Reuters’ “Oddly Enough” column ventures this week into the realm of literary history and intrigue: The mystery of Schiller’s skull. When he died of tuberculosis in his forties, Friedrich Schiller, the eighteenth-century German Romantic poet, playwright, and philosopher, was buried in a mass grave. Several decades later, the mass grave was dug up and Schiller’s skull identified by comparison with his death mask and its size, and placed in a more distinguished tomb in the city of Weimar. In 1911, the mass grave was turned up again and another skull found that was claimed to be the real memento mori. This second skull was also placed in Schiller’s tomb.
Now, DNA researchers attempting to tell the true skull from the false by comparison with DNA samples taken from Schiller’s relatives, have discovered that neither is a match.
In one of Lucian of Samosata’s second century Dialogues of the Dead, Diogenes tells Pollux that in death, “man and man are as like as two peas… when it comes to bare skull and no beauty.”
So it would seem.