Doctor Killed Beethoven, Says Pathologist

Hair analysis suggests lead poisoning of composer 180 years ago
By Jason Farago,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 29, 2007 7:35 AM CDT
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(Newser) – It's not exactly  CSI, but the classical era now has its own forensic murder investigation. A new Austrian study has concluded that Ludwig von Beethoven died from overdoses of lead administered by his doctor with the intention of healing him. Beethoven suffered from cirrhosis of the liver, and that organ's absorption of the lead killed him.

Researchers already knew that lead poisoning caused Beethoven's demise. But a Vienna pathologist analyzed locks of Beethoven's hair that admirers cut on his deathbed, creating a day-by-day timeline of his lead ingestion. Reiter found that spikes in the amount of lead in the composer's body correspond to days when his doctor visited. The doctor is said to have punctured Beethoven's abdomen to relieve edema, and sealed the wounds with a lead-laced poultice.

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