The Napoleon Myth

Historians are fascinated with the character of Napoleon Bonaparte. This obscure Corsican upstart, depending on whom you ask, is either an individual of exceptional talent and bravery or a person of limited ability and cowardice. He rapidly rose through the ranks of the French army, achieved significant victories, and, filled with success, embarked on an expedition to Egypt. Some view this endeavor as brilliantly executed, while others see it as a wild and foolish venture. Although he was initially unsuccessful, he returned to France to find a favorable disposition towards him, which allowed him to easily overthrow the existing government and secure supreme power – initially as consul and later as emperor.

During his rule, he defeated powerful coalitions of European states against him, despite being challenged by the British navy. He conquered a substantial portion of the continent, winning wars sometimes in just one campaign. He marched into the capitals of most opposing potentates, appointing and removing kings at his whim and effectively controlling a significant portion of the continent from the borders of Spain to those of Russia. He even invaded countries with massive armies, defeated their forces, and threatened their complete subjugation. However, his progress was halted at Moscow due to a harsh winter and Russian resistance. The German rulers rose against him, and he faced defeat at Leipzig. He raised yet another vast army and, like the mythological Antaeus, he held his ground in France for a while, but was eventually defeated, dethroned, and exiled to the island of Elba, where he was given sovereignty.

Nine months later, he returned with just six hundred men, aiming to depose King Louis, who had been peacefully restored. The French nation sided with him, and he was reinstated without a fight. He raised another substantial army to face the allied powers, but suffered total defeat at Waterloo. He was deposed again, surrendered to the British, and was imprisoned on the island of St. Helena. This is the rough outline of the tumultuous history we’ve been presented with. However, the details vary significantly in different accounts, and the motivations and actions of Napoleon himself are even more contentious and subject to intense debate.

Amidst all these disputes, it seems no one has ever questioned the existence of this remarkable figure, and to even hint at any doubt might be seen as excessive skepticism. The very nature of these debates implies that this point has always been taken for granted by all sides.

However, this very circumstance diverts attention from the issue of credibility, making it more probable that inadequate evidence is embraced while flaws in that evidence are disregarded. There are numerous historical examples of how defects in ideas that were considered uncontroversial at the time were, in fact, overlooked, such as the misconceptions surrounding the belief that the Earth was flat.

The truth about Napoleon

Let’s examine the facts. The majority of individuals who firmly believe in Napoleon’s existence have never personally witnessed him. Their convictions are founded on mere hearsay. (Even those who claim to have seen Napoleon in Portsmouth, aboard the Royal Navy ship preparing to transport him to St. Helena, cannot definitively assert that they saw Napoleon – their observations were limited to a distant figure wearing a distinctive hat.) This is hardly enough to be considered proof.

The entire narrative surrounding Napoleon and his remarkable escapades often appears more like a work of fiction than historical reality. Those who assert personal involvement or encounters with him frequently preface their accounts with phrases such as “I would not have believed such a thing, if I had not seen it.” This leads to the natural question: why should we place any credence in such extraordinary narratives?

We’re dealing with a story so extraordinary that it’s like a work of fiction. Various accounts contradict each other, and the events are larger-than-life, featuring massive armies, epic victories, extreme weather, sudden turnarounds, and the rapid rise and fall of empires. This story defies common sense and goes against what history has taught us. It’s as if each event unfolds like a perfectly packaged story, leaving no loose ends. The number of things that just don’t add up is staggering. Anyone with a grasp of history and human nature can see how these events challenge our understanding of the world.

Some compare this character to historical conquerors like Alexander the Great, but the differences are striking. Alexander faced less formidable opponents, and his progress could have been slower in different circumstances. This figure, on the other hand, swiftly conquers a powerful and developed Germany in just a few years, a feat the Romans never achieved despite centuries of effort against less advanced foes.

What’s interesting is that this character can be defeated dramatically, but then, like a magic trick, comes back even stronger. He invades Russia with a massive army, which suffers terribly in an exceptionally harsh winter. But within months, he’s given another substantial force in Germany, only to experience another disastrous defeat at Leipzig. This makes it the third time he’s lost a massive army, counting his failed Egyptian campaign. Yet, he’s given new armies to defend France. After his defeat and exile to Elba, he quickly returns to France, where he’s welcomed warmly but loses a fifth major battle at Waterloo. Remarkably, the French are still willing to follow him for a sixth time, leading to his exile on a remote island thousands of miles away. Foreign troops are stationed there to prevent any pro-Buonaparte uprisings.

So, with all these astonishing events, it’s perplexing why some reject belief in miracles while accepting this incredible story. Isn’t this story, in essence, a miracle in itself? It seems to go against the laws of nature. While physical laws have exceptions, moral laws of nature, like historical principles, should also hold true, even with occasional deviations. Yet, this story pushes the boundaries so far that it almost seems miraculous.

Reasons to doubt

Dr. Richard Whately, a fearless scholar renowned for his brilliant mind, presents a compelling argument. He invites us to use reason when investigating the tales of Bonaparte. Firstly, the majority of the narratives documenting Napoleon’s adventures are derived from newspapers, widely acknowledged as inherently unreliable sources. We witness retractions and corrections of previous articles almost daily. Moreover, these accounts aren’t even firsthand testimonies; they are crafted by “private correspondents.” This fact alone should raise suspicions.

The narratives of Napoleon’s actions that these “anonymous correspondents” conveyed typically passed through a complex chain of intermediaries. The tale, originating from an original “eyewitness,” got relayed to another person, then another, and so on, until it ultimately reached the “private correspondent.” An account as related by a single individual may well be around 90% accurate. However, when it’s transmitted through a lengthy chain of, let’s say, 20 individuals (each with a 90% probability of conveying it accurately), the probability of the final account being accurate drops to less than one-eighth. The probability is already not on the side of Napoleon-believers.

What’s more, the stories of Napoleon Bonaparte’s achievements, as presented in the newspapers, are undeniably captivating and astounding. Extraordinary tales naturally draw in numerous readers and boost circulation. Consequently, it’s not necessarily in the newspapers’ best interest to rigorously verify the accuracy of these stories; their focus often leans more toward selling copies than scrutinizing the veracity of the accounts.

For the British government, the notion of a menacing figure akin to Napoleon proved to be a politically advantageous tool for justifying increased taxes, securing funds, and smoothly advancing proposals through Parliament. Given the duration of this period, during which various political parties held power, it was in the interests of both sides to maintain the Napoleon myth. Surely this raises an eyebrow.

Moreover, the accounts of Napoleon’s exploits are marred by a multitude of factual inconsistencies. For instance, some claim that Napoleon personally led the famous charge over the bridge of Lodi, while others attribute it to Augereau. Well, which is it? Similarly, descriptions of the French cavalry charge at Waterloo diverge significantly. There are even discrepancies in the reported timing of the battle, varying by as much as four hours! The Battle of Borodino is paradoxically hailed as a victory by both sides, and these examples of gross contradictions continue ad infinitum. Depending on which version you read about Napoleon, you get a different story nearly every time!

Historians have contorted themselves in attempts to reconcile these differences, but therein lies the issue. Those who amalgamate one account of Napoleon’s story with another, striving to construct the “true” and “authentic” narrative, have failed to interpret the tales of Napoleon as they’ve been handed down to us. Instead, they’ve forged their distinct rendition of Napoleon’s story, crafting a narrative entirely distinct from any single history found.

Furthermore, the character of Napoleon is painted in vastly different strokes by diverse observers. Some regard him as a sagacious and humane hero, while others depict him as a cruel monster. To certain eyes, he’s a military and political genius, while to others, he’s deemed a madman.

Napoleon: Not an original

Bonaparte’s story unfolds with remarkable drama: he overcomes each hostile state in succession, except for England, and at the peak of his power, his fleets are vanquished by the English. His troops consistently triumph against equal or even superior numbers from other nations, except when facing the English – where the tables turn. In fact, he engages English commanders twice, suffering total defeat on both occasions, at Acre and Waterloo. Eventually, England decisively topples this formidable power, which had long dominated or threatened the entire continent, and Bonaparte surrenders himself to the English as a prisoner. It’s undeniably a thoroughly nationalistic narrative!

However, one can’t help but wonder: if a story were to be crafted solely to captivate the English nation, could it have been conceived more ingeniously? It could serve as the plot of an epic poem, echoing the tales of Achilles and the Greeks, or Æneas and the Trojans (the forebears of the Romans), where these heroes are presented for admiration. Bonaparte’s exploits appear embellished to amplify the glory of his conquerors, much like how Hector prevails in Achilles’s absence, merely to make his defeat by that indomitable hero even more dazzling. This factor alone might raise skepticism among astute critics – even without the presence of gross improbabilities – leading them to withhold judgment until substantially convincing evidence, much stronger than what’s available here, is presented.

We can also liken the tale of Daedalus and Icarus to the historical narrative. In this myth, Daedalus, akin to Napoleon, found himself confined by circumstances – imprisoned on the island of Crete. In a creative bid for freedom, Daedalus, like Napoleon’s military and political genius, crafted a solution. He fashioned wings for himself and his son Icarus, a representation of Napoleon’s strategic brilliance. These wings, akin to the armies and strategies under Napoleon’s command, allowed them to escape their captivity. However, the tragic downfall of Icarus, who flew too close to the sun, symbolizes the overextension of Napoleon’s power and ambitions. Just as the sun’s heat melted the wax on Icarus’s wings, leading to his plunge into the sea, the scorching realities of warfare and geopolitics eventually led to Napoleon’s downfall in a metaphorical sea of defeat. Surely such a striking parallel arouses our suspicions.

Furthermore, critical scholars agree that the story of Napoleon going into exile on an island not only once but TWICE is clearly an example of a “doublet”. The island is symbolism for England, Napoleon’s enemy, while his escape represents the mythical trope of the hero escaping the realm of the dead, like the tale of Prometheus. Napoleon’s escape from Elba also has clear parallels with Orpheus’ daring journey to retrieve Eurydice from the underworld.

And to top things off, historians tell us that in 1819, the reigning monarch of France was King Louis XVIII, a member of the Bourbon dynasty. He asserted his reign to have spanned an impressive 23 years. During this extended period, France and England had engaged in numerous significant battles and conflicts. It is within this historical backdrop that a compelling notion arises – that the figure known as “Napoleon” might well be a mythological composite, woven together from the exploits and valor of numerous French heroes who played pivotal roles in various contemporary clashes between England and France.

The context of the rise of Napoleon

These ideas aren’t as far-fetched as it may seem at first glance. The turbulence between these two powerful nations gave rise to countless tales of heroism, strategy, and daring exploits, with each conflict offering its own cast of remarkable figures. As these narratives intermingled and evolved over time, it’s conceivable that the image of a singular, legendary “Napoleon” emerged from the amalgamation of these diverse historical characters and mythical heroes.

Think for a moment about the historical context. The tumultuous era of the French Revolution, marked by violence, upheaval, and radical change, had left an indelible mark on the nation’s psyche. To reconcile this dark chapter with their deep-seated desire for a strong national identity and glory, the French may have fashioned Napoleon as a hero. He embodied the qualities of a charismatic leader, military genius, and visionary statesman who temporarily restored order and prestige to a war-weary France. This collective narrative reflects a form of cognitive dissonance, where the French reconciled their revolutionary ideals with a longing for stability and grandeur. Napoleon, in this context, becomes a symbol of the nation’s complex historical and psychological evolution.

This stew of dissonance of the times, coupled naive love of wonder and heroes’ tales invites us to reevaluate the traditional understanding of Napoleon as a distinct and singular individual and consider whether his mythic status may, in fact, be the result of blending the remarkable deeds and stories of powerful mythical figures who left their indelible mark on consciousness of the French writers of the time.

Napoleon as Apollo

Indeed, an intrepid French historian of note, by the name of J.P. Peres, has ventured to posit a notion of this kind, but he thinks that the figure Napoleon most resembles is the Greek god Apollo.

Peres challenges us to remember some core facts: What do the “official historians” tell us about this character? Let’s recap:

  • He was named Napoleon Bonaparte
  • He was born in a Mediterranean island
  • His mother was named Laëtitia
  • He had three sisters
  • He had four brothers
  • He had two wives and a son
  • He put an end to the Revolution
  • He nominated fourteen marshals, two becoming kings
  • He won in the South and was defeated in the North
  • His reign last twelve years, started in the Far East and ended in a far western Sea

The facts

  1. His name: The most renowned mythical representation of the sun is Apollo.The name “Napoleon” is a clear derivation from the Greek “né Apóllôn,” meaning “real Apollo,” which originates from the Indo-European root *aplo- signifying “strength” or “power.” Regarding “Bonaparte,” it is evident that it stands in opposition to “Mala Parte” (like the ancient curse against darkness, “Abi in malam partem”). “Bona Parte” represents the good aspect, the light contrasting with the darkness.In essence, “Napoleon Bonaparte” is essentially a rearranged version of “the mighty Apollo, the bringer of light.”
  2. His birthplace: Born on the island of Corsica in the Mediterranean Sea, much like Apollo’s birth on Delos, an island situated to the south of Greece.
  3. His mother: Known as “Madam Mother” and named “Laetitia,” a name derived from the old Latin “Loeto” meaning “inspiring joy.” In parallel, Apollo was born of the Goddess of Motherhood, named “Leto.”
  4. His sisters: Napoleon had three sisters, namely Elisa, Pauline, and Caroline, similar to the three Graces, who were sisters of Apollo and fathered by Zeus.
  5. His brothers: Napoleon had four brothers (Joseph, Lucien, Louis, and Jerome) destined to rule various European regions, eventually becoming kings or princes. Apollo, likewise, had four half-brothers—Aethlius, Aetolus, Dorus, and Opus—destined to rule over the people of Greece and becoming kings of the Aeolians, Dorians, and more.
  6. His wives and his son: Napoleon had two wives, Josephine and Marie Louise. Drawing parallels with mythology, the Sun married the Moon in Greece and Earth in Egypt. In Egypt, their son Horus was known for ensuring the fertility of the land. Similarly, Napoleon’s legendary son was born on the spring equinox (March 20) and was known as l’Aiglon (the Eaglet), with a symbolic resemblance to Horus, whose face was that of a bird of prey.
  7. His ending of the Revolution: Just as Napoleon commenced his career by bringing an end to the French Revolution, Apollo’s initial feat was slaying Python, a gigantic serpent causing havoc in Greece. The term “Revolution” is derived from the Latin word “revolutus,” which describes a snake coiled upon itself.
  8. His marshals: When Napoleon became emperor, he appointed 14 generals to the title of Marshal of the Empire. These marshals followed and obeyed him, with twelve being renowned for governing the Grande Armée, and two even becoming kings (Murat and Bernadotte). This is akin to the Sun reigning over the multitude of stars, with the twelve zodiacal signs and the two celestial poles symbolizing this celestial hierarchy.
  9. His campaigns: Napoleon’s historical accounts indicate that he initially rose to glory in the sunny South, particularly in Italy, and met his downfall during the harsh Russian winter and the Battle of Waterloo in the North. This mirrors the trajectory of the Sun, which shines brilliantly in the South and wanes in the North. The zenith of his journey is often referred to as “the Sun of Austerlitz.”
  10. His fate: Lastly, akin to the Sun rising from the eastern horizon to govern Europe for 12 hours before setting in the western ocean, Napoleon’s life journey took him from far-off Egypt in the east to his eventual demise in the distant western island of Saint Helena after a 12-year reign (from consul for life to abdication).

In conclusion, it becomes unmistakably clear that no authentic historical figure could encompass such an extensive array of attributes associated with a Sun God, Apollo. Peres’ argument is compelling: Napoleon did not exist; he is a solar myth!

The famous philosopher David Hume has highlighted how easily people tend to believe captivating and extraordinary stories with very little evidence to support them. However, as he wisely points out, this quick and unquestioning belief is not suitable for a thoughtful and philosophical mind. Instead, a philosophical mind should withhold judgment, especially when faced with an extraordinary story, and only accept it when there are clear, solid, and unquestionable proofs. And when it comes to the case of Napoleon, we certainly are lacking in such proofs.

Could someone argue that there’s nothing supernatural about this? If that’s the case, then why do you criticize supernatural events and dismiss all reports of miracles? Isn’t it because you find them unlikely? So, a story that is just as or even more unlikely shouldn’t be accepted without question, just because it’s not considered a miracle. Everything about the story of Napoleon violates the laws of our moral and critical reasoning.

The Subtle dangers of Napoleon belief

What continues to fuel the belief in such stories by otherwise astute individuals? To begin with, history has become a billion-dollar industry, and historians have assumed the role of trusted authorities. In their endeavor to shape the Napoleon myth, these historians engage in an intricate dance, deftly transforming dubious legends into seemingly plausible narratives. Their primary motivation appears to be the pursuit of comfort and the desire for unwavering respectability within the historical sphere. These self-proclaimed historians, often marked by their conspicuous anxieties and insecurities, can be likened to architects constructing an imposing fortress of defense mechanisms, safeguarding their narratives from any scrutiny or challenge. This fortress enables them to perpetuate their cherished tales with unwavering conviction. It’s high time we cast aside such nonsense!

Believing in Napoleon, it’s not just a bit silly; it’s downright perilous and menacing! Let’s take a moment to unpack why this adulation for the Corsican conqueror is a recipe for disaster. First and foremost, Napoleon’s cult of personality poses a serious threat to democracy. His authoritarian tendencies and lust for power should make any self-respecting democrat quiver in their boots. The myth of a man crowned himself emperor, for heaven’s sake, and had a penchant for stifling dissent and muzzling the press. A far cry from the principles of democracy, if you ask me.

But it gets worse. Let’s not forget how this Napoleon restored the churches that had been closed during the French Revolution. It’s like he had a soft spot for the Church, which should raise alarm bells for anyone concerned about the separation of church and state. The influence of churches and clerics in politics can be downright hazardous. It’s like opening the floodgates to religious dogma dictating public policy. Not to mention the potential for intolerance and discrimination that comes with the territory.

And if that’s not enough to give you pause, consider the nationalistic fervor that often accompanies Napoleon-worship. Nationalism, my friends, can be a slippery slope. It can lead to an “us versus them” mentality, fueling division and animosity between nations. Remember the wars Napoleon waged in the name of French nationalism? Dangerous stuff, I tell you.

So, let’s not be lured by the romanticized tales of this historical figure. The cult of Napoleon, with its authoritarianism, church favoritism, and dangerous nationalism, is a perilous path that we should avoid at all costs.

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