Astronomer, astrologer, musician, mathematician, physicist, philosopher, engineer, and heretic. This man knew how to live.
Born in Pisa, February 15, 1564. He could have said, “Hi ladies, I’m an Aquarius, the sign of the scientist,” but he didn’t.
Instead he said, “You cannot teach a man anything, you can only help him find it within himself.”
The first of six children. Three of his siblings survived infancy.
His father, Vincenzo Galilei—a famous lutenist and composer and music theorist—taught Galileo to play a lute, a healthy skepticism of established authority, and a relationship between music and mathematics.
In his youth he considered becoming a priest. His father encourage him to become a physician. And something that would never happen nowadays—one day he went to the wrong class. Probably on a Thursday morning at 8 a.m. after celebrating hump night with his fellow classmates at a local watering hole.
Afterwards, he talked his dad into letting him study mathematics, even though it offered lower pay.
By 1589 he received the appointment to the chair of mathematics for the University of Pisa. He also studied fine art, later teaching it in Florence. His father died two years later, entrusting him with the care of his younger brother, Michelangelo.
Michelangelo, followed in his father’s profession as a lutenist. And as a financial burden to his older brother during his young adulthood. When he couldn’t pay his bills or his portion of his two sisters’ dowry, the brother-in-laws sued. The responsibility fell on Galileo’s shoulders. Maybe speeding up the creation of his inventions to improve his cash flow.
Galileo never married. His mistress bore three children: two daughters and a son. Because of the expensive lessons learned from his siblings, he chose the cloister for his daughters. The only acceptable alternative at the time. He legitimized his son, Vincenzo, as his legal heir and so Vincenzo could marry.
Credited with improvements to the telescope, observing and analyzing sun spots, discovering four large moons orbiting Jupiter and inventing an improved military compass, Galileo’s life took an interesting turn when he challenged the views of the Catholic Church with his theories of heliocentrism (the earth revolving around the sun).
The Roman Inquisition investigated the matter in 1615. They forced him to recant his theories, placed him under house arrest, and forced him to read the same bible verses (we’re not talking a couple pages here) each week for three years . . . his oldest daughter, Virginia, petitioned the Church to allow her to read the verses in his place relieving him of the burden.
He played it straight until 1632. Then his staunchest supporter, the newly elected, Pope Urban VIII, asked him to write a book, but include the Pope’s own theories as well. The resulting book, “Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems”— perhaps his best work—made the Pope look like an idiot.
The Roman Inquisition returned for round two. They required him to “abjure, curse and detest” his former opinions, followed by a prison sentence. The next day it improved to house arrest. It pays to be popular.
Galileo’s last comment after being forced to recant his theory about the earth moving around the sun, “And yet it moves”.
He died January 8, 1642 at the age of 77. Because he upset the Church, they buried his remains away from his family in the basilica of Santa Croce, and put him in a small room next to the novice’s chapel.
Almost 100 years later, they reburied his remains in the main body of the basilica. During the move, one of his teeth and three fingers were removed—relics.
Seems fitting they displayed his right middle finger in the Museo Galileo, Florence, Italy.