Thursday, August 03, 2006

Washington's Teeth Were Not Of Wood

For years I have been correcting people who say that George Washington’s teeth were made of wood. They were not. They were carved in bone by John Greenwood his Philadelphia dentist. Cleaning them during the campaign was difficult so he soaked them in port wine which stopped them from smelling and made them taste better. The port wine stained the natural grain of the elephant dentine making them look wooden. Michelangelo Buonarroti, the extraordinary Italian sculptor and painter, contrary to the widely pervasive myth, did not fresco the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel lying on his back. It is a mistranslation of Paolo Giovio, the Bishop of Nocera’s “Michaelis Angeli Vita” where he used “resupinus” which means “bent backwards”and not as it has been erroneously translated “on his back”. Then of course there is Newton’s Apple. The Universal Laws of Gravitation did not occur to Newton after an apple had fallen on his head as he was gazing up at the moon. But there may be a grain of truth in the notion that seeing an apple fall started him asking why. In “Pricipia”he discusses the effect of objects falling under gravity.

Misconceptions so often prevail,
They rob us of honest detail,
They clutter the mind,
With notions that bind,
Of the cleverest female or male.

We really should root them all out,
Removing the reason to doubt,
That the tales we are told
By the young and the old
Are really worth bandying about.

To tell you the truth I despair
At the apple that fell through the air,
And struck Isaac’s head
Releasing the thread
Of the theory of gravity there.

When Washington’s dentures you view
It’s simply not right to construe
That they’re made out of wood
For wood is no good
That popular myth is not true.

Michelangelo, its widely known,
Lay on his back’neath the dome
Of the Sistine to paint
Well that’s something that ain’t,
So the next time you hear it please moan!

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