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Galileo

by Bertolt Brecht

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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2,351185,080 (3.76)64
'Along with Mother Courage, the character of Galileo is one of Brecht''s greatest creations, immensely live, human and complex. Unable to resist his appetite for scientific investigation, Galileo''s heretical discoveries about the solar system bring him to the attention of the Inquisition. He is scared into publicly abjuring his theories but, despite his self-contempt, goes on working in private, eventually helping to smuggle his writings out of the country. As an examination of the problems that face not only the scientist but also the whole spirit of free inquiry when brought into conflict with the requirements of government or official ideology, Life of Galileo has few equals. Written in exile in 1937-9 and first performed in Zurich in 1943, Galileo was first staged in English in 1947 by Joseph Losey in a version jointly prepared by Brecht and Charles Laughton, who played the title role. Printed here is the complete translation by John Willett. The much shorter Laughton version is also included in full as an appendix, along with Brecht''s own copious notes on the play. ''One of the greatest poets and dramatists of our century'' (Observer)'… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 15 (next | show all)
Brecht tells us he needs to talk about important things but he's going to switch the time frame for a variety of reasons, thus Galileo. It's excellent. The battle of truth and authority where we all know truth is right and authority is wrong. Difficult only because we live in the age of Trump so the timelessness is front and center. It reads quickly and esily but it's wrapped between a very daunting Introduction and a heavy heavy author's appendix. We all know the Devil is Hitler and this is all going to end badly. ( )
  Ed_Schneider | Jun 27, 2020 |
This book, as the introduction delineates, was originally written in Fascist Germany whose attitude towards science and knowledge in general paralleled the ignorance of the Papacy in Galileo's era. Then in a post-atomic-bomb world with two superpowers on the brink, Brecht adapted this play into a new set of concerns about the "fruit" of knowledge. As such, in our era of Trumpian ignorance and North Korean nuclear ambition (two parties who just today sat down in Singapore), this work remains relevant to contemporary life. The sophistication required in this thematic rework over fifteen years transformed this book into a more readable and more timeless piece.

Yes, this book is not non-fiction technically as it is historical fiction. No one knows the details of what Galileo thought and spoke a long time ago. These remain inaccessible and buried. Nonetheless, historical fiction will be chronicled in this blog as it provides insight and access into situations of history that might remain obscured were it not for the efforts of novelists and playwrights.

The plot in this work was straightforward enough. It described Galileo interacting with family, the ruling class, and the clergy in the ancient Italian city-states. Eventually, papal forces move him to recant his discovery that the earth revolves around the sun in exchange for the ability to live a normal life. (Jupiter's multiple moons play a curiously prominent role in this narrative, a role I do not think I fully grasp.) His recantation obviously caused him to lose popularity among those in favor of enlightenment, but in Brecht's telling at least, he remained popular among the people for thinking like them instead of the scholastics. Of course, Galileo won the war as few today would side with a earth-centered view of the universe.

As suggested above, this book housed two dominant themes: The triumph of science over ignorance and the care needed to make science serve the social good. In the latter theme, Brecht tended in a quasi-Marxist direction (which could also be considered merely populist or even democratic) that the "people" were/are the final judge of the good.

I find it most curious to wonder why and how people of the clerical set would object to the point of threatening death to Galileo over the issue of what lay at the center of the universe. To them, it threatened the medieval order established in Thomas Aquinas that God dwelt in the heavens and that the Pope (and the clergy through him) were centrally governing the world. The people could not and should not think for themselves. It is Galileo's, Brecht's, and my contention that people need to care for this world (in the face of Fascism, atomic bombs, or Trumpianism) with responsibility and reason. Sometimes, defeats might come along this path, but the battle must be won by each generation if we are to persevere as the human race.
( )
  scottjpearson | Jan 25, 2020 |
Read it while parallel-ly studying the modern history of the world... Loved it.. Went from cover to cover in 60-70 mins! Just shows what a brilliant man Galileo was ( )
  Mayank_Jain | Jul 28, 2019 |
Young man, I do not eat my cheese absentmindedly.

Despite my perforated memory, I can still cling to triumph, most of which are the achievements of others but alas I can still appreciate. I thought about Brecht at the end of his life this morning while enjoying this masterful narrative. Did he regard himself as recanted? Did his petty tyranny of the women in his life strike him as abominable? Galileo as depicted by Brecht is too pragmatic to be disarmed by such pondering. He is at ease groveling for appointments as he understands the alternative. Aside from the necessity of obsequiousness he recognizes the need of discretion and the effects of The Age of Reason not only on the established order but on human existential orientation. He anticipates Weber’s disenchantment but finds solace in wine, bread and conversation.

What of my own missteps and absences? As a reader I blunder about with wistful grasps at concepts and reverie. Muddled by self deprecation, labor and lager—somehow I persevere. I needed this play today. ( )
  jonfaith | Feb 22, 2019 |
"Galilei: Ja, wo ist sie jetzt? Wie kann der Jupiter angeheftet sein, wenn andere Sterne um ihn kreisen? Da ist keine Stütze im Himmel, da ist kein Halt im Weltall! Da ist
eine andere Sonne!
Sagredo: Beruhige dich. Du denkst zu schnell.
Galilei: Was, schnell! Mensch, reg dich auf! Was du siehst, hat noch keiner gesehen. Sie hatten recht!
Sagredo: Wer? Die Kopernikaner?
Galilei: Und der andere! Die ganze Welt war gegen sie, und sie hatten recht. Das ist was für Andrea! Er läuft außer sich zur Tür und ruft hinaus: Frau Sarti! Frau Sarti!
Sagredo: Galilei, du sollst dich beruhigen!
Galilei: Sagredo, du sollst dich aufregen! Frau Sarti!
Sagredo dreht das Fernrohr weg: Willst du aufhören, wie ein Narr herumzubrüllen?
Galilei: Willst du aufhören, wie ein Stockfisch dazustehen, wenn die Wahrheit entdeckt ist?
Sagredo: Ich stehe nicht wie ein Stockfisch, sondern ich zittere, es könnte die Wahrheit sein."

In "Das Leben des Galilei" by Bertold Brecht

I watched this play in 2006 in Lisbon at Teatro Aberto starring Rui Mendes as Galileo. There was a repartee between Galileo and Arturo Ui that I'll never forget. Right at the beginning, Galileo and Arturo have two simple, and unforgettable lines. When Andrea remarks, "Infeliz a terra que não tem herois" ("Unhappy the land that has no heroes"/"Unglücklich das Land, das keine Helden hat!") Galileo retorts, "Infeliz a terra que necessita de herois" ("Unhappy the land that needs heroes."/"Unglücklich das Land, das Helden nötig hat.") And from Arturo Ui, comes the searing "Porque apesar do mundo ter parado o cabrão, a puta que o deu à luz está novamente com o cio" ("For though the world has stopped the bastard, the bitch that bore him is in heat again."/"[...] Der Schoß ist fruchtbar noch, aus dem das kroch." taken from the play "Der aufhaltsame Aufstieg des Arturo Ui").

I was absolutely mesmerized! I was so mesmirized that I had to buy the play in German which I did two years later (it was out of stock on Amazon at the time). The version of "The Life of Galileo" that the Teatro Aberto presented in 2006, with the reduced title by which it is better known, is based on the second of the three versions.

The general belief in a geocentric solar system was based on Aristotlean writings and Ptolemeic astronomy and was the generally accepted science when the Church was first formed. The Pythagoreans had proposed the idea of a heliocentric solar system around 600 B.C., but it was not accepted science at that time, nor six centuries later. The geocentric idea influenced early Christian theology, as did the writings of the ancient Greek philosophers. Unfortunately, what the Church did was change the Greek idea of seeking truth and knowledge through intellectual thought and science into seeking truth and knowledge within the scripture only. And thus, the Dark Ages began. Anyway, the heliocentric theory was revisited by astronomers and mathematicians throughout the next two millenia, until it was finally accepted, and through no simple means. Overcoming an authoritative figure that has huge political influence and control over many of the universities is no small task, not to mention the mathematical, scientific, and equipment challenges. the trouble with the heliocentric model at the time of galileo's discoveries was that there was no coherent theory of gravity until newton's publication of principia in 1783. given that matter tends to "fall" toward the centre of the earth, it's quite intuitive to theorise that the earth is the centre of the universe. Although galileo's evidence for a heliocentric model (ie. phases of venus, topography of the moon and satellites of Jupiter) was quite compelling , in the absence of a theory of gravity it wasn't complete enough to debunk the geocentric model. In other words, the objections to heliocentrism weren't necessarily ignorant and arrogant ; there was also a scholarly debate that, had merit on either side.

Two points should be made here:

1) Galileo's telescopic obvservations had nothing whatsoever to do with his conviction on heresy charges. They had to do with his publication of a book called "Dialog on the Two Chief World Systems," in which he was judged to have violated the pope's order to give a fair account of both the heliocentric (Sun-centered) and geocentric (Earth-centered) systems, a concept he personally submitted to the pope before going ahead with the project.

Note that Galileo was not prohibited from discussing the virtues of the heliocentric system. The concern was that the system was unproven, and that certain passages of scripture, in their literal sense, suggested the geocentric theory. Cardinal Bellarmine, who was one of the principal officials in the affair, acknowledged in writing that the Church's rejection of heliocentricity was provisional, and based on the scientific data available at the time, and might have to be changed in the future if further evidence emerged . And in fact, we now know that many aspects of the Galilean-Copernican theory were false, and very much so. In some ways, the Ptolemaic system was more correct, including variable orbital velocities, something eliminated from the Copernican system.

2) Copernicus was never persecuted for his book promoting the heliocentric theory, and his book was not censored by the Catholic Church, circulating freely throughout Europe for many decades before Galileo's run-in with the pope. Copernicus, by the way, dedicated his book to the pope, and he himself was a cleric with minor orders. After Galileo's conviction, only one sentence was stricken from the work.

Personally, I'm thankful for the Church's scientific brilliance and its contribution to humanitarian thought and advancement. I'm also thankful for some of the philosophical and spiritual wisdom that comes from religion. But the Catholic Church wasn't alone in suppressing scientific thought, and not all evil and closed-mindedness comes from religion. Many an authoritarian atheist has succeeded in suppressing and killing millions and squashing ideas that challenge their authority. And then there are always the economic interests that suppress or support scientific findings.

The Catholic church at the time was in the tricky position of wielding both secular and spiritual authority. Although interpretation were made they also tended to believe that the very best sources of information (whether biblical, philosophical or practical) were ancient. Unfortunately a lot of it was also inaccurate but people still tended to believe it *and* allowed it to shape their perceptions. What complicated things was the prominent faith component of Christianity that made doubting such ancient wisdom sinful and dangerous. I recommend people read a Beastiary to see what kind of mind-set they were working from at the time. Galileo was one of those people that allowed others to look at the universe with fresh eyes and thus encourage modern, scientific thought. It is also interesting to note that Galileo wrote Sidereus Nuncius in New Latin rather than Medieval Latin. This meant that a wider audience was reached, rather than just the clergy or the rich well educated upper classes. Everyday people could read his work, which made Galileo one of the first science communicators of the age, and this loss of control of the masses frightened the Catholic church nearly as much as the knowledge contained within his work.

Copernicus's work was actually used in the development of the Gregorian calendar. the Catholic Church had not been vehemently opposed to science for centuries. In the 13th century, there had been many disputes about the relationship between those that wished to follow the natural philosophy of Aristotle and those who rigidly stuck to scripture to explain everything under the sun and the idea that scientific speculation and its logically based predictions were futile as God could anything he wanted at any time. However, William of Ockham produced a brilliant solution to the problem, he declared that God was indeed omnipotent and could do anything he wanted but he had also given man the logical mind to predict these outcomes even though they were inevitably fallible. It lead to a divorce of faith and reason - Science was in man's attempt to guess the will of God but it was not an attempt to declare that will so don't persecute them as they're only guessing. Early Scientists worked under this restriction for centuries, by modern standards it seems ridiculous but it gave early scientists plenty of leeway. All they had to do to avoid persecution was explain that their work was only speculation and dedicate it to the Pope. Galileo choose not to do this, instead he mocked the arrangement and this was how he fell foul of the church. It was an error as it did not advance the cause of science, he wasn't in a position to mock his critics as he did not have a convincing proof of his heliocentric system, he didn't even accept Kepler's groundbreaking work. It takes time for new scientific ideas to break through and heliocentricism wasn't widely accepted until after Newton.

Bottom-line: What really infuriated the Pope was that he used the telescope to inspect the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel a little more closely, and saw that Michael Angelo had depicted God running away with his trousers down. It's in the second from last "panel" as you look from the entrance of the chapel. Needless to say, he flew into a rage and blamed Galileo for inventing such a blasphemous object. "It is not for mankind to dwell upon images of God's buttocks" he is reported to have said. However, he unable to do anything about it as Rome was in the middle of a ladder shortage, so the ceiling had to remain as it was. So Galileo was made a scapegoat. ( )
2 vote antao | Aug 14, 2018 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Brecht, BertoltAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bentley, EricEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Brookes, H. F.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fraenkel, C. E.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Laughton, CharlesTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wöhrle, DieterIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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In the year sixteen hundred and nine
Science's light began to shine.
At Padua City, in a modest house
Galileo Galilei set out to prove
The sun is still, the earth is on the move.
Quotations
Wer die Wahrheit nicht weiß, der ist bloß ein Dummkopf. Aber wer sie weiß und sie eine Lüge nennt, der ist ein Verbrecher! (Galileo)
Das Denken gehört zu den größten Vergnügungen der menschlichen Rasse. (Galileo)
Ich verstehe: freier Handel, freie Forschung. Freier Handel mit der Forschung, wie? (Galileo)
Truth will triumph only in so far as we triumph; the victory of reason can only be the victory of the people. (Galileo)
He who does not know the truth is merely an idiot, but he who knows it and calls it a lie, is criminal. (Galileo)
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'Along with Mother Courage, the character of Galileo is one of Brecht''s greatest creations, immensely live, human and complex. Unable to resist his appetite for scientific investigation, Galileo''s heretical discoveries about the solar system bring him to the attention of the Inquisition. He is scared into publicly abjuring his theories but, despite his self-contempt, goes on working in private, eventually helping to smuggle his writings out of the country. As an examination of the problems that face not only the scientist but also the whole spirit of free inquiry when brought into conflict with the requirements of government or official ideology, Life of Galileo has few equals. Written in exile in 1937-9 and first performed in Zurich in 1943, Galileo was first staged in English in 1947 by Joseph Losey in a version jointly prepared by Brecht and Charles Laughton, who played the title role. Printed here is the complete translation by John Willett. The much shorter Laughton version is also included in full as an appendix, along with Brecht''s own copious notes on the play. ''One of the greatest poets and dramatists of our century'' (Observer)'

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Frutto di diverse stesure, la commedia nasce negli anni che precedono immediatamente la Seconda guerra mondiale e che vedono sperimentare e utilizzare a fini bellici la scissione dell'atomo, gli anni in cui si compie definitivamente una paurosa frattura tra progresso tecnico e progresso sociale. La figura di Galileo, lo scienziato che con le sue rivoluzionarie intuizioni rischia di mettere a repentaglio gli equilibri teologici e sociali del suo tempo e che si piega alla ritrattazione per timore della tortura e per mancanza di agonismo eroico, è la metafora dello scienziato moderno, dell'intellettuale perseguitato dall'inesorabile binomio scienza-fanatismo. Eppure, nonostante il suo intimo dissidio, la sua contraddittorietà, questo Galileo brechtiano è figura umanamente ricca, moderna proprio perché, pur asserendo in modo geniale la verità contro l'ignoranza, la superstizione e il conformismo, egli resta in bilico perenne tra due fronti. Dramma implicitamente antiatomico, "Vita di Galileo" mantiene oggi, al di là della sua straordinaria efficacia scenica, una notevole attualità proprio tematizzando la figura degli scienziati "deboli", subalterni al potere politico, "gnomi" venali, troppo spesso privi di coraggio etico.
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