Thursday, 24 October 2013

Tycho Brahe - the foolish death of a wise man

On a night in October 1601, the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II of Habsburg hosted a lavish banquet at which was present the renowned astronomer Tycho Brahe. But after drinking too much wine, Tycho is filled with the urgent and embarrassing need to urinate.

'What can I do?' he nervously asked himself. 'I can't leave the table, that would be a breach of etiquette. I'll just have to cross my legs and wait.'

And it was an agonising wait, like sitting through a compilation of acceptance speeches from the Oscars: 'I'd like to thank my mom for giving birth to me, my dog for all the love and affection he gives me, God for creating our beautiful planet.....'

Finally, the feasting ended, Tycho rushed to the nearest urinal and hurriedly pointed Percy at the porcelain. But catastrophe! Nothing came out! Panic stricken with severe piss paralysis, Tycho closed his eyes and addressed a silent prayer of supplication to his prostate. A few meagre drops finally dribbled out, but nothing to write home about. 

His friend and assistant Johannes Kepler transported him to his residence in Prague, and ten days later, still unable to relieve himself, Tycho died on the night of 24 October 1601, lamenting that his life had been for nothing. 

But what was the cause of his sad demise? A study at the University of Lund (Sweden) in 1996,which examined hairs from his ample moustache, suggested that it may have been mercury poisoning. Was Kepler the poisoner? Not according to Professor Peter Andersen of Strasbourg who claims to have deciphered a cryptic manuscript which points the finger of suspicion at a distant cousin of Tycho's, who may have poisoned Tycho on the instructions of the Danish King Christian IV, as a punishment for Tycho for having once been his mother's lover, the Queen Sophie of Mecklembourg-Gustrow. 

Another mystery for Patricia Cornwell to solve.

Tycho Brahe, meanwhile, or rather his mortal remains, are interred in the Church of our Lady before Tyn in Prague, where his epitaph reads:
'He lived like a sage and died like a fool'

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