William Tell Shoots an Apple Off His Son's Head – 1307
– Or Does He?
William Tell is a folk hero of Switzerland. He is said to have broken an unreasonable rule of the Austrian man, Albrecht Gessler, who ruled his region with brutality. Gessler's punishment, we are told, was that Tell had to shoot an apple off the top of his son, Walter. If Tell didn't try the task, Gessler assured him, both he and his son would be executed. On the other hand, if Willaim Tell succeeded, they would both freed.
So, on November 18, 1307, William Tell raised his crossbow and took two crossbow bolts from his quiver. He shot one of the bolts toward his son—and neatly split the apple in half. At this point, Tell and his son should have been freed.
However, Gessler was curious about why Tell had taken two bolts from his quiver. He asked, and Tell told him that, if he had failed at the marksman task and killed his son, he would have used the second bolt to kill Gessler.
Angry, Gessler broke his promise and had William Tell tied up and carried to a boat on Lake Lucerne. He intended to have Tell taken across the lake and locked up in his castle. However, a storm broke out, and, in the confusion, Tell managed to escape. He went by land to the castle and laid in wait for Gessler. When the latter arrived, Tell shot and killed him.
William Tell's accuracy as a marksman and bravery in escaping and assassinating a ruthless tyrant led, according to legend, to a rebellion and the eventual formation of the Swiss Confederation.
Legend or History?
Many people tell this story as a true historic event. Specific names are mentioned, and there is a very specific date tied to the main event as well. The story is widely repeated and has inspired at least one play as well as paintings and murals. It sounds legit, right?
However, there is apparently no good evidence that William Tell, his son Walter, or Albrecht Gessler ever lived. Perhaps most convincing that the story is a myth rather than a history is the fact that there is a very similar—but earlier—Danish legend. Only the names have been changed: a Danish man named Palnatoki was forced by King Harald Bluetooth to shoot an apple off his son's head. Palnatoki took several arrows from his quiver and, when asked why, he explained that if he had struck his son with the first arrow, he would have turned his bow on the king.
So...the story of William Tell is probably a fiction.
Here is another version of the legend.
The “William Tell Overture”
A composer named Gioachino Rossini wrote an opera inspired by the legend of William Tell, and the instrumental beginning of this opera is pretty famous. It has been used, over used, and sometimes even abused in popular media—including becoming the theme song of the 50s TV show The Lone Ranger. Have you ever heard it? Take a listen...
If you have the right stuff, you can play a game...
Here is a game of shooting an apple off a young boy's head with a crossbow. It's in German, so find the William Tell-ish picture, and click the link next to it (“Tellspiel starten”). By the way, you need a Shockwave plug-in and possibly an Apple (Mac) computer.
Modern Swiss Heroes
One of the hugest science experiments of all times is happening right now in Switzerland, and the scientists (of many different nationalities) who work there are truly modern heroes. One American scientist, Katherine McAlpine, created a rap video about the Large Hadron Collider at CERN—and even though it is scientifically accurate, the video went viral!
(A viral video is one that is widely shared and spread “by word of mouth” on the internet. The “Large Hadron Rap” has been viewed more than six MILLION times. Have you seen it yet?