Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Follow your nose... lest you lose it. (Cool Things I Never Learned In School, 3)

What in the heck was going on in the 1800s? With noses, I mean?

While I brushed my teeth this morning, I was reading about the Elgin Marbles. That's a set of marble sculptures that was stolen by Lord Elgin from the Parthenon back in the 1800s. "Stolen" may be a little harsh, I suppose, since Lord Elgin had permission from the Ottoman Empire to take them if he wanted. But the Greeks now say he stole them and the Brits are, I gather, thinking about giving them back; I don't know.

I don't know all that, yet, because I didn't finish the article yet, for two reasons. First, it doesn't actually take me all that long to brush my teeth. And second, I got distracted by a throwaway sentence in the article in Newsweek that mentioned that Lord Elgin paid a pretty high price for the marbles. Quoting from the article:

In the course of his Ottoman escapade, he lost the following: his beautiful and rich wife to his best friend, a big chunk of his nose to a nasty infection he'd caught in Constantinople and, ultimately, his marbles, which he was forced to sell...

That's where I stopped reading to stare at my nose in the mirror. He lost a big chunk of his nose?

That might not be so alarming, except that I have a secret fear of losing my own nose ever since I saw The Salton Sea, a movie in which Vincent D'Onofrio's character had to wear a weird, artificial nose because he'd lost his nose, through drugs or something.

That too might not have been so alarming except that Vincent D'Onofrio's character was the second person I'd heard lost a nose -- the first being Tycho Brahe, the famed astronomer who began his life studying law, but then turned to astronomy.

When Tycho Brahe was in law school, he got into an argument with another student. (They were arguing about who was a better mathematician. Imagine if kids still argued about that, instead of arguing about who, really, can claim that Don't Stop Believing is "their song," as our kids do.) That argument led to a duel in which Tycho lost part of his nose, leading to him wearing a prosthetic nose made of gold and silver which he periodically reglued on.

And I didn't learn any of this in school. I learned it from reading books on my own, from watching movies, and now from being so addlepated that I read while brushing my teeth. So the score is:

School: 0; Addlepated Toothbrushing: 1.

But, more importantly: What was the deal with noses in the 19th century?

1 comment:

lisapepin said...

Forget the nose! What's up with his EYES? And his freakish HANDS?! Does one have to be physically deformed in some way to be good at math? Is that it?