An Advantageous Decree

While Galileo was just starting his revision, something catastrophic occurred in Rome. The unifying force behind his varied and diverse connections in the city, was suddenly gone. The founder of the Academy, the undisputed leader of the sharp-eyed lynxes, Prince Frederico Cesi, died quite suddenly on 1 August, only 45 years old.

Cesi left no will behind him and no adult heirs. As he was the organisational and financial force behind the Lyncean Academy, all its work was paralysed. No one else could make the necessary decisions, and the remaining members were forced to concentrate on one immediate practical problem: they had to save the Academy's library. There were books in it that would not bear close scrutiny by the Church authorities.

Galileo was left with his shock and sadness at the loss of a close friend, a wise enthusiast and an energetic worker. In addition he had a finished manuscript on his hands - but now no publisher.

Nor was the Dialogue a straightforward manuscript that could simply be turned over to a book-printer. He realised that the best thing would be to get the book printed in Florence, where he personally could oversee the process. But this brought with it a new problem: Father Riccardi's provisional approval was only valid in Rome.

The "Master of the Sacred Palace" was able to issue a general permission to print anywhere, but for this he stipulated a condition: he wanted the manuscript so that he could go through it himself once more, and for the sake of caution with the Lyncean Ciampoli, Galileo's friend and the Pope's Secretary.

Father Riccardi was clearly in a difficult bind. He was a Dominican, and he knew of course that powerful forces amongst the Jesuits in Rome were out to get Galileo - and that they might not worry over much about bringing down a Dominican at the same time, considering the traditional tensions between the two orders. On the other hand, Galileo was a favourite of the Pope, and he could also rely on the Grand Duke of Tuscany, still a powerful force on the Italian mainland.

But early that autumn the plague struck northern Italy, right down as far as Tuscany. The Papal States introduced strict quarantine rules, which even applied to large packages. This made it difficult to edit the manuscript in Rome. Galileo asked to be allowed to make the revision in Florence, and just send the introduction and conclusion to Rome for final approval. Riccardi, sensing problems, tried to spin the matter out.

A whole year passed like this to the ageing Galileo's great dismay. He mobilised the Grand Duke's Secretary and his Roman Ambassador, and in the summer of 1631 he received Riccardi's very grudging licence to print, his imprimatur. Although in fact no such approval really existed. What happened was that Riccardi sent instructions to the local Inquisitor in Florence, together with a draft preface that had go into the book, if not in those exact words at least with the same content.

This complex and lengthy process helped, if nothing else, to obscure the responsibility for the approval of the book, not for its content. That rested in the final analysis with the author.

With Riccardi's provisional approval the printing could at last begin, but even that took an inordinately long time. The Dialogue did not come out until 21 February 1632, with a dedication to Grand Duke Ferdinando II. The dedication is only two, short, sober pages long - quite bereft of the bombastic, high-flown language that characterised the introduction to The Starry Message twenty years earlier. Galileo makes the point that, in philosophy, one man's insight is worth more than a thousand men's opinions - provided that insight is correct. He says nothing more, but lets the reader decide how this maxim should apply to Ptolemy and Copernicus. His tribute to the Grand Duke is limited to what was surely a deep-felt gratitude for his financial help, together with an apposite comment about how it was through Ferdinando's agency that the book was finally printed at all. The preface follows. The introduction is here given in its entirety:

"Several years ago there was published in Rome a salutary edict which, in order to obviate the dangerous tendencies of our present age, imposed a seasonable silence upon the Pythagorean opinion that the earth moves. There were those who impudently asserted that this decree had its origin not injudicious enquiry, but in passion none too well informed. Complaints were to be heard that advisors who were totally unskilled at astronomical observations ought not to clip the wings of reflective intellects by means of rash prohibitions.

"Upon hearing such carping insolence, my zeal could not be contained. Being thoroughly informed about that prudent determination, I decided to appear openly in the theatre of the world as a witness of the sober truth.

I was at that time in Rome; I was not only received by the most eminent prelates of that Court, but had their applause; indeed, this decree was not published without some previous notice of it having been given to me. Therefore I propose in the present work to show to foreign nations that as much is understood of this matter in Italy, and particularly in Rome, as transalpine diligence can ever have imagined."60

Galileo certainly had been given "previous notice of the decree" in 1616! This was at his meeting with Bellarmine which ended in a strict warning not to portray the teachings of Copernicus as physical truths, and with an even clearer - probably downright threatening - reminder from Cardinal Segizzi. But Bellarmine and Segizzi were both long since dead.

Galileo's preface could be seen as a masterpiece of intelligent self-restraint. He spoke from an impregnable position as defender of Catholic intellectuality, while at the same time bending to the religious commands of a higher order. The preface - especially in the light of the rest of the book - could however also be seen as ironical hypocrisy. It all depended on the reader.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment