Tycho Brahe Died Because He Refused To Pee
Famous astronomer Tycho Brahe famously died from being overly polite.
He attended a formal banquet.
He really needed to use the toilet, but he refused to get up
from his seat because it would have been a breach of etiquette.
Once the banquet was over, he found that he now was unable to urinate.
That condition continued for eleven days without passing any urine,
and then he died.
Don't die like Tycho Brahe.
Get up and pee if you need to.
Even if you're at a formal banquet.
Nobody wants kidney failure.
It's been just one thing after another for Tycho Brahe.
His nose was cut off in a dual,
his pet moose died after getting really drunk and falling down a staircase,
he died from refusing to pee,
and since then his body has been exhumed twice to investigate his
prosthetic nose and his death.
Things Went Well for a While
Brahe was born in Denmark in 1546.
He studied at the University of Copenhagen,
where he became interested in astronomy.
He was impressed with astronomical predictions,
as far as they went in that era.
When he was 13, he witnessed the solar eclipse of August 21, 1560.
It had been predicted, but the prediction was off by a day.
Then, while studying in Leipzig in 1563,
he observed a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn.
It happened, but the tables based on the models of Ptolomy and Copernicus
Brahe realized that astronomy needed better measurements.
He went on to really improve the precision of position measurements.
Losing His Nose
Tycho Brahe went to the University of Rostock in 1566,
to study with professors of medicine and learn more about
botanical medicine and medical alchemy (which, at the time,
meant chemistry related to medicine).
He attended a wedding dance on December 10th.
At this dance, he got into a quarrel with another Danish nobleman
who happened to be his third cousin.
A little over two weeks later, on December 27th,
they met again and continued their quarrel.
Whatever the argument was about, they decided to resolve it by a
duel with swords.
Because a duel with swords seemed inadequately dangerous,
they held the duel in the dark.
I have to think that some drinking must have been involved.
This was on the evening of December 29, 1566.
Brahe's opponent got in a blow to the head.
He cut off most of Brahe's nose and gave him a broad slash across his
Luckily, they were at a university with a renowned medical school.
Tycho Brahe wore a prosthetic nose for the rest of his life.
Glue or paste held it in place.
Some models were said to be made of silver or gold,
the one he was buried with was made of brass.
Tycho Brahe returned home in 1567.
He traveled around some, and built a large quadrant at Augsburg.
Brahe was the last of the prominent visual astronomers,
observing without telescopes.
A quadrant was a device to measure the position of an object in the sky.
On November 11th, 1572, Brahe observed a new very bright star in the
Doctrine at the time held that everything beyond the Moon's orbit was
eternally unchanging and unchangeable.
Other observers concluded that this new star was in the "terrestrial sphere"
below the moon.
However, Brahe showed that the object exhibited no parallax,
no apparent motion against the background of fixed stars.
So, it had to be further away than the moon and the planets,
which do exhibit parallax.
We now know that
is about 8,000 to 9,800 light-years away.
It first appeared soon after November 2nd,
and was brighter than Jupiter by the time of Brahe's observation on the 11th.
It reached peak brightness around November 16th, 1572.
It was bright, about magnitude -4 or comparable to Venus.
It remained visible to the naked eye until early 1574.
See the article
supernova: light from centuries past"
for some reverse engineering of how it must have appeared.
Other European astronomers saw it, as did astronomers in Ming dynasty China.
Zhang Juzheng, a statesman and reformer serving as Grand Secretary,
was a mentor and valued minister to the young Wanli Emperor, Zhu Yijun.
The minister told the young emperor to behave better,
as the new star was an evil omen.
according to researchers at Texas State University,
Shakespeare worked it into Act 1, Scene 1 of Hamlet,
which we think he wrote in 1600.
Hamlet is set in Denmark,
and the most famous portrait of Tycho Brahe shows the coats of arms of
his ancestors, including the family names Rosenkrans and Guldensteren.
This portrait depicts Tycho Brahe after he had become a prominent astronomer.
The artist didn't emphasize his fake nose and broad scar across the forehead.
The researchers concluded that the events in the play took place in November,
when the star's position would match Bernardo's description.
For two nights, Bernardo and Marcellus have seen a ghost in the
form of the late King.
Here are lines 31-45.
Sit down a while,
And let us once again assail your ears,
That are so fortified against our story,
What we have two nights seen.
Well, sit we down,
And let us hear Barnardo speak of this.
Last night of all,
When yond same star that’s westward from the pole
Had made his course t’ illume that part of heaven
Where now it burns, Marcellus and myself,
The bell then beating one—
Peace, break thee off! Look where it comes again!
In the same figure like the King that’s dead.
Thou art a scholar, speak to it, Horatio.
Looks ’a not like the King? Mark it, Horatio.
Most like; it harrows me with fear and wonder.
The supernova's remnant was discovered by radio astronomers in 1952.
A faint visual nebula was discovered in the 1960s.
The Uhuru X-ray observatory detected it,
the X-ray source is designated Cepheus X-1.
Tycho Gets an Island
The King of Denmark gave Brahe the island of Hven, an island of about
7.5 square kilometers in the Øresund strait between Sweden and Denmark.
The 50 families living on the island, formerly freeholding farmers,
were now subject to the new Feudal Lord of Hven.
Brahe taxed them heavily and forced them to work to construct his castle.
Through their labor he built two observatories there during 1576-1596,
Uraniborg and Stjerneborg.
In return, Brahe prepared astrological charts and predictions for the king.
Map of Hven from 1663.
He built Uraniborg first.
He set it up as a research center, with close to 100 students and artisans
It included a paper mill and printing press, so he could publish
his own manuscripts on paper with his own watermark.
He had a tame moose for a while, but then he took it along to
entertain a nobleman at Landskrona, in Sweden.
The moose went upstairs in the nobleman's castle,
drank all of a large bowl of beer,
and then fell down the stairs to its death.
Brahe observed the Great Comet of 1577.
He was able to determine that the comet was much further away than the Moon,
and that its tailalways pointed away from the Sun.
Lutheranism held that objects like comets were powerful portent
of the coming apocalypse, and astronomers across Europe published
Brahe rejected all of those, and then offered his own predictions
of coming catastrophies.
Tycho Brahe's large quadrant at Uraniborg.
Does Uraniborg mean "Mountain of Pee"?
It does not.
It was named after Urania, the muse of astronomy.
He soon found that his high-precision observations were
limited by the structure's stability and exposure to the elements.
So, he started the second observatory, Stjerneborg, in 1581.
It was largely underground, providing more precise measurements.
The King died and his 11-year-old son took the throne.
The head of the regency council did not like Brahe,
and his influence at court declined.
He was in trouble with the church in Denmark
because he was coming dangerously close to saying the Earth wasn't the
center of the universe.
On top of that, he had forbidden the local priest on Hven
to include an exorcism as part of every baptism ritual.
So, in 1599, he moved to Prague.
Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor, sponsored him as the Imperial Court Astronomer.
Brahe worked with his assistant, Johannes Kepler,
and along with careful measurements they prepared astrological charts
and predictions for his growing set of noble financial patrons.
Urine a Lot of Trouble at a Formal Banquet
Tycho Brahe attended a banquet in Prague on October 13, 1601.
His assistant Kepler also attended the banquet.
Kepler recorded that
Tycho refused to leave his seat to go to the toilet
as it would have been a breach of etiquette.
This was despite what he described as a extreme need to urinate.
When he returned home, he was no unable to urinate.
Later he managed to produce only a small quantity of urine,
accompanied by excruciating pain.
Eleven days later, on the 24th, he died.
A physician at the time attributed the blockage and eventual death
to a kidney stone.
Death, But Not Rest
Tycho Brahe's body was exhumed in 1901.
An autopsy then found no evidence of kidney stones.
In the late 20th century, a theory arose that he died from
mercury poisoning, and he may have been poisoned.
Kanly was still alive in the Holy Roman Empire.
Suspects included his assistant Kepler, and a cousin theorized to have
killed Brahe at the order of the Danish King because of Brahe's affair
with the Queen.
The nuclear physics division of Lunds Universitet
analyzed strands of Brahe's beard hair
collected in 1901.
They found signs of a strong dose of mercury one day before his death,
administered within one hour.
But then he worked with mercury, arsenic, and other poisonous materials
in his alchemy lab.
And, mercury may have been a component of some medicine
administered to treat his urinary problems.
Then, in November 2010, they exhumed him again
and collected bone, hair, and clothing samples.
They found that there wasn't enough mercury to have poisoned him,
it was more likely precipitation of mercury dust from the air
his alchemical work.
They also determined that he was buried with a brass prosthetic nose.
The hair samples did contain from 20 to 100 times the natural
concentration of gold until two months before his death.
Maybe he was wearing the gold prosthetic nose then,
switching for some reason to the brass one for the two months
before his death.
of Mercury in the 411-year-old Beard Hairs of the Astronomer Tycho Brahe
by Elemental Analysis in Electron Microscopy".
It Was Urine After All, We Think
The current theory is that Tycho Brahe died of uremia,
the condition of having urea, CO(NH2)2, in the blood.
Uremia can be the result of kidney failure.
An excess of amino acid and protein metabolism end products stay
in the blood instead of being extracted into urine by the failing kidneys.
One of the signs can be uremic fetor,
an odor of urine on the breath.
That's not the sort of thing you would overlook.