Diplomacy in the Time of the Plague

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The author of all these diplomatic, theological and legal complications had now rented a smaller and cheaper house a little further away from the centre of Florence, in Pian de' Guillari near Arcetri. The house cost 35 scudi per annum, and had the beautiful name Villa di Gioiello - "the jewel" or the "the gem". However, the most important thing for the ageing Galileo was to get closer to his daughters in the convent of San Matteo; from his new house it was only a few minutes walk away.

At about the same time, the war that still raged in northern Europe took a decisive new turn. In the summer of 1630, Gustav Adolf landed in Pomerania with a small force, ostensibly to secure the Lutheran position in northern Germany, but in reality to protect Swedish interests around the Baltic. At the Imperial court people barely raised an eyebrow, merely registering the fact that "another small enemy" had arrived. Perhaps the Emperor's counsellors were recalling Christian IV of Denmark-Norway and his attempt to intervene in affairs a few years earlier, which quickly ended when the imperial army leader Wallenstein chased the Danish king back to Copenhagen.

But Gustav Adolf was made of sterner stuff. It was true that the Protestant petty princes regarded him with scepticism. They feared - quite rightly -that his interests chiefly lay in dominating them. In the meantime he soon found a powerful ally with large financial resources. France's strong man might well bear the title of cardinal, but he felt no scruples about allying himself with a Protestant when the power of France was at stake. In 1631

France and Sweden signed an agreement. Almost simultaneously, Catholic troops took Magdeburg, one of the Protestants' strongest cities.

Even in a war that was remarkable for sustained brutality on all sides, the conquest of Magdeburg was a chapter that stood out. The city had 36,000 inhabitants. Only 6,000 of them survived the battles that were followed by out-and-out massacres. If Protestants had not worked together before, they now realised that it was imperative.

With support from north German allies and mercenaries in the pay of the French, the Swedish troops swept down through Germany, taking city after city, and quickly approached Vienna and Prague. In regions of Europe where the people had previously feared the Turks more than any other living thing, they now learnt that it was little better when the new cry went up: "The Swedes are coming!"

This was the dramatic development north of the Alps that had caused problems for Pope Urban and had been the backdrop to the scandalous consistory meeting in March. But in Tuscany and Florence the war was far away. Grand Duke Ferdinando II had just reached his majority and, fortunately for his subordinates, Tuscany's ruler no longer had any role to play on the European stage, where power and religion were becoming enmeshed in such an unhappy manner. He did, however, engage himself in local conflicts with the men of the church. The cause of this was his genuine attempt to do something about the most imminent threat to Tuscany: the plague.

Ferdinando, amiable and weak as he was, had, despite the orthodox rearing received from his mother and grandmother, a few shreds of Tuscan rationalism in his nature. One thing was the way he displayed personal courage by remaining amongst the plague-smitten, rather than fleeing to the countryside, but more important were the decrees he made and the bureaucratic apparatus he built up to limit its ravages.

The work was based on vague contemporary ideas of infection. They kept the sick isolated, limited social contact between people and exterminated the sources of infection. This opened the way for a conflict between "faith" and "science" even at the local level. Churchmen in villages believed that the best thing to do was to bring the local image of the Virgin Mary out of the church and organise a great procession for the villagers and the people of the surrounding countryside. The publicly appointed "plague officers" regarded this as a dangerous spread of infection. They in their turn suggested initiatives such as killing the village dogs and cats, which were suspected of spreading the disease in some way.

Such conflicts had no clear moral victor. The religious processions did not really do much harm, as the plague rarely spreads directly between people. Slaughtering cats and dogs, on the other hand, was decidedly unfortunate. It led to a boom in the rat population, which in its turn enabled the real culprit, the bacteriayersina pestis, to spread through its host, the rat flea.

Even though he had enough problems at home and with the Pope, and was not endowed with any particularly incisive ability to cut to the quick and solve them, young Ferdinando was genuinely interested in Galileo's fate. The mathematician had had a close relationship with his family for decades, and had brought glory and honour to Florence and the Medici family. It was therefore with the full support of the Grand Duke that his Ambassador in Rome went to the Vatican.

But it was a shocked and incredulous Ambassador Niccolini who returned to the Villa Medici after his audience on 4 September 1632.

As planned, he had commenced with the affair of the arrested Tuscan and his possible hand-over to the Holy Office.81 Something was clearly bothering the Pope, however, and the Ambassador soon discovered what it was. Suddenly Urban VIII exploded in a violent fit of rage. Galileo too, he ejaculated, had gone too far and entered territory that was nothing to do with him, and had meddled in the most dangerous matters imaginable.

The Ambassador was no coward. And anyway, he had instructions to raise the matter of Galileo. As the Pope had now seen fit to introduce the subject, he felt he might as well continue. He therefore remarked that Galileo had not allowed the book to be printed without prior approval from the Pope's own men, and the Ambassador had himself helped the process by sending the drafts of the preface back and forth between Rome and Florence so that everything might be done properly.

This was undoubtedly true, but probably the worst thing he could have said just at that moment. For "the Pope's own men" included Ciampoli, who was still residing in Rome, but at a safe distance from the Pope's displeasure. In a further paroxysm of anger, Urban shouted that he had been tricked both by Galileo and Ciampoli, as the latter had intimated that everything was all right and that Galileo would do exactly as the Pope had ordered. For good measure he also blackguarded Father Riccardi, the censor who, beguiled by "fine words" had been wheedled into giving an approval, an approval which was subsequently exploited in Florence and even printed at the front of the book, even though it was only valid in Rome.

The Ambassador now saw the seriousness of the situation and the extent of the Pope's wrath. He hastily put in that he at least hoped that Galileo would be called to put his own explanation to the commission which rumour had it was to be appointed. But Urban did not give way. He replied tersely that the Holy Office did not work like that. A piece of writing had a judgement passed on it, and then the sinner was summoned so that he could, if necessary, renounce his opinions.

Of course, said the Ambassador. Even so, would it not be more practical if Galileo knew what was wrong in advance, what was troubling the Inquisition in this way?

This rash attempt at gainsaying him caused Urban to explode for the third time: the Holy Office did not do things in that way, it did not work like that, information was never provided in advance, it had never been done before. And anyway, Galileo knew perfectly well what was wrong: "We have discussed them [the objections] with him and he has heard them from ourselves."82

After this outburst in the papal plural, Urban calmed down a little. He went on to say that he did not care if the Dialogue was dedicated to the Grand Duke. In his role as the Pope he had personally banned books that were dedicated to him, and if Ferdinando wanted to be seen as a Christian prince, he should help by getting ungodly texts prohibited, not defending them. And anyway, he added in a slightly milder tone, he had already done everything he could for Galileo by appointing this special commission of pious and learned men instead of sending the Dialogue through the normal channels straight to the Holy Office. In brief, he - Urban - had been as accommodating as it was possible to be under the circumstances, while the opposite had be said of Galileo: the mathematician had done his best to trick and deceive his former pontifical benefactor.

With this powerful salvo the Ambassador was dismissed. It was not until the following day that he had sufficiently recovered to send the Florentine court a detailed report, which concluded:

"Thus I had an unpleasant meeting, and I feel the Pope could not have a worse disposition toward our poor Mr. Galilei. Your Most Illustrious Lordship can imagine in what condition I returned home yesterday morning."83

As things now stood it was useless to try to influence the composition of the commission. Galileo, isolated in his Villa di Gioiello, far from the centre of events, still hoped for something of the kind. For the first and only time he listened to advice from Tommaso Campanella, and enquired of the Ambassador if it were possible to get Campanella or other sympathetic people on to the commission. For understandable reasons the Ambassador had little enthusiasm left for seeking out the Pope with such an enquiry, so instead he aired it with the censor, Riccardi, who was himself to be one of its members.

Riccardi replied truthfully that it would be quite impossible to have Campanella on an official commission of this kind. It had only been a few years since a book of his own had been on the Index, a book that dealt precisely with the relationship between astronomy and religion - In Defence ofGalileo.And in anycase, thecensoradded -possiblynotquitesohonestly-two members sympathetic to Galileo had already been appointed. One was himself, as he naturally had an interest in defending his own decision to approve the printing of the Dialogue, the other was the astronomer Melchior Inchofer. Father Inchofer was known to be a defender of the geocentric, Ptolemaic system, but he was a professional and would be able to assess Galileo's proofs and arguments.

This assurance was probably meant to do little more than hearten the Ambassador. The turn the situation had now taken meant that Riccardi's principal objective was to save his own skin. When he had to explain how the book had actually come to be printed, it would decidedly be easiest to argue that Galileo had pulled the wool over his eyes, especially as this was what the Pope wanted to hear. And as far as Father Inchofer was concerned, he was indeed a Jesuit, but no astronomer of any standing. In such matters he tended to defer to an older and considerably more skilful colleague: Father Christopher Scheiner.

The commission was fast working in the extreme. It had five meetings in the space of just a few days. Its conclusion surprised nobody: the Dialogue must immediately be sent to the Holy Office for thorough investigation.

The Grand Duke's sorely tried Ambassador steeled himself for another meeting with the Pope. It was a much more relaxed Urban VIII who met him this time, friendly and almost inclined to joke. The Pope assured him of his deep respect for the Grand Duke and that he still looked on Galileo as a friend. But about the continued handling of the case, he was immovable: the Inquisition would decide the future fate of the Dialogue and its author.

Perhaps Urban's good humour was just a chance expression of the extraordinarily labile shifts in mood which pressure and adversity had clearly brought out in him. But perhaps his humour was just slightly improved by a decisive document he was able to show the Ambassador, a sensational find from the archives of the Inquisition that placed all of Galileo's great labour over his Dialogue in a new and considerably more dubious light. The

Ambassador was to greet Grand Duke Ferdinando, said the Pope, and tell him that "the matter is more serious than His Highness thinks."84

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