The 16th century Danish astronomer was best friends with a psychic dwarf and a drunken moose. He may’ve had sex with the queen and inspired Hamlet. He’s quite a character.
Ya know, I was just thinking, “Wouldn’t it be fun to write an 11 Points that no one read?” And that brings us to my Tycho Brahe list.
Tycho Brahe was a legendary 16th century Danish astronomer, most famously responsible for refuting and advancing the works of Ptolemy and Copernicus. He observed a supernova, which led to the conclusion that the universe was changing. He did groundbreaking research into comets. He was the last great astronomer to do it all without a telescope. He trained Johannes Kepler and left him his data, which eventually led to Kepler’s three laws of planetary motion.
But, above all else, Tycho Brahe was a stone cold lunatic.
In keeping with my tradition of celebrating similar stone cold lunatics (see: 11 Craziest Kim Jong-Il Moments and 11 Most Ridiculous DMX Moments), today we’re talking about Tycho Brahe — one of the finest lunatics in scientific history. (No offense, Robert Oppenheimer, Dr. Frankenstein, or Marie “Freak In the Mornin’, Freak In the Evenin'” Curie.)
Here are 11 crazy moments in Tycho Brahe’s crazy life.
1 | He was kidnapped and everyone was happy about it
Apparently, Tycho’s parents promised to give him to his extremely wealthy, but childless, uncle Jorgen. After Tycho was born, his father reneged. Two years later, they had another kid, Jorgen used that opportunity to kidnap Tycho… and everyone ended up fine with the arrangement. Tycho’s parents still had a kid, Jorgen now had someone to dump money into, Tycho was too young to notice — win, win win. If only all kidnappings could go so smoothly, I wouldn’t have spent a good portion of my childhood freaking out every time I saw a stranger or a sensationalized kidnapping story on the local news.
2 | He lost his nose in a duel over math
It’s really a shame we don’t solve problems with duels anymore; what a definitive way to resolve conflicts. Clearly, in 16th century Europe, you could duel over anything. When Tycho was 20, he was studying at the University of Rostock in Germany, and got into a fight with another Danish mathematician named Manderup Parsbjerg. Their fight was over… who was better at math.
A few weeks later, at a Christmas party, they decided to have a duel to settle it. As opposed to a math-off, which probably would’ve been a more apropos battle. The limit does not exist… THE LIMIT DOES NOT EXIST!
Tycho clearly lost, since Manderup sliced off the tip of his nose with a sword.
3 | His replacement nose was made of precious metals and held on with paste
In the pre-cosmetic surgery era, Tycho’s post-nose-slicing options were limited. So he got a nose made out of precious metals. It was believed to be a mix of gold and silver for years, until Tycho’s body was exhumed a few years back and tests proved it was made out of brass. (Much less precious. Even though he was super wealthy at the time, he still found ways to keep it real. A true Tycho From the Block situation.)
He kept his nose attached with paste, and carried around extra paste with him at all times when it needed to be reattached.
4 | He lived in a fortress on an island, which he ran like a king
Tycho started working for the King of Denmark, who let him build an observatory… slash compound. In pre-Howard Hughes style, Tycho built his observatory on a secluded, secure island. He called it the Castle of Urania and, beyond the traditional astronomer tools, it also had secret passages, housing for an army of servants and assistants and a dungeon with a fully functional torture chamber. It’s not clear what he used that for. He also had a printing press, so he could distribute his writings without any interference. So, yes, he was shut-in with a torture dungeon and a blog.
The sancutary of the fortress indulged his lunatic side even more, and he started running it like an autonomous country where he was the king.
5 | His best friend and court jester was a dwarf who could see the future
Of all the crazy Tycho Brahe stories, his dwarf best friend is… well, probably top three.
After Tycho’s uncle died, Tycho inherited about one percent of all the wealth in Denmark. That kind of wealth (plus his castle) allowed his eccentric side free reign. So he hired a dwarf named Jeppe to be his court jester.
They became best friends, especially once Tycho was convinced Jeppe had psychic abilities and could see the future. Unfortunately, their friendship wasn’t based on being equals, and Tycho made Jeppe live underneath the dining room table.
6 | He practiced alchemy trying to make a magic cure-all medicine
Some currently debunked forms of pseudo-science were still hot in the 16th century. Despite Tycho’s genius-level scientific acumen, he bought into astrology and alchemy. He performed astrological duties for the Danish monarchy (although apparently he wasn’t great at it and didn’t fully believe it worked), and practiced alchemy on his own.
He had two goals as an alchemist. One was the traditional goal of turning regular crap into gold and silver. The second was less traditional — he wanted to figure out a substance that would serve as a medicine that cured every single illness. I’m thinking he never quite figured out either one — although it would be a real smack in the face to the subsequent four centuries of scientists if, one day, we find out he did.
7 | His pet was a drunk moose
Much like Kim Jong-Il and his love for giant rabbits, Tycho Brahe saw a moose and instantly decided he had to have one. Since he had unlimited money, he got an 800-pound pet moose. The moose really liked him back and would walk alongside him like a dog. It lived in the castle and joined in on Tycho’s parties… which meant the moose would regularly get drunk. That seems safe and humane.
8 | His drunk pet moose died when it drunkenly fell down the stairs
Unfortunately the moose’s drinking was ultimately its undoing. At one party it got particularly drunk — after the moose succumbed to peer pressure from some other Danish nobleman — and fell down a flight of stairs in the castle. That was the untimely end of the moose. Speaking of untimely ends…
9 | He may’ve been killed for having an affair with the queen
Tycho Brahe died unexpectedly and suddenly at age 54. Rumors have always swirled about his death, but here’s the best one: King Christian IV of Denmark had him offed for sleeping with his queen. Various sources said Christian’s brother, Hans, poisoned Brahe at a dinner in Prague by slipping him mercury. Brahe died less than two weeks after that dinner.
Tycho was the personal astrologer and astronomer for King Christian’s father, King Frederik II. Tycho and Frederik got along great. Tycho and Christian did not. Did that lead to him seducing the queen? It’s not likely… but with Tycho Brahe, it seems foolish to rule anything out. He’s at a Chuck Norris/Bill Brasky level.
10 | He may have been Shakespeare’s inspiration for Hamlet
The rumors of Tycho and the queen were strong enough that they made their way to William Shakespeare (or, at least, the room full of writers and/or monkeys who wrote under the name Shakespeare). Tycho died in 1601; Hamlet was first published in either 1603. Could Tycho’s story of Danish royal infidelity, conspiracy for murder and the descent into stone cold lunacy have inspired Hamlet? Generations of Shakespearean scholars say no. A handful of over-enthused amateur biographers on the Internet say yes.
11 | History now believes he died from holding in his urine too long
As much as the “Tycho Brahe was having sex with the queen so he was poisoned” theory is an oddly fitting, somewhat romanticized cause of death, the 2010 exhumation found Tycho died in a much more banal way. He had to pee.
At the dinner in Prague, Tycho drank too much (like astronomer, like pet moose) and had to relieve himself. But the tradition stated guests couldn’t get up before the King. (In this case, King Rudolf II of Hungary.) So Tycho held it and held it and held it so long he gave himself a bladder infection. He died 11 days later. As he was dying, he wrote his own epitaph and summed up his life by saying, “He lived like a sage and died like a fool.”