Philosophy 167: Class 5 - Part 3 - Galileo: Biography (1564-1616).

Smith, George E. (George Edwin), 1938-


  • Synopsis: Describes the early part of Galileo's life, up until De revolutionibus is put on the index by the inquisition.

    Opening line: "This is his life up to a key event, March 3rd, 1616."

    Duration: 9:25 minutes.

    Segment: Class 5, Part 3.
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This is his life up to a key event, March 3rd, 1616. What you can notice, he was born in Pisa. His father was a well-to-do cloth merchant, but also a very accomplished musician who published books on music. And Galileo grew up therefore knowing a fair amount about music.
His father wanted him to become a doctor. But when he got into University of Pisa, he found mathematics very beautiful. He was taught by a man name Ricci, R-I-C-C-I, and that drew him into mathematics. His first job was in Pisa as a mathematician, but he wasn't paid very well so he managed to get a position in Padua.
Padua is not too far again, I hope somebody knows I think it's south of Venice but it's in Venice. What you don't probably know is Italy wasn't a country. Italy had a series of countries. One is Tuscany, but Tuscany fell within the Papal states. The Venetian Republic was a republic.
They actually voted with a Senate. The only odd thing is you better be a fairly wealthy male to be allowed to vote. And they were essentially, the Pope had no control over them. So that when Galileo was called to Rome to stand trial, he could've simply gone back to the Venetian Republic and been absolutely untouchable and chose not to.
Okay, so his time in Padua, which stretched a reasonable amount of time, 1591 to 1611. He did not, he was not well known anywhere during that time except around Padua itself, because he kept arguing with the scholastics. He had three children while he was in Padua, Virginia, Livia, and his son Vincenzo all out of wedlock.
I don't know whether this is a comment about the times or a comment about Galileo. Children born out of wedlock could not marry. The church would not marry them. So for the two daughters that meant they entered convents. For the son he got special dispensation for him to marry.
You can judge how you wish on that. When he had the opportunity to go to Florence, he left his mistress and three children in Padua, apparently without a second thought, though he did later have close personal ties to his daughter Virginia. There's a beautiful book of letters between Virginia, and I forget her clergical name, think it's Mary Louise, Maria Louise but don't hold me to that.
Beautiful book by Dava Sobel the former New York Times science writer, just on their correspondence called Galileo's Daughter. If you want to pursue it, it's quite moving and quite touching. I can't resist the joke. I was once lecturing in place in Cohen about Galileo and made the remark about the children.
This is at Harvard Extension, which consists mostly of older people and somebody raised their hand and said, why didn't they try him for these children out of wedlock? And spontaneous reply, they tried him they would have had to try half the clergy. Which is not really a joke, folks.
Half is an exaggeration, but he was fairly typical of the time. At any rate, his life begins to change significantly in 1605, when he's asked to return to Florence to tutor the young prince Cosimo. That got him wanting to come back to Florence, and not just come back to Florence, come back to Florence and be in the Medici Palace with all the privilege attached there too.
So when he discovers, well, he didn't discover the telescope. When he constructed his own telescopes, and saw what he saw, he wrote Sidereus Nuncius with absolutely no question that his primary goal was to get to Florence and become what he did become, the chief mathematician and philosopher of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo, who didn't become the Grand Duke.
And he spent the rest of his life til he was in effect put into house arrest for the last nine years of his life. Spent his life night after night in the palace within, parties every night, among courtiers, etc, debating, entertaining everybody with his disputation, etc, and having a grand old time of it.
You notice he didn't publish a whole lot given that he lived to be almost 80 years old. So he goes back to Florence at that time, having, oh, by the way, I should say Sidereus Nuncius, he oversaw the printing and the binding of it. Now, what you probably don't know, books weren't sold with covers at the time.
They were bound, but then wealthy people put their own fancy leather covers on, which usually cost much more than book itself. So that's the form in which they were sold, but I have had, at Dibner Institute, two or three different copies of the first edition that he supervised.
And it stood out from books at the time on how carefully it was bound, how carefully it was printed. And I'll show you some of that in a little bit. At any rate out it comes with a lot of claims about Copernicanism and as you notice some claims about the fourth coming system of the world that he was going to put out.
The Sidereus Nuncius and what he announced in it won him election to the Lincean Academy, put up there in Italian. That's the foremost intellectual academy in all of Italy. So it was a very, very big deal to be elected to that. And afterwards he always spoke of himself as an academician.
And they did something to protect him for a while in all of this. Letters on sun spots came out in 1613. We'll look at the key part of that. It was actually published by the academy. He starts getting into trouble in the 1614, 1615 period with people defending him, like Campanella writes this Apologia pro Galileo.
Much of the issue at this time focuses on how, as it says here, how to reconcile the new astronomy with sacred scripture. One of the many things he did the Grand Duchess of Tuscany, following one night of disputation, asked him how to reconcile empirical science with scripture. And he wrote this very beautiful letter to the Grand Duchess, explaining how to handle scripture and science at the same time without any difficulty.
It was not published, but it was widely circulated and it probably didn't help him because what the Catholic Church was so intent about, is nobody but clergy could interpret scripture. Protestants put it out in English as James', King James' Bible is being produced at this very time we're talking about.
And of course the Gutenberg was out in German well before that. So the Protestant view is to the contrary. Religion is a personal thing and one has some latitude of interpretation. And within the Catholic Church nobody but clergy were authorized to do any interpretation whatsoever. And so whenever anybody else did, the clergy started rebelling and they rebelled fairly heavily at this time.
The net effect is what Galileo was most hoping to prevent. The inquisition examines the Copernican doctrine as it says here. It examines De revolutionibus, puts it on the index. Cardinal Bellarmine gets from Galileo some sort of promise not ever in the future to advocate Copernican astronomy except perhaps as a hypothesis, meaning as something you could entertain to draw conclusions from, for calculational purposes but with no claim of truth.
And that's what we get up to, it's that moment with Bellarmine that ends up being the commitment he made there ends up being what gets him in trouble later. Any rate, we'll come back to the second half of his life after we get up through Sidereus Nuncius.