, was then baptised in the St Stefano church, just steps away from where Sforza lived," he said.

However, residents of Caravaggio are dubious about the claims. "Lots of people say he was born in Milan, but lots of others say he was born here," said Diletta Doldi, at Bar Caravaggio.

"The only real document we have was his own statement, for membership of the Knights of Malta, that he was from Caravaggio. Everything else is just lies and fantasy," added Mr Prevedini.

There is much at stake for the small town. The mayor has landed a €2.5 million grant to convert the church in which Caravaggio's parents were married into a "House of Caravaggio".

Reproductions of the artist's works will be displayed, and there will be a library, an artist's studio and a conference and exhibition centre. "We are also in discussion with public museums in Italy and the United States to take some of his works on loan," Mr Prevedini said.

There are currently no Caravaggio paintings in the town. Mr Prevedini said the works were taken away during the 19th century by rapacious Venetian bishops.

Still, he is proud of the annual festival, at which people celebrate by drinking L'Anima di Caravaggio, or The Soul of Caravaggio, a strong spirit made from the seeds, stems and skins of grapes. Caravaggio would have been proud; he was renowned for being drunken and quarrelsome and had to flee Rome and Naples because of his atrocious behaviour.

"The actual physical birthplace of a person is irrelevant," said the mayor. "My son was born in the hospital in Treviglio, but he calls himself a Caravaggino. What is important is that the artist said he was from here. He never signed a painting: Merisi from Milan."

The church has now stepped in to settle the dispute. "The document will be examined by experts in order to carry out the necessary verification," said Monsignor Bruno Bosatra, the head of the diocesan's archive in Milan.
(Mod Edit: Original link is broken. Archived version found via The Wayback Machine here: https://web.archive.org/web/2009013.../Caravaggio-was-actually-Merisi-of-Milan.html)

rynner the ubiquitous
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Reminds me of The Simpsons episode where Lisa discovers the truth about town founder Jebadiah Springfield. :lol:
History is so inacurate anyway. There's a lot of stuff women have done that's hidden or ignored. Also of course, as this proves, new evidence comes to light all the time.
Reminds me of the old schoolchild boner - "Homer never existed and his poems were actually written by somebody else with the same name."
akaWiintermoon said:
...There's a lot of stuff women have done that's hidden or ignored...

I have to agree, women never get credit for all the cooking and cleaning they do!

sorry :)
this reminds me of the Wallace monument in stirling which is the famous monument to william wallace that everyone has heard of, so much so that the actual wallce monument in Elderslie where he was actually born is virtually unknown.
Yup. And that Greyfriars Bobby, he sat by the wrong grave, he did.
Captain Cook is scuppered by book
By Nick Squires in Sydney
Last Updated: 2:36am GMT 20/03/2007

The image of Captain Cook stepping onto the shores of Botany Bay has been a staple of British history books for generations but now it seems the explorer may have been beaten to Australia by the Portuguese, who arrived 250 years earlier.

A new appraisal of 16th century maps offers evidence that a small Portuguese fleet charted much of Australia s coast as early as 1522.

It has long been known that Cook was preceded by Dutch navigators, whose ships were wrecked on the coast of western Australia as they made for their colony of Batavia - present day Jakarta - in the 1600s.

The Portuguese thesis was put forward yesterday MONDAY by historian and journalist, Peter Trickett, in his book Beyond Capricorn. It describes how Portuguese adventurers secretly discovered and mapped Australia and New Zealand 250 years before Captain Cook.

Eight years ago he stumbled on a portfolio of reproduced maps from the Vallard Atlas, a priceless collection of charts which represent the known world in the early 16th century.

The maps, now kept in a vault in the Huntington Library in California, were based on Portuguese charts but drawn up by French cartographers.

Modern scholars had noticed that one of them closely resembles the coastline of Queensland, aside from a point where it suddenly shoots out at a right angle for a distance of about 900 miles.

After studying the map himself, Mr Trickett came up with a new theory - that the French map-makers had wrongly spliced together two of the Portuguese charts they were copying from.

With the help of a computer expert, he divided the map in two and rotated the lower half by 90 degrees.

Suddenly the chart fitted almost exactly the east coast of Australia and the south coast as far as Kangaroo Island, off present day South Australia.

"I know it s very hard to believe because this was taking place decades before the birth of William Shakespeare," he told ABC radio.

"But the maps show the entire east coast of Australia, virtually the entire west coast and a very large part of the south coast, as far as Kangaroo Island and the Great Australian Bight, which the Portuguese called Golfo Grande." Mr Trickett believes the charts were made by a Portuguese seafarer, Christopher de Mendonca, who was sent from the Portuguese fort at Malacca, in present day Malaysia, to search for a fabled land of gold alluded to by Marco Polo.

His secret mission took him along Australia's north coast, down the eastern seaboard and around the bottom of the continent. He then sailed back to Malacca via the North Island of New Zealand.

The maps were kept secret because the Portuguese wanted to keep the discovery to themselves.

"The Portuguese were obsessed with secrecy because of their rivalry with Spain," Mr Trickett said. "They didn't colonise Australia because they didn't have the manpower or the resources, and then their empire started to collapse."

He believes his theory is backed up by the discovery in 1976 of a lead fishing sinker, unearthed by scientists from the sands of Fraser Island, off Queensland.

An analysis of the lead showed that it came from Portugal or the south of France and was made around 1500. "It ties in with what the map tells us," he said.
Well, if they didn't want to tell anyone about it, can we really take their claim seriously?

There's always the possibility this will turn out to be another 1421, IE: it's all been made up or misinterpreted to boost sales of a book.
What I learned about Captain Cook during my schooldays (yea, even over here in these dark and dismal frontier hinterlands) was that his enduring fame didn't result so much from him being a great navigator and a great explorer, but on being an even greater SCIENTIST.

Earlier stumble-upon mariners simply didn't possess that remarkable combination of qualities.
OldTimeRadio said:
his enduring fame didn't result so much from him being a great navigator and a great explorer, but on being an even greater SCIENTIST.

Cook was quite a cartographer (...obviously...) but what did he do by way of science?
wembley8 said:
OldTimeRadio said:
his enduring fame didn't result so much from him being a great navigator and a great explorer, but on being an even greater SCIENTIST.

Cook was quite a cartographer (...obviously...) but what did he do by way of science?
His first South Sea Voyage was a scientific expedition to observe a transit of Venus from Tahiti (I think).
These observations would help determine the size of the solar system.

For the times, this was a scientific endeavour that can be compared to the modern explorations of space....

..and this is why NASA named one of their shuttles ENDEAVOUR (after Cook's ship), rather than using the American spelling of 'Endeavor'.
http://science.ksc.nasa.gov/shuttle/res ... avour.html

There was a science team on board Endeavour, including an astronomer, botanist, etc, but Cook himself was also pioneering navigation using the new-fangled Harrison chronometers. So, if he wasn't exactly a scientist himself, he was well immersed in the science of his age.
Roots seems to be back in the news atm, with everyone banging on about how terribubbly culturally important it was... but, um, wasn't the plot supposedly totally made up by a white guy?
No, Alex Haley was a black man, and Roots is supposed to be his family history.
The only doubt I've ever heard cast upon Haley's work on Roots is a dispute that he really traced his family all the way back to the village from which Kunta Kinte was abducted and found a lineage-reciter who confirmed his family stories about what happened. Since Haley didn't share a language with the reciter and the translator and the villagers(according to this critic) knew what this rich American wanted, and since similar stories happened all over the area, the argument went, nobody had to be consciously dishonest to get the stories to match up even if they didn't quite.

The "totally made up by a white guy" claim is one I've never, ever heard and since Haley's picture is prominently displayed on the back of the jacket, it's hard to fathom how it started, unless it's a racist construct invented to discredit an uppity N-word and the notion of black history as a legitimate pursuit.

It's true that the book is fiction in the sense that the characters are developed, with dialog and interior monolog, in ways that could not possibly be researched. And it's true that there's some places where errors could have arisen or uncertainty have been glossed over in the interests of the story. But Mr. Haley did the geneological and historical research on which the book is based.

Perhaps you or your source conflated Roots with another megabestseller, Carlos Castaneda's Don Juan series, which claimed to be based on direct anthropological research among the Yaqui Indians, but in fact was conceived and executed entirely in LA?
i misremembered slightly but wasn't that far off, according to the wiki entry for what it's worth (though other sites make reference to this too):

Haley earned a Pulitzer Prize special award in 1977 for Roots, and the television miniseries garnered many awards, including nine Emmys and a Peabody. Haley's fame was marred, however, by charges of plagiarism. After one trial, in which he admitted that large passages of Roots were copied from The African by Harold Courlander, Haley was permitted to settle out-of-court for $650,000.[1] Haley claimed that the appropriation of Courlander's passages had been unintentional.[2] In 1988, Margaret Walker also sued Haley, claiming that Roots violated the copyright for her novel Jubilee. That case was dismissed by the court.

Courlander, though he wrote much on african culture, was of european jewish descent...

the rest of the wiki entry is interesting, if less than directly relevant:

Additionally, the veracity of those aspects of the story which Haley claimed to be true has also been challenged.[3] Although Haley acknowledged the novel was primarily a work of fiction, he did claim that his actual ancestor was Kunta Kinte, an African taken from the village of Juffure in what is now The Gambia. According to Haley, Kunta Kinte was sold into slavery where he was given the name Toby and, while in the service of a slavemaster named John Waller, went on to have a daughter named Kizzy, Haley's great-great-great grandmother. Haley also claimed to have identified the specific slave ship and its specific voyage that transported Kunta Kinte from Africa to North America in 1767.

However, noted genealogist Elizabeth Shown Mills and the African-Americanist historian Gary B. Mills revisited Haley's research and concluded that those claims of Haley's were not true.[4][5] According to the Millses, the slave named Toby who was owned by John Waller could be definitively shown to have been in North America as early as 1762. They further said that Toby died years prior to the supposed date of birth of Kizzy. There have also been suggestions that the griot in Juffure, who, during Haley's visit there, confirmed the tale of the disappearance of Kunta Kinte, had been coached to relate such a story.[6][7]

Although a friend of Haley's, Harvard University professor Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., one of general editors the Norton Anthology of African-American Literature, has acknowledged the doubts about Haley's claims, saying, "Most of us feel it's highly unlikely that Alex actually found the village whence his ancestors sprang. Roots is a work of the imagination rather than strict historical scholarship. It was an important event because it captured everyone's imagination."
Props to Ms. Falls for being the first to look things up. (My research consisted of walking across the room and looking at my copy of the book - bought new for $12.50, an enormous amount for a book on my budget at the time.) Yes, that sounds much more plausible. It's a damn shame people who write popular fiction can't keep better notes and guard against misusing their sources, but there you go - it all goes into your head in a stew, and apparently even professional journalists like Mr. Haley aren't always as conscientious as they might be.

As for flaws in the research - who cares? These aren't the sorts of flaws that invalidate a historical novel, like putting President Lincoln in Illinois when historical records clearly show him in D.C., or putting words in his mouth that contradict words he put on paper. The fact is, you can research till blood comes out your ears, you can research till you die without writing the book, and never be certain that you haven't overlooked something or swallowed a whopper. You can't reconstruct this day last year with perfect accuracy, no matter how many sources you consult. Why should anyone be expected to reconstruct the more distant past beyond quibble?

In nonfiction, you do the best you can and acknowledge areas of uncertainty in the text or notes. In fiction, you do the best you can and write the story. And incidentally, where the requirements of the story and the requirements of history collide - you go with the requirements of the story, but a really good historical novelist minimizes those collisions and makes them seamless. I find that you get a better story if follow the research and only make up what you have to. But you always have to make up things. That's why it's fiction.

Roots is a true story in the same way that Ankh-Morpork is a functioning city - more or less, on average. It was based on real research and it made American history from the black perspective vividly real to millions of people. It's the same with the initial post - who cares where Caravaggio was born, when he loved Caravaggio enough to make it his home? I was born in Harlingin, but San Antonio is home.
On BBC Four this Thursday:

Roots Remembered

Celebrating the 30th anniversary of the 1977 mini-series which attracted the highest global audience of the time, with 130 million viewers, where a mass audience was educated about the hidden history of slavery.

Including contributions from original cast members Leslie Uggams (Kizzy) and LeVar Burton (Kunta Kinte), Lou Gossett Jr (Fiddler) and Ed Asner (Captain Davies). With other contributors including Kwame Kwei-Armah, David Lammy MP, Germaine Greer, Ozwald Boateng, Lemm Sissay, John Barnes, Ruby Turner and Danny John Jules.

Thu 29 Mar, 21:00-22:30 90mins Stereo Widescreen

Looks like it'll be mostly on the TV series, but with any luck they'll cover the background too.
BlackRiverFalls said:
Roots seems to be back in the news atm, with everyone banging on about how terribubbly culturally important it was... but, um, wasn't the plot supposedly totally made up by a white guy?

Never heard that one before.

I followed Alex Haley's original articles, which were later collected (in fictionalized form) into ROOTS, as they appeared over many months in READER'S DIGEST and they were the single most exciting true detective stories I've ever read.

Haley realized early on that his family's oral history was still very much African oral history, with its extremely strong emphasis on accurately passing stories on from generation to generation. He was thus eventually able to work his way back to what seems to have been his actual "native" African village, where he discovered the point where his family's oral history apparently branched off from the tribe's. Moreover Haley performed this remarkable feat without any recourse to DNA!
so which bits of the 'accurate' story did he plaigerise? i'm not that familiar with it...
Regarding Haley's alleged plagiarism, news stories at the time revealed that Haley purchased wordage from a private researcher, later using the text as his own, with a quick re-write to make certain the stuff agreed with his own authorial voice - which is quite legitimate since it has been PAID for.

Or it WOULD have been legitimate had Haley's researcher actually contributed the ORIGINAL text which Haley believed he was purchasing.

But the researcher simply transcribed his materials out of other peoples' books and articles, without citing his sources.

Haley is by no means the only major historical novelist to run afoul of this. If memory serves, so did James Michener.
quite legitimate for a work of fiction/faction/general history perhaps... somewhat less so, i'd say, if you're trying to pass the said work off as the true story of your direct ancestors, handed down by oral history...
The story, when you read it, is clearly a novel, and the bones of it were in fact his family's oral history backed up by research. Nobody gets bent out of shape about the true story in The Sound of Music getting distorted for the sake of the movie. Nobody thinks less of Christopher Isherwood for being a character in his own fiction. The book does its job as a historical novel, and part of that job was inspiring popular interest in geneology and black history. Nonfiction, worthy pursuit as it is, doesn't inspire people very often. So what if Haley convinced himself that he'd found factual connections that weren't quite there? What geneologist hasn't? The imagined travails of his family, based on but expanded from his aunts' stories, accurately and accessibly represent the African-American experience and burst on the scene at a time when non-African Americans were ready to hear about and identify with that experience. That's what matters about Roots.

Nitpicking is not criticism.
OldTimeRadio said:
...Haley is by no means the only major historical novelist to run afoul of this. If memory serves, so did James Michener.
Yes - IIRC Centennial ran into problems, not so much when released as a novel but when made into a TV epic serial, and again not on the basis of historical accuracy (it was a fictionalised account, and never pretended otherwise) but on the portrayal of various ethnic groups as aggressors/ brutal/ savage etc etc.

As usual it was only the British who slightly raised an eyebrow, marginally shook their heads and went back to their game of Whist. We're just immune to it now (and besides, it keeps our actors in work, being nasty in films :).)
BlackRiverFalls said:
quite legitimate for a work of fiction/faction/general history perhaps... somewhat less so, i'd say, if you're trying to pass the said work off as the true story of your direct ancestors, handed down by oral history...

But the material Haley purchased DIDN'T relate directly to the story of his family. It was, rather, general African history and background material upon which to lay that story.
It does serve as an object lesson to the rest of us to do primary research on all aspects of the book, not just the ones that interest you most. I can understand how it happened - researching even one period of time well enough to make the scenes vivid is a life-eating job, and Haley's book spans 200 years - but if it's your name on the title page, you're going to be responsible for everything in it. Secondary research - which is what you get when you farm out some of it, even when the hired researcher consults primary sources - puts you at one remove from the material, no matter how well-done it is, and intrudes another person's synthesis into your own.

The adult market is a lot more tolerant of that sort of thing than the juvenile. But then juvenile fiction doesn't sprawl as much, generally speaking. A friend of mine is trying to sell a Civil War novel to an editor who wants annotations on everything, and it's driving her up a tree, but it's also forcing her to learn things she otherwise wouldn't have and changing the story for the better. Alas, the book would have to do a Harry Potter to financially compensate all the work she's doing.
Bloated Henry transformed into a slim, young ladykiller
Adam Sherwin, Media Correspondent

American television has transformed Henry VIII from the popular image of an ageing, bearded and bloated monarch into a “sexy and vital” young blade with a washboard stomach.

Henry’s clash with the Roman Catholic Church and his desperate pursuit of a male heir inspired cinematic triumphs for Charles Laughton and Richard Burton.

But The Tudors shows a very different Henry from the king immortalised in Hans Holbein’s portraits.

The 16th-century soap opera portrays him as a virile and youthful ruler with an insatiable appetite for ladies-in- waiting. He is shown defeating the French in battle between energetic bouts of sex.

The BBC has just bought the rights to the £17 million drama series, which has been described as a blood-soaked successor to The Sopranos. It has already become the most popular programme on Showtime, an American channel with a reputation for racy content.

Henry is played by the Irish actor and model Jonathan Rhys Meyers, whose muscular abdomen has attracted more comment from American viewers than the overview of medieval geopolitics that accompanies the array of exposed nipples.

The Golden Globe-winning star, who is 29 and has played a young Elvis, swapped period breeches for tightly-fitted vests. “You’re trying to sell a historical period drama to a country like America,” he said. “You do not want a big, fat, 250lb, red-haired guy with a beard.

“Anyone who hunts, owns a kingdom, wrestles and has that much sex is gonna be in shape.”

The story begins in 1509, with Henry poised to take the throne and unhappily betrothed to Catherine of Aragon. Yet within the first seven minutes he graphically beds a busty lady-in-waiting, wins a jousting tournament and declares war on France.

The Tudors, which will be shown on BBC2, is written by Michael Hirst, who scripted the award-winning film Elizabeth, starring Cate Blanchett. He admitted to taking “artistic licence” with characters including Henry’s sisters Margaret (Gabrielle Anwar) and Mary, who have been “merged”.

Hirst said that the series was “85 per cent accurate” but he despaired of the stereotypical Henry of most television costume dramas. Henry VIII’s body fat was no more than 3.8 per cent, according to some chroniclers.

Hirst said: “We really wanted something fresh. We just wanted a lot of energy, a lot of youth. There’s no doubt I shall be attacked rather savagely, especially in England.

“The funny thing is that many of the scenes people will take exception to are based on historical things. It’s not like any of the historians were actually there.”

The Oscar-winning triumph of The Queen, starring Helen Mirren, has helped Showtime to sell the all-star Tudors to American viewers. Natalie Dormer plays a pouting Anne Boleyn, who loses her head over Henry. Sam Neill is a shady Cardinal Wolsey and Jeremy Northam plays the saintly Sir Thomas More.

The ten-part series, which was filmed in Ireland, ends with the death of Wolsey in 1530. But the show has already been renewed and the producers are looking forward to a five-year run through Henry’s life and loves. Sue Deeks, the head of series for BBC Programme Acquisition, said: “Jonathan Rhys Meyers’s sexy and vital monarch completely dispels the image of the older, overweight and infirm ruler — I know that BBC viewers will really enjoy this contemporary take on the Tudor dynasty.”

http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/ ... 680656.ece
rynner said:
.... But the show has already been renewed and the producers are looking forward to a five-year run through Henry’s life and loves. Sue Deeks, the head of series for BBC Programme Acquisition, said: “Jonathan Rhys Meyers’s sexy and vital monarch completely dispels the image of the older, overweight and infirm ruler..
Now, IF the five year run shows him going from young, fit bloke (which he actually was when he first was crowned, though never thin he wasn't fat back then either) to old, fat, ill bloke (which he became, in spades,) then fair enough. If however they portray the old Henry as being a fit, slim bloke but with greying hair and perhaps a bit of a cough then that would be taking liberties, somewhat.

TBH I'm still waiting to see a balanced TV prog or movie about Richard III. Shakespeare's demonisation has stuck rigidly. Perhaps Peter Cook's portrayal in Blackadder I is the closest we'll get?
“The funny thing is that many of the scenes people will take exception to are based on historical things. It’s not like any of the historians were actually there.”

Coming soon: Elizabeth I as busty brunette

Shakespeare conquers the Martians.

Hitler: the Synagogue years