Jupsat Pro Astronomy Software

Secrets of the Deep Sky

Get Instant Access

Pope Urban VIII also displayed constancy when he heard the news of Galileo's death, but it was not of the philosophical or the Christian sort. The news reached Rome in a letter to Cardinal Francesco Barberini from the Nuncio in Florence (who had obviously been given the wrong date):

"Galileo [Il Galileo] died on Thursdaythe 9th, on the following day hisbody was privately placed in Santa Croce [Church of the Holy Cross in Florence]. The word is around that the Grand Duke wishes to provide a sumptuous tomb for him comparable to and facing that of Michelangelo Buonarroti and he is of a mind to give the modelling of the tomb to the Academy of the Crusca. Out of my respect for you I thought that Your Eminence should know this."129

The Nuncio's respect for Francesco's uncle, who was the real intended recipient of the rumours, was even higher. And His Holiness' view of Galileo was unchanged, as the Tuscan Ambassador was to find out in an audience. This was his report home to Florence regarding his conversation with Urban VIII, a true study in the art of diplomacy:

"... he told me that he wanted me to share with him in confidence a particular and only for the simple purpose of conversation and really not that I should be obliged to write anything about it; it was that His Holiness had heard that the Most Serene Master [the Grand Duke of Tuscany] may have had plans to have a tomb for him erected there in Santa Croce, and he asked me if I knew anything about it. In truth I have heard it talked about for many days now, nonetheless I answered that I did not know anything about it. The reply from His Holiness was that he had heard some news, but did not yet know whether it was true or false; at any rate he nonetheless wished to tell me that it would not be at all a good example to the world that His Highness would do this thing, since he [Galileo] had been here before the

Holy Office because of a very false and very erroneous opinion, with which he had impressed many others around here, and had given such universal scandal with a doctrine that was condemned."130

Grand Duke Ferdinando was as usual keen to avoid unpleasantness, and Galileo's body was laid to rest in a modest side chapel, without an inscription.

To correct this and raise a worthy monument to his teacher became the life's work of Vincenzio Viviani. As he was obviously going to get nowhere with a physical marble tomb in the short term, he decided to preserve Galileo's memory in two other projects. One was an edition of Galileo's collected works (admittedly without the Dialogue). This he had ready by 1656. The second, and the more important, was his biography which was begun at about the same time, but not printed until after his death.

Being unable to position Galileo in the right place in the physical sense -right opposite Michelangelo - Viviani managed to do it in an intellectual, or rather a spiritual, manner. He simply moved Galileo's birthday forward three days, from 15 to 18 February 1564. It was on that day that Michelangelo died!

So Galileo was placed in the line of great Tuscans from Dante onwards. It was also popular at the time to compare him with Columbus. But in Florence a son of the city was naturally more appropriate than the Genoese Columbus, so Viviani drew the parallel with Amerigo Vespucci, the man who quite accidentally came to bestow his own name on America:

"... the immortal fame of that other Florentine Amerigo, who not only discovered a piece of land, but innumerable worlds and new lights in the sky"131

But the other camp in the conflict also had their image of Galileo.

During the seventeenth century several Jesuits published historical reviews of the development of mathematics and related sciences. It was quite hard for them to avoid a man who was probably the greatest, and without doubt the most famous, scientist of the early part of their own century. They solved the problem of Galileo by distinguishing between his scientific achievements on the one hand, and his defence of Copernicus on the other. As a scientist he could be praised, more or less critically; as a Copernican he had inevitably to be condemned.

Urban VIII came up against many other problems during his long pontificate, and he did not always get his own way. His most painful setback came when he tried - on behalf of the Barberinis - to take the small Dukedom of Castro from their arch-rivals, the Farnese family. He did not balk at excommunicating the Duke as part of his power politics. But the other Italian states intervened, and Urban had to accept the previous status quo.

Pope Urban died in 1644. His monument was designed by Bernini and placed in St Peters as centrally as possible, right next to "the chair of St Peter". As was the custom, Urban himself had planned the monument. He wanted to emphasise his Florentine background, so Bernini was given an artistic pattern - Michelangelo's monuments to the Medicis in Florence. Urban VIII's grave was decorated with two allegorical statues, Charity and Justice.

Vincenzio Viviani went to his grave at the age of 81 in 1703, without having erected a monument. In fact - he went to Galileo's grave, because at his own request he was laid to rest in the same crypt as his old teacher. His will had a codicil that enjoined its beneficiaries to work for the good of the monument.

Galileo's life was closely linked to the Medici family, but their sad demise only enhanced his reputation. The last Grand Duke, Gian Gastone, inherited the throne because his elder brother Cosimo III died prematurely of syphilis. As for Gian Gastone, he slowly ate and drank himself to death. He had no heirs, and the great powers of Europe nominated the Habsburg Duke of Lorraine as his successor, without consulting either Gian Gastone or any other Tuscan. This in practice left Tuscany a mere appendage of the Austrian Empire by the 1730s.

Then a wave of nationalism swept the neglected and impoverished Grand Duchy. Sorrowfully, many compared the current dismal situation with the times when Florence and Tuscany were a cultural and economic focal point in Europe. It was a national uprising completely devoid of power, it was limited to symbols. To get Galileo's tomb sited directly opposite that of Michelangelo was a worthy symbolic gesture: then every visitor to Santa Croce would, immediately on entering, pass between these two figureheads of Tuscan art and science.

More than a century had passed since the trial. Pope Clement XII Corsini, was himself a Florentine, and had no qualms about a circumspect rehabilitation of Galileo to cast a bit of much needed glory over his native city. In the artistic sphere, too, things were definitely on the wane in Florence, but the sculptor Foggini who was given the commission, was a competent late Baroque master. Galileo is depicted in an heroic sky-gazing attitude, telescope in hand. Two allegorical female figures adorn his tomb as well; they are Astronomy and Geometry.

Galileo's epitaph was written in Latin, the only language formal enough for such an occasion, but it was perhaps a little paradoxical for a man who had consciously written his major works in his mother tongue. Galileo was described as "the restitutor of geometry, astronomy and philosophy, unparalleled in his age".

In 1737, on 12 March - the same date that Michelangelo had been interred in Santa Croce - Galileo's remains were transferred to a vault in the new monument.

At last Florence had restored the honour of its son. The fact that he was a Florentine was clear from the suffix to his name on the epitaph: "Patric. flor." - "notable citizen of Florence."

It took longer in the rest of Italy. In 1820 a professor at the University of Rome wanted to publish a textbook that explained the Copernican system without dealing with it as hypothetical - a view which by that time had clearly long been universal in professional circles. But a zealous clerical official refused to sanction the publication, citing the 1616 decree. This led to the most bizarre situation as the Holy Office had to step in and ensure the book was published, by threatening reprisals against the forces hindering the publication of an up-to-date textbook!

This meant that the formal grounds for a ban on Copernicus' De Rev-olutionibus Orbium Coelestium and Galileo's Dialogue were gone. When eventually a new edition of the Index librorum prohibitorum came out in 1835, both titles had quietly been deleted from the list.

Galileo became an important symbol for the forces that were working towards the unification of a fragmented Italy during the 19th century. This inspired Antonio Favaro to publish a scientific edition ofhis collected works in twenty weighty volumes, from 1890 to 1909. The importance with which Galileo was endowed can be seen from the series title of the volumes: Edizione Nationale - "The national edition".

During the course of the 19th century the Vatican's archives were opened to some extent to researchers who wanted to study Galileo. (The archives of the Holy Office have remained closed to this day, although certain documents have been made public after special application.) This led to a wave of ecclesiastical self-criticism, but it was a wave that gained momentum very slowly indeed. Even at the time of the great Second Vatican Council in the 1960s -a radical attempt to think through the relationship between the Church and the modern world - the Galileo affair was only alluded to in very vague terms.

It was Copernicus' own countryman, the Polish Pope John Paul II Wo-jtyla, who really got to grips with the Galileo problem in all its ramifications.

He has admitted the Church's errors on several occasions, for example during a speech he made at the University of Padua in 1992, where he was a guest at the 400th anniversary of Galileo's appointment as a professor there.

In the middle of the old city in Florence, only a few steps away from Cosimo I's Uffizi building, is the Palazzo Castellani, which nowadays contains the Science Museum - Museo di Storia della Scienza. Just as in the Uffizi Gallery, large parts of its collection came originally from the Medici's private collections.

Galileo is the museum's great attraction. The collections and the library can be regarded as a Mecca for modern research on, and interest in, Galileo. But amongst the collection of artefacts which belonged to, or can be associated with Galileo, is one rather peculiar object.

This is an egg-shaped glass container, decorated with a gilded metal band. The container stands on a tallish, cylindrical pedestal of marble and if you go close enough, you can see a lengthy inscription encircling the pedestal. The whole thing is about twenty inches high.

Butwhatisclearly meant tobe themainfocus of attentionisanelongated, slightly bent, greyish-white thing within the glass egg.

Galileo's lasting contribution to science is based first and foremost on his description of evenly accelerating motion (free fall), and on the early investigation of the heavens with technical aids. In both these fields he produced work that make him a key figure in the history of science. As important perhaps is his approach to natural science, with its emphasis on experiment, observation and mathematical processing, rather than tradition and abstract reasoning.

The paradox is that, although he is remembered more than perhaps any other scientist up through the ages, this is because of the battle over the Copernican system. In this revolutionary view of the universe he is, however, despite the breakthrough of his discovery of the satellites of Jupiter, little more than a footnote between Kepler and Newton in historical terms.

The dramatic court case with its plainly drawn battle lines turned him into a perfect symbolic figure. Together with his role as an experimenter -graphically brought to life in Viviani's story about him dropping balls from the leaning tower of Pisa - the case made Galileo seem like the father figure of modern science, a science that defies prejudice and stupidity in its pure search for knowledge. This is how he is described in a Norwegian sixth form college physics textbook from the 1960s:

"His importance to science can hardly be overestimated, he must be considered one of its greatest men. He made the experiment the vital thing (. . ,)"132

In Italy this has endowed Galileo with the status of a sort of secular saint, a symbol of intellectual freedom and rebellion against hidebound religious authorities. At least one Italian historian has been completely ostracised because he questioned the black-and-white attitude to the great man's martyrdom. And the feeling is not limited to Italy. In 1959 Arthur Koestler wrote The Sleepwalkers, in which Galileo's life and fate plays an absolutely central role as the very "watershed" where religion and science unhappily went their separate ways. He places a good deal of the failure on Galileo's difficult temperament. The book aroused violent and relatively unacademic reactions from the two leading Galilean researchers:

"[The treatment of] Galileo is simply dishonest from beginning to end. (...) Koestler has threaded together every discredited charge, ancient and modern, that has been made against him [... and] added a few deliberate distortions of his own."133

Galileo's courageous and obstinate achievements in disseminating the new truths cannot be doubted. Nor does it diminish him in the least that his motives were mixed, as all human motives are, and that his intense stubbornness could turn into another human characteristic, self-righteousness. But the story of his reputation also shows that even people who distance themselves from religion on the grounds of rationalism, or at least reproach it for interfering in areas of life that are none of its business, also have need of saints and martyrs.

For such devotees Galileo is above any hint of criticism, he has become an icon, a character that is not to be sullied. We are forced to call such admiration worship. The strange object in the Science Museum in Florence emphasises this. For it is a worldly relic - an anti-relic, if you will, in a country whose innumerable churches are awash with sacred objects.

It is Galileo's right index finger, the finger that once clasped his pen and steadied his telescope when he turn it skywards.

Was this article helpful?

0 0
Telescopes Mastery

Telescopes Mastery

Through this ebook, you are going to learn what you will need to know all about the telescopes that can provide a fun and rewarding hobby for you and your family!

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment