Sunday, February 05, 2006

Galileo Galilei 1564-1642

Galileo Galilei (1564-1642)

by Richard E. Noble

Okay, say this guy’s name aloud, three times; and say it fast.

All right! Now you know how to yodel.

Didn’t think you could do it, did you?

Galileo is another one of those guys who just didn’t know what to do with himself. His father wanted him to be a traveling salesman, peddling cloth. Galileo wanted to be either a scientist or a mathematician. So they compromised and Galileo went to medical school in Piza. Even in those days doctors made good money. You could make pretty good money at math or science, if you could also play the bass-fiddle and could moonlight on the weekends with the Dave Brubeck Quartet.

Anyway, this seemed like a good compromise to Galileo’s father, but junior had other ideas. Instead of reading his Hippocrates and Galen, he kept sneaking in dirty books with pictures in them, drawn by Euclid and Archimedes. There was no Playboy or Hustler in those days. You just had to take whatever “figures” you could get.

Needless to say, Galileo flunked out of medical school. But reading all his dirty books did land him a professor’s job at the University. No money, but “a professor.” Whoopee!

Well, besides everything else, Galileo was a damn “hippie”. He refused to wear his toga when he was off duty. He probably had green hair and an earring too. He had a big problem with authority. He kept bad-mouthing Aristotle. Mister Aristotle, the poor guy, was dead too.

Aristotle was the last word on everything intellectual in those days. It didn’t matter whether he was right or wrong. “Magister dixit,” everybody said. “The master has spoken.” That was it. The next thing you know, there’s Galileo dropping bowling balls off the leaning tower of Piza for the sole purpose of trying to make “the master” look dopey. That and a few other antics and they finally fired Galileo’s butt.

Then, believe it or not, he falls into a great job at the University of Padua. Talk about luck!? Everybody in Padua just loves the guy. But Galileo just can’t stand all the success. He blows all his paychecks, gets into debt up to his ears, and has a local prostitute move into his apartment with him. Her name is Maria Gamba. She has three kids by him and who knows how many by everybody else. (His dad must have been just loving this.) In any case, he starts playing his lute around town at the local dives to earn a couple of bucks. He invents a compass and a telescope, but because he more than likely slept during “marketing” class, he can’t make a buck on either of them. Next he gets a damn book published, Sidereus Nuncius (the Messenger of the Stars) in which he casually mentions that he has been watching all the planets revolve around the sun with his new telescope. Sounds harmless enough, except that in those days the planets didn’t revolve around the sun - they revolved around the earth. How did they know that? Easy...”Magister dixit” Even this would have been okay, if “Dufus” didn’t go and decide to move back to Piza. At Piza, they put him on trial for bad mouthing “the Master.” They force him to swear on a stack of Bibles that the earth does not revolve around the sun. He spends the rest of his life in prison, as opposed to being burnt at the stake, on condition that he writes no more books.

Yup, you guessed it. His next, and last, book was entitled “The Laws of Motion.” And he couldn’t even read it. He went blind in his prison cell in Arcetri trying to write the damn thing. Some guys just don’t know when to quit.

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