Tycho Brahe (1546-1601) is a familiar and colourful figure in the history of science. The immense quantity of data he collected during his lifetime would enable the work of Johannes Kepler and has gained him admission to the astronomical pantheon. In this article, George Greenlees explores Brahe’s other claim to fame of more interest to the ENT surgeon – his damaged nose. Sometimes referred to as ‘the man with the golden nose’ Brahe’s prosthesis is nothing if not uncontroversial. There is little consensus on the size, appearance or composition of the replacement and some have even gone as far as to implicate it in its wearer’s death.
Tyge (Tycho) Ottesen Brahe (Figure 1) was born into a noble Danish family on the 14 December 1546. Showing an early aptitude for mathematics, he embarked on a tour of Europe’s universities at the age of sixteen. Leaving Denmark in 1562, Brahe crossed the Baltic to Saxony, arriving in Rostock in the autumn of 1566. At a party in early December, however, he was drawn into a quarrel with his fellow student and cousin, Maderup Parsberg. The subject of their altercation is not known, although academic prowess and a shared love interest have both been suggested.
Two weeks later they quarrelled again, this time with life-changing consequences for Brahe. The combination of two hot-blooded young men, heavy drinking and the universal carriage of swords made violence inevitable. Jacob Stolterfoht kept a remarkable account of the incident: