Galileo's Daughter

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Galileo's Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love
Author Dava Sobel
Language English
Genre Non-fiction
Publisher Walker & Company
Publication date
1999
Media type Print (hardback)
ISBN 0-8027-1343-2
OCLC 41284975
520/.92 B 21
LC Class QB36.G2 S65 1999

Galileo's Daughter is a book by Dava Sobel. It is based on the surviving letters of Galileo Galilei's daughter, the nun Suor Maria Celeste, and explores the relationship between Galileo and his daughter.

Historical background[edit]

Virginia Galilei (1600–1634) was Galileo's first child, born in Padua, Italy. Galileo never married the mother of his three children, meaning they were all born illegitimate. With little prospect of marriage for his two daughters due to their illegitimacy, Galileo sent Virginia and her sister, at the age of thirteen and twelve respectively, to live in the San Matteo Convent, Arcetri, for the rest of their lives. Virginia adopted the veil in 1616, changing her name to Suor Maria Celeste.

Maria Celeste maintained contact with her father throughout her entire life through letters. Although none of Galileo's letters are known to have survived, 120 of Maria Celeste's exist. These letters, written from 1623 to 1634, depict a woman with incredible brilliance, industry, sensibility and a deep love for her father. Maria Celeste died of dysentery in 1634.[1]

Storyline[edit]

Galileo's Daughter takes place in the late 16th and 17th century in Italy and through their letters to each other, details the close relationship between Galileo and his daughter Suor Maria Celeste. Written in endearing tones and using complimentary titles to address him, Maria Celeste's letters show the great love and respect she had for her father. Furthermore, contact with her father allowed her news of the outside world, as she herself was isolated within the convent. But the letters between Maria Celeste and Galileo served more than to maintain contact – she also had a genuine interest in her father's scientific work, sometimes even offering her own opinion on an issue. Additionally, Galileo's personal life is glimpsed as he and his daughter discuss various details regarding the running of the household, remedies for health and other family matters.

Additionally, the book chronicles some of Galileo's scientific work. Galileo's astronomical discoveries led him to adopt the Copernican system, in which the Sun is the center of the solar system with all the planets orbiting it. However, according to the Biblical interpretation at that time, the Earth was the center of the universe and was stationary. When Galileo wished to publish a book which argued for the Copernican system, he attained the required stamp of approval from the religious authority (a requirement for all books published in Italy at the time) but circumstances led Pope Urban VIII to ban it and denounce Galileo as a heretic, even though he was a devout Catholic. Unauthorized copies of the book, however, found their way to prominent scholars outside of Italy and it was published in countries that were not under the Pope's rule, such as Germany and Denmark.

Besides being a biography of Galileo and his daughter, the book describes Galileo's scientific work. In addition to Galileo's well-known enhancements and use of the telescope and his conviction of the correctness of the Copernican system, he had many other scientific achievements. He discovered and investigated sunspots, which again did not bring him much favor with the Church, which held the Aristotelian beliefs of the heavens containing only perfect unchanging celestial spheres. He improved the compass and developed a rudimentary thermometer. He devoted the last ten years of his life to the study of bodies in motion, laying the groundwork for Isaac Newton's laws of motion formalized in the next decades. Perhaps his greatest achievement was his promulgation of experimental science, the cornerstone of the scientific method, as his Aristotelian predecessors in science claimed something is true simply because it is obvious.

Through the correspondence between Maria Celeste and Galileo, historians today have a deeper knowledge of Galileo's life and work. Galileo's Daughter exposes readers to his story – not just as a brilliant scientist, but also as a human being struggling with the boundaries of belief, religion and the idea of "truth" during his time.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Gilberti, Walter (1 March 2000). "Galileo's Daughter: An important contribution to the history of science". World Socialist Website. International Committee of the Fourth International. Retrieved 2011-03-03. 

External links[edit]