Tycho Brahe (1546-1601) was one of the greatest astronomers to ever live. He was also probably at least a little bit off his gourd, if history is to judge. The Danish astronomer who brought a new level of exactitude to astronomical observations and applied that specificity to the theories and observations of Copernicus and Ptolemy, guaranteed his place in history as one of the last “naked eye” astronomers, working without telescopes for his observations. Perhaps his genius as a man of science has helped him be remembered for something other than the following quirks:
- Brahe was a student at University of Rostack in Germany when he got into a classic nerd contest: he and fellow student Manderup Parsbjerg could not agree which of them was the better mathematician. Rather than settle the matter by engaging in a math-off competition, they decided they would duel. Brahe lost. He lost more than his honor and the title of “Best Mathematician;” Parsbjerg sliced Brahe’s nose off with a sword.
- With cosmetic surgery options being limited by about 400 years, Brahe elected to have a replacement nose made out of brass. The legend persisted that the nose was made of gold and silver, but when his body was exhumed in 2010 for study, it was discovered that his nose was merely brass.
- Brahe kept his brass nose attached to his face with paste and always had a little extra on hand, just in case his nose suddenly came loose.
- Not content to have anything as mundane as a dog or cat, Brahe had an elk as a pet. (NOTE: Some accounts suggest that it was a moose, but Brahe’s own accounts refer to the animal as an elk).
- The pet elk, whose name appears to be lost to history, suffered an untimely demise when it drank too much beer and fell to its death down a flight of stairs.
- He was once kidnapped — to the dismay, apparently, of no one. Tycho’s parents promised to give him to his extremely wealthy, but childless, uncle Jorgen. After his birth Tycho’s parents changed their minds. When they had another child, Uncle Jorgen decided they wouldn’t miss Tycho, so he nabbed him without the parents’ consent. Turns out that Uncle Jorgen was absolutely right — Tycho’s parents really didn’t care. Uncle Jorgen was quite wealthy and took good care of young Tycho, and Tycho’s younger sibling was still at home to fill any void left by Tycho’s absence. Tycho, himself, was too young to care.
- Tycho worked for the King of Denmark, who allowed him to build an observatory on an island. He built it as a fortress, complete with castle, trap doors, a dungeon and a torture chamber. He ran the place as an absolute monarchy, with his servants filling the various roles of soliders, servants, and research assistants.
- Tycho’s best friend was a dwarf named Jeppe. Tycho believed him to be psychic and had him sit at his feet during meals. Jeppe would chatter away incessantly, stopping only when Tycho would hand down a morsel to the little man.Evidently Jeppe continues to speak to lofty issues of the day. As of January 4, 2017 he has his own Facebook page.
- Tycho was long believed to have been killed as punishment for having an affair with the queen of Denmark. The aforementioned exhumation of his body in 2010 reached a different conclusion: he died from holding in his urine too long. The story is that he dined in the presence of the King and drank too much (apparently he and his pet elk had a lot in common). Since tradition required that guests not rise from the table prior to the King, Tycho sat with crossed legs so long that his bladder burst and he gave himself a bladder infection.
- He summarized his own life as he approached death with the words, “He lived like a sage and died like a fool.”
Check out this fun and informative video by Jack Rackam that sheds even more light on this fascinating character.