“Suspect of heresy” Galileo

Galileo Galilei was born on February 15, 1564, in Pisa in the Duchy of Florence, Italy. He was the first of six children born to Vincenzo Galilei, a well-known musician and music theorist, and Giulia Ammannati. In 1574, the family moved to Florence, where Galileo started his formal education at the Camaldolese monastery in Vallombrosa.

In 1583, Galileo entered the University of Pisa to study medicine. Armed with high intelligence and talent, he soon became fascinated with many subjects, particularly mathematics and physics. While at Pisa, Galileo was exposed to the Aristotelian view of the world, then the leading scientific authority and the only one sanctioned by the Roman Catholic Church. At first, Galileo supported this view, like any other intellectual of his time, and was on track to be a university professor. However, due to financial difficulties, Galileo left the university in 1585 before earning his degree.

Galileo continued to study mathematics, supporting himself with minor teaching positions. During this time he began his two-decade study on objects in motion and published The Little Balance, describing the hydrostatic principles of weighing small quantities, which brought him some fame. This gained him a teaching post at the University of Pisa, in 1589. There Galileo conducted his fabled experiments with falling objects and produced his manuscript Du Motu (On Motion), a departure from Aristotelian views about motion and falling objects. Galileo developed an arrogance about his work, and his strident criticisms of Aristotle left him isolated among his colleagues. In 1592, his contract with the University of Pisa was not renewed.

Galileo quickly found a new position at the University of Padua, teaching geometry, mechanics and astronomy. The appointment was fortunate, for his father had died in 1591, leaving Galileo entrusted with the care of his younger brother Michelagnolo. During his 18-year tenure at Padua, he gave entertaining lectures and attracted large crowds of followers, further increasing his fame and his sense of mission.

In 1600, Galileo met Marina Gamba, a Venetian woman, who bore him three children out of wedlock: daughters Virginia and Livia, and son Vincenzo. He never married Marina, possibly due to financial worries and possibly fearing his illegitimate children would threaten his social standing. He worried the two girls would never marry well, and when they were older, had them enter a convent. His son’s birth was eventually legitimized and he became a successful musician.

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