The Astronomer with the Silver Nose

The astronomer's nose: Tycho Brahe's controversial prosthesis | ENT &  Audiology News

Tycho Brahe (1546-1601) was a Danish astronomer, one of the precursors of modern astronomy. He was from a wealthy aristocratic family in Denmark, well-educated, and with a talent for mathematics. He was also one of the more colorful figures of an era full of eccentrics. One of his pets was a moose (called ‘elk’ in Europe) that liked beer. The moose drank too much beer one night, and fell down a staircase.

He also seems to have had a sizable ego. When he was 20, he had an argument with another young astronomer, at a party. The two got so angry with each other that a duel resulted. They had a swordfight over who was the best astronomer. Tycho lost a big chunk of his nose to his opponent’s sword.

He had an artificial nose made to wear in public. This prosthesis was made of electrum, a combination of gold and silver. Brahe was afterwards known as the man with the silver nose.

At one point, his dog grabbed the silver nose and destroyed it, so Brahe had thirteen more made. Why thirteen is unknown, and the fate of the thirteen silver noses is also not known.

In his last years, he left Denmark to become the official astronomer to Rudolph II, the Holy Roman Emperor (who ruled from Prague). The story is that he died from a ruptured bladder because he was too polite to leave a court ceremony to go relieve himself. That appears to be only a legend, although he may have died from bladder disease.

His body has been exhumed twice to check out that silver nose story. It looks as if those famous silver noses were actually made of brass. Or perhaps the silver noses were for formal occasions.

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