Excellent article from Anne-Elisabeth Moutet @ the Telegraph:
According to a new study, Hollywood films that take liberties with the past damage people's knowledge of history – even when they once knew the correct facts. But while this is likely true, it's nothing new. Writers from Shakespeare to Walter Scott have fired our imaginations with gross but entertaining fallacies: Cleopatra, Richard the Lionheart and Richard III have never recovered from the extreme makeovers they received according to Elizabethan or Victorian tastes.
Alexandre Dumas rewrote the Counter-Reformation in France; Schiller created folk heroes from scratch (a revisionism abetted and amplified by the Italian librettists employed by Donizetti, Bellini or Verdi).
Dickens's image of the French Revolution was 100 times more powerful than Carlyle's, imprinting the English mind with a deep distrust of liberté, egalité et fraternité. And the best historians were unable to salvage the Emperor Nero's reputation after the hatchet-job in Henryk Sienkiewicz's best-seller, Quo Vadis.
On screen, too, for every painstakingly accurate – yes, superbly entertaining – I, Claudius, there are a dozen Troys, Gladiators and Romes. And yet even if they scramble the viewer's knowledge, these works still send people in droves to classical history courses, and fire up lasting enthusiasms. Old Carlyle can't have recruited a tenth of the amount.