May 13 – Happy Birthday, Ole Worm

Posted on May 13, 2014

Okay, can just say right off the bat that I really like this guy's name?

Sometimes you will see the Latinized form of his name, Olaus Wormius—but he was Danish, so I vote we don't use that here!

Ole Worm, born on this date in 1588, was a doctor—he was even the physician to King Christian IV of Denmark! He was known for doing the unusual thing of staying in Copenhagen to tend to the sick during an epidemic of the Black Death, and he contributed to the scientific knowledge of embryology—which is the study of the growth of animals from fertilized egg to full-grown baby. 

He also studied runes, early literature in the Scandinavian languages (Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, etc.) written in early Germanic alphabets.
Rune stone

Worm is known for having created one of the best “wonder-rooms” in Europe.

A “wonder-room” is another name for a “cabinet of curiosities.”

Early museums were private collections of rare objects—natural things and artifacts from far away or long ago—that the collectors displayed in a room or cabinet. Worm collected everything from taxidermed animals to fossils, from bones to narwhal horns, from minerals to rune stones, from antiques to native items brought from the “New World.”

A Contribution to Modern Thought

One thing that Worm did was question some of the claims of "experts" from ancient times or of general "knowledge." He questioned whether lemmings really could be formed inside cloudsand he dissected a lemming to gather more information to make his best, most educated guess about the supposedly cloud-born creatures. He was skeptical about the horns of unicorns that so many people displayed in their own wonder-rooms. They looked an awful lot like narwhal tusks to Worm, and he wondered why an entire skeleton of a unicorn had never been found. To find out more about Worm and his skeptical side, check out this short video.
Narwhal tusks
By the way...

If you look up Ole Worm or Olaus Wormius on Google, you will find some mention of his Latin translation of the Necronomicon. However, the Necronomican is just a fictional book that was never written, let alone translated. Wormius-as-translator was an invention of the early twentieth-century horror author H. P. Lovecraft, and another horror writer, Anders Fager, mentioned Worm's translation several times, as well—but it is just a myth.

Worm could've been a translator, though. He had an excellent education in many different fields, and he taught Latin, Greek, physics, and medicine.

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