Most people in the UK could, with a bit of a push, tell you the story of William Webb Ellis.
Whilst many people through history make contributions that go unremembered some, lucky few, will always be remembered and Webb Ellis is doing pretty well so far.
The story goes that WWE was at Private school (In other words he was posh and rich) in Rugby when, during a game of football (or soccer as it’s known in the USA), he decided to pick up the ball and run with it.
Had this been a public school Webb Ellis would have suffered many years of bullying, beatings and endless detention from his teachers and fellow students. However, as this was Private school the teachers, apparently, patted him on the back and said “Well done Webb Ellis, great new sport you’ve invented there”
The only problem with the story of the invention of Rugby is that, very probably, it’s apocryphal. In fact the game is thought to have been already being played when Webb Ellis was at the school – and the story was only invented to give Rugby a claim to the sport over another rival area.
The funny thing is – how easily a lie becomes the truth (They say that a lie can go around the world in the time it takes the truth to put it shoes on)
Take the humble Kangaroo. There it was, bouncing around the Australian outback like a giant rat in clown shoes for 1000s of years and all of a sudden it’s the centre of one of the biggest urban myths of our times.
Check on any website or server that you care to mention and you will find that when colonialists went to Australia they pointed to the Kangaroo and asked what it was called. The Aborigines, having never bothered to name it, shrugged and said “Kangaroo”, meaning “I don’t know”. Again, the sad truth is that the word Kangaroo simply means Kangaroo and has no translation – yet many of us believe the “I don’t know” story to be true.
It’s easy to see how conspiracy theories start when the truth depends so much on witnesses who all tell their own version of the truth (and who can say which version is the true truth?) – Especially when our natural tendency is to add to the story and mythologize. Take Lady Godiva.
Upshot of the story – Godiva lived in Medieval Coventry and was married to the Leofric, the Earl of Mercia (a very powerful man). She objected to her husband’s unfair taxes and rode butt-naked through the streets of the city. All the locals, who had been pre-warned, turned their faces away in deference apart from Peeping Tom – who looked, went blind and forever lent his name to dirty old men with binoculars.
However Peeping Tom, much like Lady Marian in the Robin Hood stories, is a much later addition to the myth and, therefore, probably little more than a story. There are those who even doubt the authenticity of the original naked protest – but that’s another story.
The favourite myths of our times are, of course, that aliens are abducting people and that our governments are covering things up which – when you look at how effectively Bill Clinton covered up the whole Monica Lewinski thing – does look a little far fetched.
Whether these abductions are real or not has ceased to be important: like Webb Ellis, Godiva, Kangaroos and The Osmonds (come on, does anyone believe they were real? Surely no family can have that many teeth? (JOKE)) before them they have entered into popular culture and myth and no amount of evidence will ever persuade people that events were otherwise.
They say that the winners write history to suit themselves – but aren’t we all the tiniest bit guilty of doing the same?