by cheri block
If I’ve learned one thing this quarter while studying the trial of Galileo from every angle, it’s that my literary heart must be accompanied by facts if I am going to receive a favorable nod on any paper.
Why do historians demand so many facts? Just kidding.
I realize that I have taken too many “liberties” in my assessment of the trial. The lawyers in our class sound so sure of the events, using legal vocabulary (gag me with a spatula) with the precision of sushi chefs.
There I sit, trying to understand Galileo the man, not Galileo the mathematician or Galileo the natural philosopher or Galileo the courtier or Galileo the scientist.
Who was Galileo? Really?
Finally, last Wednesday, we came to a peephole in the Galilean fence. I looked through it, squinting, and saw a convent so poor that even the plague passed it by in 1633. In the order of Clares, lived Galileo’s two daughters, Suor Maria Celeste and Suor Arcangela, claustrated there when they were eleven and thirteen years old.
In the text Letters to Father Suor Maria Celeste, 1623-1633, translated and annotated by Dava Sobel, Galileo the man emerges.
During our class discussion, we stepped down from the scientific and political ladders we’d been straddling, and walked into Suor Maria Celeste’s painful life, one that ended at age 34.
“This is what 50% of Florentine women did (either go into convents on their own because they didn’t want to be married or go through childbirth) or because their parents put them there,” we heard. Galileo placed his illegitimate daughters there but legitimized his son, Vincenzio. Ironically, Vincenzio was a bit of a flake, never actualizing like his sister, Maria Celeste.
In the 124 letters to her father, we learn that life in a poor convent was a daily challenge, even though the sisters had taken a vow of poverty.
I observed out loud that Galileo’s putting his young daughters there was heartbreaking. Clearly, Maria Celeste yearned to see her father more regularly and be a part of his problems with the Inquisitors in Florence and Rome.
Did Galileo try his best with his daughters? Was he a good father? Is my worldview getting in the way, here?
More in the next post.