Who Killed the Iceman?
July 26, 2001
So the Iceman
Ten years ago the well-preserved frozen body
of a man, estimated at 5,300 years old, was found in the Italian Alps. Now it
appears that the Iceman, as he has been nicknamed, died violently: an arrowhead
has been found lodged under his left shoulder.
By now the trail is cold. The identity of the
culprit may never be known. Authorities insist, however, that Congressman Gary
Condit is not a suspect.
Reconstructing the past is a fascinating and
endless enterprise. We never have as many facts as we would like; what we know
is always a tiny fraction of what remains unknown; and we never know how small
even that fraction really is.
Whole biographies of William Shakespeare, up
to 600 pages or so, are written from a handful of documents totaling maybe 30
pages. The rest is surmise. And there is plenty of reason to doubt whether he even
wrote the works ascribed to him.
The hunger for data about Shakespeare has led
to a long series of forgeries and blunders. The latest excitement concerns a
supposed portrait of Shakespeare, which is certainly bogus.
Its a portrait of a young
man, date and identity unknown, bearing this inscription: Shakspere Born
April 23 1563 Died April 23 1616 Aged 52 This Likeness taken
1603 Age at that time 39 yrs.
One thing is certain: portraits in those days
didnt carry that sort of detailed information. The huge 1623 Folio of
Shakespeares plays didnt even mention the years of his birth and
death, let alone calendar dates. His exact birthday (in 1564, by the way) is still
unknown, after centuries of research.
So the information on the portrait must have
been added long after the painting was made, in an attempt to pass it off as an
authentic likeness of Shakespeare. Whoever committed it was too naive to realize
that his facts themselves would expose the fakery by being too
precise to be true.
False history can have disastrous
consequences. Our own Civil War was the needless result of some bad history on
the part of Abraham Lincoln.
Lincoln denied the right of the Southern states
to secede from the Union. He based this assertion in history: the states, he said,
had never existed independently of the Union, so they couldnt reclaim their
independence in 1861.
But what about the Declaration of
Independence, which said they were free and independent states?
Lincoln answered with a sophistry: that the states were merely claiming
independence of Great Britain, not of each other.
He went on to say that the Union had been
further matured in the Articles
of Confederation. Apparently he never read
those Articles, because they say at the outset that each state retains its
sovereignty, freedom, and independence. How could a state
retain what it had never had in the first place? Obviously the states
already recognized their own independence by emphatically reaffirming it.
So the Articles of Confederation, far from
making an unbreakable Union, was actually a second Declaration of Independence!
Lincoln was also unaware that in the age of the Founding Fathers, a
state was still, by definition, free, sovereign, and independent,
whereas a confederation was also by definition a
voluntary association of sovereign states, any of which might withdraw at will.
Until Lincolns time, the Union was often called a
confederation; Lincoln himself sometimes referred to it as
Nevertheless, 620,000 young men paid with
their lives for Lincolns willful falsification of history. Beyond that, the
Civil War wrecked the original federal system and paved the way for monolithic
Its sometimes said that history is
written by the victors; but such victors history is really
official propaganda rather than a serious and conscientious attempt to reconstruct
Fortunately, the records of American history
are ample enough to allow us to correct Lincolns version of it; but the fact
remains that Lincolns version is the one taught in the government-run
schools, so it will take a long time for the general public to realize the truth
if indeed that is even possible at this point.
Maybe history is its own reward. Those who
cherish and study the past for its own sake will find it full of surprises
some of them heartbreaking.