The Trial of Galileo
by Doug Linder (2002)
In the 1633 trial of Galileo Galilei, two worlds come into cosmic conflict.
world of science and humanism collides with the world of Scholasticism and absolutism
that held power in the Catholic Church.
The result is a tragedy that marks both the end of
Galileo's liberty and the end of the Italian Renaissance.
Galileo Galilei was born in 1564--the same year that Shakespeare was born and
From an early age, Galileo showed his scientific skills.
nineteen, he discovered the isochronism of the pendulum.
By age twenty-two, he had
invented the hydrostatic balance.
By age twenty-five, Galileo assumed his first
lectureship, at the University of Pisa. Within a few more years,
Galileo earned a
reputation throughout Europe as a scientist and superb lecturer.
Eventually, he would be
recognized as the father of experimental physics.
Galileo's motto might have been
"follow knowledge wherever it leads us."
At the University of Padua, where Galileo accepted a position after three years in Pisa, he
began to develop a strong interest in Copernican theory.
In 1543, Nicolaus Copernicus
Revolutions of the Celestial Orbs
, a treatise that put forth his revolutionary idea
that the Sun was at the center of the universe and that the Earth--rotating on an axis--
orbited around the sun once a year.
Copernicus' theory was a challenge to the accepted
notion contained in the natural philosophy of Aristotle, the astronomy of Ptolemy and the
teachings of the Church that the sun and all the stars revolved around a stationary Earth.
In the half-century since its publication, however, Copernicus' theory met mostly with
Skeptics countered with the "common sense" notion that the earth they stood
on appeared not to move at all--much less at the speed required to fully rotate every
twenty-four hours while spinning around the sun.
Sometime in the mid-1590s, Galileo concluded that Copernicus got it right.
as much in a 1597 letter to Johannes Kepler, a German mathematician who had written
about planetary systems: "Like you, I accepted the Copernican position several years ago
and discovered from thence the cause of many natural effects which are doubtless
inexplicable by the current theories."
Galileo, however, continued to keep his thoughts to
a few trusted friends, as he explained to Kepler: "I have not dared until now to bring my
reasons and refutations into the open, being warned by the fortunes of Copernicus
himself, our master, who procured for himself immortal fame among a few but stepped
down among the great crowd."
Galileo's discovery of the telescope in 1609 enabled him to confirm his beliefs in the
Copernican system and emboldened him to make public arguments in its favor.
a telescope set in his garden behind his house, Galileo saw the Milky Way, the valleys
and mountains of the moon, and--especially relevant to his thinking about the Copernican
system--four moons orbiting around Jupiter like a miniature planetary system.