I actually started this book a couple of years ago, and just picked it up and finished it last week. Galileo’s Daughter, by Dava Sobel, has this subtitle: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith and Love.
It is a wonderful book, very human, and ties together lots of different threads of what I knew about that time, really put it all together for me, along with a feel for the people and the life they led. I gave it up a couple of years ago, over halfway through, because I could not bear the pain and injustice the Catholic Church was putting Galileo and his daughter, Suor Maria Celeste, through. Nothing much has changed inside the Church since the 1600’s, sounds like. Unreasonable, bureaucratic, power-hungry – and constantly shooting itself in the foot. Same as the headlines today in 2010, equating pedophile priests with women who would dare to think about being priests.
I came back to the book because I wanted to know the answers – how did Galileo manage? What kind of support did he have? How did his daughter do? (He had three children, but Virginie, born in 1600, who became Suor Maria Celeste, and he were exceptionally close.) She died in 1634, undoubtedly at least in part because of her concern for her father, care for the other sisters in the convent – and her neglect of herself, giving all her energy to her father and others. Galileo was allowed to return to his hometown, under house arrest for the rest of his life, just a few months before her death. Shall we add vindictive to our indictment of the Church? So at least they got to spend some time together.
Galileo professed himself mistaken about the sun being the center of our solar system, and continued to say that. He was too smart to believe it, one assumes. He had many supporters of his work in other parts of Europe, and had books published on other scientific topics, but not in Italy. He wrote another important book, Two New Sciences, again written as a dialogue, on motion, where he studied and measured and tested the falling and rolling of objects, really creating the rigor of the scientific method. He added into the book many other treatises, not knowing if he’d ever be able to publish again. Friends helped get the book to Holland.
He was physically slipping by this time, was already blind, had his son doing a drawing of a pendulum. He died in 1642, at the age of 78. Isaac Newton was born later that year.
And in 1992 Pope John Paul II publicly endorsed Galileo’s philosophy.