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Maria RojasMarch 31, 2012The Heroic Narrative in Science: Galileo Out of the three types of scientific heroes described in Catherine Milne’s essay“Philosophically Correct Science Stories? Examining the Implications of Heroic Science Storiesfor School Science,” Galileo Galilei falls into the second category: he was an extraordinary well-connected scientist marked by “blather, bluster, [and] brilliance” (Milne, pg. 185). Yet, this wasnot always the case. Galileo had to climb the social ladder of his day through the gradualdevelopment of social connections. In 1564, Galileo was born to Vincenzo and Guilia Galilei, a family who was constantly ineconomic need. His father was a music teacher, but did not earn the desired income and hismother was often dissatisfied over their quality of life. Yet, this did not deter Galileo frombecoming well known among the scholars of his day. He was brilliant by nature, very ambitiousand outspoken, motivated to succeed (perhaps influenced by his financial situation). In otherwords, he had the necessary qualities for becoming famous. Galileo’s heroic journey begins at the University of Pisa, where he falls in love withmathematics. His reputation slowly begins to rise, as he is offered the Chair of Mathematics atUniversity of Pisa, and later as a mathematical professor at the University of Padua. Yet, his truebreak (sort of speak) does not come until many years later, when he improves the Dutchspyglass: the telescope. The improved instrument astonishes many of his contemporaries and heis recognized as a brilliant genius. He uses his telescope to study astronomy, eventually gainingthe title of “Mathematician” and “Philosopher” under Cosimo de Medici’s patronage. 1
Yet, Galileo’s success is not only gaining him favoritism and supporters, but he is alsogaining hatred by his enemies. He is a clever intellect and debater to be sure, but his awarenessof it makes him arrogant. He is often caught blustering and sneering at his contemporaries, suchas Kepler, and boasting about himself. Hence, his “blather, bluster, brilliance” heroic stylebecomes problematic, especially when confronted by the Catholic Church. In other words, thesocial implication of his superb but arrogant heroic style is what causes his downhill. When Galileo publically supports Copernicus heliocentric theory, several of his followerssupport him, like his student Benedetto Castelli. Nevertheless, he is also met with ferventopposition. As demonstrated in the Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina of Tuscany in 1615,Galileo generalizes his opposition and overestimates his power as a debater. Galileo claims thathe is met with opposition because: 1) it is a novel and unexpected surprise to some and 2) thereare those who seek to damage his reputation. Then, he goes on and eloquently argues that theBible should not be taken literally for there is too much to know. Otherwise, God would have notgiven us the ability to think logically. Despite his arguments and efforts, however, the SacredCongregation banned the Copernicus theory a year later. If Galileo had been a “regular” and“humble” type of scientist, perhaps he would have never mentioned the Copernicus theory again.But then again, he was not. He was brilliant and he loved to bluster. Galileo continued to argue for the Copernicus theory, and in 1623, he saw a new potentialopportunity: the Catholic Church had appointed Pope Urban VIII. Galileo welcomed such news,for Pope Urban VIII was an admirer of Galileo’s work (here his brilliancy helped himtremendously). Galileo was given leniency and authorized to write a book about Copernicustheory as long as it was in suppositional terms. Yet, Galileo, being smart himself, took advantageof this authorization to the extreme: he wrote his famous Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief 2
Systems of the World, a satire mocking the Pope. Galileo genuinely thought he was going to getsupporters, but that was not the case. The character representing the Church and Aristotelianphilosophy was Simplicio, a simple and feeble-minded fellow. On the other hand, Salviatirepresented the smart intellectual character (Galileo) that supported the heliocentric theory. TheCatholic Church was obviously outraged, declaring Galileo a heretic. Hence, Galileo’s “blather,bluster, brilliance” style is what led him to his doom: he died under house arrest.Galileo’s Legacy Although Galileo’s heroic style is what made him unpopular towards the end of his life(and caused him to die miserably), it is precisely his heroic style that makes so him memorabletoday. He was a brilliant and strong-headed man, ready to debate and defend his views. As thebook Galileo’s Dream claims, he is considered the first scientist and opened the doors toinnumerous possibilities: that of science itself. It is his mathematical approach to life that led tothe development of the scientific method (that of observation), which no one knows where it willlead us next… 3
Works CitedMilne, Catherine. “Philosophically Correct Science Stories? Examining the Implications of Heroic Science Stories for School Science.” Journal of Research in Science Teaching 35.2 (1998): 175-187. Web. 27 Feb 2010.“Modern History Sourcebook: Galileo Galilei: Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina of Tuscany, 1615.” Fordham.edu. 1997. Web. 5 Mar. 2012. <http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/galileo-tuscany.asp>.Robinson, Kim Stanley. Galileo’s Dream. New York: Spectra Books, 2010. Print. 4