William Tell – or, in the languages of his native Switzerland: Wilhelm Tell (German); Guillaume Tell (French); Guglielmo Tell (Italian); and Guglielm Tell (Romansh) – is a legendary figure, as much a symbol of Swiss resistance to tyrannical rulers as Robin Hood is a British one. Also, and I don’t know if you’ve heard this, both of them were also seriously badass archers.
Although the reasons why differ, the basics of the story remain the same: Tell shot an arrow right through an apple balanced on his own son’s head. In some versions, he was forced to do this, in others, he wagers his ability to make the shot. In either case, the tyrant on the other side of the story is a Vogt named Albrecht Gessler, who is an enormous dick even by folk tale standards. Which is why the second part of the story about Tell’s archery prowess features him killing the Vogt (again, accounts differ: with an arrow, or with a crossbow bolt), and leading a popular rebellion in Switzerland.
The rebellion, by the way, appears to have been real. The apple-shooting, less so – it’s a fairly common motif in European folk tales. And Tell himself? Did he exist or not? In the end, it doesn’t really matter. He’s more important as a symbol than as a man.
By Hans Rudolf Manuel Deutsch (1525–1571) – Sebastian Münster, Cosmographia, Public Domain, Link
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