Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Bucciantini, Massimo, Michele Camerota, and Franco Guidice. Galileo's Telescope

Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Bucciantini, Massimo, Michele Camerota, and Franco Guidice. Galileo's Telescope

Article excerpt

BUCCIANTINI, Massimo, Michele CAMEROTA, and Franco GUIDICE. Galileo's Telescope. Translated by Catherine Bolton. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2016. x + 339 pp.--No, this is not another treatise on the "Trial of Galileo," or l'affaire Galilee as Descartes called it. For those who are vaguely acquainted with the subject, this is a thriller as exciting as any that may have kept you spellbound. There are heroes and villains, and then there is Galileo. When will he learn of the spyglass that caused such a stir when presented to Count Maurice of Nassau at The Hague? Will he ever acquire a specimen? Will he ever learn to build one himself? Will he ever acquire the lenses needed to perfect the instrument? And will he ever turn skyward the instrument designed for military use?

Such is the way the story unfolds as told by three historians of science whose narrative draws extensively on correspondence between aristocrats of the period. Call the book a social history of science, if you will. But it is foremost a history of the telescope. The story begins when the Flemish craftsman Hans Lipperhey visited The Hague early in 1608 to show Count Maurice of Nassau, Commander of the Armed Forces of the United Provinces (of the Low Countries), "a certain device through which all things at a very great distance can be seen as if they were nearby." Lipperhey sought from the count a patent and financial support for the development of the instrument. News of the invention spread rapidly, as evidenced in a painting by Jan Brueghel the Elder depicting Archduke Albert of Bavaria with the spyglass observing a distant castle. Clearly, in the words of one correspondent, "the act of seeing no longer coincided with our natural organ of sight."

Within a few months specimens of the spyglass could be found not only at The Hague but in the Court of Henry IV in Paris, at the Court of Rudolf II in Prague, at the Court of the Spanish King in Madrid, at the Residence of General Albert Spinola in Genoa, and at the Papal Court of Paul V in Rome. And, we might add, in the halls of nobility in London, Augsburg, and Naples, as well. Remarkably, the ambassador of the Hindu King of Siam helped spread the word as he visited European capitals as part of his trade mission.

In September and October of 1609, Galileo finally trained his then three-power instrument on the moon, whose rugged surface became visible. He may not have been the first to discover that the moon like the earth was pockmarked with hills and craters. But in short order, as he continued to perfect his telescope, Galileo discovered the satellites of Jupiter, the rings of Saturn, the phases of Venus, sun spots, and the true cause of the Milky Way. What more did a convinced Copernican need to support a heliocentric view of the universe? …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.