This Day In History: Napoleon St. Helens Bonaparte

Mt. St. Helens eruption - Napoleon Bonaparte by David

Left: Mt. St. Helens erupts, May 18, 1980. Right: Jacques-Louis David, Napoleon Crossing the Alps, 1801. Oil on canvas, 259 × 221 cm (102 × 87 in). Musée national du château de Malmaison, Rueil-Malmaison, France. Click to enlarge.

This day in history: In the famous painting above by Jacques-Louis David (1748–1825), from 1801, the artist depicts Napoleon Bonaparte leading his reserve army through the Great St. Bernard Pass on their way to Italy to reinforce French troops. In a striking example of precognition, Napoleon points to–and his horse is spooked by–the May 18, 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens, half a world away and exactly 176 years after Napoleon became emperor of France, on May 18, 1804. Asked what so spooked him and his horse, a visibly shaken Napoleon muttered something under his breath that the official French army poet recorded as,

They make saints of all the Helens of Troy
blowing their tops at every man and boy
George Washington may be in a State
where exploding earth will mark his fate

Or so it seems from the remote vantage of 2012, on this day in history, all mashed-up.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>