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Meteors that Enlighten the Earth. Napoleon and the Cult of Great Men

Matthew D. Zarzeczny

Matthew D. Zarzeczny, Meteors that Enlighten the Earth : Napoleon and the Cult of Great Men, Jan 2013, Cambridge scholars, Isbn13 : 978-1-4438-4207-5.


Napoleon promoted and honored great men throughout his reign. In addition to comparing himself to various great men, he famously established a Legion of Honor on 19 May 1802 to honor both civilians and soldiers, including non-ethnically French men. Napoleon not only created an Irish Legion in 1803 and later awarded William Lawless and John Tennent the Legion of Honour ; he also gave them an Eagle with the inscription “L’Indépendence d’Irlande.” He awarded twenty-six of his generals the marshal’s baton from 1804 to 1815, and in 1806, he further memorialized his soldiers by deciding to erect a Temple to the Glory of the Great Army, modeled on Ancient designs. From 1806 to 1815, Napoleon had more men interred in the Panthéon in Paris than any other French leader before or after him. In works of art depicting himself, Napoleon had his artists allude to Caesar, Charlemagne, and even Moses. Although the Romans had their legions, Pantheon, and temples in Ancient times and the French monarchy had their marshals since at least 1190, Napoleon blended both Roman and French traditions to compare himself to great men who lived in ancient and medieval times and to recognize the achievements of those who lived alongside him in the nineteenth century.

Analyzing Napoleon’s ever-changing personal cult of “great men,” and his recognition of contemporary “great men” who contributed to European or even human civilization and not just French civilization, is original. While work does exist on the French cults of Greco-Roman antiquity and of “great men” prior to 1800, Napoleon appears only fleetingly in other discussions of the cult of great men. None of the bourgeoning historiography adequately takes Napoleon’s place in the story of this cult into perspective. This book serves as a further exploration of the cult of great men, including its place in Napoleonic and European history and the alleged efforts of its members to enlighten the earth.

Dr Matthew D. Zarzeczny, FINS, graduated summa cum laude with a BA in French and History from Baldwin-Wallace College (BW) in 2002. At BW, Matthew minored in political science and served as secretary and then president of the French Club. He went on to earn an MA in History at Kent State University in 2004 and a PhD in History from the Ohio State University in 2009. A fellow of the International Napoleonic Society and a member of various other historical organizations, Matthew has won contests, appeared on the radio, presented at conferences, and published in newspapers and other forms of print articles, including letters, poems, and short stories. He currently teaches adjunct courses for Ashland University, Baldwin-Wallace College, John Carroll University, Kent State University at Stark, and MedCentral College of Nursing.

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