Tycho Brahe's dwarf and elk

From an email that BB pal Ben Cosgrove sent me: I was recently looking up some information on my all-time favorite nose-less astronomer, Tycho Brahe, and came across this information in Wikipedia. I include it here, unedited, because 1) it is entertaining, and 2) it reads like something written in one language, translated into another, and then quickly rendered back into the original by someone distracted by a shiny object. Completely insane:
 Wikipedia Commons 2 2B Tycho Brahe Tycho was said to own one percent of the entire wealth of Denmark at one point in the 1580s and he often held large social gatherings in his castle. He kept a dwarf named Jepp (whom Tycho believed to be clairvoyant) as a court jester who sat under the table during dinner. Pierre Gassendi wrote that Tycho also had a tame elk (or moose) and that his mentor, Landgrave Wilhelm of Hesse-Kassel, asked whether there was an animal faster than a deer. Tycho replied, writing that there was none, but he could send his tame elk. When Wilhelm replied he would accept one in exchange for a horse, Tycho replied with the sad news that the elk had just died on a visit to entertain a nobleman at Landskrona. Apparently during dinner the elk had drunk a lot of beer, fallen down the stairs, and died.
Tycho Brahe (Wikipedia)


  1. Tycho’s relationship with Jepp was probably a lot more complex than indicated here. I believe that Tycho touted Jepp’s clairvoyant abilities in order to avoid requests to interpret horoscopes. Tycho could cast the chart and when asked what it meant point to Jepp who would promptly spout nonsense which was a particular talent of his. To which Tycho could nod and follow up with “He’s pychic”.

  2. I’d like to think that I hold the distinction of having written the only (or at least the first) song about Tycho:

    Tycho Brahe has a silver nose,
    He takes it with him everywhere that he goes.
    Got no buttons on his evening clothes, but
    Tycho Brahe has a silver nose.

    They made it up in a plaster mold,
    Down at the place where the noses are sold.
    He coulda had platinum, he coulda had gold,
    I wonder what happens when he catches a cold.

    Tycho Brahe has a silver nose,
    He takes it with him everywhere that he goes.
    It makes no difference when he’s smelling a rose, but
    Tycho Brahe has a silver nose.

    Tycho Brahe has a drunken moose,
    That moose is known for hittin’ the juice
    He’s gonna wind up in the calaboose, ‘cos
    Tycho Brahe has a drunken moose

    Tycho Brahe has a silver nose,
    He takes it with him everywhere that he goes.
    So bright and shiny, you could say that it glows, yeah
    Tycho Brahe has a silver nose.

    I hope that he’s happy with the nose that he chose.
    It works much better than a garden hose.
    I guess in the end, it just goes to show:

    God picks your face, but you pick your nose.

  3. Didn’t Tycho die of a burst bladder because he was prohibited by protocol from leaving a banquet to go to the john?
    If they taught this stuff in school, kids would pay attention in science class.

  4. Tycho was the first Hollywood bad boy and amateur scientist. Blowing off steam with bizarre entertainments then calming down with the slow pace of astronomical observations. The real-life Buckaroo Banzaii.

  5. @ROSSINDETROIT: Possibly. He was exhumed (again) last year for further tests which appear to be inconclusive, because he was reburied in November with great pomp and no clear announcement of his cause of death (yet).


    In May 2007, while I was living in Copenhagen, I was lucky enough to visit the island (Ven in Swedish, Hven in Danish) where he had his observatories. It’s a very beautiful place, and we visited the Stjerneborg observatory (now a multimedia exhibition … and not a very good one, unfortunately) and the site of Uraniborg, which is mostly ornamental gardens:


    Here’s a picture of a statue of the great man contemplating the heavens at Uraniborg:


    Finally, here is a photo of an odd poster on the Hven ferry from Copenhagen, possibly relating to Tycho (it’s an advert for a catheter product):


  6. @Phikus: I think the moral is rather more “If you get your pet elk drunk, don’t house it at the top of the stairs if you only have a downstairs bathroom …”

    1. I cannot read your article. I am too stunned by that epic facial hair.

      I suspect a shoop. I can tell by the brush strokes.

  7. There is a delightful dramatization of this in a Cosmos episode. I forget which episode, probably the one about Kepler, but you can see it on Hulu.com.

  8. how much beer would an elk need to drink to get drunk? Mythbusters, I call on *you* to answer this question!

    1. An elk (called moose in US English(*)) can get dead drunk on just a bucket of slightly fermented windfall apples. Despite their size (European elks is much smaller then American elks (aka moose), but they can still weight as much as a metric tonne), they have a much lower tolerance for alcohol then humans. This is actually a real problem as drunken elks trash gardens in Sweden during fall. Fortunately, they are usually not aggressive during that part of the year (they are during mating and when caring for their calfes, but no Swedes have ever get troubled by angry elks, it is just ignorant tourists and immigrants that get attacked and occasionally killed).

      As for the “funny language” of the wikipedia article, could a native English user please explain what it is that make it “funny”, so that I can improve my English. I’m not actually a Danish speaker myself, but a Swedish speaker (well, West Geatish actually, if you, as some people do, use the English term “Swedish” only for SveamÃ¥l, Norrländska and Finlandssvenska), but my language is almost identical to Danish (or my language is at least as similar to Danish as Scottish English is to Texan English, more then 1/4 of the “Swedish” speakers in Sweden, actually speak East Danish dialects (Geatish is not one of those dialects)) and I have always hard when I have to express my thoughts within the limitations of the English language. It is so much that just can’t be expressed in English (at least not without sounding very long-winded, or “funny”) and we speakers of Scandinavian languages are not trained to reduce our thoughts to the level of vagueness that English require (it isn’t even possible to be that vague in most Scandinavian dialects, as that in itself would express uncertainty of the speaker/writer). It might sound funny to native English speakers when we try to write/speak English, but to someone used to more expressive and precise languages, it as frustrating as trying to make a wristwatch out of twigs and dust, with no tools available, the obvious solution is to make a sundial instead, but we are used to something better and it is painful for us to limit ourself.

      (*) Most Europeans immigrating to Northern US had never seen an elk(**), but had heard stories about them. When they saw large deer (wapitis), they thought they where the elks of the old tales.
      (**) Although almost a pest in most of Europe today, European elks was almost extinct at that time period and still are extinct in the parts of Europe that has the most dense human population. They where saved by legal protection in Scandinavia and Russia during the 18th and 19th century.

  9. I also recall hearing that Tycho Brahe lost his nose is a duel over who was the better mathematician. I think he might be my favorite scientist ever.

      1. Yeah, but that was over a skirt. Or maybe the king had him killed. I still drink to the king’s health in the spirit Galois intended.

Comments are closed.