Galileo as Tragic Hero

1. This cause gathers romantic tales and would-be iconoclasts. It is more complicated, and simpler, than you might think. Anomalies in the historical record keep the discussion going, despite the Pope’s recent ‘acquittal’. Judging people in the past is a dangerous undertaking.

2. Galileo simply confirmed Copernicus’ theory, who did not create a stir. Galileo wanted to stir, which I admire really, but he was not good at reading widely. Some historians record a certain ‘fatal flaw’ in his self-taught brilliance, an eloquent and aggressive arrogance. Truly, the newly-invented telescope (he did not invent it, but exploited the rumour that he did it) described his mind, far-seeing, but narrow-seeing: the right tool in the right hands at the right time. Got him a good job, where he promoted himself to ‘philosophy’, which was a bit ‘renaissance‘ of him.

3. Some church groups supported him, some opposed him, on grounds of popular conservatism! Typically, large institutions protect the popular concensus, whatever their philosophy. In this case, church officials claimed to defend scripture but in fact defended the principles of the philosopher Aristotle, the backbone of western culture. This is still happening. I have telescopic hindsight!

4. G’s ‘prison’ was his own house and servants with freedom to work on his experiments. He was not hanged, tortured or beaten, sorry to those who have stories about the Inquisition that show little connection to the history.


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