Professors Commitments

Venice lured the young professor. The powerful old city with its black-painted gondolas punting up and down the canals, attracted him for a variety of reasons. After the discovery of the sea route to America this lagoon region at the top of the Adriatic was, certainly, in the process of becoming a backwater as a trading and maritime hub, but by comparison with Padua, Venice was a big city. And Galileo made influential friends there. Foremost among them was the wealthy aristocrat Gianfrancesco Sagredo. Sagredo had hisown palace in thecity'sfinestquarter: itsslightlyoriental facadereflected in the Canal Grande.

The professor from Padua was always welcome at this palace, setting out his thoughts on the physical world and its secrets. The professional and the interested amateur not only exchanged ideas, but also small gifts - Galileo might bring some truffles, and receive a present of wine from the connoisseur Sagredo.

Galileo did not go to Venice just to renew acquaintance with influential friends. He went there also to meet women, a fact that did not raise the smallest eyebrow. Even in papal Rome the most elite courtesans were invited to lively dinners with elevated prelates and foreign emissaries. One of the most eminent of these women lived in her own apartment costing 70 scudi per annum, complete with stall and standing for visitors' carriages, and she received her clients in a bed festooned with "turquoise curtains made of raw silk from Bologna"10 and with a bedspread of the same material.

But Galileo was lucky enough to meet a young woman in Venice with whom he could form a permanent relationship. Her name was Marina Gamba and she was only just twenty when she and the professor met.

Instead of marriage, there were frequent trips to Venice. Galileo was in his mid-thirties and well established, Marina was young, poor and needed a provider - so neither she nor her family were too scrupulous about the outward form of the liaison. Marina soon became pregnant, the professor was in the process of starting a family.

Galileo brought his Marina to Padua. He did not lodge her in his house, which was already a combination of lodgings, schoolroom and compass workshop. A professor's house was a kind of extension of the university, a gathering place for serious male students, where the notion of women (not to mention the sound of children) was completely out of place.

Galileo's family life was removed to a small house just a few minutes away. There, the couple's eldest daughter, Virginia, was born on 13 August 1600, defornicazione11, as the church register blandly states, i.e. "out of wedlock". Galileo is not mentioned there, nor in the entry for the couple's second daughter, Livia Antonia, the following year. The tone is certainly a little less harsh this time: "daughter of madonna Marina Gamba and... "12 When Marina and Galileo had their third and last child in 1606, the church registry is even more discreet: young Vincenzio is registered as "son of madonna Marina, daughter of Andrea Gamba, and an unknown father"13.

Naturally, there was never any doubt as to Galileo's actual paternity, nor did he ever try to conceal it. The children were named after his two sisters and his father. He also cast horoscopes for them based on the time of their births - Livia would be characterised byprobitas, simplicitas, eruditio, prudentia et humanitas. That certainly seemed pretty promising for the child: honesty, simplicity, culture, wisdom and humanity!

So why could Galileo not simply marry his children's mother? It was not impossible - his colleague Kepler, for example, had done just that. The reasons were doubtless complex, but just as surely social and financial at root. The class system dictated that Marina was hardly suited to the circles Galileo moved in, not to mention the life he aspired to: close to a princely court. Perhaps of more direct financial consideration was the fact that she did not have any dowry to speak of. The financial side of the contract that also was an aspect of marriage, was missing.

If Galileo officially admitted paternity of his daughters, they would be elevated to his own social class - and that, in turn, would mean he would have to provide hefty dowries when they were ready to marry, not to mention foot the actual expenses of the weddings themselves.

The professor knew a bit about the costs families entailed. He was still struggling to pay off the dowry of his elder sister. He should by now in all conscience have been getting help from his younger brother, the musician Michelangelo, but he earned so little that he had to ask Galileo for travelling money and clothes when he was offered a position by a Polish nobleman. And as if that was not bad enough, his other sister, Livia, was now to marry. This was to be celebrated in a style worthy of an old and distinguished, if impecunious, Tuscan family - if no one else, his mother Giulia would ensure that standards were maintained. The wedding gown alone, of black Neapolitan velvet decorated with light blue damask, cost a small fortune. And Galileo paid.

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