I’ve long been fascinated by the colorful life and career of Tycho Brahe, ever since first encountering his story in a couple of astronomy classes I took at UT, back when I was foolish enough to be a physics major. Whenever I’ve told others about Tycho Brahe’s metal nose, and that he1 died due to drinking heavily at a banquet, without taking time out to relieve his bladder, much wonderment ensued.
When Danish and Czech scientists exhumed the remains of the astronomer Tycho Brahe in Prague this month, they dug up much more than some bones and hairs. They found something that has eluded astronomers for thousands of years: a story with major box-office potential.
It’s “Amadeus” meets “Da Vinci Code” meets “Hamlet,” featuring a deadly struggle for the secret of the universe between Tycho, the swashbuckling Danish nobleman with a gold-and-silver prosthetic nose, and the not-yet-famous Johannes Kepler, his frail, jealous German assistant. The story also includes an international hit man, hired after a Danish prince becomes king and suspects Brahe of sleeping with his mother (and maybe being his father!).
For comic relief, there’s a beer-drinking pet elk wandering around Tycho’s castle, as well as a jester named Jepp, a dwarf who sits under Tycho’s table and is believed to be clairvoyant.
Naturally, the scientists analyzing Brahe’s remains are steering clear of all this gossip, including the claim that Brahe had an affair with the Danish queen that helped inspire “Hamlet.” The archaeologist leading the team cautions that even if they confirm suspicions that Brahe was poisoned by mercury, that wouldn’t necessarily prove he was murdered, much less identify the killer.
(click to continue reading Is Tycho Ready for His Close-Up? – NYTimes.com.)
So, who is working on a film treatment for Tycho Brahe’s Biopic? I’d volunteer, but I have a couple of dozen already started. Why don’t you do it?
John Tierney has a few thoughts on the matter:
The movie would open, of course, with the duel in 1566 that cost the 20-year-old Tycho a good chunk of his nose (a sword fight possibly precipitated by an argument over mathematics, or maybe a mistaken astrological prediction by Tycho). Before long Tycho has a metal nose as well as an island with a castle and an observatory, financed by the king of Denmark and equipped with the most precise instruments yet built for tracking the planets and stars.
Tycho wins renown by identifying new stars, including a supernova, but after his royal patron dies, Tycho finds himself out of favor with the son and successor, Christian IV. Tycho goes to Prague and a new patron, Rudolf II, the Holy Roman Emperor. As he prepares to publish his decades of celestial observations, Tycho hopes to prove that all the planets except Earth revolve around the Sun, which in turn revolves around the Earth.
Tycho suddenly contracted a bladder or kidney ailment after attending a banquet in Prague, and died eleven days later, on 24 October 1601. According to Kepler’s first hand account, Tycho had refused to leave the banquet to relieve himself because it would have been a breach of etiquette. After he had returned home he was no longer able to urinate, except, eventually, in very small quantities and with excruciating pain. The night before he died he suffered from a delirium during which he was frequently heard to exclaim that he hoped he would not seem to have lived in vain. Before dying, he urged Kepler to finish the Rudolphine Tables and expressed the hope that he would do so by adopting Tycho’s own planetary system, rather than Copernicus’s. A contemporary physician attributed his death to a kidney stone, but no kidney stones were found during an autopsy performed after his body was exhumed in 1901, and the modern medical assessment is that it is more likely to have resulted from uremia.
Recent investigations have suggested that Tycho did not die from urinary problems but instead from mercury poisoning—extremely toxic levels of it have been found in hairs from his moustache. The results were, however, not conclusive. Prague City Hall approved a request by Danish scientists to exhume the remains in February 2010, and a team of Czech and Danish scientists from Aarhus University arrived in November 2010, to take bone, hair and clothing samples for analysis.
(click to continue reading Tycho Brahe – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.)
Cecil Adams adds:
It happened in 1566 while the 20-year-old Tycho was studying at the University of Rostock in Germany. Attending a dance at a professor’s house, he got into a quarrel with one Manderup Parsbjerg, like himself a member of the Danish gentry. Over a woman? Nah—tradition has it that the two were fighting over some fine point of mathematics. (My guess: Fermat’s Next-to-Last Theorem, which posits that 2 + 2 = 5 for very large values of 2.) Friends separated them, but they got into it again at a Christmas party a couple weeks later and decided to take it outside in the form of a duel. Unfortunately for Tycho the duel was conducted in pitch darkness with swords. Parsbjerg, a little quicker off the dime, succeeded in slicing off the bridge (apparently) of Tycho’s nose.
Reconstructive surgery then being in a primitive state, Tycho concealed the damage as best he could with an artificial bridge made of precious metals. He carried some nose goop with him always, either to polish the nose or to glue it more firmly in place. But no hooks or string, and probably no whistling either.
(click to continue reading The Straight Dope: Did astronomer Tycho Brahe really have a silver nose?.)Footnotes:
- allegedly – apparently, the newer suggestion is that he was poisoned by a rival [↩]