Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Napleon Bonaparte

Paris, France. Visited June 2009

I am a Napoleonic neophyte – backwards in all things Bonaparte. Most of my knowledge of Napoleon has come from watching “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.” But about a year and a half ago my wife Jill and I were in Paris for our 25th wedding anniversary. And, there, a block from our hotel was the great military museum of Les Invalides – with the Emperor himself laid out somewhere inside. So I had to pay a visit.

So what can I tell you about the Emperor? I can’t possibly give a full bio of the incredibly eventful life of Napoleon. So here are some word associations.

Corsica – Napoleon Bonaparte was born in Corsica in August 1769, which means he was not French. French Revolution – The fall of the French monarchy ultimately led to the rise of Napoleon. He became a general in the Republican army at 24. Rosetta Stone – During one brief time when Napoleon wasn’t actually picking fights with other countries he led scientists on an expedition which resulted in the discovery of the Rosetta Stone. Napoleon Complex – a dubious psychological theory that suggests men of short stature compensate with cravings for power. Napoleon was 5’6” and crowned himself Emperor of France in 1804. Don’t Invade Russia. Napoleon’s great military failure was an ill advised invasion of Russia which ground to a halt in the Russian winter, leading to a devastating defeat in the Battle of Leipzig in 1813. Hitler repeated the same mistake a century later. Elba – deposed after his defeat, Bonaparte was exiled to Island of Elba. He escaped, gathered a following and reclaimed the throne, but only for 100 days. Waterloo – Napoleon’s final defeat in 1815 at the hands of the Prussians and the English under the Duke of Wellington. St. Helena – Napoleon’s final stop. An island 2 thousand miles from anywhere.

There is no truth to the urban legend that "Napoleon Dynamite" is a modern allegory of the Napoleonic era. 

Les Invalides - Napoleon is buried under the dome
Napoleon survived in exile for six years, succumbing to stomach cancer in May 1821. His last words were “France, army, head of the army, Josephine.” He was buried on St. Helena, but was then moved in 1840 to Paris. His final resting place is under the grand dome of Les Invalides, the historic museum and war veterans’ home in the center of Paris.

If you want to get a quick Napoleon multi-media immersion check out this compilation set to Cold Play’s Viva la Vita, watch this Viva la Vita Napoleon

What do we make of Napoleon? No doubt he is one of the finest military leaders of all time; an emperor of epic scale. But in the end Napoleon Bonaparte lies in an ornate box visited by tourists who know nothing about him but his height and his hand in his vest.
Napoleon's tomb - actually an outer box containing six coffins laid inside each other - nobody seems to know why.  Travel writer Rick Steves describes it as "a giant loaf of homemade bread about the size of a UPS truck" 

Statue at Les Invilades
Perhaps the best way to sum up what we can learn from Napoleon is found in Psalm 33: 13-18
The LORD looks down from heaven; he sees all the children of man; from where he sits enthroned he looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth, he who fashions the hearts of them all and observes all their deeds. The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue. Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your post. I thought your line, "But in the end Napoleon Bonaparte lies in an ornate box visited by tourists who know nothing about him but his height and his hand in his vest" both funny and sad. It is humbling at the very least.