The Who2 Blog

Tycho Brahe: Not Murdered, Nose Still Missing

Experts who dug him up in 2010 now say 16th century astronomer Tycho Brahe was NOT poisoned.

Tycho Brahe is a granddaddy of the field of astronomy. He compiled data about stars and celestial objects before there were even telescopes. He was mentor to Johannes Kepler, another granddaddy of astronomy.

And Tycho Brahe famously lost his nose in a duel in 1566. He also famously died rather suddenly, taking ill in late October of 1601 and dying 11 days later, when he was only 54 years old.

A long-held story is that Brahe had attended a banquet, and rather than excuse himself to use the restroom, he “held it too long” (medical term) and, for magical reasons known only to 16th century physiologists, that adherence to etiquette killed his bladder and then killed him.

They dug him up in 1901 and took samples of his corpse. Why? For Danish astronomers, it’s an old tradition: exhumations every 300 years, it is written.

Fast forward to 1996, and scientists finally get around to examining Tycho Brahe’s remains, which were apparently stuffed in the warehouse just behind the Ark of the Covenant. They found mercury in his beard, and so the mystery of his death deepened. Was he poisoned? Did Johannes Kepler kill him? Did the Danish king order him killed (because he wouldn’t pee at the banquet?).

But that exhumation and those samples weren’t enough. Denmark’s Jens Vellev led a scientific team that dug up Tycho Brahe’s corpse AGAIN in 2010, this time reconstructing the body and finding all kinds of interesting things along the way (Brahe was buried in a red silk costume, his wife was buried next to him a few years later — and his “silver” nose prosthetic was probably made of brass).

After nearly two years of examination, Jens Vellev pronounced that “It is impossible that Tycho Brahe could have been murdered.” That sounds pretty definitive.

Probably too definitive, really, but we get the point: they didn’t find any evidence to support the theory that Tycho Brahe died from being poisoned. The mystery of his death stands.

Until they dig up his corpse again, which should be any day now.

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