Mistakes in classic literature

What mistakes are there in classic literature that you can think of?

Example: In Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, the main character strips naked, swims out to the wrecked boat, and fills his pockets with food.

In the poem “On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer” by John Keats, the poet makes a reference to Cortez “discovering” the Pacific Ocean in America. Balboa was the discoverer, not Cortez.

I’ve heard that this “mistake” is intentional and adds somehow to the poem’s message, but I’m not convinced.

Nightwatch Trailer beat me to the Keats bit. And yeah, I don’t think it was intentional either, but if I were, say, a Keatsian scholar with a vested interested in making my man Johnny look good, I’d probably look for a way to say it was done on purpose too.

This isn’t really a mistake in literature, but rather a bit of widely accepted but shaky scholarship: There’s the famous line from Homer about “the wine-dark sea,” epi oinopa ponton. Unfortunately, the word oinopa appears only one other time in surviving texts, when it refers to someone’s upper arm, so it’s pretty unlikely that it was actually intended to mean “wine-dark.” Hugh Kenner wrote a great essay on the long train of scholars’ shaky assumptions that led to its being generally accepted as “wine-dark” (the first of which being its similarity to oinos, of course).

Joyce makes fun of this in Ulysses when Stephen Dedalus looks at the ocean and thinks, “The snotgreen sea. The scrotumtightening sea.”

It’s not really fair to blame the author for this one:
In Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival (Perceval) said knight on his quest for the grail unwittingly meets his half brother Feirefiz who is a son of Parzival’s (white) father Gachmuret and Belakane, a black African queen. As a consequence he is… well… spotted. In Germany ca. 1200 this must have been the logical conclusion.

PS: I love that book.

My favorite is in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar where he mentions a clock striking the hour. The play takes place in ancient Rome, which didn’t have clocks.

From what I hear, Shakespeare is full of little anachronisms like that.

In one of the Sherlock Holmes stories, Watson’s wife forgets Watson’s first name.

O. Henry’s short story The Gift of the Magi begins with this assessment of the character Delia’s cash on hand:

So what of the other $1.27? You’d have to have at least 2 cents’ worth of either additional pennies or half-cent coins. However, the latter were last minted in the USA some fifty years before the story was published in the early twentieth century, and probably could have been sold to a collector for more than face value, thereby ameliorating Delia’s poverty a bit.

Not at all. His wife calls him James. Now, We know that his name is John H. Watson, and he has Scottish ancestry, so obviously his middle name is Hamish, which is equivalent to James.

Easy. :dubious:

Now, here’s one from another mystery novel, The Nine Taylors By Dorothy Sayers. (This was a set book in my Eng Lit class when I was 16) During a class discussion of the plot I pointed this out… brief pause while they thought about it then they all went ‘y-e-a-h’. Nobody could answer this point

If Thoday didn’t know that the bells would kill Deacon, then what was the parrot talking about?

Not easy: elementary.

Sternvogel, the U.S. Mint produced two-cent coins until 1873. “The Gift of the Magi” was published in 1905, 32 years later. I see coins in circulation from the 1960s fairly often; a 32-year-old coin seems plausible enough for the story.

You might get a kick out of Poul Anderson’s book A Midsummer Tempest, then; it’s set largely in an alternate universe where all Shakespeare’s plays are strictly accurate histories. So you not only get clocks in ancient Rome, you get Bohemia with a seacoast, Oberon and Titania as historical figures, etc. It’s a fairly amusing read, as I recall.

Not necessarily. He could have stuffed the food between his buttocks.

It’s Nature’s pocket.

A Christmas Carol.

So, Scrooge hates Christmas. The ghosts decide to show him the error of his ways.

First they take him back to his chuildhood and show him that he had to work at Christmas while all the other children were having fun.

Then they show him a few years later, the only woman he ever loved ran out on him at Christmas.

Then, they bring him to the present, and show him Bob Cratchett and his family starving to death at Christmas.

Then they take him into the future and show him Tiny Tim dying at Christmas, and himself dead and unmourned.

All of this teaches him that Christmas is really a happy and jolly time after all.

Does this make sense to anyone?

To sort of hedge my answer, I believe I read about a form of striking waterclock used in eother Greece[Athens?] or Egypt that struck the hours. Will have to look it up and pray there is something about clypedestras online=) If I have luck, I will do a follow up post=)

Bingo=) found it…of course I misremembered the name but i managed anyway=)
More elaborate and impressive mechanized water clocks were developed between 100 BCE and 500 CE by Greek and Roman horologists and astronomers. The added complexity was aimed at making the flow more constant by regulating the pressure, and at providing fancier displays of the passage of time. Some water clocks rang bells and gongs; others opened doors and windows to show little figures of people, or moved pointers, dials, and astrological models of the universe.
So we could have a clock strike an hour=)

Shakespeare also had Caesar & co. wearing doublets.

Speaking of clothing, I read somewhere that in DeFoe’s time, the word “clothes” referred only to outer garments like coats and jackets, so Crusoe didn’t really strip naked–he was still wearing his pants.
If you think it sounds kind of lame, I agree.

Really gives new meaning to “What’s it got in its nasssty little pocketses?”

IIRC the other 2 anachronisms in JC are references to the Virgin Mary and chimminies.

Not so fast, there.

This is from a review of “Common Bodies: Women, Touch and Power in 17th Century England.” It’s dense in places, but here’s the relevant graf:

So it may be that Defoe didn’t make a mistake after all.

In King Solomon’s Mines, the ceremony of the witch hunt takes place during a full moon. The next day there’s a total eclipse of the sun, which can only happen at the new moon. That was a quick fortnight.