Sexual Fables
This article accompanies the fable
Immortal Beloved

Holy Relics: Beethoven’s hair, Beethoven’s skull

Beethoven died in 1827 at the age of 56. The autopsy revealed significant liver damage and since then multiple explanations have been given for his death.

In 2005, his hair strands and skull fragments were tested and both were found to contain toxic amounts of lead. The verdict is still out on how he could have ingested so much of it (from lead pipes, or drinking too much mineral water or illegally fortified wines, or swimming in the spas?).

Back in 1863, when Beethoven's remains were to be moved to a better location, another autopsy was conducted. For some reason, a few skull fragments escaped the reburial. The owners of the Beethoven skull fragments over the years have justified this by claiming that Beethoven hoped that one day his aches and pains (and his grumpy nature) could be explained by science.

One recent analysis of his hair strands concluded that Beethoven's doctor hastened his death by administering lead to counter fluid in the abdomen, unaware that his liver couldn't handle it. Then there was his heavy use of medications - his brother was a pharmacist.

Whether lead poisoning also caused his deafness is an open question, but such holy relics are just another form of fetishism. Worse, recent studies of the DNA of woolly mammoths in ancient hair suggest that one day afficionados may be able to clone Beethoven from his surviving hair.

Beethoven-hair  Beethoven-skull

For a good book on bones and their metaphors, try Russell Shorto's Descartes' Bones (2008), whose sub-title is "A Skeletal History of the Conflict between Faith and Reason." Similarly, Chopin's heart is another relic of sorts - his body is in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, but his heart is in Holy Cross Church in his home town of Warsaw.

Other links:

Mary Magdalene's holy relics
Joan of Arc's holy relics

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