Jupiters Sons

In Florence's Palazzo Pitti, the twenty-year-old Grand Duke Cosimo II pursued a life of courtliness and fashion, while his mother and wife dedicated most of their time to religion. The ruling family distanced itself more and more from the realities of political everyday life. In consequence the symbols of power and their foundation assumed a greater importance.

Galileo, with his good contacts at the court, was well aware of this. As early as 1608 he had attempted to persuade the Grand Duchess Christina that his scientific insight could be turned to some profit in an advanced use of symbolism. He had written to her and suggested that a medal be struck to commemorate her son's marriage to Maria Maddalena. The central emblem of the medal was to be a globe-shaped magnetic ironstone that was attracting small pieces of iron from every side. The magnet's attractive power - under the motto Vim Facit Amor, "Love creates strength" - was to symbolise his subjects' unconquerable yearning for their ruler, but also the irresistible power that he radiated.

No medal materialised, presumably the symbolism was a bit too high-flown both for Cosimo and for the average courtier. But there was nothing wrong with the idea. And it could even be applied to Jupiter himself.

Galileo's feverish scientific and career-orientated efforts during the spring of 1610 must be viewed as two sides of the same coin. If he was to create room for a modern, non-Aristotelian natural science, based on experiment, observation and mathematical analysis, that science had to have status. And status was linked to the exponent's position within society - not to collegial approbation from within the ivory towers of academia.

The name Cosimo was often linked to the cosmos. Cosimo I had liked to represent himself as the fulfiller of Florence's predestined fate, guaranteed by the cosmos through the suitable horoscopes he ensured were cast. In this Medici mythology, Jupiter - both the god and the planet - played a leading role. Just as Jupiter was the chief god, the father of a divine dynasty, so Cosimo I was the founder of a line of grand dukes, a family of absolutist rulers raised high above everyday life.

Now Cosimo II had the title. One could only approach rulers by making unconditional gifts. Galileo had presented his telescope to his employers in Venice, and been rewarded. But now he had an even more spectacular present - if not up his sleeve, at least within his gift.

Only the previous autumn Galileo had shown the telescope to Cosimo II during a visit to his home city. The young ruler had been interested, and so nowGalileo settleddowntowriteabrief report to thecourt in Florenceabout his new discoveries. He soon learnt through his contacts that the nobleman was amazed and impressed at his old tutor's achievements. So were his three younger brothers.

Galileo had already begun to write a short book about his telescopic discoveries, while at the same time continuing his observations. Speed was now of the essence. On 13 February he wrote to Cosimo's "prime minister", his Secretary of State, Belisario Vinta, asking what he should call these four heavenly bodies: the cosmic or the Medicean stars?

ThefoursatellitesofJupiterwere thegreatestnew astronomical discovery yet made. Galileo literally wanted to dedicate them to the Medicis by giving them names and incorporating them into the family's symbolic universe.

But haste was needed. Personally, he liked the association "Cosimo-cosmos" best, and described his find using that terminology. This meant that when the book was almost ready for the printer, and the reply came from Florence, he had to do a small cutting and pasting job. Although the young Grand Duke was graciously pleased to accept that Jupiter's four satellites travelled through space in homage to him and his three brothers, his wish was that they should be named after the family. So it was to be the Medicean stars.

Galileo's book about the discovery came out on 12 March. It was aimed at a learned European public and was written in Latin, not Tuscan. The 500 copies were sold out within the week. The title was Sidereus Nuncius, which could mean "Starry Messenger" as well as "Starry Message". It was the latter meaning Galileo had intended. Amongst several pages of dedication he writes to Cosimo II:

"Scarcely have the immortal graces of your soul begun to shine forth on earth than bright stars offer themselves in the heavens which, like tongues, will speak of and celebrate your most excellent virtues for all time."19

The message the stars had was a tribute to the Medicis. It was impossible to say more plainly that Galileo had found scientific evidence for the family's dynastic horoscope.

But interwoven with this message there was another: Professor Galilei, Florentine, possessed all the necessary qualifications, both as regards his virtuous scientific endeavours and his mastery of the courtier's well-turned exaggerations, for the post of mathematician to the court of Florence.

Such a position could not be applied for, it was a mark of grace and favour. As well as his copy of The Starry Message Cosimo II also was presented with the telescope that Galileo had made the discovery with. Now the Grand Duke could see for himself, if he was in doubt. Galileo travelled to Florence and Pisa in the Easter holidays to point out the satellites personally to the Grand Duke and his court.

The Grand Duke and the court did have doubts. So far, it was Galileo alone who had identified the Medicean stars. The telescope was so primitive that it required an extremely practised and skilful operator to locate the objects, four tiny pricks of light at the end of a telescope tube. Should the discovery be disproved by others, there would be little honour for Cosimo, but rather international ridicule for a conceited nobleman who accepted all acclaim indiscriminately.

The first resistance did indeed show itself fairly quickly. Not entirely unexpectedly it emanated from the University of Bologna. It was the seat of the mathematician Giovanni Magini, Galileo's old rival.

Galileo elected to visit Bologna on his way back from Florence, so that he could personally demonstrate the four new celestial bodies. It was a studiously polite meeting of fellow scholars. Magini organised a professional get together in the evening, including colleagues and students. Everyone got the chance to turn the telescope skywards.

But Magini did not, or would not, see the satellites. In addition he was far from persuaded that discoveries made with the aid of a telescope were scientifically valid. Who could say but that the new phenomena were not deceptions or chimera springing from the very construction of the apparatus?

Magini had a young Bohemian student named Martin Horky living in his house. The professor allowed his student to spearhead the attack on Galileo, a not unknown tactic, and one which Galileo himself would employ. The good Horky took up the cudgels with zeal. In a letter to Johann Kepler no less, he wrote:

"But all acknowledged that the instrument deceived. And Galileo became silent, and on the twenty-sixth, a Monday, dejected, he took his leave from Mr. Magini very early in the morning. And he gave no thanks for the favours and the many thoughts, because, full of himself, he hawked a fable. [...] Thus the wretched Galileo left Bologna with his spyglass."20

Without losing anytime, Horky published a small book which he called Contra Sidereum Nuncium - "Against the Starry Message". Admittedly he had to concede that the telescope performed wonders in inferioribus - "in the lower regions". But it was unusable in superioribus - for making observations of astronomical phenomena. In this way Horky could claim an Aristotelian basis for his criticism. But his attack was far too virulent, he accused Galileo of being an academic charlatan and compared Jupiter's satellites with attempts to find the square of the circle. This was too much for Magini who kicked the Bohemian out of his professorial house. But the rumours of Galileo's reported fiasco spread quickly. Horky sent the book to anyone who might have influence, even to Paolo Sarpi - and not least to Florence.

There it was read with the greatest interest. Patriotism was not the only trait that flourished in Florence. It was mixed with an equally intense feeling of envy and scepticism towards children of the city who stood out, something Dante could certainly have vouched for. Amongst those who fell on Horky's pamphlet were two local philosophers called Sizzi and delle Colombe. The latter name means "of the doves". The man was obviously far from pleased that the eagle Galileo was coming back to his native city.

For Cosimo II had overcome his doubts. On 10 July he appointed Galileo grand ducal mathematician and philosopher. Formally he was to become an extraordinary professor at the University of Pisa, but without any residential or teaching obligations.

The reason that Cosimo let himself be persuaded so quickly, despite the resistance, was principally due to the full, enthusiastic and unconditional support Galileo received from the most highly regarded astronomer in Europe. It was welcome - and more than a little strange considering that this astronomer, too, had not managed to make out the satellites of Jupiter through the telescopes he had at his disposal!

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