Tilting at the windmills of ignorance

[From Dag Forssell (950111 1830)]

On vacation I browsed in a book store for used books and found

THE CRIME OF GALILEO by Giorgio de Santillana. University of
Chicago Press, 1955.

I found it marvelous, as a story of how Galileo developed a new
physical science and outwitted the institutionalized ignorance.
The parallells with our struggle, developing a new physical science
and tilting at contemporary intstitutionalized ignorance, are

Galileo annoyed some in the church, not so much because of what he
said, but because he wrote in plain Italian to an audience outside
the scientific establishment, and made them look like fools. Is
there a message here for how to get PCT across???

Best, Dag




The significance of Galileo's ordeal has been noted by men in all
ages, and Giorgio de Santillana here comments candidly upon the
striking parallel between the controversy that surrounded Galileo
three centuries ago and events taking place in our time. Yet it
would be false to imply that The Crime of Galileo is relevant only
to our time, or to any particular time, or that its great
fascination lies solely in the particular relevance it possesses.
Broad in scope and searching in its vision, it will remain
pertinent for as long as men are troubled by the clash between the
comfortably orthodox and the daringly new.
                               * * *
"It remained Galileo's fate through life to create an excitement
and consensus around him which had little to do with real
understanding. His was the tragedy of an excess of gifts; for,
while the telescope was his key to success, his real social
strength lay in his extraordinary literary capacity, his brilliant
repartee, his eloquence and charm...."

"The Oppenheimer case is very different from Galileo's as to
context. Today there is a tendency not to suppress physics but
rather to exploit it.... Yet, as the story unfolds, ... the exact
analogy in structure, in symptoms and behavior, shows us that we
are dealing with the same disease."

"[Galileo] had gambled and lost. He was not a religious visionary
being asked to renounce his vision. He was an intelligent man who
had taken heavy risks to force an issue for the good of his Faith.
He had been snubbed; he had nothing to do but pay the price and go
home. The scientific truth would be able to take care of itself."


IN THIS brilliantly exciting book, tense with the electric
atmosphere of a good detective novel, Giorgio de Santillana,
distinguished historian of science, re-creates for the first time
the full drama of Galileo's ill-starred encounter with the

Publication of Galileo's monumental treatise, _Dialogue on the
Great World Systems_, aroused a bitter controversy between the old
science of Ptolemy and the radical teachings of Copernicus in
seventeenth century Italy--a controversy of profound religious and
political import. Before its course was run, impassioned factions
were created within the Vatican itself; and Galileo, brought to
trial for heresy, was condemned to perpetual house arrest on his
farm in the Florentine countryside.

The story that Giorgio de Santillana tells is Galileo's personal
story and the vivid story of the age in which he lived. Here is
Rome, the Eternal City, alive with the personalities and the vital
issues that animated its streets. Here are the learned Schoolmen
who made its doctrine so remarkably assured. Here are the scheming
preferment-seekers, the petty nobles, great lords, and shrewd
churchmen who sometimes enhanced, sometimes plagued, the advance of
knowledge. Here are the troublemakers, informers, and double agents
who inevitably infest a seat of power. And here is the great
scientist as his contemporaries knew him--equally accomplished at
tending a vineyard, at composing an elegantverse, or at the habit
of philosophic speculation that earned him immortality.

In telling his story, derived in large part from little-known
documents, Giorgio de Santillana sets forth with striking clarity
and artistry the events which preceded and followed Galileo's
trial. By revealing grave irregularities in the procedures
themselves he achieves a very different version of that _cause
celebre_ than that commonly accepted and unearths a conspiracy as
its moving force. Although he shows that Galileo was not persecuted
by the Church itself but by a powerful faction within it, he
recognizes also the ominous meaning that Galileo's ordeal possesses
for our own age. Coming at a time when the scientist is again
involved in controversy, _The Crime of Galileo_ continues a rich
tradition of great historical study and writing.

About the author . . .

Roman by birth and by temperament, GIORGIO DE SANTILLANA is a
scholar of international repute. His edition of the _Dialogue on
the Great World Systems_, the first modern English translation of
Galileo's masterpiece in three hundred years, based on the early
translation of T. Salusbury, won him rich praise from critics both
here and abroad. It was during his painstaking research for that
volume that the idea of writing The Crime of Galileo came to him.
He is presently Professor of the History and Philosophy of Science
at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


A sample: CHAPTER IX

                        THE DIAlLOGUE

               _When shall I cease to wonder?_

THE _Dialogue_, this fateful work which was to become such a
"captain piece" in Western history, meanders at ease across the
whole cultural landscape of the time, carrying in its broad sweep
much strange material of various origin. As a composition, it looks
unfinished, unpolished. at times inconsistent. This is partly
nature, partly art. It has no unity except that of life itself. It
is, in fact, "the story of the mind of Signor Galileo." But it is
the mind of a man who knew very well where he was going. In the
work there is all of him: the physicist, the astronomer, the man of
the world, the litterateur, the polemicist, even at times the
sophist; there is, above all, the totally expressive and expressed
Renaissance man.

Galileo, like Newton, had been brought up on Archimedes and Euclid;
but, unlike Newton, he was far from making an idol of the style of
the pure geometricians "who utter not a single word not imposed by
absolute necessity." For he holds that "the nobility, greatness,
and magnificence which make our actions and enterprises marvelous
and excellent do not consist only in what is necessary but also in
the unnecessary; I would consider base and plebeian that banquet in
which food and drink were lacking; yet it is not the presence of
them which can make it noble and magnificent, for much more
grandeur is brought to it by the beauty of the sumptuous apparel,
the splendor of the furnishings, the sheen of silver and gold which
delight the eye, the harmony of songs, the performances on the
scene, the pleasurable drolleries." The heroic poems with their
episodes, the flights of Pindar's fantasy, are his avowed models.
There is a price to be paid for this--the sacrifice of straight
scientific language. A modern may miss the intellectual tension of
abstract developments, the tightness of the formula which brings
the theory its shape. But Galileo is willing to pay that price in
order to remain a man among men, a person and a force within his
own culture. What is characteristic of the prose is certainly not
economy; it is expression, the warmth and passion throughout, the
ever returning wonder. The motto of the work might well be
Sagredo's word: "When shall I cease from wondering?"

Micanzio remarked on reading it: "And who before now had guessed
what the Copernican issue was all about?" He was substantially
right. Adventurous notions like Digges's, wild visionary
pronouncements like Bruno's, which frightened people off with their
avowed heresy, technical pamphlets like the _Sidereal Message_ and
the _Letters on the Solar Spots_, had allowed readers to guess or
piece together some important new ideas; but they had left things
on the level of an emotional difference between people who had a
taste for the new and those who stuck to the old. Copernicus, even
had he not been prohibited, remained a book for specialists; Kepler
was unreadable. Of men who had disliked the System of the Schools
and had struck out at it with brilliant but inconclusive remarks,
there had been many even before Copernicus. But the real movement
of thought had never come to a head, and the prohibition of 1616
had swooped down at the strategic moment to check it and disperse
the efforts. The cognoscenti could still applaud the highclass
fencing of the _Discourse on Floating Things or_ of the _Assayer_,
but it remained good spectator fun; and they went home without
being able to piece together the great puzzle that stayed
disassembled by superior orders.

The _Dialogue_ did exactly that: it assembled the puzzle and, for
the first time, showed the picture. It did not go into technical
developments; it left all sorts of loose ends and hazardous
suggestions showing to the technical critic. But it was exactly on
the level of educated public opinion, and it was able to carry it
irresistibly. It was a charge of dynamite planted by an expert

It is Socratic in a novel way. The argument starts with a frontal
attack on the science of the professors but soon is deep in the
physical realities shown to us by the surface of the Moon. It
follows thus the very sequence of the discussions of the early
years. It moves on in a leisurely manner from one question into
another, taking pot shots at casual objectives until we are far off
the track, picks up with a "Where were we?" and comes back for a
while to playing cat-and-mouse with Simplicio as a butt, but soon
is off again in another direction, in full cry after some luckless
lay figure who has brought up the needed asininity. Meanwhile the
web of proof is being woven unobtrusively, until after a while the
reader asks himself what kind of people could be blind to the
evidence; what other opinion could be held except the Copernican?

In form as in substance, the work is a break with the academic
tradition; it goes back through the dialogue form of the
Renaissance to the true Platonic vein. The names of the characters
are not Hylas, Philonous, or Philalethes. They address each other
as "Sig. Salviati," "Sig. Simplicio mio"; they quarrel and make up;
they move with their feet solidly planted on the marble floors of
a Venetian palace on the Canal Grande. Their forms of address are
those of Italian society of the period; the scenes and interludes
of action are managed by Galileo as a man of the theater who had
tried his hand successfully at comedy. Salusbury, in his
translation, by Latinizing the names and using the English forms of
address, has removed them to a slightly imaginary space as "Three
Gentlemen of Venice"; but the life still comes through.

Of the three characters, Filippo Salviati is obviously the one
closest to Galileo's soul. He speaks for the author himself. Of the
temper of the man and his intellectual personality, we have almost
no traits in the few letters left by him. Nor does the author help
us much when he says that "in him the lesser splendor was
distinction of lineage and magnificence of wealth; a sublime
intellect, which delight higher than exquisite speculation. . . .

I have ordered _Dialogue_ from my library. Can hardly wait to
read it!