It’s International Galileo Year. Four hundred years after the publication of the Pisan-born polymath’s ground-breaking book The Starry Messenger, with its revolutionary description of his telescopic observations of the heavens, Galileo remains a formidable subject to write about. In taking on a figure widely accepted as the father of modern science, any aspiring Galileo biographer needs to master a handful of classical and vernacular languages, as well as possess a formidable grasp of physics, mechanics and geometry as practised by the ancients no less than by Galileo and his contemporaries. Then there is the problem of his 1633 trial for heresy and apparent recantation. It was an event that inspired and troubled Bertolt Brecht so profoundly that his play The Life of Galileo went through three different versions as he struggled to make sense of the moral and political dimensions of the trial. He oscillated between casting his protagonist as antihero and hero, as first Nazism and then the atomic strikes on Japan provided radically divergent contexts within which to view both Galileo’s achievements and their consequences.
more from Jerry Brotton at Literary Review here.