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Friday, July 12, 2024
Galileo Galilei

Galileo Galilei, son of Vincenzo Galilei and Giulia Ammannati was born in Pisa on February 15, 1564. Vincenzo, who was born in Florence in 1520, was a teacher of music and a fine lute player. In 1572, when Galileo was eight years old, his family returned to Florence, his father's home town. However, Galileo remained in Pisa and lived for two years with Muzio Tedaldi who was related to Galileo's mother by marriage. When he reached the age of ten, Galileo left Pisa to join his family in Florence and there he was tutored by Jacopo Borghini. His parents sent him to the Camaldolese Monastery at Vallombrosa, 33 kilometres

southeast of Florence. The Order combined the solitary life of the hermit with the strict life of the monk, and soon the young Galileo found this life an attractive one. He became a novice, intending to join the Order, but this did not please his father who had already decided that his eldest son should become a medical doctor. Vincenzo had Galileo return from Vallombrosa to Florence and give up the idea of joining the Camaldolese order.

Galileo never seems to have taken medical studies seriously, attending courses on his real interests which were in mathematics and natural philosophy. Galileo returned to Florence for the summer vacations and there continued to study mathematics. Galileo began teaching mathematics, first privately in Florence and then during 1585-86 at Siena where he held a public appointment. In 1586 he wrote his first scientific book "The Little Balance" (La Bilancetta) which described Archimedes' method of finding the specific gravities of substances using a balance. By the end of 1609, Galileo had turned his telescope on the night sky and began to make remarkable discoveries. The astronomical discoveries he made with his telescopes were described in a short book, written in Latin, called "The Starry Messenger" (Sidereus Nuncius) published in Venice in May 1610. This work caused a sensation. Galileo claimed to have seen mountains on the Moon, to have proved the Milky Way was made up of tiny stars, and to have seen four small bodies orbiting Jupiter. With the intent of getting a position in Florence, he quickly named 'the Medicean planets'.

In February 1632, Galileo published "Dialogo Sopra I Due Massimi Sistemi" (Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief Systems of the World - Ptolemaic and Copernican. It takes the form of a dialogue between Salviati, who argues for the Copernican system, and Simplicio who is an Aristotelian philosopher. The climax of the book is an argument by Salviati that the Earth moves which was based on Galileo's theory of the tides. At the trial that followed, Galileo was accused of breaching the conditions laid down by the Inquisition in 1616. The truth of the Copernican theory was not an issue; therefore, it was taken as a fact at the trial that this theory was false.

Found guilty, Galileo was condemned to lifelong imprisonment, but the sentence was carried out somewhat sympathetically and it amounted to house arrest rather than a prison sentence. He was able to live first with the Archbishop of Siena, then later to return to his home in Arcetri, near Florence, but had to spend the rest of his life watched over by officers from the Inquisition. Consumed by sadness and melancholy, he became totally blind and died on January 8, 1642. He is considered to be the creator of the modern scientific prose.(Source: J J O'Connor and E F Robertson, www-groups.dcs.st-and.ac.uk)

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