Galileo Galilei

Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) was an Italian astronomer, astrologer, physicist, and philospher closely associeted with the scientific revolution.

He improves the telescope, observed various aspects of astronomy, developed the first and second laws of motion, and found proof to support Copernicanism. The conflict Galileo experienced with the Roman Catholic Church is seen as an example of the freedom of though conflict.

Galileo was born on February 15, 1564 in Pisa, and his family moved to Florence in 1572. He started to study for the priesthood, but left and enrolled for a medical degree at the University of Pisa. He never completed this degree, but instead studied mathematics notably with Ostilio Ricci, the mathematician of the Tuscan court. Later he visited the mathematician Christopher Clavius in Rome and started a correspondence with Guildobaldo del Monte. He applied and was turned down for a position in Bologna, but a few years later in 1589, with the help of Clavius and del Monte, he was appointed to the chair of mathematics in Pisa.

In 1592 he was appointed, at a much higher salary, to the position of mathematician at the University of Padua. While in Padua he met Marina Gamba, and in 1600 their daughter Virginia was born. In 1601 they had another daughter Livia, and in 1606 a son Vincenzo.


It was during his Paduan period that Galileo worked out much of his mechanics and began his work with the telescope. In 1610 he published The Starry Messenger, and soon after accepted a position as Mathematician and Philosopher to the Grand Duke of Tuscany (and a non-teaching professorship at Pisa). He had worked hard for this position and even named the moons of Jupiter after the Medici. There were many reasons for his move but he says he did not like the wine in the Venice area and he had to teach too many students. Late in 1610, the Collegio Romano in Rome, where Clavius taught, certified the results of Galileo's telescopic observations. In 1611 he became a member of what is perhaps the first scientific society, the Academia dei Lincei.

Discourse on Floating Bodies

In 1612 Galileo published a Discourse on Floating Bodies, and in 1613, Letters on the Sunspots. In this latter work he first expressed his position in favor of Copernicus. In 1614 both his daughters entered the Franciscan convent of Saint Mathew, near Florence. Virginia became Sister Maria Celeste and Livia, Sister Arcangela. Marina Gamba, their mother, had been left behind in Padua when Galileo moved to Florence. In 1613–4 Galileo entered into discussions of Copernicanism through his student Benedetto Castelli, and wrote a Letter to Castelli. In 1616 he transformed this into the Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina. In February 1616, the Scared Congregation of the Index condemned Copernicus' book On the Revolution of the Heavenly Orbs, pending correction. Galileo then was called to an audience with Cardinal Robert Bellarmine and advised not to teach or defend Copernican theory.

Galileo Galilei Trial

In 1623 Galileo published The Assayer dealing with the comets and arguing they were sublunary phenomena. In this book, he made some of his most famous methodological pronouncements including the claim the book of nature is written in the language of mathematics. The same year Maffeo Barberini, Galileo's supporter and friend, was elected Pope Urban VIII. Galileo felt empowered to begin work on his Dialogues concerning the Two Great World Systems. It was published with an imprimatur from Florence (and not Rome) in 1632. Shortly afterwards the Inquisition banned its sale, and Galileo was ordered to Rome for trial. In 1633 he was condemned. There is more about these events and their implications in the final section of this article, Galileo and the Church.

In 1634, while Galileo was under house arrest, his daughter, Maria Celeste died. (Cf. Sobel 1999). At this time he began work on his final book, Discourses and Mathematical Demonstrations concerning Two New Sciences. This book was smuggled out of Italy and published in Holland. Galileo died early in 1642. Due to his conviction, he was buried obscurely until 1737.


Tags: | Italy | Galileo | Science |


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