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GALILEO'S DAUGHTER by Dava Sobel

GALILEO'S DAUGHTER

A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love

By Dava Sobel

Pub Date: Oct. 21st, 1999
ISBN: 0-8027-1343-2
Publisher: Walker

Sobel, author of the bestselling Longitude (1995), has elegantly translated the letters Galileo’s eldest child, Virginia, wrote to him and uses them as a leitmotif to illuminate their deep mutual love, religious faith, and dedication to science. Yes, Galileo had a daughter, in fact two daughters and a son, the illegitimate offspring of a liaison with a Venetian beauty. Both daughters, considered unmarriageable because of their illegitimacy, became nuns in a convent south of Florence, not far from where Galileo had homes. But Virginia, as Suor Maria Celeste, was deeply involved in her father’s life work, even transcribing his writings, while managing convent affairs and serving as baker, nurse, seamstress, and apothecary. Thus, we learn that Galileo was often confined to bed with incapacitating illnesses and that he treasured the medicines as well as the sweets and cakes his daughter provided. He was also something of a bon vivant, enjoying the wines produced by his vineyards, writing ribald and humorous verse as well as literary criticism. Indeed, his celebrated Dialogues were conceived as dramas involving three persons, with one playing the role of simpleton as foil for the two. In the end, it was the Dialogues that argued for the Copernican view that the Earth moved around the Sun, which invoked the wrath of Pope Urban VIII, who had earlier been a loyal friend and supporter of Galileo. The subsequent trial in Rome ended with Galileo’s recantation and his banishment first to Siena, and then to house arrest in Florence. Sobel provides a few correctives to tradition and fills out the cast of personae who were Galileo’s chief defenders and enemies. But it’s the deft apposition of the devoted and pious letters of Suor Maria Celeste that add not only verisimilitude, but depth to the character of the writer and her father—revealed as a man of great intellect as well as religious faith and lovingkindness. Alas, his letters to her are lost. (First printing of 75,000)