Galileo was a impecunious student, who sorely needed a lucrative profession. It may also have helped that Ricci indicated a possible career path that would satisfy even the most ambitious: with the right contacts and To Rome and the Jesuits 11 the necessary skill one might end up as mathematician to a grand duke — a position that provided social rank and means beyond anything a doctor, or for that matter a professor, could aspire to.
Such an association with a court did of course also mean that any fall from grace would be a long one. Vincenzio probably understood his son. He argued polemically with his professional adversaries, while at the same time developing his theory in new directions with the aid of pure acoustic experiments. But musical theory brought no money in. Vincenzio was simply unable to support his wife, three children and a student. In he had to ask Galileo to interrupt his studies at Pisa and return home to the Ponte delle Grazie, without a degree.
Even without a degree he was undoubtedly one of the most knowledgeable men in Italy regarding mathematics. But this was of little use unless his talents were recognised. At home in Florence there was no mathematical set. He did a bit of private tutoring and spent one winter in Siena. In order to get on he had to make contacts. The Rome to which the young Florentine mathematician came in the autumn of was completely different to the Renaissance city where Rafael and Michelangelo had been great heroes earlier in the century.
A lot had happened in the intervening period, the essence of which can be summed up in two words: Reformation and Counter-Reformation. The papacy had strengthened its grip on the Church. The Council of Trent — spelt out the basic tenets of the Catholic faith, and at least got rid of some of the blemishes that Luther had pointed to. Every bit as important as the ideology was the inception of two executive organs to carry out the Counter-Reformation: the Jesuit Order and the reorganised ecclesiastical surveillance apparatus in the area of faith, the Roman Inquisition At the same time the popes began to view themselves more and more as absolute rulers; not merely as spiritual leaders, but also as princes of the Papal States, just like other sovereigns in autocratic Europe.
When Galileo arrived in Rome, he found himself in the midst of energetic upheaval in the city on various levels. Pope Sixtus V Peretti unrelentingly tore down cramped, old blocks of houses and constructed wide, straight thoroughfares between the main churches.
Galileo Galilei: Science vs. faith
Not least, the Jesuits achieved startling results in their missionary work, both in Asia and South America. In only a few years the Collegio Romano had become a very important institution and was considered to be one of the foremost universities of its age. When Galileo arrived there, 2, young men had either taken their degrees, or were still studying for them. Northern Europe was an important area of operations for the Jesuits, and there they undoubtedly helped to stem the tide of Lutheranism and Calvinism. The Jesuits literally conquered higher education.
A key college was situated in Leuven Louvain in what is now Belgium, on the border between Catholic and Calvinist Europe. Galileo had not come to Rome and the college for religious reasons. Originally German, he had been admitted to the Jesuit order at the age of seventeen and had spent most of his life in Italy. He wrote a number of textbooks on various mathematical and astronomical subjects, books that Galileo knew from his studies. He played a key part in the committee set up by Pope Gregory XIII which, just a few years before in , had instigated a great reform.
The result was the Gregorian Calendar, which is the foundation of our computation of time to this day. In brief, Father Clavius was a pivotal man to know for anyone wishing to make a career in mathematics on the mainland of Italy. He immediately sought out Father Clavius. Galileo explained his theories for calculating the centre of gravity of various objects, an area of study the Jesuit mathematicians were already interested in.
Clavius was impressed. He praised the practical work Galileo had done, and discussed the fundamental problems that arose as soon as mathematical models were transferred to the real, physical world: and indeed, whether this was even possible. The ideal, geometrical sphere touches a geometrical plane at just one point. But as soon as one uses a real sphere on a real plane, there is a contact surface of greater or lesser extent, between the two. As a result there were those who maintained that mathematics was, in a manner of speaking, self-absorbed; that it might indeed deliver incontrovertible proof, but only when dealing with abstracted mathematical subjects.
Presumably he was given lecture notes to take away with him and study at home in Florence. His visit to Rome was proof of just how high Galileo was aiming. Working as a private tutor in his native city was to waste his time and talents. Nevertheless, Jesuit goodwill was not enough to secure him a permanent position. A professorship was vacant in Bologna, but it went to Giovanni Magini who was nine years older and had good connections with Duke Gonzaga in Mantua. Galileo had to be content to travel back to Florence, to his family and his private lessons.
But there were things happening in his native city: two sudden deaths. He spent most of his time isolated in his villa in Pratolino with his extremely unpopular former mistress, now the Grand Duchess Bianca. Rumours in the city had it that they experimented with poisons which Bianca was to use in her murderous projects. The worst suspicions seemed to have been borne out when both of them died suddenly, on the same day in October In fact, it was malaria that had killed them.
At all events, that was the story of his brother and successor, and since Ferdinando was of a different stamp to Francesco, he was believed. He bought a large house on the slopes of Monte Pincio in order to have somewhere to store his collection.
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It was called the Villa Medici. But now he had to return home to Florence and his grand ducal title. On the whole Ferdinando was a good ruler.
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He left the Church and married a distant relative. It was generally accepted that a powerful family like the Medicis had to maintain their representation within the College of Cardinals. But now there was no suitable family member available. The new Cardinal was not notably interested in questions of theology. Del Monte was a well educated aesthete, a man with a taste for the good life, but also seriously interested in poetry, art, music and science. Cardinal del Monte was not opulently rich, but lived very comfortably in the Palazzo Madama near the Piazza Navona. The Cardinal had a brother. His name was Guidobaldo and he was a mathematician.
Galileo Galilei: When the world stood still by Atle Næss
During his visit to Rome, Galileo had become acquainted with Guidobaldo del Monte, although it did not help him very much in his quest for a position. The result was that in the autumn of , Galileo could again return to his birthplace, Pisa, now as the year old professor of mathematics.
Florence was not a city to take its famous authors lightly. The young freelance mathematician took his listeners by storm. He was intimately versed in The Divine Comedy and the universe that was depicted there. Galileo explained the precise construction Dante had calculated for his Hell.
It was shaped like a broad funnel, with its opening up on the surface of the earth. The circles got narrower and narrower until they ended up at the centre of the Earth, where Lucifer himself reigned and everything was everlasting frost and ice — as far away from Heaven, light and warmth as it was possible to get.
Lucifer was at the centre of a sphere.
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Galileo did not need to produce arguments for this. His educated audience knew only too well that the earth was round. Every scholar had known that since antiquity. Eratosthenes of Alexandria had with fair accuracy calculated the circumference of the Earth years before Christ — admittedly with a bit of luck in his assumptions.
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Thus Galileo had a starting point for estimating the relative dimensions. In the matter of the relationship between the Earth and the rest of the universe, Dante, and all other learned men, held to a model that had been perfected by Ptolemy, another Greek from Alexandria, in the second century AD.
Around it revolve the heavenly bodies at various distances, attached to invisible spherical shells — spheres — which propel them in circular orbits. This Ptolemaic model seemed hardly more than plain and self-evident common sense — after all, that was how one experienced the Sun, Moon and stars. The interplay between theology and astronomy was extremely intricate. According to Dante, these funnel-shaped circles were created when Lucifer was thrown out of the upper reaches of Heaven, hit the Earth with great force — quite literally as a fallen angel — and then bored into the soil right to the centre of the sphere.
An obscure canon by the name of Copernicus from the faraway Baltic coast, had developed a new theory. This theory was slowly permeating educated European circles. The Spheres from the Tower 17 Galileo did not utter one word about this to the Academy in Florence, because something else was quite clear to him: such a huge cosmological and theological structure would never fall without resistance.
The main subject for discussion, at least in the subjects concerned with natural philosophy, was Aristotle. His disciples had been called Peripatetics — those who walk about — because it was claimed that the master had taught in this way. In principle, his physics built on observation and the logical deductions arising from it. But the observations could be random and certainly were not systematised by means of controlled experiments. Emphasis was placed on the logical and philosophical conclusions — to such an extent that all the practical knowledge that had gradually accumulated, linked to technical advances in architecture and shipbuilding or the construction of clocks and the manufacture of spectacle lenses to mention but a few , had barely impinged on university teaching of the fundamental physical questions concerning the natural world.
Many professors found greater academic prestige in interpreting an obscure passage of Aristotle than in observing for themselves. It was still possible to hear, as a capping argument: Ipse dixit!
The very young Professor Galilei in occupying his chair at Pisa was not at all disconcerted that he had no degree himself. But he, too, found inspiration in a Greek thinker. In addition, he was virtually an Italian, as he had lived and worked in Syracuse, a Greek colony in Sicily. Archimedes combined observation with rigorous deduction and achieved practical results from this. By contrast with the logical and speculative Aristotle, Archimedes began harnessing the powerful tool of mathematics to calculate and describe physical processes.
Galileo was professor of mathematics. He clearly saw that a fundamental uprating of the subject would give qualitatively better natural science. The establishment at Pisa was interested in the principles of movement, that branch of physics which would later be called kinematics. One of his elder colleagues had written a huge work, On Motion De motu which was circulating in manuscript form.