10 Things You Might Not Know About Nelson Mandela

Pierre Verdy/AFP/Getty Images
Pierre Verdy/AFP/Getty Images

Nelson Mandela, who passed away in 2013, would have been almost 100 years old today. Most of us are familiar with his imprisonment and anti-Apartheid work, but here are a few things you might not know about this inspiring leader.

1. MANDELA’S PRISON NUMBER WAS 46664.

The number indicates that he was the 466th prisoner of 1964. He embraced the number, making it the name of his HIV/AIDS awareness campaign and the name of a series of charity concerts.

2. HE RAN AWAY FROM HOME.

Mandela and his cousin Justice ran away from home in 1941 to avoid arranged marriages.

3. HE OVERCAME MANY PERSONAL TRAGEDIES.

He finally did get to marry for love in 1944, to Evelyn Mase, but their relationship was soon marred by tragedy. Their second child, Makaziwe, died at just nine months old. They had two other children: Madiba Thembekile (Thembi), who died in a car crash while Mandela was in prison in 1969, and Makgatho Lewanika, who died of AIDS in 2005. Mandela had two other children with his second wife Winnie, 20 grandchildren, and numerous great-grandchildren.

4. HE HAD HIS OWN HOLIDAY.

In November 2009, the United Nations General Assembly declared July 18, his birthday, "Mandela Day." It's a national celebration and recognition of Mandela's contributions to freedom.

5. HIS ELECTION AS SOUTH AFRICA’S PRESIDENT BROKE NEW GROUND.

Mandela's inauguration as president in 1994 was historic for at least four reasons (and probably many more). He was South Africa’s first democratically elected president. He was also the country’s first black president, and the oldest person elected to the office. His inauguration united the largest number of heads of state since U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s funeral in 1963.

6. HIS FIRST NAME WASN’T ACTUALLY NELSON.

Mandela's given name was Rolihlahla, which his schoolteachers were unable to pronounce. One of them started calling him Nelson after British admiral Horatio Nelson, and the name obviously stuck. Rolihlahla, by the way, means "pulling the branch of a tree."

7. HIS FELLOW CITIZENS GAVE HIM AN AFFECTIONATE NICKNAME.

South Africans commonly called Mandela "mkhulu" (grandfather), or Madiba, the Mandela family name for a respected elder.

8. HE HAS BEEN MISQUOTED.

One of Mandela's most famous quotations isn't really his. You may have heard it—it's often cited as coming from his 1994 inaugural speech:

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure ... As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

This is actually a quote by author and spiritual activist Marianne Williamson in her book A Return to Love. Not only did Mandela not coin the phrase himself, he probably never even said it. "As far as I know, he has never used the quote in any of his speeches,” said Razia Saleh, an archivist at the Nelson Mandela Foundation, "and we have catalogued about 1000 thus far."

9. HIS WORK HAS BEEN RECOGNIZED FAR AND WIDE.

During his lifetime, Mandela received more than 695 awards, including the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize.

10. HIS NAME LIVES ON.

People loved to honor Mandela’s work for freedom and human rights. As if those 695 awards weren’t enough, more than 25 schools, universities, and educational institutions have been named after him. At least 19 scholarships and foundations bear the name Nelson Mandela, and more than 95 sculptures, statues, or pieces of art have been made of him or dedicated to him.

This article originally appeared in 2010.

Why Are There No Snakes in Ireland?

iStock
iStock

Legend tells of St. Patrick using the power of his faith to drive all of Ireland’s snakes into the sea. It’s an impressive image, but there’s no way it could have happened.

There never were any snakes in Ireland, partly for the same reason that there are no snakes in Hawaii, Iceland, New Zealand, Greenland, or Antarctica: the Emerald Isle is, well, an island.

Eightofnine via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Once upon a time, Ireland was connected to a larger landmass. But that time was an ice age that kept the land far too chilly for cold-blooded reptiles. As the ice age ended around 10,000 years ago, glaciers melted, pouring even more cold water into the now-impassable expanse between Ireland and its neighbors.

Other animals, like wild boars, lynx, and brown bears, managed to make it across—as did a single reptile: the common lizard. Snakes, however, missed their chance.

The country’s serpent-free reputation has, somewhat perversely, turned snake ownership into a status symbol. There have been numerous reports of large pet snakes escaping or being released. As of yet, no species has managed to take hold in the wild—a small miracle in itself.

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Virginia Woolf Calls D.H. Lawrence and James Joyce 'Overrated' in Newly Unearthed 1923 Survey

James Joyce
James Joyce
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Don’t feel too bad if you’ve ever struggled to get through James Joyce’s Ulysses or one of D.H. Lawrence’s long-winded books. Virginia Woolf and several other well-respected writers of the 20th century had a few choice words for Joyce and Lawrence, labeling them the "most overrated" English writers in a recently rediscovered 1923 survey.

As Smithsonian reports, these thoughts were recorded in a journal that was passed around British literary circles that included Woolf and nine other writers in the early 20th century. Within the “literary burn book,” as Vox dubbed it, writers recorded their answers to a 39-question survey about their thoughts on popular writers of the time, both living and dead. For example, they were asked to choose the greatest literary genius of all time, as well as the author most likely to be read in 25 years’ time. (In response to the latter question, author and poet Hilaire Belloc simply answered, “Me.”)

Titled Really and Truly: A Book of Literary Confessions, the book eventually ended up in novelist Margaret Kennedy’s possession. It was recently rediscovered by her grandson, William Mackesy, who, along with his cousin, is one of the literary executors of Kennedy's estate.

“Within were pages of printed questions with 10 sets of handwritten answers dated between 1923 and 1927,” Mackesy explained in The Independent. “Then the names came into focus and our eyes popped. Here were Rose Macaulay, Rebecca West, Hilaire Belloc, Stella Benson—and Virginia Woolf. And our granny.” It's unclear who originally wrote the survey.

In addition to taking jabs at Lawrence and Joyce, one unnamed respondent called T.S. Eliot the worst living English poet as well as the worst living literary critic. In response to a prompt to name the dead author whose character they most disliked, the participants name-dropped Samuel Johnson, Oscar Wilde, George Meredith, Marcel Proust, and Lord Byron. Woolf, for her part, answered, “I like all dead men of letters.” (If the respondents had known about the misdeeds of Charles Dickens, he may have ended up on the list, as well.)

“It is interesting how perceptions change, especially how little mention there is of now-most-celebrated writers from that era,” Mackesy notes. This little activity wasn’t entirely petty, though. Shakespeare, unsurprisingly, won the most votes for greatest literary genius. Homer, author of The Iliad and The Odyssey, received one vote.

[h/t Smithsonian]

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