- my brotha, the Brahe!
Today’s re-discovery of the space-light phantasma-echo of Tycho Brahe’s supernova (originally discovered in 1572) has sent me into a whirlwind of post-mortem mania over Tycho’s total awesomeness! This is the Renaissance man for me!
Not only did he use meticulous observation (without a telescope) to determine that the stars were not fixed to celestial spheres and that the planets (aside from noble Earth, which he and the church never relinquished) seemed to revolve around the Sun, but he also hired a clairvoyant dwarf named “Jepp” to hang out under his table at parties, and had a tame elk as a pet (who died of a drink-related accident!). He also lost his nose in a drunken duel (his exumed body had green stains around the nose, suggesting he wore a copper replacement), and may even have been killed by Johannes Kepler, because his measurements of the stars were that fucking accurate.
And I haven’t even gotten to the Bob Dylan part yet! “Tycho’s Supernova” directly inspired the Edgar Allen Poe poem “Al Aaraaf
,” which inspired Dylan’s 1966 poem-novel “Tarantula.” This same Supernova also likely inspired Shakespeare’s Hamlet
(though hopefully had no impact on the band Oasis).
More importantly, the insight Tycho gleaned from his supernova informed all of modern astronomy, from Galileo’s elimination of the celestial spheres in the heliocentric model (though Tycho’s was geo-heliocentric
, he was the first to give up the spheres!) to the Chinese calendar–it was the church-sanctioned Tychonic view of the heavens that Jesuits took to China
in time for the Ming dynasty to enjoy it before they croaked. And of course, whether or not there was a murder, Tycho’s measurements inspired his sucessor Kepler to complete his work on the movements of celestial bodies.
Perhaps what I find most interesting though, aside perhaps from the drunken elk, is that when I was learning this stuff in school, they made it seem like there was a logical evolution from Ptolemy all the way to Galileo, and that Galileo’s theory of a heliocentric universe with no celestial spheres was the final vision in the evolution of astronomical thought until like Newton. Turns out that actually, Tycho’s vision had pretty long legs–the Tychonic vision of the universe was probably the preeminent one until it was finally disproved in 1729:
The tenacious longevity of the Tychonic model into the late 17th century and even the early 18th century was attested by Ignace Pardies who declared in 1691 that it was still the commonly accepted system and by Francesco Blanchinus who said it was still such in 1728.
Pretty nifty, I think, for a dude whose home life sounds a bit like Einstein-meets-Caligula, with a touch of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang!