It is Galileo’s birthday today

The Watermill at Posara for painting, creative writing, knitting, and Italian language holidays/vacations/workshops, Tuscany, Italy.
1636 portrait by Justus Sustermans, collection of the National Maritime Museum, London, England

It is the birthday today of the great Italian scientist Galileo Galilei, who was born on 15 February 1564. Astronomer, physicist, engineer, philosopher Galileo is often called ‘the father of modern science’ and was certainly one of those giants on whose shoulders Isaac Newton stood.

I like the story of ‘Eppur si muove’, the words Galileo is supposed to have uttered (muttered?) in 1633 following his forced recantation, in the face of the Inquisition, of his claims that the Earth revolves around the Sun. The phrase means ‘And yet it moves’ or ‘Nonetheless, it moves.’ I like to think of Galileo, crossing his fingers behind his back, muttering those words beneath his breath in front of those terrifying inquisitorial churchmen, but that is highly unlikely to have been the case. Stephen Hawking noted in On the Shoulders of Giants that some historians believe Galileo may have said those words while being transferred to house arrest at his home in Arcetri in the outskirts of Florence. But there is no mention of the phrase in his earliest biography nor in the documents from his trial.

I am grateful to Galileo’s well documented Wikipedia entry for another intriguing tale: “ In 1911, the words “E pur si muove” were found on a Spanish painting which had just been acquired by an art collector, Jules van Belle, of Roeselare, Belgium.  This painting was completed within a year or two of Galileo’s death, as it is dated 1643 or 1645 (the last digit is partially obscured). The painting is not historically correct, because it depicts Galileo in a dungeon, but nonetheless shows that some variant of the “Eppur si muove” anecdote was in circulation immediately after his death, when many who had known him were still alive to attest to it, and that it had been circulating for over a century before it was published.

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