science

“Palazzo Viviani”, later renamed “Palazzo dei Cartelloni,” features enormous  plaques and a bust dedicated by Vincenzio Viviani to Galileo Galilei. The text on the plaques is quite copious, it lists Galileo’s scientific achievements in considerable detail. I have no desire to reproduce this text (which I have) in its entirety, but one particular line on these stone scrolls caught my attention:

Cometarum denique Generationem, Incrementa, Motus, Interitum explicavit.

“Finally, he explained the Birth, Growth, Motion and Destruction of Comets.”

It is curious that Galileo, in his famous book Il Saggiatore (“The Assayer,” where amongst other things he proclaimed that mathematics is the language of God) expressed his belief that comets are optical phenomena (most likely, representations of some linearly moving objects), and therefore their parallaxes cannot be mathematically calculated, rendering all such observations useless. New findings by Isaac Newton and Edmond Halley, however, clearly demonstrated that comets indeed have complex orbits, greatly influenced by gravitational forces. In other words, Galileo did very little to actually explain anything about comets and their motion! In fact, he perpetuated a very old Aristotelian concept.

The “Galilean” renovation of the old palace’s facade began in 1693, and it is unclear when exactly the plaques appeared. Still, Galileo’s admirers should have payed closer attention to current scientific developments. Perhaps an asterisk is needed on one of the plaques?

See also:
Galileo’s famous phrase – the primary source

 

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Eppur si mouve – “And yet it moves.” Where exactly does this come from, anyway? The primary literary source for Galileo’s famous phrase is, surprisingly, an English language book by Giuseppe Baretti (an Italian-born English critic), entitled The Italian library, containing an account of the lives and works of the most valuable authors of Italy (1757). Here is the corresponding passage from Baretti’s work, p. 52:

“This is the celebrated Galileo, who was in the inquisition for six years, and put to the torture, for saying, that the earth moved. The moment he was set at liberty, he looked up to the sky and down to the ground, and, stamping with his foot, in a contemplative mood, said, Eppur si move; that is, still it moves, meaing the earth.”

Indeed, the story does seem very legend like. I especially appreciate the vividness of description. Also, it is astonishing how one can maintain a contemplative mood while “stamping with his foot.” Truly, a mark of genius!

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