Snow White’s Slaves, Scotland’s Pharaoh, and Urban Myths

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March 13, 2016 by libroshombre

LIBRARIAN COLUMN

Contact Greg Hill, 479-4344                                                              March 3, 2016

“Consider your origins,” the poet Dante suggested, adding “You were not made to live as brutes, but to follow virtue and knowledge.” That’s all the explanation needed for having vibrant, up-to-date public libraries around. From settling whimsical bar bets by calling the reference desk librarians, to fulfilling the role of People’s University, by providing the space and resources for deep, committed study, the American public library has few equals. So that’s where I looked to find out if the Seven Dwarves of Snow White fame were actually child slaves, and if the mother of Scotland was also Pharaoh’s daughter.

A German history teacher named Eckhard Sander theorized about the historical basis of Grimm’s Snow White story. In his 1994 book, “Snow White: Is It a Fairy Tale?” Sander proposed that Margarete von Waldeck, born in 1533 to the German Count Philip IV, was the original Snow White, based on some similarities between the fairy tale and Margarete’s tragic life. Her mother died when she was four, and her step-mother, Katharina von Hatzfeld, despised her. The evil step-mother forced Margarete to move from her German homeland to Brussels when she was 16, but there she and the future Spanish King Phillip II met and fell in love. This was inconvenient in an age when noble marriages were driven by serious political considerations, rather than affection. Poor Margaret died mysteriously soon thereafter, supposedly from poison administered by Spanish agents.

The dwarves enter the picture via Margarete’s dad, whose copper mines used child slaves to mine in the tighter underground confines. Most preteen miners died young, and survivors were usually prematurely gray, severely deformed and stunted physically.

The Egypt-Scotland connection was recorded by Scottish historian Walter Bower in the mid-1400s. Bower is described in Wikipedia as “garrulous, irrelevant, and inaccurate.” Nonetheless, the “Scotichronicon,” his major work, remains “probably the most important medieval account of early Scottish history,” according to the National Library of Scotland. The online Oxford Reference Database (available to everyone with a local public library card), states that, according to legend, the Pharaoh Nectanebus’s daughter, named Scota, married a Scythian nobleman who was a visiting academic. The succeeding pharaoh kicked the couple out of Egypt and they, or their progeny, fled to Spain, then Ireland, and finally settled in Scotland.

Far-fetched, perhaps, but like modern urban legends there could by some evolutionary reasons why tall tales persist so tenaciously. An Atlantic Monthly article, (found on the library’s “Masterfile Premier” database) titled “Tall Tales: The Evolutionary Value of Urban Legends,” cited studies that found that “humans tend to remember certain kinds of information better than others, such as knowledge that might keep us alive or help us find a mate … When researchers analyzed 220 urban legends, they found that the stories were much more likely to mention hazards than benefits.” In addition, “sharing information about threats can make you seem more reliable,” especially if your legend contains some familiar and plausible elements, as well as “two or three ‘counterintuitive’ elements that make them memorable.”

For example, Snopes.com, the urban legend investigative website, examined the 2015 Internet rumor that “the artificial sweetener aspartame is responsible for an epidemic of cancer, brain tumors, and multiple sclerosis.” Snopes.com published a response from the FDA Center for Drug Evaluation and Research that “thoroughly refuted” all the aspartame-related rumors. In response to an Internet rumor that the Coca-Cola company allowed “Ku Klux Klan” to be printed on bottles of their product under their “personalized bottle” program, Snopes.com showed how requests for “KKK” on a label were automatically rejected by Coke’s “personalized bottle” online form.

Anything the “World Daily News” publishes is suspect. A week ago they distributed an article claiming DNA reports proved a retired postman had fathered over 1,300 children. “The World Daily News is a fake news web site that does not publish factual stories,” Snopes.com stated, adding that the article’s photo of the purported postman was of a 97-year-old WWII veteran, and the alleged author’s photo was actually of David Stockman, Ronald Reagan’s former budget director.

“Knowledge is power,” as Francis Bacon and countless others have noted. But not all knowledge is reliable; it’s worth remembering an “old” computer expression from the 1960s: “Garbage in, garbage out.”

 

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