The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 11

Author: Oliver Lodge  | Date: A.D. 1610

Galileo overthrows Ancient Philosophy;
The Telescope and Its Discoveries

A.D. 1610

Sir Oliver Lodge

When the Copernican system of astronomy was published to the world (1543) it had to encounter, as all capital theories and discoveries in science have done, the criticism, and, for some time, the opposition, of men holding other views. After Copernicus, the next great name in modern science is that of Tycho Brahe (1546–1601), who rejected the theory of Copernicus in favor of a modified form of the Ptolemaic system. This was still taught in the schools when two mighty contemporaries, geniuses of science, rose to overthrow it forever.

These men were Galileo Galilei—commonly known as Galileo—and Kepler, both astronomers, though Galileo’s scientific work covered also a much wider field. He is regarded to-day as marking a distinct epoch in the progress of the world, and the following account of his work by the eminent scientist, Sir Oliver Lodge, expresses no more than a just appreciation of his great services to mankind.

Galileo exercised a vast influence on the development of human thought. A man of great and wide culture, a so-called universal genius, it is as an experimental philosopher that he takes the first rank. In this capacity he must be placed alongside of Archimedes, and it is pretty certain that between the two there was no man of magnitude equal to either in experimental philosophy. It is perhaps too bold a speculation, but I venture to doubt whether in succeeding generations we find his equal in the domain of purely experimental science until we come to Faraday. Faraday was no doubt his superior, but I know of no other of whom the like can unhesitatingly be said. In mathematical and deductive science, of course, it is quite otherwise. Kepler, for instance, and many men before and since, have far excelled Galileo in mathematical skill and power, though at the sametime his achievements in this department are by no means to be despised.

Born at Pisa on the very day that Michelangelo lay dying in Rome, he inherited from his father a noble name, cultivated tastes, a keen love of truth, and an impoverished patrimony. Vincenzo de Galilei, a descendant of the important Bonajuti family, was himself a mathematician and a musician, and in a book of his still extant he declares himself in favor of free and open inquiry into scientific matters, unrestrained by the weight of authority and tradition. In all probability the son imbibed these precepts: certainly he acted on them.

Vincenzo, having himself experienced the unremunerative character of scientific work, had a horror of his son’s taking to it, especially as in his boyhood he was always constructing ingenious mechanical toys and exhibiting other marks of precocity. So the son was destined for business—to be, in fact, a cloth-dealer. But he was to receive a good education first, and was sent to an excellent convent school.

Here he made rapid progress, and soon excelled in all branches of classics and literature. He delighted in poetry, and in later years wrote several essays on Dante, Tasso, and Ariosto, besides composing some tolerable poems himself. He played skilfully on several musical instruments, especially on the lute, of which indeed he became a master, and on which he solaced himself when quite an old man. Besides this, he seems to have had some skill as an artist, which was useful afterward in illustrating his discoveries, and to have had a fine sensibility as an art critic, for we find several eminent painters of that day acknowledging the value of the opinion of the young Galileo.

Perceiving all this display of ability, the father wisely came to the conclusion that the selling of woollen stuffs would hardly satisfy his aspirations for long, and that it was worth a sacrifice to send him to the university. So to the university of his native town he went, with the avowed object of studying medicine, that career seeming the most likely to be profitable. Old Vincenzo’s horror of mathematics or science as a means of obtaining a livelihood is justified by the fact that while the university professor of medicine received two thousand scudi a year, the professor of mathematics had only sixty; that is thirteen pounds a year,or seven and a half pence a day. So the son had been kept properly ignorant of such poverty-stricken subjects, and to study medicine he went.

But his natural bent showed itself even here. For praying one day in the cathedral, like a good Catholic as he was all his life, his attention was arrested by the great lamp which, after lighting it, the verger had left swinging to and fro. Galileo proceeded to time its swings by the only watch he possessed—viz., his own pulse. He noticed that the time of swing remained, as near as he could tell, the same, notwithstanding the fact that the swings were getting smaller and smaller.

By subsequent experiment he verified the law, and the isochronism of the pendulum was discovered. An immensely important practical discovery this, for upon it all modern clocks are based; and Huyghens soon applied it to the astronomical clock, which up to that time had been a crude and quite untrustworthy instrument.

The best clock which Tycho Brahe could get for his observatory was inferior to one that may now be purchased for a few shillings; and this change is owing to the discovery of the pendulum by Galileo. Not that he applied it to clocks; he was not thinking of astronomy, he was thinking of medicine, and wanted to count people’s pulses. The pendulum served; and "pulsilogies," as they were called, were thus introduced to and used by medical practitioners.

The Tuscan court came to Pisa for the summer months—for it was then a seaside place—and among the suite was Ostillio Ricci, a distinguished mathematician and old friend of the Galileo family. The youth visited him, and one day, it is said, heard a lesson in Euclid being given by Ricci to the pages while he stood outside the door entranced. Anyhow, he implored Ricci to help him into some knowledge of mathematics, and the old man willingly consented. So he mastered Euclid, and passed on to Archimedes, for whom he acquired a great veneration.

His father soon heard of this obnoxious proclivity, and did what he could to divert him back to medicine again. But it was no use. Underneath his Galen and Hippocrates were secreted copies of Euclid and Archimedes, to be studied at every available opportunity. Old Vincenzo perceived the bent of genius to betoo strong for him, and at last gave way. With prodigious rapidity the released philosopher now assimilated the elements of mathematics and physics, and at twenty-six we find him appointed for three years to the university chair of mathematics, and enjoying the paternally dreaded stipend of seven and a half pence a day.

Now it was that he pondered over the laws of falling bodies. He verified, by experiment, the fact that the velocity acquired by falling down any slope of given height was independent of the angle of slope. Also, that the height fallen through was proportional to the square of the time.

Another thing he found experimentally was that all bodies, heavy and light, fell at the same rate, striking the ground at the same time. Now this was clean contrary to what he had been taught. The physics of those days were a simple reproduction of statements in old books. Aristotle had asserted certain things to be true, and these were universally believed. No one thought of trying the thing to see if it really were so. The idea of making an experiment would have savored of impiety, because it seemed to tend toward scepticism, and cast a doubt on a reverend authority.

Young Galileo, with all the energy and imprudence of youth—what a blessing that youth has a little imprudence and disregard of consequences in pursuing a high ideal!—as soon as he perceived that his instructors were wrong on the subject of falling bodies, instantly informed them of the fact. Whether he expected them to be pleased or not is a question. Anyhow, they were not pleased, but were much annoyed by his impertinent arrogance.

It is, perhaps, difficult for us now to appreciate precisely their position. These doctrines of antiquity, which had come down hoary with age, and the discovery of which had reawakened learning and quickened intellectual life, were accepted less as a science or a philosophy than as a religion. Had they regarded Aristotle as a verbally inspired writer, they could not have received his statements with more unhesitating conviction. In any dispute as to a question of fact, such as the one before us concerning the laws of falling bodies, their method was not to make an experiment, but to turn over the pages of Aristotle; andhe who could quote chapter and verse of this great writer was held to settle the question and raise it above the reach of controversy.

It is very necessary for us to realize this state of things clearly, because otherwise the attitude of the learned of those days toward every new discovery seems stupid and almost insane. They had a crystallized system of truth, perfect, symmetrical; it wanted no novelty, no additions; every addition or growth was an imperfection, an excrescence, a deformity. Progress was unnecessary and undesired. The Church had a rigid system of dogma which must be accepted in its entirety on pain of being treated as a heretic. Philosophers had a cast-iron system of truth to match—a system founded upon Aristotle—and so interwoven with the great theological dogmas that to question one was almost equivalent to casting doubt upon the other.

In such an atmosphere true science was impossible. The life-blood of science is growth, expansion, freedom, development. Before it could appear it must throw off these old shackles of centuries. It must burst its old skin, and emerge, worn with the struggle, weakly and unprotected, but free and able to grow and to expand. The conflict was inevitable, and it was severe. Is it over yet? I fear not quite, though so nearly as to disturb science hardly at all. Then it was different: it was terrible. Honor to the men who bore the first shock of the battle!

Now, Aristotle had said that bodies fell at rates depending on their weight. A five-pound weight would fall five times as quick as a one-pound weight; a fifty-pound weight fifty times as quick, and so on. Why he said so nobody knows. He cannot have tried. He was not above trying experiments, like his smaller disciples; but probably it never occurred to him to doubt the fact. It seems so natural that a heavy body should fall quicker than a light one; and perhaps he thought of a stone and a feather, and was satisfied.

Galileo, however, asserted that the weight did not matter a bit; that everything fell at the same rate even a stone and a feather, but for the resistance of the air—and would reach the ground in the same time. And he was not content to be pooh-poohed and snubbed. He knew he was right, and he wasdetermined to make everyone see the facts as he saw them. So one morning, before the assembled university, he ascended the famous leaning tower, taking with him a one-hundred-pound shot and a one-pound shot. He balanced them on the edge of the tower, and let them drop together. Together they fell, and together they struck the ground. The simultaneous clang of those two weights sounded the death-knell of the old system of philosophy, and heralded the birth of the new.

But was the change sudden? Were his opponents convinced? Not a jot. Though they had seen with their eyes and heard with their ears, the full light of heaven shining upon them, they went back muttering and discontented to their musty old volumes and their garrets, there to invent occult reasons for denying the validity of the observation, and for referring it to some unknown disturbing cause.

They saw that if they gave way on this one point they would be letting go their anchorage, and henceforward would be liable to drift along with the tide, not knowing whither. They dared not do this. No; they must cling to the old traditions; they could not cast away their rotting ropes and sail out on to the free ocean of God’s truth in a spirit of fearless faith.

Yet they had received a shock: as by a breath of fresh salt breeze and a dash of spray in their faces, they had been awakened out of their comfortable lethargy. They felt the approach of a new era. Yes, it was a shock, and they hated the young Galileo for giving it them—hated him with the sullen hatred of men who fight for a lost and dying cause.

We need scarcely blame these men; at least we need not blame them overmuch. To say that they acted as they did is to say that they were human, were narrow-minded, and were the apostles of a lost cause. But they could not know this; they had no experience of the past to guide them; the conditions under which they found themselves were novel, and had to be met for the first time. Conduct which was excusable then would be unpardonable now, in the light of all this experience to guide us. Are there any now who practically repeat their error, and resist new truth? who cling to any old anchorage of dogma, and refuse to rise with the tide of advancing knowledge? There may be some even now.

Well, the unpopularity of Galileo smouldered for a time, until, by another noble imprudence, he managed to offend a semiroyal personage, Giovanni de’ Medici, by giving his real opinion, when consulted, about a machine which De’ Medici had invented for cleaning out the harbor of Leghorn. He said it was as useless as it in fact turned out to be. Through the influence of the mortified inventor he lost favor at court; and his enemies took advantage of the fact to render his chair untenable. He resigned before his three years were up, and retired to Florence.

His father at this time died, and the family were left in narrow circumstances. He had a brother and three sisters to provide for. He was offered a professorship at Padua for six years by the Senate of Venice, and willingly accepted it. Now began a very successful career. His introductory address was marked by brilliant eloquence, and his lectures soon acquired fame. He wrote for his pupils on the laws of motion, on fortifications, on sundials, on mechanics, and on the celestial globe: some of these papers are now lost, others have been printed during the present century.

Kepler sent him a copy of his new book, Mysterium Cosmographicum, and Galileo, in thanking him for it, writes him the following letter:

"I count myself happy, in the search after truth, to have so great an ally as yourself, and one who is so great a friend of the truth itself. It is really pitiful that there are so few who seek truth, and who do not pursue a perverse method of philosophizing. But this is not the place to mourn over the miseries of our times, but to congratulate you on your splendid discoveries in confirmation of truth. I shall read your book to the end, sure of finding much that is excellent in it. I shall do so with the more pleasure, because I have been for many years an adherent of the Copernican system, and it explains to me the causes of many of the appearances of nature which are quite unintelligible on the commonly accepted hypothesis. I have collected many arguments for the purpose of refuting the latter; but I do not venture to bring them to the light of publicity, for fear of sharing the fate of our master, Copernicus, who, although he has earned immortal fame with some, yet with very many (so great is the number of fools) has become an object of ridicule and scorn. I shouldcertainly venture to publish my speculations if there were more people like you. But this not being the case, I refrain from such an undertaking."

Kepler urged him to publish his arguments in favor of the Copernican theory, but he hesitated for the present, knowing that his declaration would be received with ridicule and opposition, and thinking it wiser to get rather more firmly seated in his chair before encountering the storm of controversy. The six years passed away, and the Venetian Senate, anxious not to lose so bright an ornament, renewed his appointment for another six years at a largely increased salary.

Soon after this appeared a new star—the stella nova of 1604—not the one Tycho had seen—that was in 1572—but the same that Kepler was so much interested in. Galileo gave a course of three lectures upon it to a great audience. At the first the theatre was overcrowded, so he had to adjourn to a hall holding one thousand persons. At the next he had to lecture in the open air. He took occasion to rebuke his hearers for thronging to hear about an ephemeral novelty, while for the much more wonderful and important truths about the permanent stars and facts of nature they had but deaf ears.

But the main point he brought out concerning the new star was that it upset the received Aristotelian doctrine of the immutability of the heavens. According to that doctrine the heavens were unchangeable, perfect, subject neither to growth nor to decay. Here was a body, not a meteor but a real distant star, which had not been visible and which would shortly fade away again, but which meanwhile was brighter than Jupiter.

The staff of petrified professorial wisdom were annoyed at the appearance of the star, still more at Galileo’s calling public attention to it; and controversy began at Padua. However, he accepted it, and now boldly threw down the gauntlet in favor of the Copernican theory, utterly repudiating the old Ptolemaic system, which up to that time he had taught in the schools according to established custom.

The earth no longer the only world to which all else in the firmament were obsequious attendants, but a mere insignificant speck among the host of heaven! Man no longer the centre and cynosure of creation, but, as it were, an insect crawling on thesurface of this little speck! All this not set down in crabbed Latin in dry folios for a few learned monks, as in Copernicus’ time, but promulgated and argued in rich Italian, illustrated by analogy, by experiment, and with cultured wit; taught not to a few scholars here and there in musty libraries, but proclaimed in the vernacular to the whole populace with all the energy and enthusiasm of a recent convert and a master of language! Had a bombshell been exploded among the fossilized professors it had been less disturbing.

But there was worse in store for them. A Dutch optician, Hans Lippershey by name, of Middleburg, had in his shop a curious toy, rigged up, it is said, by an apprentice, and made out of a couple of spectacle lenses, whereby, if one looked through it, the weather-cock of a neighboring church spire was seen nearer and upside down. The tale goes that the Marquis Spinola, happening to call at the shop, was struck with the toy and bought it. He showed it to Prince Maurice of Nassau, who thought of using it for military reconnoitring. All this is trivial. What is important is that some faint and inaccurate echo of this news found its way to Padua and into the ears of Galileo.

The seed fell on good soil. All that night he sat up and pondered. He knew about lenses and magnifying-glasses. He had read Kepler’s theory of the eye, and had himself lectured on optics. Could he not hit on the device and make an instrument capable of bringing the heavenly bodies nearer? Who knew what marvels he might not so perceive! By morning he had some schemes ready to try, and one of them was successful. Singularly enough it was not the same plan as the Dutch optician’s: it was another mode of achieving the same end. He took an old small organ-pipe, jammed a suitably chosen spectacle glass into either end, one convex, the other concave, and, behold! he had the half of a wretchedly bad opera-glass capable of magnifying three times. It was better than the Dutchman’s, however: it did not invert.

Such a thing as Galileo made may now be bought at a toy-shop for I suppose half a crown, and yet what a potentiality lay in that "glazed optic tube," as Milton called it. Away he went with it to Venice and showed it to the Seigniory, to their great astonishment. "Many noblemen and senators," says Galileo,"though of advanced age, mounted to the top of one of the highest towers to watch the ships, which were visible through my glass two hours before they were seen entering the harbor, for it makes a thing fifty miles off as near and clear as if it were only five." Among the people, too, the instrument excited the greatest astonishment and interest, so that he was nearly mobbed. The Senate hinted to him that a present of the instrument would not be unacceptable, so Galileo took the hint and made another for them. They immediately doubled his salary at Padua, making it one thousand florins, and confirmed him in the enjoyment of it for life.

He now eagerly began the construction of a larger and better instrument. Grinding the lenses with his own hands with consummate skill, he succeeded in making a telescope magnifying thirty times. Thus equipped he was ready to begin a survey of the heavens. The first object he carefully examined was naturally the moon. He found there everything at first sight very like the earth, mountains and valleys, craters and plains, rocks, and apparently seas. You may imagine the hostility excited among the Aristotelian philosophers, especially, no doubt, those he had left behind at Pisa, on the ground of his spoiling the pure, smooth, crystalline, celestial face of the moon as they had thought it, and making it harsh and rugged, and like so vile and ignoble a body as the earth.

He went further, however, into heterodoxy than this: he not only made the moon like the earth, but he made the earth shine like the moon. The visibility of "the old moon in the new moon’s arms" he explained by earth-shine. Leonardo had given the same explanation a century before. Now, one of the many stock arguments against Copernican theory of the earth being a planet like the rest was that the earth was dull and dark and did not shine. Galileo argued that it shone just as much as the moon does, and in fact rather more—especially if it be covered with clouds. One reason of the peculiar brilliancy of Venus is that she is a very cloudy planet.1 Seen from the moon the earth would look exactly as the moon does to us, only a little brighter and sixteen times as big—four times the diameter.

Wherever Galileo turned his telescope new stars appeared. The Milky Way, which had so puzzled the ancients, was found to be composed of stars. Stars that appeared single to the eye were some of them found to be double; and at intervals were found hazy nebulous wisps, some of which seemed to be star clusters, while others seemed only a fleecy cloud.

Now we come to his most brilliant, at least his most sensational, discovery. Examining Jupiter minutely on January 7, 1610, he noticed three little stars near it, which he noted down as fixing its then position. On the following night Jupiter had moved to the other side of the three stars. This was natural enough, but was it moving the right way? On examination it appeared not. Was it possible the tables were wrong? The next evening was cloudy, and he had to curb his feverish impatience. On the 10th there were only two, and those on the other side. On the 11th two again, but one bigger than the other. On the 12th the three reappeared, and on the 13th there were four. No more appeared. Jupiter, then, had moons like the earth—four of them in fact!—and they revolved round him in periods which were soon determined.

The news of the discovery soon spread and excited the greatest interest and astonishment. Many of course refused to believe it. Some there were who, having been shown them, refused to believe their eyes, and asserted that although the telescope acted well enough for terrestrial objects, it was altogether false and illusory when applied to the heavens. Others took the safer ground of refusing to look through the glass. One of these who would not look at the satellites happened to die soon afterward. "I hope," says Galileo, "that he saw them on his way to heaven."

The way in which Kepler received the news is characteristic, though by adding four to the supposed number of planets it might have seemed to upset his notions about the five regular solids.

He says: "I was sitting idle at home thinking of you, most excellent Galileo, and your letters, when the news was brought me of the discovery of four planets by the help of the double eyeglass. Wachenfels stopped his carriage at my door to tell me, when such a fit of wonder seized me at a report which seemed so very absurd, and I was thrown into such agitation at seeing anold dispute between us decided in this way, that between his joy, my coloring, and the laughter of us both, confounded as we were by such a novelty, we were hardly capable, he of speaking, or I of listening.

"On our separating, I immediately fell to thinking how there could be any addition to the number of planets without overturning my Mysterium Cosmographicon, published thirteen years ago, according to which Euclid’s five regular solids do not allow more than six planets round the sun. But I am so far from disbelieving the existence of the four circumjovial planets that I long for a telescope to anticipate you if possible in discovering two round Mars—as the proportion seems to me to require—six or eight round Saturn, and one each round Mercury and Venus."

As an illustration of the opposite school I will take the following extract from Francesco Sizzi, a Florentine astronomer, who argues against the discovery thus:

"There are seven windows in the head—two nostrils, two eyes, two ears, and a mouth; so in the heavens there are two favorable stars, two unpropitious, two luminaries, and Mercury alone undecided and indifferent. From which and many other similar phenomena of nature, such as the seven metals, etc., which it were tedious to enumerate, we gather that the number of planets is necessarily seven.

"Moreover, the satellites are invisible to the naked eye, and therefore can have no influence on the earth, and therefore would be useless, and therefore do not exist.

"Besides, the Jews and other ancient nations as well as modern Europeans have adopted the division of the week into seven days, and have named them from the seven planets: now if we increase the number of the planets this whole system fails to the ground."

To these arguments Galileo replied that whatever their force might be as a reason for believing beforehand that no more than seven planets would be discovered, they hardly seemed of sufficient weight to destroy the new ones when actually seen. Writing to Kepler at this time, Galileo ejaculates:

"Oh, my dear Kepler, how I wish that we could have one hearty laugh together! Here, at Padua, is the principal professorof philosophy whom I have repeatedly and urgently requested to look at the moon and planets through my glass, which he pertinaciously refuses to do. Why are you not here? What shouts of laughter we should have at this glorious folly! And to hear the professor of philosophy at Pisa laboring before the Grand Duke with logical arguments, as if with magical incantations, to charm the new planets out of the sky."

A young German protg of Kepler, Martin Horkey, was travelling in Italy, and meeting Galileo at Bologna was favored with a view through his telescope. But supposing that Kepler must necessarily be jealous of such great discoveries, and thinking to please him, he writes: "I cannot tell what to think about these observations. They are stupendous, they are wonderful, but whether they are true or false I cannot tell." He concludes, "I will never concede his four new planets to that Italian from Padua, though I die for it." So he published a pamphlet asserting that reflected rays and optical illusions were the sole cause of the appearance, and that the only use of the imaginary planets was to gratify Galileo’s thirst for gold and notoriety.

When after this performance he paid a visit to his old instructor Kepler he got a reception which astonished him. However, he pleaded so hard to be forgiven that Kepler restored him to partial favor, on this condition, that he was to look again at the satellites, and this time to see them and own that they were there.

By degrees the enemies of Galileo were compelled to confess to the truth of the discovery, and the next step was to outdo him. Scheiner counted five, Rheiter nine, and others went as high as twelve. Some of these were imaginary, some were fixed stars, and four satellites only are known to this day.2

Here, close to the summit of his greatness, we must leave him for a time. A few steps more and he will be on the brow of the hill; a short piece of table-land, and then the descent begins.

In dealing with these historic events will you allow me to repudiate once for all the slightest sectarian bias or meaning? I have nothing to do with Catholic or Protestant as such. I have nothing to do with the Church of Rome as such. I am dealingwith the history of science. But historically at one period science and the Church came into conflict. It was not specially one church rather than another—it was the Church in general, the only one that then existed in those countries. Historically, I say, they came into conflict, and historically the Church was the conqueror. It got its way; and science, in the persons of Bruno, Galileo, and several others, was vanquished. Such being the facts, there is no help but to mention them in dealing with the history of science. Doubtless now the Church regards it as an unhappy victory, and gladly would ignore this painful struggle. This, however, is impossible. With their creed the churchmen of that day could act in no other way. They were bound to prosecute heresy, and they were bound to conquer in the struggle or be themselves shattered.

But let me insist on the fact that no one accuses the ecclesiastical courts of crime or evil motives. They attacked heresy after their manner, as the civil courts attacked witchcraft after their manner. Both erred grievously, but both acted with the best intentions.

We must remember, moreover, that his doctrines were scientifically heterodox, and the university professors of that day were probably quite as ready so condemn them as the Church was. To realize the position we must think of some subjects which to-day are scientifically heterodox, and of the customary attitude adopted toward them by persons of widely differing creeds.

If it be contended now, as it is, that the ecclesiastics treated Galileo well, I admit it freely: they treated him as well as they possibly could. They overcame him, and he recanted; but if he had not recanted, if he had persisted in his heresy, they would— well, they would still have treated his soul well, but they would have set fire to his body. Their mistake consisted not in cruelty, but in supposing themselves the arbiters of eternal truth; and by no amount of slurring and glossing over facts can they evade the responsibility assumed by them on account of this mistaken attitude.

We left Galileo standing at his telescope and beginning his survey of the heavens. We followed him indeed through a few of his first great discoveries—the discovery of the mountainsand other variety of surface in the moon, of the nebul and a multitude of faint stars, and lastly of the four satellites of Jupiter.

This latter discovery made an immense sensation, and contributed its share to his removal from Padua, which quickly followed it. Before the end of the year 1610 Galileo had made another discovery—this time on Saturn. But to guard against the host of plagiarists and impostors he published it in the form of an anagram, which, at the request of the Emperor Rudolph—a request probably inspired by Kepler—he interpreted; it ran thus: The farthest planet is triple.

Very soon after he found that Venus was changing from a full-moon to a half-moon appearance. He announced this also by an anagram, and waited till it should become a crescent, which it did. This was a dreadful blow to the anti-Copernicans, for it removed the last lingering difficulty to the reception of the Copernican doctrine. Copernicus had predicted, indeed, a hundred years before, that, if ever our powers of sight were sufficiently enhanced, Venus and Mercury would be seen to have phases like the moon. And now Galileo with his telescope verifies the prediction to the letter.

Here was a triumph for the grand old monk, and a bitter morsel for his opponents.

Castelli writes, "This must now convince the most obstinate." But Galileo, with more experience, replies: "You almost make me laugh by saying that these clear observations are sufficient to convince the most obstinate; it seems you have yet to learn that long ago the observations were enough to convince those who are capable of reasoning and those who wish to learn the truth; but that to convince the obstinate and those who care for nothing beyond the vain applause of the senseless vulgar, not even the testimony of the stars would suffice, were they to descend on earth to speak for themselves. Let us, then, endeavor to procure some knowledge for ourselves, and rest contented with this sole satisfaction; but of advancing in popular opinion, or of gaining the assent of the book-philosophers, let us abandon both the hope and the desire."

What a year’s work it had been! In twelve months observational astronomy had made such a bound as it has never madebefore or since.3 Why did not others make any of these observations? Because no one could make telescopes like Galileo. He gathered pupils round him, however, and taught them how to work the lenses, so that gradually these instruments penetrated Europe, and astronomers everywhere verified his splendid discoveries.

1It is of course the "silver lining" of clouds that outside observers see.

2 A fifth satellite of Jupiter has been recently discovered; and Kepler’s guess at two moons for Mars has also been justified.

3 The next year Galileo discovered also the spots upon the sun and estimated roughly its time of rotation.


Related Resources

Copernican Revolution

Download Options

Title: The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 11

Select an option:

*Note: A download may not start for up to 60 seconds.

Email Options

Title: The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 11

Select an option:

Email addres:

*Note: It may take up to 60 seconds for for the email to be generated.

Chicago: Oliver Lodge, "Galileo Overthrows Ancient Philosophy; the Telescope and Its Discoveries," The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 11 in The Great Events by Famous Historians. Lincoln Memorial University Edition, ed. Rossiter Johnson (Harrogate, TN: The National Alunmi, 1926), 15–30. Original Sources, accessed December 2, 2022,

MLA: Lodge, Oliver. "Galileo Overthrows Ancient Philosophy; the Telescope and Its Discoveries." The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 11, in The Great Events by Famous Historians. Lincoln Memorial University Edition, edited by Rossiter Johnson, Harrogate, TN, The National Alunmi, 1926, pp. 15–30. Original Sources. 2 Dec. 2022.

Harvard: Lodge, O, 'Galileo Overthrows Ancient Philosophy; the Telescope and Its Discoveries' in The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 11. cited in 1926, The Great Events by Famous Historians. Lincoln Memorial University Edition, ed. , The National Alunmi, Harrogate, TN, pp.15–30. Original Sources, retrieved 2 December 2022, from