CRANIOKLEPTY - GRAVE ROBBING AND THE SEARCH FOR GENIUS
The after-death stories of Franz Joseph Haydn, Ludwig Beethoven, Swedenborg, Sir Thomas Browne and many others have never before been told in such detail and vividness.
Fully illustrated with some surprising images, this is a fascinating and authoritative history of ideas carried along on the guilty pleasures of an anthology of real-after-life gothic tales.
Beginning dramatically with the opening of Haydn’s grave in October 1820, cranioklepty takes us on an extraordinary history of a peculiar kind of obsession. The desire to own the skulls of the famous, for study, for sale, for public (and private) display, seems to be instinctual and irresistible in some people. The rise of phrenology at the beginning of the 19th century only fed that fascination with the belief that genius leaves its mark on the very shape of the head.
$25.95 / $30.95 Can | Non-Fiction Hardcover | 6x9 | 272 pages
ISBN: 978-1-932961-86-7 | Carton Quantity: 24
And so, due to that most basic tenet of capitalism, the dearth of famous skulls, coupled with increasing demand, made them that much more valuable, and their theft that much more lucrative. In 1809, Carl Rosenbaum had to pay only twenty-five gulden to secure a gravedigger’s help; in 1827 those interested in Beethoven’s head were willing to go as high as 1,000 gulden.
A few rare skulls could be had through legal channels. When the German poet and philosopher Friedrich Schiller’s body was exhumed in 1826 twenty-one years after his death, the Duke Carl August had the skull mounted on a velvet cushion in a glass case and displayed in his library. In order to keep the Duke from being confused with the religiously superstitious or macabre treasure-hunters, much was made of the fact that the skull was to be kept in the library—the proper place for a skull of genius, which could be read phrenologically, almost as if it were another book on the shelf. As a private, special book, it was not for everyone. As the director of the Duke’s library put it, the skull was only to be made available to those “of whom one can be certain that their steps are not governed by curiosity but by a feeling, a knowledge of what that great man achieved for Germany, for Europe, and for the whole civilized world.”
If anyone had that feeling, it was this librarian, no less than Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who would become the bedrock on which much of Germanic literature was based. Either way, after a year the Duke got nervous about the skull and ordered it reinterred with the body. Respectable sources simply could not be relied on; if you wanted a skull, you had to steal it yourself.