The Galileo Affair
September 21, 2018 12:29 PM   Subscribe

It had been hiding in plain sight. The original letter — long thought lost — in which Galileo Galilei first set down his arguments against the church’s doctrine that the Sun orbits the Earth has been discovered in a misdated library catalogue in London. Its unearthing and analysis expose critical new details about the saga that led to the astronomer’s condemnation for heresy in 1633.
posted by verstegan (9 comments total) 53 users marked this as a favorite
 
Wow!
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:33 PM on September 21, 2018 [1 favorite]


This is why we need more goddamn funding for libraries.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:18 PM on September 21, 2018 [23 favorites]


It had been hiding in plain sight.

A missed chance to title this, "The Purloined Letter."
posted by Chrysostom at 3:04 PM on September 21, 2018 [9 favorites]


You might find the book Galileo's Daughter by Dava Sobel of interest. Virginia Galilei's letters to her father give insight into both his life and her own. Criminally, Galileo's letters to his daughter were burned after her death. O! if those letters were found today!
posted by SPrintF at 3:46 PM on September 21, 2018 [6 favorites]


Eppur si nasconde.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 4:01 PM on September 21, 2018 [1 favorite]


When I was in college, I went to a screening of a cut made by the Nazis of Fritz Lang's Siegfried, which had been presumed lost. Someone discovered it in the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley when they realised that the card catalog information didn't make sense (I think it (correctly) listed the composer for the cut version while claiming to be a different version) and eventually confirmed it was the missing cut.
posted by hoyland at 4:58 PM on September 21, 2018 [3 favorites]


OK, so I'm trying to figure out the sequence of events around this letter:
1. December 1613: Galileo sends this letter to Benedetto Castelli in Pisa. In those days people would make copies of his letters and distribute them, so it's reasonable for him to expect that people might see it.
2. One of those copies gets to the Inquisition in Rome via Niccolo Lorini.
3. Castelli sends the original letter (this letter) back to Galileo.
4. (Previously unknown) Galileo marks up this letter to be less inflammatory.
5. February 1615: Galileo sends a letter to his friend Piero Dini, also in Rome, complaining that the Inquisition doctored his letter, and attaches a (revised copy of this) letter, saying that the revised letter is the real deal and that he should pass that one on to the Inquisition to show that he's OK.
6. 1616, Galileo gets warned, and the Church censors Copernicus's theory.
7. 1632-1633, Galileo finally publishes his version of Copernicus's theory, gets in trouble, tried and convicted of heresy and sentenced to prison/house arrest.

Now we know that the original text in the marked-up letter matches the original letter the Inquisition got, and the markup shows where the revised letter Piero Dini got came from. So Galileo was lying in #5, but we're still mostly OK with it because he was Galileo and even though he was kind of a pain in the ass sometimes, he was right. And anyway, it would be a solid 16 more years before he finally got into big trouble.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 7:09 AM on September 22, 2018 [4 favorites]


...but we're still mostly OK with it because he was Galileo and even though he was kind of a pain in the ass sometimes, he was right.

Personally, I'm okay with it because I can imagine the kind of fear living under the Inquisition could put you in, and I understand what that kind of fear can do to a person.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:42 AM on September 22, 2018 [4 favorites]


Yeah, lying to the Inquisition to try to stay out of trouble is an eminently reasonable thing to do, and I withdraw any implied criticism of him for doing so.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 9:59 AM on September 22, 2018 [5 favorites]


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