"Nero fiddled while Rome Burned". FAKE NEWS? How much of History class is even true?

Just a thought. All the simple stuff we were taught in history class - from ‘one lantern or two’ or ‘The British are Coming!’ to the story of Julius Caesar…how much of it was true and how much of it was convenient propaganda? 500 years from now, would schoolkids be talking about Emperor Trump I and The Great Wall he built to keep out the bad hombres? Would all that bullshit we hear from the governing authorities of the land become accepted historical fact?

Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong

History class has gone through the filter of the state, and even in liberal democracies there’s virtually no chance of that filter not ramping up the propaganda. Actual history, readily available online nowadays, is a far more accurate accounting of events. Keep in mind that usually people who catalog history don’t have some centuries long plan to confuse 2nd graders in a country that doesn’t exist yet. They certainly have biases and don’t want to admit to their own wrongdoing, but it’s not a nefarious scheme - and reading alternative sources allows you to counterweight those biases.

That really depends on who wins. Assuming Trump gets impeached? Then he was filmed eating babies, and elected by a cabal of satan worshiping anarchists. Well, more than likely they’ll read about how he wasn’t good, but it was a contentious time, and like all American presidents ever, he was to be remembered as a Hero. Because propaganda doesn’t like embarassments.

Actually, I have seen many historians and history books making a sport** of shooting down** rumors like that one. Like the Nero one:

One has to blame popular culture, and some do suspect the Christians later for preserving that rumor about Nero starting the fire, or for the popularization of it.

Not that I blame them, it sounds like a deserved comeback when Nero then blamed the Christians for the fire and executed them just to counter the rumor.

Now, I have problems with the History Channel, but even they do point about how inaccurate the Paul Revere tale in the popular poem was.

I don’t know where SamuelA went to school, but MY history teachers certainly didn’t teach such silly nonsense. Of course, they might have taught other silly nonsense, but they didn’t rely upon popular folkstory versions of events when teaching what happened.

Yeah, I’ve never heard the “fiddled while Rome burned” without hearing an explanation of why it may well not have happened. Though it calling it fake is a bit strong IMO, there may be some doubt about it, but the fact remains almost all the surviving sources do say that Nero sang in costume while Rome burned.

My immediate reaction too; but Rick Kitchen nailed it in 2.

Per the thumbnail review on the above-cited Amazon page:

(Bold-face in original.)
I wonder just how “completely revised” this is, being based on “six new textbooks”? Does he still tell the same basic stories, or has he chosen an all-new collection of mis-told stories to re-tell? Is it still substantially the same book as it was 20 years ago, or substantially an all-different book?

Note that James Loewen has other books too, along these same lines:

Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong

I have two other books to add, quickly summarized as American history from the point of the losers and the second as the story of the common people, rogues, scoundrels and demagogues who made it happen. Neither really are the same as what we learned in school.

Howard Zinn - A People’s History of the United States

Walter McDougall - Freedom Just Around the Corner. (First of a planned trilogy)

And there’s a bunch more in one of my favorite Wikipedia pages:

List of Common Misconceptions

Who’s to say that it wasn’t the christians that started the fire?
They were a deathcult, after all, thinking the world would end pretty damn soon.

There’s christians like that even today, trying to hurry the apocalypse along by trying to get certain propheties fulfilled.

No fiddles, for starters…

“The truth of history, so much in request, to which every body eagerly appeals, is too often but a word. At the time of the events, during the heat of conflicting passions, it cannot exist; and if, at a later period, all parties are agreed respecting it, it is because those persons who were interested in the events, those who might be able to contradict what is asserted, are no more. What then is, generally speaking, the truth of history? A fable agreed upon.”

  • Napoleon

I dunno what people’s views of Richard Shenkman are, but:

I Love Paul Revere, Whether He Rode or Not

Legends, Lies & Cherished Myths of American History

I came in to post about him. I discovered Shenkman before I found Jamers Loewen. Loewen’s point is that history, as taught, is often untrustworthy because people in a position of power have agendas they want to push. Shenkman’s point is that there’s an awful lot of historical research that was done that never percolated through to Common Knowledge, regardless of whether anyone had agendas. His books are useful compendia of (unfortunately) little-known bits of history. He doesn’t try to put it together to make a coherent whole or make a case for why things are that way (as Loewen does). I think of him more as the history equivalent of Jearl D. Walker and his Flying Circus of Physics.

And he’s quite right. It’s not because of anyone’s agenda that books continue to relate that Robert Fulton’s first steamship was called the Claremont – it’s inertia and a tendency to repeat what one “knows”, without checking the facts (Fulton’s boat apparently never had an official name, but was variously called the “North River Steam Ship” or the “North River of Clarement”, because it docked at Claremont, N.Y.) See Shenkman’s book, or here – North River Steamboat - Wikipedia

Shenkman wrote another similar book, Legends, Lies, and Myths of World History, but it’s not as good or as detailed as his other two. It feels like a contractual obligation book. Worth reading, though.

His earliest book, One-Night Stands in American History , is kind of a mishmash, although it’s been republished a few times. And he corrects one of the errors in it in his second book.

Shenkman’s Legend served as the basis for a short-lived cable TV series. It was read as an audio book by Gary Owens (Yep, the guy from “Laugh-In”), who sometimes seems to not believe what he’s reading.

This is very true. A good example I’ve come across:

The whole understanding of medieval society has been transformed over the past few decades, but almost nobody other than professors of medieval history is aware of it.

If you want to make a professor of medieval history roll his/her eyes these days, just start talking about ‘the feudal system’. The modern scholarly understanding is that there was no such thing.

But so deeply is the idea of ‘the feudal system’ ingrained in public awareness and the school system, that modern academics despair of ever getting this new understanding across to the public.

Here’s an excellent introductory article about this:
The F-Word - The Problem with Feudalism

And a brief statement of the situation on the Internet Medieval Sourcebook.

No, they don’t. Nero wasn’t even in Rome at the time of the fire. Furthermore the violin or fiddle had not even been invented yet. One of the worst aspects of this particular lie is, despite the persecution of Christians (which as a cult awaiting the end of the world kind of put a target on their backs for being blamed for the fire), the aftermath of the Great Fire was one of the few times Nero basically acted like a responsible emperor organizing grain shipments to feed the population and deploying soldiers to maintain order.

… However, there are a number of Roman accounts which say that Nero sang while Rome burned.

from "Nero Fiddled While Rome Burned"by Mary Francis Gyles

There’s an amusing theory by an 18th century British mathematician that the older a reported story is the less probability it has of being true. For example a story told of something that happened yesterday or last week has a very high truth probability because of first-hand accounts, living memory, etc. The further back you go the lower becomes the probability a story is accurate, more chance that written records have been corrupted, no first-hand witnesses alive.

He worked out a mathematical formula for computing the lowering of probability over time. The further back in time you went the less likely that the story was true. And as the line of probability was constantly tending towards zero after a certain number of years it would reach that point. He calculated from his graph that by 25th or 26th century (I don’t remember exactly) the probability of Julius Caesar having been assassinated by Brutus or by anybody would have a zero probability of being true and thus would be false. In other words it didn’t happen.

Of course it doesn’t hold up but I could never quite figure out why. :slight_smile:

Here’s the fellow referred to in my post above.

It was John Craig in his Theologiae Christianae Principia Mathematica, 1698, and my post in its errors illustrated perfectly what he wrote about. It wasn’t the probability of Caesar’s assassination, it was the story of Jesus, the probability of which would reach zero in the year 3150. Not having read the book I don’t quite know how he squared that with his Christian beliefs but he must have done because 3150 is also the year he calculated for the Second Coming. :confused: