History, in general, only informs us of what bad government is. — Thomas Jefferson

Galileo Galilei

Civilization: European — Tuscany
   Field of Renown:  science — Astronomy
Era:  Reformation

Galileo Galilei was an Italian scientist and mathematician who played a crucial role in the Scientific Revolution of seventeenth century Europe. He supported the Copernican model of a heliocentric universe—a solar system in which the planets revolved around the Sun, not the Earth—and as a result he faced much persecution from his contemporaries as well as the Catholic Church. Still, he persevered in his studies and discoveries, and he is credited as responsible for the birth of modern science.

Born in Pisa, Italy, Galileo at one point considered joining the priesthood, but he decided instead to attend the local university. Rather than complete a medical degree at his father’s urging, however, he chose to study mathematics, and after his graduation he ascended to the position of chief mathematician of Pisa. He later returned to his college, where he taught geometry, mechanics, and astronomy until 1610. During this time, he made breakthroughs in theoretical as well as applied science, and in 1610 he published an account of his astronomical findings, many of which he believed would prove the theory of a sun-centered universe. He visited Rome to demonstrate his telescope to the intellectuals present, and to let them observe the planets and moons of which he had spoken in his report. Unfortunately, only a few years later, Galileo’s discoveries were denounced as heresy, and despite his attempts to plead his case, he was ordered to refrain from teaching Copernican astronomy. The mathematician immediately returned home and set to work on two scientific works, the second of which would again arouse trouble.

Shortly after the publication of Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, in which he praised the Copernican universe, Galileo was ordered to appear in Rome for a papal trial. He was placed under house arrest, a sentence that would remain in place until his death. From 1634 onward, he stayed in his home near Florence, reading the seven penitential psalms every day until his daughter took that burden upon herself. Four years later, he went completely blind and was allowed to travel to Florence to seek medical advice. He continued to speak and receive visitors until his death from heart complications in 1642.

Key events during the life of Galileo:

Appointed to the chair of mathematics in Pisa
Taught mathematics and science at the University of Pisa
Published an account of his telescopic observations of Jupiter
Galileo's heliocentric theories were denounced by the Church
Published his first book, The Assayer
Published his second book, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems
Ordered to appear before the Holy Office in Rome
Placed under house arrest until his death
Went completely blind

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Galileo and the Lamps  in  Thirty More Famous Stories Retold  by  James Baldwin
Galileo Galilei  in  Stories of the Great Scientists  by  Charles R. Gibson
Appendix I: Letter of Galileo in  Stories of the Great Scientists  by  Charles R. Gibson
Galileo  in  Famous Men of Modern Times  by  John H. Haaren
New Astronomy  in  The Story of Europe  by  Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall
Galileo  in  Story Lives of Great Scientists  by  F. J. Rowbotham
Galileo and the Wonders of the Telescope  in  Children's Stories of the Great Scientists  by  Henrietta Christian Wright

Image Links

Galileo and the Lamps
 in Thirty More Famous Stories Retold

The Home of Galileo Galilei
 in Stories of the Great Scientists

Galileo and his telescope
 in Famous Men of Modern Times

Galileo showing the heavenly bodies through his telescope
 in Famous Men of Modern Times

Milton visiting Galileo at Florence
 in Famous Men of Modern Times
 in Back Matter
Galileo before the Inquisition
Galileo before the Inquisition
 in Back Matter

 in Story Lives of Great Scientists

Birthplace of Galileo, Pisa
 in Story Lives of Great Scientists

He begged Ricci to teach him more
 in Story Lives of Great Scientists

Demostrating his theory of the speed of falling bodies
 in Story Lives of Great Scientists

The doors were closed behind him
 in Story Lives of Great Scientists

Galileo Galileo
 in Children's Stories of the Great Scientists

Short Biography
Tycho Brahe Made accurate astronomical observations, used by Kepler to calculate motion of planets.
Johannes Kepler Proposed Heliocentric theory after studying measurements of Tycho Brahe.