Tycho Brahe: The Astronomer With A Drunken Moose

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Getty Images/Erin McCarthy

Tycho Brahe (1546-1601) might quite possibly hold the distinction of history's most eccentric astronomer. His scientific accomplishments include the discovery of the supernova in 1572 and a series of essays on the movement of comets, not to mention a heated feud with Galileo.

A fabulously wealthy man of noble birth, Brahe once owned roughly one percent of all the money in Denmark, and often elected to use his personal treasury to fund some rather unusual projects. For instance, after losing his nose in a duel while intoxicated in 1566, Brahe purchased a replacement made of a gold-silver alloy rather than more conventional wax (he always made sure to carry a small vial of paste around with him to reattach the orifice should it pop off). He also hired a dwarf named Jepp, whom he believed to be clairvoyant, as his court jester ... and asked him to eat under the table during each meal (the unfortunate little person was recently used as the protagonist in a well-received young adult novel).

But perhaps the oddest aspect of Brahe's private life was his taste in pets. In 1591, Brahe's frequent correspondent Lantgrave Wilhelm asked about a mysterious animal he'd recently heard of called a "rix.” According to word of mouth, the creature was faster than a deer, but wielded shorter horns (or antlers).

In Brahe's response, he asked if Wilhelm had ever seen a live moose, for the astronomer just so happened to have once owned a tame one.

The hoofed critter would trot alongside Brahe's carriage like a loyal dog and lived inside his castle. But, unfortunately, it also appears to have developed a regrettable taste for Danish beer. Naturally, Brahe couldn't resist showing off such a bizarre young animal to his various associates and, soon enough, a nearby nobleman had asked him to send the moose to his castle to entertain the guests at a party.

As the dinner wore on, the creature grew increasingly tipsy until it eventually wound up roaring drunk. According to Brahe's biographer Pierre Gassendi, shortly thereafter, “the moose had ascended the castle stairs and drunk of the beer in such amounts that it had fallen down [them]” to its eventual demise.

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May 9, 2013 - 1:00pm
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