6 Things Named After Napoleon

filed under:
Image credit: 

No matter what you think of him, Napoleon certainly did a number on this world. And whether it's as the savior of revolutionary France or the scourge of Western civilization, his name keeps on keeping on. Of course, not everything "Napoléon" adds luster to his legacy. Here are a few examples to prove it.

1. His Son: Napoleon II

Sadly, Napoléon François Joseph Charles Bonaparte (aka Napoléon II, or, as we like to call him, "the Deuce"), never had a chance to fill his father's shoes. Despite being the son of Emperor Napoléon I, and garnering the title King of Rome at birth in 1811, poor Napoléon II never ruled anything. By the time of his fourth birthday, the First French Empire had already collapsed. Then, after Napoléon I's brief return to power and his final military defeat at Waterloo in 1815, the emperor abdicated in favor of his son. This proved a futile gesture, however. The brilliantly resourceful statesman Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand, a high official in Napoléon's government, had arranged for Louis XVIII to take over a new royalist government. Napoléon's escape from exile on the island of Elba and his short-lived return as emperor didn't convince the French senate to anoint young Napoléon II instead of Louis XVIII.

That wasn't the worst of it for junior, however. Under formal terms of the treaty ending the Napoleonic Wars, young Napoléon also was barred from ever ruling his mother's Italian lands. As duke of Reichstadt (a title based on his mother's Hapsburg lineage), Napoléon the younger spent his short life essentially under guard in Austria, where he died of tuberculosis in 1832. He wasn't confined to Austria forever, though. In 1940, a fellow with an even more nefarious name, Adolf Hitler, disinterred Napoléon's body and sent it packing to Paris, where it could be entombed beside his father's.

2. His Quirk: The Napoleon Complex

A Napoleon complex is nothing more than an inferiority complex that vertically challenged individuals self-treat with an unhealthy dose of belligerence, a healthy pursuit of achievement, or both. Think of the tough little brawler, eager to take on all challengers—especially big ones. Think of singer-songwriter Paul Simon (5-foot-3) and actors Judy Garland (4-foot-11), Danny DeVito (5-feet), Michael J. Fox (5-foot-4), and David Spade (5-foot-7). Then there are basketball's Earl Boykins (5-foot-5) and football's Wayne Chrebet and Doug Flutie (both 5-foot-10). Overachievers all. Think of Britain's prime minister Winston Churchill, for that matter, or Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. At 5-feet, 6-inches each (the same, by modern measure, as Napoléon I), either of the World War II"“era leaders could have had the complex named after him if Napoléon had not gotten there first.

The idea of a psychological "complex," by the way, wasn't around in Napoléon's time. It arose in 1899, with the publication of Sigmund Freud's Interpretation of Dreams. In that groundbreaking book, Vienna's pioneer of psychoanalysis introduced the term "Oedipus complex," referring to a child's repressed sexual desire for the parent of the opposite gender. Freud can't claim "Napoléon complex," however. It seems to have arisen in the early 1900s as a casual term, more a backhanded insult than a psychological diagnosis.

3. A Pig Named Napoleon

animal-farm.jpgGeorge Orwell's 1945 novel Animal Farm tells of a revolt strikingly close to the one that transformed the Russian Empire into the Soviet Union. That is, except for one minor detail: Orwell's rebels and revolutionaries are a bunch of animals (in the farm sense of the word). Feeling a little oppressed, Mr. Jones's barnyard creatures turn against their owner, drive him off the land, and begin running things themselves under an "all animals are equal" banner.

However, idealism crumbles pretty quickly as an unscrupulous pig named (you guessed it!) Napoleon wrests control, turns on his comrades, and becomes more tyrannical than old Jones ever was. In fact, the sacred "all animals are equal" mantra quickly finds itself warped into something significantly less utopian: "all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." In an allegorical sense, Napoleon stands for the USSR's Stalin. But the evil porker's name, after the corporal who hijacked the French Revolution, certainly fits.

4. Napoleon Solo (1964"“1968 Vintage)

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. premiered in 1964 as TV's answer to the James Bond movies, and each episode was packed with espionage, intrigue, sophistication, and action. With Robert Vaughn in the role of Napoleon Solo, a dashing secret agent and ladies' man, the show's popularity grew through the first two seasons. In season three, however, the producers fell under the spell of the competing TV series Batman, starring Adam West. Impressed by the ratings Batman was drawing with its tongue-in-cheek comedy approach to action-adventure, they began taking The Man from U.N.C.L.E. in distinctly comic book directions. The lowest comic denominator didn't work out for the show's ratings, though, and Solo quickly degenerated from sophisticated to camp. In the worst episode, Vaughn danced with a man in a gorilla suit.

5. An Anthropologist Named Napoleon

Until 2000, Napoleon Chagnon was known as author of the best-selling anthropology text of all time: Yanomamö: The Fierce People. But since then, his research has been mired in controversy. The anthropologist, along with geneticist James Neel, inoculated many of the Venezuelan tribe's members. Unfortunately, it was right about this time that the Yanomami experienced their first-ever measles epidemic, leading to thousands of deaths in the region and reducing the tribe to half its original size.

Coincidence? Perhaps. Allegations against Chagnon have divided the anthropological community. Many defend the expedition, claiming it would be impossible for a vaccine to spark such an outbreak. Critics, however, point to the expedition's financier, the Atomic Energy Commission, as proof that the accused were using the Yanomami as human test subjects. Either way, the scandal raised serious questions about the practices of studying indigenous peoples.

6. The Napoléon Complex Martini

chez-nap.jpgWhat's terrible about one part Napoléon Mandarin Liqueur to three parts vodka with an orange peel twist? Nothing, we guess, unless you're a martini purist. No offense to Chez Napoléon on West 50th Street in Manhattan, where the Napoléon Complex is a bartender's specialty, but we'll take ours classic: fine, juniper-scented gin (not vodka); the merest suggestion of dry vermouth (wave the vermouth bottle in the general vicinity of the shaker); and a fat, green, pimento-stuffed olive on a toothpick.

This article was excerpted from Forbidden Knowledge: A Wickedly Smart Guide to History's Naughtiest Bits. You can pick up a copy in the mental_floss store.

November 10, 2008 - 5:39pm
submit to reddit