Thursday, 3 August 2017

Stealing Tycho's Nose - Umberto Tosi

I meet the most interesting people in the course of researching books. Tycho Brahe is one of the most memorable. For example, I got to know great Danish astronomer Tycho Brae from researching Ophelia Rising. I couldn't resist putting him into the novel and improvising a bit on his biography. Of course, perforce, "real" historical figures become fictionalized soon as they come on stage. The author gets to spin them into all kinds of hybrid narratives, as long as they seem believable. To wit, I wondered: How would Tycho have crossed paths with the Melancholy Dane?

Tycho Brae shows up again in Ophelia Regina, the third and final volume-in-progress of what is to be an Ophelia Trilogy. Now seems a good time to reflect on Brahe's history and the particular twists I gave it in the first novel that I must now adhere to as backstory, like it or not. Ah, what tangled webs we weave. I won't apologize. Shakespeare did it all the time. The Bard even made an oblique reference to Brae in the opening of Hamlet. To wit:

 Bernardo: Last night of all, 
When yond same star that's westward from the pole 
Had made his course to illume that part of heaven 
Where now it burns, Marcellus and myself, 
The bell then beating one, 
- [Enter: Ghost] - Hamlet, Act I, Scene 1. 

Shakespeare first presented Hamlet in 1601, the year of Tycho Brahe's death. The Bard, like other savvy Englishmen of his day, no doubt knew of the already famous Danish astronomer then. Elizabethan theater  scholars consider "the star that's westward from the pole" to be "Brahe's Supernova" - a brilliant body of light that glowed in the northern constellation of Cassiopeia for sixteen months starting in 1572 that Tycho Brahe observed, measured and defined in his book, "De Nova Stella" - of the new star. 
The discovery shook the world. Stars were supposed to have been part of an immutable heavenly sphere in the Earth-centric Ptolemaic universe accepted by the church, crowns, and universities of the time. Mention of "the star that's westward from the pole," therefore, would have been seen as a powerful dramatic portend of fierce change by Elizabethan audiences 
Were he a real "Prince of Denmark," Hamlet would have known Tycho Brahe well. Lord Brahe was the scion of one of Denmark's richest and most powerful noble families,. Tycho Brahe's father, Otto, was close to a succession of Danish kings. Tycho Brae also lectured frequently at Wittenberg University from where Hamlet and Horatio have just graduated when the play begins.

In the universe of Ophelia Rising, the young prince Hamlet and his cohort once stole Tycho Brahe's gold nose. This was the very same artificial appendage the lord high astronomer had worn daily since, as a young buck himself, he had lost the tip of his own schnozzle in a sword fight. Tycho Brae was all mathematics and discipline when it came to the stars, but lived the rest of his life very large.
Hamlet was quite the dashing young prince before the death of his father and the appearance of that vengeful ghost. As Horatio - chronicler of Hamlet's story - tells us in Ophelia Rising, as a student, young Hamlet couldn't resist the temptation to filch that gold nose after the astronomer passed out from one of his infamous nights drinking and feasting. Readers of Ophelia Rising will be able to determine the truth of that story for themselves. Not surprisingly, then, Tycho Brahe and his Morganatic common law wife, Kirsten Hansen, also turn up as crucial characters in Ophelia's life.

History is too often told in stories of kings, queens, and generals, less often from the perspective of those philosophers and scientists who shaped the consciousness of their times. The life and works of Tycho Brahe, went far beyond that of any lord or king of his time - true of many pioneers of science and mathematics, particularly astronomers. It seems only right to let this guide me in writing Ophelia's imagined history as well. 

6 comments:

Dipika Mukherjee said...

I always learn so much from your illuminating posts, Umberto! Now I need to look up Tycho Brahe...I had no idea.

Dot Schwarz said...

I love your posts. LIke a glass of vin tage wine. Ashamed to say not got around to Ophelia Rising yet. NEXT ON list after a rereading and almost finished of 100 years of solitude. Not read it for decades.

Bill Kirton said...

As enlightening and enjoyable as ever, Umberto. I love the idea of 'real' people mingling with your own created 'real' people. But I couldn't resist a wicked vision of Hamlet, having stolen the golden nose, and being in a hurry to convert it into cash, bending over the crucible in which he's heating it and muttering 'O, that this too too solid flesh would melt'. Sorry.

Rosalie Warren said...

Good to renew acquaintance with Tycho Brahe. I last remember encountering him at school when doing a project about the astronomer Johannes Kepler, who I believe was Brahe's assistant for a while. A good prompt to me to read Ophelia Rising, which I'm sure I will enjoy.

(And thanks again, Umberto, for being so understanding when my errant post eclipsed yours for a while.)

Umberto Tosi said...

I thank you, Tycho Brahe and his nose thanks you all for the kind words. So glad you enjoyed the post.

Reb MacRath said...

Fascinating, Umberto. But confusing on one point: where's the second volume in the series? I see no mention of it on Amazon...yet.