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Galileo Galilei was born at Pisa on the 18th of February in 1564. His father,

Vincenzo Galilei, belonged to a noble family and had gained some distinction as a

musician and a mathematician. At an early age, Galileo manifested his ability to learn

both mathematical and mechanical types of things, but his parents, wishing to turn him

aside from studies which promised no substantial return, steered him toward some sort of

medical profession. But this had no effect on Galileo. During his youth he was allowed to

follow the path that he wished to.

Although in the popular mind Galileo is remembered chiefly as an astronomer,

however, the science of mechanics and dynamics pretty much owe their existence to his

findings. Before he was twenty, observation of the oscillations of a swinging lamp in the

cathedral of Pisa led him to the discovery of the isochronism of the pendulum, which

theory he utilized fifty years later in the construction of an astronomical clock. In 1588, an

essay on the center of gravity in solids obtained for him the title of the Archimedes of his

time, and secured him a teaching spot in the University of Pisa. During the years

immediately following, taking advantage of the celebrated leaning tower, he laid the

foundation experimentally of the theory of falling bodies and demonstrated the falsity of

the peripatetic maxim, which is that an objects rate of descent is proportional to its weight.

When he challenged this it made all of the followers of Aristotle extremely angry, they

would not except the fact that their leader could have been wrong. Galileo, in result of

this and other troubles, found it prudent to quit Pisa and move to Florence, the original

home of his family. In Florence he was nominated by the Venetian Senate in 1592 to the

chair of mathematics in the University of Padua, which he occupied for eighteen years,

with ever-increasing fame. After that he was appointed philosopher and mathematician to

the Grand Duke of Tuscany. During the whole of this period, and to the close of his life,

his investigation of Nature, in all her fields, was never stopped. Following up his

experiments at Pisa with others upon inclined planes, Galileo established the laws of falling

bodies as they are still formulated. He likewise demonstrated the laws of projectiles, and

largely anticipated the laws of motion as finally established by Newton. In statics, he gave

the first direct and satisfactory demonstration of the laws of equilibrium and the principle

of virtual velocities. In hydrostatics, he set forth the true principle of flotation. He invented

a thermometer, though a defective one, but he did not, as is sometimes claimed for him,

invent the microscope.

Though, as has been said, it is by his astronomical discoveries that he is most

widely remembered, it is not these that constitute his most substantial title to fame. In this

connection, his greatest achievement was undoubtedly his virtual invention of the

telescope. Hearing early in 1609 that a Dutch optician, named Lippershey, had produced

an instrument by which the apparent size of remote objects was magnified, Galileo at once

realized the principle by which such a result could alone be attained, and, after a single

night devoted to consideration of the laws of refraction, he succeeded in constructing a

telescope which magnified three times, its magnifying power being soon increased to

thirty-two. This instrument being provided and turned towards the heavens, the

discoveries, which have made Galileo famous, were bound at once to follow, though

undoubtedly he was quick to grasp their full significance. The moon was shown not to be,

as the old astronomy taught, a smooth and perfect sphere, of different nature to the earth,

but to possess hills and valleys and other features resembling those of our own globe.

The planet Jupiter was found to have satellites, thus displaying a solar system in miniature,

and supporting the doctrine of Copernicus. It had been argued against the said system

that, if it were true, the inferior planets, Venus and Mercury, between the earth and the

sun, should in the course of their revolution exhibit phases like those of the moon, and,

these being invisible to the naked eye, Copernicus had to change the false explanation that

these planets were transparent and the sun's rays passed through them. But with his

telescope Galileo found that Venus did actually exhibit the desired phases, and the

objection was thus turned into an argument for Copernicanism.

Galileo was tried by the Inquisition for his writings discussing the Ptolemaic and

Copernican systems. In June 1633, Galileo was condemned to life imprisonment for

heresy. His writings about these subjects were banned, and printers were forbidden to

publish anything further by him or even to reprint his previous works. Outside Italy,

however, his writings were translated into Latin and were read by scholars throughout


Galileo remained under imprisonment until his death in 1642. However he never

was a real prisoner for he never spent any time in a prison cell or being treated like a

criminal. Instead he spent his time in fancy apartments. The rest of the time he was

allowed to use houses of friends as his places of confinement the, always comfortable and

usually luxurious.


Galileo Galilei

I. Early Life

A. Born in 1564 at Pisa

B. Parents want him to be a doctor

C. Eventually allowed to follow his own path

II. Accomplishments other than in the field of astronomy

A. Isochronism of the pendulum

1. later led to astronomical clock

B. Center of Gravity in Solids

C. Teacher at University of Pisa

D. Theory of Falling Bodies

E. Nominated to the chair of mathematics in the University of Padua

F. Laws of Projectiles

G. Laws of Equilibrium / Principle of Virtual Velocities

H. Thermometer

III. Astronomical Discoveries

A. Designed highest powered telescopes of the time.

B. The moon

1. Not a perfect and smooth sphere

C. Jupiter

1. Four moons of Jupiter

D. Venus and Mercury

1. Not transparent

2. Had phases

IV. Later Life

A. Tried by the Inquisition

1. For writings

2. Charged with Heresy

B. Sentenced to house arrest

1. lived in luxury

2. never in a prison cell

C. Writings Prohibited

D. Died in 1642


1. Drake, S. ,Galileo at Work: His Scientific Biography. Greensborough Press, 1995.

2. Finnochiara, Maurice A. ,The Galileo Affair. The University of California Press, 1989.

3. Redondi, P. ,Galileo Heretic. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1987.

4. Reston, J. Jr. ,Galileo: A Life. HarperCollins Publishing, 1994.

5. Segre, M. ,In the Wake of Galileo. New Brunswick Co., 1992.

6. Sharratt, M. ,Galileo: Decisive Innovator., Sanford Publishing 1994


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ISLS – Chabot College – Autumn 2005 – Scott Hildreth

Essay Questions for Galileo

Drafts are due Monday, 12/5, to your tutor. Remember that submitting a draft on time is considered in your overall class assessment.Final drafts are due a week later, Monday, 12/12.  Papers must include citations from Galileo’s work, as well as from at least TWO other outside scholarly books, journals, or articles, properly referenced. As this is the final full-length paper for ISLS 1B, you must demonstrate mastery of:

-       formulating a clear thesis;

-       organizing your paper effectively to support your thesis;

-       researching what other scholars have said or thought about the thesis topic;

-       documenting that research through quotations, citations, and correctly formatted bibliographies.

Below you will find topic areas, specific thesis questions, and some suggested resources.You are free to pose and address a different thesis question within one of these topic areas, or from another topic, as long as you discuss it in advance with your tutor.

The Process of Science, and Galileo and Darwin as Scientists:

  1. Compare the style of scientific arguments made by Galileo to that of Darwin. Which was more effective, considering their intended audience?For example, Galileo does not admit to the possibility that his interpretations of his observations might be incorrect. Discuss whether this approach is appropriate given the nature of the proof he collected, and given the intended audience of his book and letters.
  2. Using either The Starry Messenger and/or The Letters on Sunspots, illustrate and discuss the key pieces of the scientificmethod as practiced by Galileo.

Some Resources to Consider:

Donelly, M. “The Vatican Sides with Darwin.” Science and Theology News. 2005. Available at:

“Darwin and Galileo Against the Church.” Western Civilization Weblog. George Mason University. 2005. Available at: [ Note that this is a collection of student thoughts from a current history course at GMU.While not considered scholarly in the sense of representing opinion by published authors or experts, the weblog is nonetheless an interesting place to consider opinions of fellow students.]

Gould, S. “The Gift of New Questions” Natural History, 00280712, Aug93, Vol. 102, Issue 8. Ebsco Host Academic Search Elite.  Chabot College Lib., Hayward, CA.  25 Dec. 2005.

The Trial of Galileo

  1. Some scholars look upon Galileo's battle with the Catholic Church as thesingle most important event leading to an irreparable schism between science and religion. From your examination of his writings, in particular The Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina (but not neglecting The Starry Messenger and the Letters on Sunspots), discuss Galileo’s views of religion and science.


Some Resources to Consider:

Linder, D. “The Trial of Galileo.” University of Missouri Kansas City. 2002. Available at:

Rowland, W. “Galileo Galilei.” 2003. Available at:

Science, Science Writing, and the Search for Truth

  1. Discuss Galileo's use of language throughout the book and within his letters, as it relates to science's need for effective communication to advance towards an accepted view of truth.
  2. Evaluate Galileo's Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina, in terms of its success in defending his beliefs, and in terms of the phrasing and arguments used given the nature and position of its intended recipient, the Grand Duchess.

Some Resources to Consider:

“Session 1: Precursors and Rivals”, from “The Scientific Article: From Galileo’s New Science to the Human Genome.” University of Chicago. 2002. Available at:

Wilson, F. “Science and Human Values: The Search for Truth.” Rochester Institute for Technology. 1999. Available at:

The Economist. The Outward Urge, 12/31/99 Vol. 353, Issue 8151. Ebsco Host Academic Search Elite. Chabot College Library, Hayward, CA.  25 Dec. 2005.


Italian History

  1. Some scholars suggest that Galileo’s problems with the Catholic church arose out of the problems he had with Jesuit scholars.Do you agree?In your essay, research the Jesuits of Galileo’s era, and in particular, how their order approached science and religion.

Some Resources to Consider:

Fowler, Michael. “The Life of Galileo.”University of Virginia. 1996. Available at:

Appeldoorn, John. “The Myth of Galileo.” Planetarian, Vol 19 #4, pages 15-17 & 19, December 1990. Available at:

MacDonnell, Joseph, S.J. “Christopher Scheiner.” Fairfield University. 2005. Available at:


Works Cited Page Examples:

Chabot Library Citation Guides. 2005.Available at:


Writing Research Paper Guides:

Hacker, Diana. Research and Documentation Online.Bedford St. Martin Press. 2005.Available from:


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