Sunday, March 20, 2005

Da Vinci Code: “Bloomers In Dock” Cavil

Da Vinci Code: “Bloomers In Dock” Cavil
By James McConnachie
February 1, 2005

Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code is a great thriller – eighteen million readers can’t be wrong – but it claims to be much more: it rewrites the stories of Jesus, Leonardo da Vinci and some of the most fascinating buildings in France and the UK. The preface states “All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents and secret rituals in this novel are accurate”, but from the start, Dan Brown makes basic errors of fact, as co-author of the Rough Guide to The Da Vinci Code, James McConnachie, demonstrates.

The new Rough Guide to the Da Vinci Code aims to separate fact from fiction by examining Dan Brown’s arguments and providing the historical, cultural and religious background material to enable readers to make up their own minds. From the true history of the Holy Grail and the Priory of Sion to what art historians really make of Leonardo da Vinci’s symbolism in the Last Supper, the guide covers a complex topic with Rough Guides’ customary mix of impartiality, irreverence and erudition. The selection of Da Vinci Code claims that follow are just a few of the most interesting divergences from the truth.

Da Claim: Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married.
Da Truth: If they were, then the oldest and most authoritative sources – still the Gospels – don’t mention it. Rabbis did usually marry in Jesus’ time but prophets and other religious figures (John the Baptist, for one) often didn’t.
Da Funny Thing Is: One of the “Gnostic Gospels”, discovered in a cave in Egypt in 1945, says that Jesus used to kiss Mary Magdalene on the mouth, though this may just have been a mark of special respect.

Da Claim: Jesus and Mary’s descendants ruled France as the Merovingian dynasty, and are still alive today.
Da Truth: The whole idea that Mary went to France is a eleventh-century monastic fraud. Thankfully, the ghastly Merovingian dynasty has long since died out – a habit of murdering members of their own family can’t have helped.
Da Funny Thing Is: Like most European royal families, the Merovingians made up illustrious ancestors to make themselves look better.

Da Claim: Leonardo’s Last Supper shows a woman “with flowing red hair, delicate folded hands and the hint of a bosom” sitting at Jesus’s right hand.
Da Truth: It’s actually John the Evangelist, who was typically depicted in Leonardo’s time as a young, pretty and beardless man.
Da Funny Thing Is: Leonardo did make a habit of painting strangely androgynous figures. One expert even thinks the Mona Lisa is a Leonardo self-portrait in drag.

Da Claim: The Louvre’s pyramid has 666 panes of glass.
Da Truth: 673: that’s what the Louvre says, and I’ve counted them myself.
Da Funny Thing Is: The office of the pyramid’s architect, I.M. Pei, counted 698. But Pei is not interested in numbers or symbols. Geometrical abstraction and light are his obsessions.

Da Claim: The Holy Grail is not the cup that Jesus used at the Last Supper, but a coded way of talking about the Holy Blood, or family of Jesus.
Da Truth: The idea was made up by a trio of semi-serious authors in the 1980s, based entirely on fake etymology for the medieval French word for the Holy Grail. They creatively turned “Saint Graal” into sang royal, or “royal blood”.
Da Funny Thing Is: The idea of the Holy Grail was itself an invention, by the twelfth-century poet Chrétien de Troyes. And he said it was a serving dish – graal in medieval French – not a cup.

Da Claim: Rosslyn Chapel, near Edinburgh, stands on a “north-south meridian” that also runs through Glastonbury, and its name cames from the mystical “Rose Line”.
Da Truth: Glastonbury’s longitude is 2°65’ W; Rosslyn’s is 3°16’ W. The name comes from the Scots Gaelic ross, meaning promontory, and lynn, meaning pool or stream.
Da Funny Thing Is: Rosslyn Chapel was built in 1446 but it has carvings of cacti and maize, which are indigenous to America. Did the builder’s grandfather, Prince Henry of Orkney, sail to America a hundred years before Columbus?

Da Claim: Mona Lisa is an anagram of Amon L’Isa, from the Egyptian god Amon and the goddess Isis – “whose ancient pictogram was once called L’Isa”. Leonardo meant her to represent the goddess.
Da Truth: “Mona Lisa” is an English nickname for the painting, taken from art historian Giorgio Vasari’s comment that it was a portrait of one Monna (“M’lady”) Lisa, so Leonardo had nothing to do with it. Isis’s pictogram was never called “L’Isa”.
Da Funny Thing Is: The sitter may not actually be “Mona Lisa”. Vasari described Lisa’s portrait as having thick eyebrows, while the Mona Lisa has none, and parting lips (she smiles, but her mouth is closed).

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