Galileo Galilei was just five-years-old when he witnessed
the power of Florence's first family with the coronation of Cosimo I.
Galileo would become the greatest scientist in history, and the father
of modern astronomy, but would end his life betrayed by his Medici
The son of a court musician, Galileo grew up on the fringes of the Medici court, and was fascinated by the art of spectacle and display.
A talented mathematician, his early scientific training required him to also study technical drawing at the Florentine Academy of Art and Design.
Galileo soon began lecturing in natural science at local universities. He made a name for himself when he discovered the uniformity of pendulum vibrations.
It was a critical step in the accurate measurement of time, and fuelled the envy of his peers. Galileo had become both a prodigy, and a troublemaker.
Universities tended to be conservative, and Galileo actively searched for a more liberal home. In the summer of 1611 he seized his chance and impressed
Grand Duke Ferdinand I with his scientific instruments. Galileo was appointed Royal Professor of Mathematics and Philosophy, with a healthy salary.
He had found his niche.
As Galileo's reputation spread through Italy and Europe, his Medici patrons bestowed celebrity, and protection. In return, Galileo ensured that his
discoveries were unveiled at the court of the Medici as a form of court entertainment.
He was fascinated by the forces of nature; whether ice was heavier than water and why objects always fall to earth. By dropping balls of different
weight from a height, Galileo proved that objects fall at the same rate of acceleration. The Royal Professor had prefigured Newton's theory of gravity
Galileo's hunger to observe was fed by a magnificent new invention, the astronomical telescope. Contrary to all contemporary knowledge, Galileo realized
the moon was not the pure, white, heavenly body of Church doctrine.
Galileo was the first to discover the sun had spots; the first to notice the unusual shape of Saturn; and to identify the Milky Way. Politically astute,
Galileo christened the previously unknown moons of Jupiter after the Medici, who in turn made Galileo the most famous scientist in the world.
As long as his patrons were entertained, Galileo was a safe man, although he was living in dangerous times. The Roman Inquisition could investigate any
suspicion of heresy including Galileo's unorthodox ideas. To contradict the Church was suicide, as his friend Giordano Bruno found when he announced that
the universe was infinite. In 1610 Bruno was burned alive.
For more than 1,000-years, the Church had taught that the sun and all the planets revolved around the earth. But Galileo came to the radical conclusion
that the earth in fact revolved around the sun.
He had a choice: protect himself or publish what he knew to be true. He chose to publish because “I do not believe that the same God who has
endowed us with senses, reason and intellect has intended us to forgo their use. He would not require us to deny sense and reason.”
Galileo prepared a subtle argument, in the form of a conversation between three friends discussing the structure of the universe. The resulting bestseller,
the “Dialogue of the Two World Systems” was dedicated to his student and patron, Grand Duke Ferdinando II. Galileo had written the first book
of popular science.
The Pope decided that enough was enough. Despite Ferdinando's pleas on his behalf, Galileo was summoned to face the inquisition in Rome.
Pope Urban VIII issued a straightforward threat to the Duke. If he carried on supporting Galileo, his own life in Tuscany could become very uncomfortable.
Galileo arrived in Rome in 1633. Interrogated for months and threatened with torture, he resisted all pressure to recant, until Ferdinando II
stopped paying his expenses. The Grand Duke put the survival of his dynasty before his promise to one man.
On June 21 1633, Galileo denied what he knew to be true: “I still hold, as most true and indisputable, the stability of the Earth,
and the motion of the Sun. I am in your hands. Do with me what you please.”
Galileo was sentenced to house-arrest and died a broken man in 1642. The remorseful Ferdinando planned a huge memorial, but the Church over-ruled him again.
It took the Vatican until 1992 to declare they had made a mistake. Galileo had been right all along.
- The Republic
- Italy at War
Science & Architecture