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   From Galileo’s Birth to His Teaching Years in Padua Galileo was born in Pisa on February 15, 1564. At that time Italy was divided into many independent states, and Pisa, at one time a prosperous seafaring republic, was a part of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, which was governed by the powerful Medici family, with its capital in Florence . At that time Florence was one of the richest cities in Europe. In the Middle Ages and especially in the Renaissance, Florence had made an incomparable contribution to Western art and culture. Galileo’s family was from Florence. There had been a renowned medical doctor in the family whose name was also Galileo Galilei. It is quite probable that Galileo’s father, Vincenzio, wished to give this name to his firstborn as a remembrance of his famous relative, and hoping that his son would follow in his footsteps in the medical profession. The family finances, at that time in a less than modest state, could thereby be put in order. Vincenzio was a skillful lute player and an important member of the musical circle called the Camerata Fiorentina, where the theory of “drama in music” was developed. This eventually led to the Italian melodrama . But in order to make ends meet he was forced to engage in trading , and so, at Galileo’s birth, the family was in Pisa. 5 Fantoli-01_Layout 1 1/16/12 12:48 PM Page 5 As he grew up, Galileo gave clear signs of his extraordinary talents, and this only strengthened his father’s plan to have him take up the profession of medicine. In September 1581 Galileo enrolled in the faculty of medicine at the University of Pisa. But to his father’s great chagrin he discontinued his studies without having completed the course work. It was not so much that he was not content with the courses in medicine , which were still based on the writings of the famous Greek doctor, Galen (129–199 CE). His decision was rather attributed to his growing interest in the geometry of Euclid and the mechanics of Archimedes. Galileo had begun these studies under the tutelage of Ostilio Ricci (1540–1603), the mathematician who taught the pages of the grand duke of Tuscany. Galileo became fascinated by the rigor of mathematics together with experimentation in physics. He sensed that here lay his true vocation. During the next four years Galileo deepened his knowledge of Euclid and especially of Archimedes. These studies prepared him for a brief period of teaching at Siena (1586–1587) and later at the University of Pisa, where in July 1589 he was appointed lecturer in mathematics. He had to teach, in addition to the geometry of Euclid, the two “classical” medieval treatises: the Sphere of Sacrobosco and the Planetary Hypotheses. Whether or not he had already come in contact with astronomy, this provided him the occasion to do so. And, as in all other European universities at that time, it was Ptolemaic astronomy that he had to study and teach at Pisa. Ptolemy’s astronomy (d. ca. 168 CE) came to be as an answer to many unresolved questions left by the theory of homocentric spheres that had been developed more than four centuries earlier by the Greek mathematician Eudoxus (409–365 BCE), who taught that the Earth is at the center of a complex system of spheres, the last of which had impressed upon it the so-called “fixed stars,” almost all of the objects visible in the sky to the naked eye. In its daily axial rotation from east to west this sphere dragged along the seven planets that lay under it. But these seven planets all had quite irregular motions that varied from one to the other with stopping points and backward motions with respect to their west to east direct motions. Eudoxus had imagined these irregular motions as due to a combination of simple circular motions of one or more concentric spheres for each planet. 6 ✦ The Case of Galileo Fantoli-01_Layout 1 1/16/12 12:48 PM Page 6 Aristotle (384–321 BCE) had adopted this system, and in his treatise On the Heavens had taken it as the foundation of the structure of the movements of all heavenly bodies. But the great Greek philosopher had also and above all else tried to fit the mathematical system of Eudoxus into a complete astrophysics. According to Aristotle the physical makeup of the heavenly bodies is clearly di...


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