@douglasawesome requested before spring break that we begin a weekly exploration of Dictatorship, picking different dictators each week to learn about and discuss. He asked to start with Napoleon Bonaparte…specifically with a certain Pinky and the Brain episode.
We started watching the episode, in which Brain is mistaken for the emperor. We learned a few things from those twenty minutes, such as:
- Tallyrand (aka Charles Maurice de Tallyrand-Périgord) was Napoleon’s chief diplomat, possibly a traitor, and generally pretty interesting
- The glass pyramids in front of the Louvre are much newer than it and somewhat controversial
- “obsequious” (adj.) obedient or attentive to a servile/excessive degree
- “megalomaniac” (n.) a person who is obsessed with their own power
- Josephine de Beauharnais was Napoleon’s first wife (and their love letters are online)
- Cat meat has been a famine food at various points in European history
We then looked up how tall Napoleon actually was (5’6″ so taller than me!). That’s all we managed to discuss on topic, though we moved on to discuss European geography, invasions/invasion attempts of Russia, Hitler’s rise to power and the evolution of the early Nazi platform, gangs in the Americas, the difference between “misogynist” and “misanthrope,” and a handful of other fun and fascinating things. We didn’t get into Napoleon as much as I wanted to, and my curiosity was piqued. So here’s what I’ve learned in addition to the things we discussed:
- Napoleon (1769-1821) was born on Corsica, which was sold by Italy to France just before he was born and so culturally was Italian as he was growing up
- A group called The Directory was in power while Napoleon led French military campaigns to Egypt, Syria, and some other places. He surprised them with his return, took power with two co-consuls, and then made himself First Consul…soon to be Consul-for-Life
- Successful military campaigns, a Concordat with the pope to ease tensions between Catholic France and the powers in Rome, and the Napoleonic Code made Napoleon fairly popular with many of his subjects
- His ambition, as well as a situation in which he broke his own code to kidnap a suspected opponent from neutral territory to be executed without a fair trial, made him unpopular with other European rulers…so much so that they formed The Third Coalition to challenge him
- His march on Moscow (1812) proved disastrous, since the Russians burned the city before he arrived, the distance of the march there killed many of his troops, and the march back to France was doomed by the harsh winter
- Napoleon abdicated the throne and was exiled to Elba in 1814, but he returned to France shortly after. Upon his return, he quickly assembled an army and led an offensive…but he was defeated at Waterloo and exiled again
- A 2008 study showed that Napoleon did have high levels of arsenic in his system at the time of his death. However, this was normal for people of his time, and it seems he died from stomach cancer rather than assassination-by-poisoning.
- The Rosetta Stone was discovered on a campaign that Napoleon led in Egypt in 1799
- In 1903, Napoleon sold France’s territory in North America to Thomas Jefferson in what became known as the Louisiana Purchase
- Finally, Napoleon adored his first wife–Josephine–even as they both fought and consistently cheated on each other. He divorced her when she couldn’t give him an heir, but he lamented having to do so and spoke of his adoration for her until his death.