Marvellous Combination of Circumstances

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In his villa at Bellosguardo Galileo could review the situation and conclude that things had turned out advantageously. The uncertainty regarding the

Medici family that had crept in when Cosimo II had died, was resolved. Galileo had used his international network of contacts in the highest echelons of European society. He had meekly addressed himself to the Austrian Archduke Leopold, whom he had formerly presented with telescopes and observations about the tides. His application resulted in Leopold writing to his sister Maria Maddalena, mother of the still under-age heir apparent, Grand Duke Ferdinando II, warmly recommending that the court at Florence retain the services of Galileo. Ferdinando was in any case a mild and tractable young man, who showed no sign of distinguishing himself intellectually or in any other way.

However this was as nothing compared to "this marvellous combination of circumstances"58 (mirabil congiuntura - Galileo's words in a letter to Prince Cesi) which had come about in Rome. The change of popes, the Lyncean Academicians' entry into the court of the Vatican and the propitious timing of the publication of The Assayer opened the way - not simply for a new personal triumph, but with a little care and luck, an evasion of the prohibition of 1616 and a new launch of the Copernican theory.

With some papal goodwill, Galileo might even resolve one of his personal problems. It was not impossible that Urban VIII, as a sign of his favour, might appoint young Vincenzio Galilei to a clerical sinecure that would give him a modest independent income. His son was making heavy weather of his studies at Pisa.

It was important to get to Rome again, to pay his humble respects to the Pope, but also to see how the intellectual land really lay now.

Galileo was suffering from constant ill-health, he had turned sixty in February 1624 and well knew that it was high time for him to bring together all his practical experiments and theoretical deliberations into one great, comprehensive work. Despite his growing contemporary fame, he had as yet not written anythingthat could compare with Copernicus' De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium or for that matter his competitor Kepler's The New Astronomy or his newly published World Harmony.

He set out in April. Prince Cesi, too, with his extensive web of contacts in Rome, knew how important this opportunity was, both for the promotion of science in Italy and the Lyncean Academy's reputation. Cesi owned a large estate at Aquasparta in Umbria. It was his favourite place, and there he spent long periods of time in scientific investigations of all kinds. He now invited Galileo to break his journey there for a fortnight, as the estate lay roughly half way between Florence and Rome. There the two of them could discuss the situation in Rome with all the city's complex groupings and alliances, and arrive at some plan of action for the offensive against Urban VIII Barberini. Cesi could hardly have forgotten Galileo's overenthusiastic performance during his previous stay in Rome.

Galileo arrived in Rome on 23 April, and the very next day he had an hour's private audience with the Pope. Urban VIII was friendly and sympathetic as before, he promised to look out for a position for Vincenzio and invited the mathematician to come again. Galileo had a total of six meetings with the Pope over the course of one and a half months in Rome.

He also nurtured other important connections, especially the Pope's influential nephew Cardinal Francesco Barberini and a German bishop, Zollern, who was worried because German Protestant scholars were now more than ever following in Kepler's footsteps and accepting the Copernican system. And so the Protestants were in the process of acquiring an ideological weapon against the papacy - and this in a situation in which the war between the Emperor's Catholic army and his Protestant subjects was being re-kindled on German soil.

However, with the passing of the weeks both Galileo and Cesi realised that despite the amicable reception, they had not got very far in moderating the terms on which cosmology could be discussed. Urban exuded friendship and respect - the Pope even wrote a warm letter of recommendation for Galileo to take back to the court at Florence. But the decrees from 1616 remained firm. It was indeed possible to write about the Copernican system as a hypothesis and a basis for calculation, but only as long as one explicitly distanced oneself from the idea that it represented a physical reality. Urban clung to his theologically based scepticism: God's ways could not be described fully by human intellect. And so ultimate proof that Copernicus was right could never be brought. It was not even theoretically possible to bring such a proof.

Galileo had his tides. He had no intention of relinquishing those. But for now he must return to Bellosguardo and think things over.

He did not think long. After consulting his friends in the Lyncean Academy he decided to fly a kite. The opportunity was there waiting for him - as it had been in fact for the past eight years.

During his previous visit to Rome in 1615-16, when Galileo had crushed his opponents in improvised discussions about Copernicus in the homes of the Roman ruling classes, he had bumped into an old acquaintance, Francesco Ingoli, who had studied law at Padua. Ingoli had chosen a career in the church, but he was interested in astronomy and had published a couple of minor works on heavenly phenomena. He was not convinced by Galileo's rhetoric and so he published a small paper, A Disputation on the Location and Stability of the Earth, in which he attempted to counter the Copernican doctrine.

Ingoli had tried to use physical and astronomical arguments against Galileo, not merely theological ones. Galileo was not especially impressed with these arguments, and it is not certain that he intended to respond to them. The events of 1616 rendered the question uninteresting - in the wake of the decisions by the Inquisition and the Congregation of the Index it would, to say the least, have been unwise to mount a public defence of Copernican ideas. But certain perverse opponents interpreted Galileo's silence differently: they thought that he had actually been refuted by Ingoli and had no defence to offer.

Now the situation had changed - or in any case Galileo and Prince Cesi judged that it had. With papal goodwill it should be possible to embark on a precarious balancing act: on the one side defending the theories of Copernicus against Ingoli 's arguments, on the other still declaring that the theory was not correct, because it, in turn, flew in the face of a theological understanding of the reality that existed on a different, superior plane.

The project could be launched in support of the Church: Protestants were not to be left under the misapprehension that Catholics were so stupid that they could not reason clearly and scientifically! On the other hand, their piety caused them to relinquish a theory that they had carefully provided proofs for, if it ran contrary to the Bible's express words and the Church's authority.

It was a complex task. Galileo did not spend long on the scientific parts of his "Letter to Ingoli", in which for the first time he explained in writing why the Earth could move without us noticing it in our everyday lives. The problem was the necessary adjustments in regard to theology. He sent a draft to Rome, where his friends made copies and suggested various corrections before the letter was published - or delivered to its addressee.

But this process was long drawn out and nothing was actively done with the letter throughout the entire winter of 1624-25, despite the fact that Ingoli, who had heard about the long delayed response, asked to see it. In fact, selected portions of the text were actually read out to Pope Urban. It was his trusted Secretary Ciampoli who had done this, and he could report back on His Holiness' uncommon goodwill. Just which extracts he had read he did not mention. They were likely to have been the less controversial ones.

Prince Cesi intervened in the late spring. He recommended that the "Letter to Ingoli" should not be given to its addressee, and certainly not printed. Things were afoot in Rome that he was not happy about.

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