Galileo Galilei (Italian pronunciation: 15 February 1564 – 8 January 1642), often known mononymously as Galileo, was an Italian physicist, mathematician, engineer, astronomer, and philosopher who played a major role in the scientific revolution during the Renaissance. His achievements include improvements to the telescope and consequent astronomical observations and support for Copernicanism. Galileo has been called the “father of modern observational astronomy”, the “father of modern physics”, the “father of science”, and “the father of modern science”.
His contributions to observational astronomy include the telescopic confirmation of the phases of Venus, the discovery of the four largest satellites of Jupiter (named the Galilean moons in his honour), and the observation and analysis of sunspots. Galileo also worked in applied science and technology, inventing an improved military compass and other instruments.
Galileo’s championing of heliocentrism was controversial within his lifetime, a time when most subscribed to either geocentrism or the Tychonic system. He met with opposition from astronomers, who doubted heliocentrism due to the absence of an observed stellar parallax. The matter was investigated by the Roman Inquisition in 1615, which concluded that heliocentrism was false and contrary to scripture, placing works advocating the Copernican system on the index of banned books and forbidding Galileo from advocating heliocentrism. Galileo later defended his views in Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, which appeared to attack Pope Urban VIII, thus alienating not only the Pope but also the Jesuits, both of whom had supported Galileo up until this point. He was tried by the Holy Office, then found “vehemently suspect of heresy”, was forced to recant, and spent the last nine years of his life under house arrest. It was while Galileo was under house arrest that he wrote one of his finest works, Two New Sciences, in which he summarised the work he had done some forty years earlier, on the two sciences now called kinematics and strength of materials.
Galileo was born in Pisa (then part of the Duchy of Florence), Italy, in 1564, the first of six children of Vincenzo Galilei, a famous lutenist, composer, and music theorist, and Giulia Ammannati. Galileo became an accomplished lutenist himself and would have learned early from his father a healthy scepticism for established authority, the value of well-measured or quantified experimentation, an appreciation for a periodic or musical measure of time or rhythm, as well as the illuminative progeny to expect from a marriage of mathematics and experiment. Three of Galileo’s five siblings survived infancy. The youngest, Michelangelo (or Michelagnolo), also became a noted lutenist and composer although he contributed to financial burdens during Galileo’s young adulthood. Michelangelo was unable to contribute his fair share of their father’s promised dowries to their brothers-in-law, who would later attempt to seek legal remedies for payments due. Michelangelo would also occasionally have to borrow funds from Galileo to support his musical endeavours and excursions. These financial burdens may have contributed to Galileo’s early fire to develop inventions that would bring him additional income.
Galileo was named after an ancestor, Galileo Bonaiuti, a physician, university teacher and politician who lived in Florence from 1370 to 1450; at that time in the late 14th century, the family’s surname shifted from Bonaiuti (or Buonaiuti) to Galilei. Galileo Bonaiuti was buried in the same church, the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence, where about 200 years later his more famous descendant Galileo Galilei was also buried. When Galileo Galilei was eight, his family moved to Florence, but he was left with Jacopo Borghini for two years. He then was educated in the Camaldolese Monastery at Vallombrosa, 35 km southeast of Florence.
Although a genuinely pious Roman Catholic, Galileo fathered three children out of wedlock with Marina Gamba. They had two daughters, Virginia in 1600 and Livia in 1601, and one son, Vincenzo, in 1606. Because of their illegitimate birth, their father considered the girls unmarriageable, if not posing problems of prohibitively expensive support or dowries, which would have been similar to Galileo’s previous extensive financial problems with two of his sisters. Their only worthy alternative was the religious life. Both girls were accepted by the convent of San Matteo in Arcetri and remained there for the rest of their lives. Virginia took the name Maria Celeste upon entering the convent. She died on 2 April 1634, and is buried with Galileo at the Basilica of Santa Croce, Florence. Livia took the name Sister Arcangela and was ill for most of her life. Vincenzo was later legitimised as the legal heir of Galileo and married Sestilia Bocchineri.
Galileo continued to receive visitors until 1642, when, after suffering fever and heart palpitations, he died on 8 January 1642, aged 77. The Grand Duke of Tuscany, Ferdinando II, wished to bury him in the main body of the Basilica of Santa Croce, next to the tombs of his father and other ancestors, and to erect a marble mausoleum in his honour. These plans were dropped, however, after Pope Urban VIII and his nephew, Cardinal Francesco Barberini, protested, because Galileo had been condemned by the Catholic Church for “vehement suspicion of heresy”. He was instead buried in a small room next to the novices’ chapel at the end of a corridor from the southern transept of the basilica to the sacristy. He was reburied in the main body of the basilica in 1737 after a monument had been erected there in his honour; during this move, three fingers and a tooth were removed from his remains. One of these fingers, the middle finger from Galileo’s right hand, is currently on exhibition at the Museo Galileo in Florence, Italy.