History of the World: Roaming Body Parts

As we approach the release date of The Mental Floss History of the World—our first hardcover book—we'll be highlighting some of our favorite stories here on the blog. Today's post is not for the squeamish. If you prefer body parts to stay in the body proper, well, you might want to skip this one.

Louis XVII's heart

heartPoor Louis-Charles led a very short, tragic life. His parents were Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, after all, which would be enough tragedy for anyone. He was imprisoned just like his parents were - in a cold, dark cell with no toilet or bath. He escaped the immediate fate of his parents, but the revolutionaries were concerned that he would try to seize power or that the French aristocrats would rally on his behalf. So, they forced him into the shoe-making trade and forced him to curse the names of his parents. They didn't outright kill him, but they refused to allow him medical treatment. He died of tuberculosis, and rumor has it that his poor body was riddled with sores, tumors and scabies. The body was unceremoniously dumped in a mass grave, but not before the doctor who performed the autopsy managed to cut out Louis-Charles' heart. He hid it in a handkerchief and preserved it. The doctor eventually tried to return it to the royal family, but they didn't believe it was his and refused to take it. One of the doctor's students later stole the heart, and when he died, his widow gave it to the archbishop of Paris. Apparently it was still at risk in Paris, so it was taken to Spain. It's now back in France, though, at the Saint Denis Basilica near Paris.

Napoleon's penis

Urban legend? Nope, it's probably true. According to Napoleon's servant Ali, he and a priest named Vignali removed certain bits and pieces of the Little Corporal during his 1821 autopsy. Vignali's descendants sold all of the "souvenirs" he look from Napoleon, including his little corporal which was described as "one inch long and resembling a grape". Fittingly, a urologist bought it in 1977, for the bargain-basement price of $3,000. You would think that a urologist might want to put it on display, but Dr. Lattimer's intent was really quite the opposite: he felt like Napoleon's penis was being ridiculed and he wanted to put a stop to it. Once the penis came into his possession, he refused to let anyone see it.

Picture 4.pngIt's the greatest deal in the history of history books! Our first hardback, The Mental Floss History of the World: An Irreverent Romp Through History's Best Bits, hits stores later this month, and we're so excited that we've teamed up with the fine folks at to give you a special deal. Pre-order the book before October 27th and we'll throw in 6 FREE MONTHS of mental_floss magazine! Just click here to get the deal now.

For more about the book, check out our FAQ.

Bleat Along to Classic Holiday Tunes With This Goat Christmas Album

Feeling a little Grinchy this month? The Sweden branch of ActionAid, an international charity dedicated to fighting global poverty, wants to goat—errr ... goad—you into the Christmas spirit with their animal-focused holiday album: All I Want for Christmas is a Goat.

Fittingly, it features the shriek-filled vocal stylings of a group of festive farm animals bleating out classics like “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The recording may sound like a silly novelty release, but there's a serious cause behind it: It’s intended to remind listeners how the animals benefit impoverished communities. Goats can live in arid nations that are too dry for farming, and they provide their owners with milk and wool. In fact, the only thing they can't seem to do is, well, sing. 

You can purchase All I Want for Christmas is a Goat on iTunes and Spotify, or listen to a few songs from its eight-track selection below.

What Are the 12 Days of Christmas?

Everyone knows to expect a partridge in a pear tree from your true love on the first day of Christmas ... But when is the first day of Christmas?

You'd think that the 12 days of Christmas would lead up to the big day—that's how countdowns work, as any year-end list would illustrate—but in Western Christianity, "Christmas" actually begins on December 25th and ends on January 5th. According to liturgy, the 12 days signify the time in between the birth of Christ and the night before Epiphany, which is the day the Magi visited bearing gifts. This is also called "Twelfth Night." (Epiphany is marked in most Western Christian traditions as happening on January 6th, and in some countries, the 12 days begin on December 26th.)

As for the ubiquitous song, it is said to be French in origin and was first printed in England in 1780. Rumors spread that it was a coded guide for Catholics who had to study their faith in secret in 16th-century England when Catholicism was against the law. According to the Christian Resource Institute, the legend is that "The 'true love' mentioned in the song is not an earthly suitor, but refers to God Himself. The 'me' who receives the presents refers to every baptized person who is part of the Christian Faith. Each of the 'days' represents some aspect of the Christian Faith that was important for children to learn."

In debunking that story, Snopes excerpted a 1998 email that lists what each object in the song supposedly symbolizes:

2 Turtle Doves = the Old and New Testaments
3 French Hens = Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues
4 Calling Birds = the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists
5 Golden Rings = the first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch", which gives the history of man's fall from grace.
6 Geese A-laying = the six days of creation
7 Swans A-swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments
8 Maids A-milking = the eight beatitudes
9 Ladies Dancing = the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
10 Lords A-leaping = the ten commandments
11 Pipers Piping = the eleven faithful apostles
12 Drummers Drumming = the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed

There is pretty much no historical evidence pointing to the song's secret history, although the arguments for the legend are compelling. In all likelihood, the song's "code" was invented retroactively.

Hidden meaning or not, one thing is definitely certain: You have "The Twelve Days of Christmas" stuck in your head right now.


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