A Source Book in Medieval Science

Author: Galileo Galilei  | Date: 1914

Show Summary

On Interstitial Vacua

3. Galileo Galilei: The Existence of Interstitial Vacua Affirmed

Translated by Henry Crew and Alfonso de Salvio54

Annotated by Edward Grant

SAGR. It still remains for you to tell us upon what depends the resistance to breaking, other than that of the vacuum; what is the gluey or viscous substance which cements together the parts of the solid?55 For I cannot imagine a glue that will not burn up in a highly heated furnace in two or three months, or certainly within ten or a hundred. For if gold, silver and glass are kept for a long while in the molten state and are removed from the furnace, their parts, on cooling, immediately reunite and bind themselves together as before. Not only so, but whatever difficulty arises with respect to the cementation of the parts of the glass arises also with regard to the parts of the glue; in other words, what is that which holds these parts together so firmly?


SALV. A little while ago, I expressed the hope that your good angel might assist you. I now find myself in the same straits. Experiment leaves no doubt that the reason why two plates cannot be separated, except with violent effort, is that they are held together by the resistance of the vacuum; and the same can be said of two large pieces of a marble or bronze column. This being so, I do not see why this same cause may not explain the coherence of smaller parts and indeed of the very smallest particles of these materials. Now, since each effect must have one true and sufficient cause and since I find no other cement, am I not justified in trying to discover whether the vacuum is not a sufficient cause?

SIMP. But seeing that you have already proved that the resistance which the large vacuum offers to the separation of two large parts of a solid is really very small in comparison with that cohesive force which binds together the most minute parts, why do you hesitate to regard this latter as something very different from the former?

SALV. Sagredo has already answered this question when he remarked that each individual soldier was being paid from coin collected by a general tax of pennies and farthings, while even a million of gold would not suffice to pay the entire army.56 And who knows but that there may be other extremely minute vacua which affect the smallest particles so that that which binds together the contiguous parts is throughout of the same mintage? Let me tell you something which has just occurred to me and which I do not offer as an absolute fact, but rather as a passing thought, still immature and calling for more careful consideration. You may take of it what you like; and judge the rest as you see fit. Sometimes when I have observed how fire winds its way in between the most minute particles of this or that metal and, even though these are solidly cemented together, tears them apart and separates them, and when I have observed that, on removing the fire, these particles reunite with the same tenacity as at first, without any loss of quantity in the case of gold and with little loss in the case of other metals, even though these parts have been separated for a long while, I have thought that the explanation might lie in the fact that the extremely fine particles of fire, penetrating the slender pores of the metal (too small to admit even the finest particles of air or of many other fluids), would fill the small intervening vacua and would set free these small particles from the attraction which these same vacua exert upon them and which prevents their separation. Thus the particles are able to move freely so that the


mass [massa] becomes fluid and remains so as tong as the particles of fire remain inside; but if they depart and leave the former vacua then the original attraction [attrazzione] returns and the parts are again cemented together.

In reply to the question raised by Simplicio, one may say that although each particular vacuum is exceedingly minute and therefore easily overcome, yet their number is so extraordinarily great that their combined resistance is, so to speak, multipled almost without limit. . . .

54. Reprinted with the kind permission of the Macmillan Company from the First Day of Dialogues Concerning Two New Sciences by Galileo Galilei, translated from the Italian and Latin into English by Henry Crew and Alfonso de Salvio. . . (New York: Macmillan, 1914), pp. 18–19. Galileo’s straightforward physical explanation should be compared to the preceding selection, where Nicholas of Autrecourt gives a complicated scholastic defense of interstitial vacua.

55. A reference to an earlier remark, quoted in Selection 53.4.

56. In connection with increasing the coherence of materials Sagredo had earlier declared (Crew and De Salvio, pp. 13–14): "I was wondering whether, if a million of gold each year from Spain were not sufficient to pay the army, it might not be necessary to make provision other than small coin for the pay of the soldiers." In terms of the present discussion, if a large single force were inadequate, perhaps a great number of minute forces acting together would be more effective.


Related Resources

Galileo Galilei

Download Options

Title: A Source Book in Medieval Science

Select an option:

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

Email Options

Title: A Source Book in Medieval Science

Select an option:

Email addres:

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

Chicago: Galileo Galilei, "On Interstitial Vacua," A Source Book in Medieval Science, trans. Alfonso De Salvio in A Source Book in Medieval Science, ed. Edward Grant (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1974), 359–360. Original Sources, accessed July 2, 2022, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=KXDJV1JVIGDX735.

MLA: Galilei, Galileo. "On Interstitial Vacua." A Source Book in Medieval Science, translted by Alfonso De Salvio, in A Source Book in Medieval Science, edited by Edward Grant, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1974, pp. 359–360. Original Sources. 2 Jul. 2022. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=KXDJV1JVIGDX735.

Harvard: Galilei, G, 'On Interstitial Vacua' in A Source Book in Medieval Science, trans. . cited in 1974, A Source Book in Medieval Science, ed. , Harvard University Press, Cambridge, pp.359–360. Original Sources, retrieved 2 July 2022, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=KXDJV1JVIGDX735.