Signs in the

Venetian independence caused a slow, smouldering deterioration in the relationship with Rome and the ever more absolutist papal power. Neither the intellectuals nor the commonality of Venice were prepared to accept every decree from the papal throne uncritically. This was one of the reasons why the rootless, apostate Dominican friar Giordano Bruno chose to settle in Venice and Padua, when he made the foolhardy decision to return to Italian soil. Giordano Bruno was a visionary and a philosopher,...

From Pisa to Padua

Musician, composer and theoretician, Vincenzio Galilei, had married when he was more than forty years old. In 1591, that family-proud Florentine died at home in Florence. He had a permanent place in musical history, as well as a wife and four children, all of whom except Galileo and his sister Virginia, had no means of support. The death meant that the young professor took over the responsibility for the entire family - a mother who was sometimes difficult and who was to live for another thirty...

Modern Physics Is Born

It was neither as a designer of calculators nor as a Copernican astronomer that Galileo made his pioneering mark during his years at Padua. His most important work was experiments and investigations in the realms of physics. During those eighteen years he changed the foundations of traditional physics - or, as others see it, established an entirely new science. However, remarkably few people outside Padua realised this. For various reasons he did not make his results public until well into old...

How to Go to Heaven Not How the Heavens Go

It was no longer a matter of a local quarrel in Florence, episodes the like of which he, with his position at the Grand Duke's court, could smile at condescendingly. The threat was so serious that he must meet it on two fronts, partly in Rome, partly at home in the court. Things were not made better when Galileo learnt that Father Tommaso Caccini, the man who thought that mathematicians ought to be exiled, had gone to Rome. He was to take up a position at the...

Johann Kepler Imperial Mathematician

One of the most extraordinary things about Galileo's life and work is his relationship with his greatest colleague, a man seven years his junior, whom he nevermet andonlyveryrarelycorrespondedwith. TheGermanProtestant Kepler had the keys that Galileo needed. They were moreover simply and strikingly formulated in the language of mathematics. Johann Kepler had been born in the small town of Weil on the Rhine, where the river forms the border between modern Germany and Switzerland. He became a...

War and Heresy

In September 1624, as Galileo sat at home in Florence finishing his Letter to Ingoli, a new Jesuit professor was taking up his position at the Collegio Romano. His name was Father Spinola, and he used his inaugural lecture to launch a sharp attack on those who sowed the seeds of heresy by airing new and unbiblical scientific views. There is little doubt that he had discussed this with his religious brother, the offended Father Grassi. Orazio Grassi had now had time to study The Assayer in...

The Meeting with Infinity

Galileo's last book is usually referred to by the simplified title Two New Sciences. This time the three friends, Salviati, Sagredo and Simplicio meet after visiting the Arsenal, Venice's famous shipyard. Salviati is impressed with all the practical knowledge accumulated there The constant activity which you Venetians display in your famous arsenal suggests to the studious mind a large field for investigation, especially that part of the work which involves mechanics for in this department all...

Foolish and Absurd in Philosophy Formally Heretical

Galileo's supporters in Rome were not looking forward to his visit. They feared that his eagerness and conviction would only make things worse. Far better for him to stay at home, working away quietly at his arguments. The Tuscan Ambassador who would have to be his host, wrote to the Grand Duke's Secretary of State this is no fit place to argue about the Moon or, especially in these times, to try and bring in new ideas.34 The Ambassador was quite right, but it made no difference. With gracious...

Galileo Galilei

The case was not, in fact, as simple as Maculano and Francesco Barberini had hoped. The attempts to send Galileo home with a friendly warning and a symbolic punishment, a certain number of penitential prayers, for instance, met with resistance. Certain people were not satisfied with Galileo's explanations to the court. We do not know who they were - it may have been Jesuits in the Inquisition or the Pope himself. At all events, the legal interrogations of Galileo were augmented by a detailed...

Comets Portend Disaster

Fever and rheumaticky bouts kept him in bed for weeks on end. His work was set back a good deal. The worst thing was that his illness prevented him from observing the most interesting astronomical phenomenon of the period. In fact it was a triple phenomenon, three comets of varying brightness that appeared in quick succession in the autumn of 1618. These comets were the first to be visible in Europe after the invention of the telescope, and therefore of...

Dispute About Objects that Float in Water

A fortnight into June Galileo returned to Florence. Only a few days later he got embroiled, during the worst of the Tuscan summer heat, in a discussion about ice. Galileo was staying with his good friend, the wealthy Salviati, at the Villa delle Selve - the house by the woods. It was beautifully situated on a prominence near the little town of Signa, roughly half way between Florence and Pisa. From the noble house with its simple, firm Renaissance style, orchards of olive trees and vineyards...

De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium

In 1592, when Galileo arrived at Padua and Bruno was arrested, Mikolaj Copernik - or Copernicus - had been dead for almost fifty years, but the force of his ideas was only just beginning to make itself seriously felt. In his private life Copernicus was hardly a revolutionary, he was in fact a peaceful cleric. He lived a quiet life as a canon of the cathedral in the small town of Frauenburg in the semi-independent bishopric of Ermeland on the shores of the Baltic, now part of Poland. As a young...

Drawing Close to a Court

No jubilees were celebrated in Florence, but even there the year 1600 was an eventful one. Grand Duke Ferdinando had plenty of excuse to create the kind of lavish entertainments that he loved. The greatest of these occurred on one of the most glorious occasions in his family's history Ferdinando's niece, Maria de' Medici, was marrying the French King Henri IV of Navarre. True, the ceremony in Florence's Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral was conducted with his proxy, but this in no way dampened...

The Inquisitions Chambers

On 8 March 1632 a violent and scandalous episode took place in the Vatican. Before the entire College of Cardinals the leader of the pro-Spanish faction, Cardinal Gaspare Borgia, read out a sharp protest against the Pope and his lack of support for the Spanish war against the Protestants in Germany. Borgia took the unheard of step of hinting that a meeting should be convened to consider whether the Pope really had the necessary will to defend the Catholic faith. Pope Urban and his faithful...