The gentle, intelligent voice of Galileo’s daughter speaks across the centuries in 124 remarkable epistles—published for the first time in English—written to her father in the early 17th century.
In 1613, when daughters Virginia and Livia were 13 and 12, respectively, Galileo placed them in Florence’s Convent of San Matteo, operated by the religious order called the Poor Clares. (Both Editor Sobel [Galileo’s Daughter, 1999, etc.] and the publisher are donating all proceeds from this book to the Poor Clares of New Mexico.) When the girls turned 16, they both took vows and new names. Virginia became Suor Maria Celeste; Livia, Suor Arcangela. In one of the fortuitous coincidences of history, the later letters in this collection come from the period when Galileo appeared before the Inquisition and was forced to deny the validity of the Copernican system. Maria Celeste’s fear for her father’s safety permeates virtually every line of these letters, even when she is writing about such mundane affairs as the health of a mule or the condition of her teeth. (“Recently I pulled a very large molar, which had rotted and was giving me great pain.”) Maria Celeste displays enormous veneration for Galileo. She addresses him as “Most Illustrious Lord Father” and throughout employs the most respectful tone and diction that Italian will allow. (The English translations are accompanied by the original-language versions on facing pages.) Occasionally she chides him very gently for not visiting often enough, for failing to write often enough, or for neglecting his health. She warns him about the presence of the plague in Florence, sending “a marvelous defense,” a concoction consisting of figs, nuts, rue, salt, and honey. Like any other child away from home, she asks for money, sympathy, care packages, and respect.
Lively and lovely. Making these available to the English-speaking world is a great public service.