Galileo in Rome: The Rise and Fall of a Troublesome Genius

By William R. Shea; Mariano Artigas | Go to book overview

Galileo was deeply influenced by his close contacts with members of the ecclesiastical and the scientific community in Rome and, as time went on, he changed his agenda to fit new circumstances. He sometimes met with success, but he ultimately overplayed his hand and the outcome was dramatic. On the short term, his strategy was a failure; on the long term, he clearly emerged the winner.

The six trips occurred over a period of 46 years. The first took place in 1587, when Galileo, then 23 years old, went to Rome to meet scientists who might help him obtain a university appointment. With the assistance of Christopher Clavius, a Roman Jesuit professor, he got his first job at the University of Pisa in 1589 and, in 1592, he moved to the University of Padua, where he spent the next 18 years. After the publication of his astronomical discoveries had transformed him into a celebrity, Galileo returned to Florence, where he became the mathematician and philosopher of the grand duke of Tuscany. The next year, in 1611, he undertook a second and triumphal trip to Rome. He was made welcome by top-level members of the Church and the teaching profession. Unfortunately, his celebrity also gave rise to jealousy and opposition, especially when he began defending in public the Copernican view that the Earth is in motion and revolves around the Sun. This went against the commonsensical view that the Earth (and therefore humanity) is at the center of the universe, a belief that current scientific shared with tradition and Christian doctrine.

The opposition first arose among Aristotelian professors, but they soon managed to involve clerics who did not relish having to reinterpret Scripture in the light of new ideas. Galileo found out that he had been denounced to the Holy Office, and he traveled to Rome for the third time in December 1615 in order defend himself and avoid the condemnation of the heliocentric theory. He was brilliant in discussion, but to no avail. Copernicus's book on the motion of the Earth was banned in 1616, and Galileo was admonished not to teach it. He returned to Florence and was silent on the matter until his friend and admirer Maffeo Barberini was elected pope in 1623, taking the name of Urban VIII. A year later Galileo made his fourth trip to Rome, where he was received six times by the

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