Rich geniuses tend to be eccentric for a reason. Once you get wealthy enough, you realize that society's rules don't apply to you anymore. Few people knew this better than the amazingly crazy and stupidly rich 16th-century astronomer Tycho Brahe. He may not have created the eccentric genius archetype as we know it today, but he sure as hell perfected it.
Tycho Brahe's life got weird fast. He was born into Danish nobility in 1546, running around a castle with 11 other kids. That is, until his uncle kidnapped him. The crazy part? Brahe's dad didn't really seem to care too much. There seems to have been no real struggle to keep Brahe in the family castle. Things only got more surreal from there.
You ever have one of those nights when you're looking up at the stars and a feeling crystallizes, and suddenly you just know your life's purpose is to have your nose chopped off and own a pet elk one day? No? Well, that's what stargazing did for young Tycho. After witnessing a solar eclipse in 1560, he was completely enraptured by the stars. He purchased any instruments that would allow him to better study the heavens, and soon he was making legitimate discoveries.
With his huge collection of tools and a shitload of time on his hands, Brahe was able to make waves in both astronomy and mathematics. The dude was the rare trifecta of wealthy, smart, and driven. Actually, he was more of a quadfecta, and the fourth notable trait was "chew-your-own-face crazy." Check this link to learn more about everything that follows, including the very legitimate scientific advancements Brahe made, because we're about to focus on one thing and one thing only: How he made very legitimate advancements to the stereotype of the buck-wild genius.
The first sign that Brahe was going to be tragically interesting was the time he challenged a dude to a sword duel over math. The details are hazy, but essentially, Brahe was hanging with some other smart dude, and they disagreed about a calculation. They got into it, swords were drawn, and before anyone knew it, these fuckers were making a goddamn Highlander prequel over the shit you slept through in algebra II.
Brahe lost the fight. Though he didn't die (because he still had a lifetime of crazy left to get through), he did get his nose lopped off. He was now cursed to explain this whole thing for the rest of his life. To make matters worse, he covered it up with a terrible prosthetic nose made out of brass. The stories say "silver," but scientists actually dug up Brahe's corpse and analyzed the prosthesis a while back, in case you thought this all sounded like tall tales invented by his biographer. But there's further talk that Brahe might indeed have had a silver nose too. In fact, he might have had a whole selection of noses, depending on the occasion.
He could so easily tell you what he thought of you. Brahe having you over to dinner and wearing a chunk of bed frame taped to his face? He's not that into you. Going over to the his place and he's got his flashy-ass gold nose on? Brahe's trying to fuck.
Brahe soon made a big discovery: a "new" star. What made this so incredible at the time is that most were operating under the assumption that the heavens were set and fixed. But when Brahe was able to locate this star, pulsating within a constellation he had been studying for years, it rippled through the scientific community and made him a big name. The king was so impressed with this noseless weirdo out there finding new stars and shit that he gave the already-rich Brahe his very own observatory, which was really more like a castle:
Brahe soon made the place his own. He brought in some Italians to decorate, then got himself a live-in entourage. We'll discuss just two members today: Jepp and the elk.
Jepp was a little person whom Brahe believed to be his "court jester," living in the castle to provide entertainment. Brahe also believed that Jepp had psychic powers. So if you're taking notes at home, we currently have a doorknob-nosed astronomer holed up in his government-funded castle consulting a psychic/comedian little person named Jepp.
And then there's the elk, which was not just the nickname for some huge dude who knew how to score the best weed. Brahe managed to both domesticate and house-train an actual elk. Just for when company came over. He thought it'd be cool. Now here's the thing about elks: They're huge. It's like when you go to someone's house and they've got an exceptionally large dog that secretly terrifies everyone, only this was a dozen dogs strapped together with a rack of bony katanas on its head. Unfortunately, Brahe's elk died after drinking too much beer and falling down the stairs. No, that's not a joke. That's just the kind of thing that happened around this guy.
Brahe's story somehow gets weirder later in life, and weirder still in death. See, Brahe fell out of favor with the king and was forced into exile. It's believed that he was run out of town due to a rumor that he was sleeping with the king's mother. Yes, seriously. The rumor gained so much steam that some think it was the inspiration for Hamlet. Either way, with Brahe supposedly giving the king's mom the ol' gold nose treatment, his ass had to get scarce, and he made a new home for himself in Prague.
After attending a banquet, Brahe fell ill and died. On paper, that's not super surprising. Considering everything we've established above, Brahe at a banquet sounds like a legitimately lethal combination. He was most likely drinking heavily and challenging people to duels, because there were still a few crucial features on his face that he could sacrifice for his whole Mr. Potato Head vibe. But the thing is, we're not totally sure how he died ... but we have a smorgasbord of ridiculous possibilities to choose from.
In death, Brahe's legend grew. It seemed like a man who lived such a legendary life could never be taken out by something as benign as a kidney infection. Centuries later, researchers said they discovered toxic levels of mercury in Brahe's hair. Mercury, of course, was a common agent for poisoning in those days.
A good way to gauge how wild Brahe's life was? How hard it was to pin down who could have poisoned him. One of the prime suspects was the king, who was maybe still steamed that his mom took home the gold. Another potential suspect is even more insane. Because Brahe had married a commoner, there were some dumb old laws that prevented his children from being heirs to his vast amounts of scientific research. During the confusion, one man may have stepped up: Brahe's own pupil, Johannes Kepler. Kepler, of course, would go on to further the field himself, and a big part of that may have been thanks to Brahe's data. Data that Kepler was able to get his hands on only after Brahe's death. This has left many to wonder if this was the all-time nerdiest poisoning in history.
But Brahe's remains were exhumed and examined again in 2012, and this time experts found no lethal amounts of mercury, which would suggest that he may have not been murdered at all. There's a rival theory that he in truth died of a ruptured bladder after drinking too much and simply refusing to get up to piss. Which, you gotta admit, sounds like a super Brahe way to go.
Oh, and while they didn't find lethal levels of mercury, you know what they did find? Gold. He had 20-100 times more gold in his system than is considered normal. That, friends, is what happens when you only eat and drink from gold plates and goblets. Ballin' has a cost.
So while we may not know how Brahe's life ended, what's clear is that he fucking lived the hell out of it. By all accounts, he was the eccentric genius personified. Maybe we should get back to that era, when rich geniuses were flamboyant and outrageous instead of blandly terrifying. I'm not saying that we need an Elon Musk v. Temple Grandin gunfight, but it wouldn't hurt to see Jeff Bezos get a giraffe high as shit and have it follow him around Amazon HQ from time to time.
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