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The Crime of Galileo by Giorgio De…
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The Crime of Galileo (1958)

by Giorgio De Santillana

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In the gallery of what might be called the martyrs of thought, the image of Galileo recanting before the Italian Inquisition stirs the minds of educated modern men second only to the picture of Socrates drinking the Hemlock. That image of Galileo is out of focus . . . because it has been distorted by three centuries of rationalist prejudice and clerical polemics. To refocus it clearly, within the logic of its own time . . . de Santillana has written The Crime of Galileo, masterly intellectual whodunit which traces not the life but the mental footsteps of Galileo on his road to personal tragedy."
  paamember | Jan 13, 2016 |
I apologize for the length of this review but it was for a history class and felt like posting it...

The genesis Giorgio de Santillana’s book, “The Crime of Galileo,” grew out of his research for a translation of Galileo’s “Dialogue on the Great World Systems.” The author became drawn farther and farther in to a seminal moment of world history, the secularization of knowledge. De Santillana sets forth his research in an overly erudite and highly scholarly account of Galileo’s so-called crime, which is befitting of the Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1954 until his death in 1974. The author was born in Rome in 1902 and died in the United States.

The book is not strictly a biography, as it only covers the relevant periods of his persecution by the church. The first few chapters cover in great detail the events of 1616, when Galileo published his first of several papers proposing a mobile Earth, and Galileo’s reasons for moving from a low paying university position in Padua to a betterprotected position in Florence. The city of Florence was more insulated from the machinations of the Jesuit and Catholic monopoly on learning, which Galileo knew he would soon have to defend himself against. His concepts of heliocentrism (sun-centered) was counter to the carefully rationalized abstract system that the Catholic church had built every aspect of their world view upon. Any attack on this foundation would bring the entirety of church doctrine, and indirectly their authority, to the ground.

Chapter Three, “Philosophical Intermezzo,” is easily the highlight of the book, and should be circulated as a handy pamphlet. The chapter discusses both the system of Galileo, Copernicus and Kepler, as well as the Aristotelian system that the church believed in, both in great detail. An interesting point is that the church did not necessarily believe that their Aristotelian system represented the actuality of the universe, but an Earth-centered system was required as a prerequisite for their religious doctrines expounding the Earth as the God-favored center of Creation.

Chapter Four is devoted to the interesting character of Robert Bellarmine, a highly learned man of his age. While wholly devoted to his beloved church, he was reasonably well informed of the scientific research of his day. He was happy to plead ignorance as an excuse for not understanding the mathematicians of the day, but was clearly aware of contradictions between appearances and actuality. An example of such a contradiction is how a person riding in a cart sees buildings moving by but the viewer clearly knows that he and the cart are the party moving. Balancing this idea with a mobile Earth theory was the biggest problem Bellarmine had with Galileo’s writings, hence his willingness to feign ignorance as a solution. Chapters Five and Six explore the actual charges levied against Galileo in 1616, much of which were false charges brought before a church commission by biased officials who distorted facts and purposely misquoted Galileo’s writings. Galileo had presented a reasonable defense of himself using scripture, but much of what he presented was never read by the inquisition. Heliocentrism was officially declared a heresy, and writings on the subject were either banned, or ordered to revision to avoid any heretical ideas.

Following this is a short chapter of the years between his problems with the church, introducing a series of new characters. One of these is the new Pope, Urban VIII, who is the focus of Chapter Eight. In his pre-Pope days as Maffeo Barberini he had befriended and encouraged Galileo, but as Pope he became too busy with the Thirty Years’ War, and enriching his family on the side, to be bothered with free-thinkers such as Galileo. He could brook no opposition to anything Catholic during his difficult time as Pope. Urban VII ordered Galileo to stand trial for heresy in 1633 for his long-standing anti-church doctrines, and notably for the 1623 publication of his “Dialogues.” This work compares the two competing systems of the universe by way of a dialogue between Salviati (Galileo’s heliocentrism), Simplicio (The Catholic Earth-centered philosophical view) and Sagredo, a neutral observer. The “Dialogue on the Great World Systems” itself is the focus of a short Chapter Nine

The remainder of the book covers the trial of Galileo on “Suspicion of Heresy” in great detail, with chapters devoted to the summons to Rome, the difficulties of the Inquisitors, the actual trial itself is covered in Chapters Twelve through Fourteen. The sentencing to imprisonment at the whim of the inquisition and its swift change to permanent house arrest, followed by an epilogue comprise the remaining two chapters.

His prosecutors had a difficult time pursuing their quarry in the trial because they had such a difficult time understanding Galileo’s ideas. This, plus their bias towards Galileo ridiculing the church (via Simplicio) led to a heated trial based not on facts presented, but emotion and power. The Catholic church was mired in the divisive Thirty Years’ War and rational thinking was often set aside in favor of flash decisions and outbursts designed to bring about a predestined decision in the church’s favor.

In conclusion, de Santillana presents a case that Galileo made more trouble for himself than he needed to by publishing his works in common Italian, instead of dusty old Latin. If he had written in Latin, the unwashed masses of Italy would never have had their little apple-carts upset. Or, more likely, the church would never have needed to take drastic steps to curb Galileo, lest he upset those apple-carts. While too technical for everyday bedtime reading, de Santillana’s account will probably stand for generations as the definitive exploration of the trial of Galileo based on in-depth research into every character on every side involved in the trial and the excruciatingly detailed examination of primary sources. The highlight of the primary sources is a comparison of signatures. The first is the shaky writing of an old man terrified by the threat of lifetime imprisonment, the second is a confident and smooth signature of a man who has accepted that he had been somewhat one sided in his arguments of a decade earlier and had convinced his persecutors of this fact, which allowed for much leniency by the jury. De Santillana, a native of Rome, fluently goes through the Latin and Italian sources from the Vatican and throughout Italy to ferret out every possible detail of this critical moment in tradition versus free thought. ( )
  DirtPriest | Apr 26, 2012 |
I have read this book twice many years apart; first, as background reading in an overview of the History of Science in college and second, in a study group in recent years where a group of adults pondered the meaning and value of this seminal battle in the history of ideas.
Giorgio de Santillana wrote The Crime of Galileo as an intellectual whodunit which traces not the life but the mental journey of Galileo on his road to personal tragedy. When Galileo was 46 years old, in 1610, he developed the telescope, secured tenure and a big raise at Padua, then went on to make all the discoveries announced in Sidereus Nuncius: mountains on the moon, the moons of Jupiter, phases of Venus, etc. By naming the moons of Jupiter after the Medici family, Galileo landed the job of Mathematician and Philosopher (meaning Physicist) to the Grand Duke of Tuscany, and was able to return to his native land. This move upset his friends in Venice who had worked so hard to secure his promotion at Padua only months before. Of course, Galileo’s belief that his discoveries with the telescope strongly favored the Copernican world view meant he was headed for trouble with the Church. In fact, his Venetian friends warned him that it might be dangerous to leave the protection of the Venetian state. What we have in this book is the depiction of a martyr second only to Socrates. Santillana succeeds in placing this fascinating episode in the history of science in the context and logic of its own time. ( )
  jwhenderson | Aug 8, 2011 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Giorgio De Santillanaprimary authorall editionscalculated
Ross, Norman P.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0226734811, Paperback)

"In the gallery of what might be called the martyrs of thought, the image of Galileo recanting before the Italian Inquisition stirs the minds of educated modern men second only to the picture of Socrates drinking the Hemlock. That image of Galileo is out of focus . . . because it has been distorted by three centuries of rationalist prejudice and clerical polemics. To refocus it clearly, within the logic of its own time . . . de Santillana has written The Crime of Galileo, a masterly intellectual whodunit which traces not the life but the mental footsteps of Galileo on his road to personal tragedy."—Time

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:45 -0400)

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