A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

2. The Great Ptolemaic Smackdown: Down for the Count

In the Previous Post

found here, we saw that the geocentric/geostationary model of the world was not only not unreasonable, but was the best fit for the empirical data that was then available.  Inter alia, you could see the stars and planets moving around the earth!

Oresme subverted that evidence in 1377 in his Livre du ciel et du monde, with an argument from relativity of inertial reference frames.  Whether the Earth were turning and the heavens stood still or vice versa, everything would look the same.  He also proposed "common motion" to counter the Argument of the Winds.  None of these arguments were conclusive and Oresme lacked the sort of instrumentation that might have provided him with better information or the conceptual lumber (inertia, forces, ...) that would have let him frame the issue.  

The main obstacle to the revolution of the Earth was the lack of stellar parallax.  Copernicus (among others) proposed that the stars were really far away and thus the parallax would be too small to see with the naked eye.  But this was saving one unproven hypothesis by throwing in a second unproven hypothesis.  The stars could not possibly be as far away as Copernicanism required because then, given their visible disks, elementary geometry required the stars to be of such enormous size as to dwarf the solar system.  Tycho (among others*) thought this absurd, as it would mean an entire class of new entities.  The Copernicans answered by saying "Goddidit!"  “Who cares how big the stars are?” wrote Christoph Rothmann, since an infinite Creator God is far bigger still.
(*) among others.  Little in the history of science is due to Just One Person.  There is no
"Father of..." this or that.  Those who get credit are typically lucky, more astute in PR, or
standing on someone's shoulders.  The best of them, like Newton, will tell you so. 

Notice, en passant, that it was the Earth being stationary that mattered, not it's being 'in the center.'  The ancients and [especially] the medievals, saw the Earth as being in the bottom of the world, the most ignoble place.  That's why Copernicanism was supported by humanists but opposed by physicists.  It elevated Earth (and humans) to a higher position in the universe.  

1. The Magnificent Seven. 

Now, in case you’re keeping tabs, there were by this time no less than seven models in play in the early 1600s:
  1. Heraclidean.  Geo-heliocentric.  Mercury and Venus circle the Sun; everything else circles the Earth.  
  2. Ptolemaic.  Geocentric, stationary Earth.  
  3. Copernican.  Heliocentric, pure circles with lots of epicycles.  
  4. Gilbertian.  Geocentric, rotating Earth.  (proposed by William Gilbert in De magnete)
  5. Tychonic.  Geo-heliocentric.  Sun and Moon circle the Earth; everything else circles the Sun.
  6. Ursine.  Tychonic, with rotating Earth.  
  7. Keplerian.  Heliocentric, with elliptical orbits. 
Physics deals with the abstracted properties
of physical bodies; mathematics, with the
abstracted properties of ideal bodies. 
(Moderns treat Kepler like a minor amendment to Copernicus.  But the astronomers of the time regarded Kepler’s elliptical astronomy as separate from and a competitor to Copernicus’ model.)

Standing against all of these was Aristotelian physics, which saw no justification for the epicycles and other foo-foo in Ptolemaic and Copernican astronomy, for the spinning Earth of the Gilbertian and Ursine models, the sun-centeredness of the Copernican and Keplerian models, or for the gimcrackery of the Heraclidean, Tychonic, or Ursine models.  Lofty physicists, who were, you know, scientists, looked down on mere astronomers, who were simply mathematicians

At this point in our story, Ptolemy is still ahead.  Tycho has few adherents.  Copernicus has even fewer adherents (mainly humanists, not astronomers) and most of those who adopt it, do so on instrumentalist grounds.  No one can make sense out of Kepler's math.  Ursus and Gilbert seem stuck in the starting gate, since their spinning earths are a major stumbling block. 
In case you've forgotten: a comparison of the actual Ptolemaic and Copernican models.
after drawings by Stahlman appearing in de Santillana (1955) pp 32-33.

Because astronomy was (along with optics and music) a specialized branch of mathematics, there was no compelling reason why a mathematical device like sun-centeredness or epicycles ought to be physically real.  All that was necessary was that the math made accurate predictions. But with the rise of mystical Platonic woo-woo -- mathematical elegance implies physical reality -- even the Ptolemaics are beginning to think in physical terms. 

The Aristotelians were aware of what we now call the Duhem-Quine Thesis, and knew that multiple, incompatible models can account for the very self-same data.

The Tychonic model, based as it was on spanking new data, blew away the Heraclidean model.  One down, six to go!  But to decide among the remainder required not simply new data, but new kinds of data. 

2. The Far-Seeing Look-Glass

Before telescopes.  Science hating Catholic science-haters
cleverly built their churches to include solar observatories. 
These projected solar images onto 'meridian lines' like this one
showing a solar eclipse at S.Maria degli Angeli in Rome
(photo by Mario Catamo)
1608.  Astronomers from Hipparchus to Tycho Brahe had been able to gauge only the position, movement, brightness, and size of the stars and planets.  All that changed when Hans Lipperhey demonstrated a look-glass to Prince Maurice of the Netherlands in 1608.  Lipperhey urged that the look-glass be kept secret due to its military potential.  Fat chance.  It was demonstrated at a public meeting at which even the ambassador from far-off Thailand was present.  Descriptions circulated far and wide and soon everyone in Europe was trying to get one.  

By 1608, people are playing with the new concave lenses, and toy look-glasses are showing up at fairs for the amusement of children.  The delightfully-named Johann Philipp Fuchs von Bimbach, chief political advisor to Joachim-Ernst, Margrave of Ansbach, visits the autumn Fair in Frankfurt where a Dutch peddler offers to sell him a look-glass.  (This is two weeks before Lipperhey will present his look-glass in Den Haag.) The instrument has a cracked lens and the price is exorbitant, so Fuchs von Bimbach declines purchase; but on his return to Ansbach he tells the court astronomer, Simon Mayr (a.k.a. "Marius") of the incident and sketches diagrams of the lenses. Unable to get suitable lenses ground in N├╝rnberg, they import a look-glass from Holland.  (Later they purchased superior lenses from Venice and built their own telescope.) 

July 1609.  Galileo, a math professor in Padua, in the Republic of Venice, hears of these toy telescopes at a Venetian fair.  He rushes to obtain one, but the vendor has gone.  However, Galileo is a skilled lens-grinder who sells spectacles on the side, so he decides to 'roll his own' and the 'scopes he makes are among the best.  (Kepler will later write to him asking for one, but Galileo in customary fashion never responds.  Galileo does give a telescope to the Bavarian Elector; the Elector in turn lends it to Kepler in Prague.   Kepler, also an expert in optics, eventually designs a superior model.)

People turn their look-glasses on the sky and the Gosh-Wow-Look! Era of astronomy begins.  

Tom Harriot and his Secret Diary
5 August 1609.  In England, Thomas Harriot begins sketching the Moon using a look-glass, and in the fine tradition of English eccentrics meticulously records everything in his notebooks -- and never bothers to tell anyone.

One of the Jesuit astronomers in Rome, Giovan Paulo Lembo, independently notes the irregularity of the Moon's surface (and the starry composition of the Milky Way and the nebulae) using a telescope he has built himself.
(*) Rowland, Wade 2001, p. 108

I'll be Doge-gone!  Hoping for a government grant,
Galileo demonstrates the look-glass to the Doge. 
The same month, Galileo demonstrates a look-glass to the Doge and Senate of Venice, managing to give the impression that he has invented it.  (He has fashioned this one by his own hands.)  As a reward, he receives a stipend from the government, but when the Senate finds out everyone else in Europe already has the "secret," they cap his salary -- for life.  Galileo, in a snit, goes to Florence to suck up to the Grand Duke.  He does not use the look-glass for astronomy until at least a couple of months later, well after Harriott and Marius.

Galileo sees a moon, and draws it with the eye of an artist.
30 Nov. 1609.  Galileo observes the Moon with a look-glass from 30 Nov. to 18 Dec., but unlike Harriot, who had “seen” the moon only as a flat disk, Galileo has been formally trained as an artist and the shadows immediately lead him to see the image as three dimensional.  (Chiaroscuro was an art mostly unknown in Harriot's England) The moon has freaking mountains!   There is an irony to the fact that it is the artist in Galileo, not the scientist, that makes the breakthrough possible.

Seeing mountains on the moon was not as easy as just look-see.  Telescopic images back then were not that clear, nor did they have a wide field of view.  Wallace discusses Galileo’s reasoning process in The Modeling of Nature, (Wallace 1996) pp. 334-336.
Detail: Immacolata, by Cigoli, 1611.  fresco.
Speaking of artists, Galileo's friend Lodovico Cigoli will portray the Moon as irregular and pockmarked in a fresco he paints the very next year.  It is a painting of Mary robed in the Sun and standing upon a cratered Moon, and it is in the Pauline chapel in the Vatican.  

Annus Mirabilis 

7 Jan. 1610.  Galileo discovers the first three moons of Jupiter.  One freaking day later, Simon Marius, court astronomer in Ansbach-Franconia, discovers them independently.  (The fourth moon, which had been hiding, shows up shortly after.)  This will later cause trouble.  Wait for it. 

Mar. 1610  While Marius continues to make painstaking observations, Galileo names the moons the Medician Stars after Grand Duke Cosimo di Medici and his brothers (Cosimo, Francesco, Carlo, and Lorenzo) and rushes his Sidereus Nuncius* into print with the His Serene Highness’ blessings.  By some wild coincidence, this wins him a court appointment as the Duke's court philosopher and a salary from the Medicis.  Go figure.
 (*) Sidereus Nuncius translates as either The Starry Messenger of The Starry Message.

The appointment as 'philosopher' ticks off the real philosophers.  Galileo is only a mathematicus, and holds no doctorate.  

The book is a sensation. 

Johnny Kepler: Wish I had me
one o' them look-glasses.  Mebbe
I can make my own....
19 Apr. 1610.  Galileo sends a copy of the Starry Messenger to Kepler to solicit a blurb and Kepler responds with Dissertatio cum Nuncio Sidereo (Conversation with the Starry Messenger), endorsing Galileo's discoveries [even though Kepler does not yet have a telescope himself] and speculates about the implications of the telescopic discoveries for astronomy and optics as well as for cosmology and... astrology.
My dear Galileo, I must tell you what occurred the other day.  My friend the [delightfully-named] Baron Wakher von Wachenfels drove up to my door and started shouting excitedly from his carriage: 'Is it true?  Is it really true that he has found stars moving around stars?'
-- quoted in de Santillana, Grigorio. (1955) p. 10

Lunar mountains?  Jovian moons?  Hooray for Copernicus!  Down with Ptolemy!
But that Jupiter has moons does not prove that the Earth circles the Sun.  It only proves that not everything directly circles the Earth – and Tycho had already dealt with that.  (When you think on it, the Jovian moons are on epicycles!)  The physics problem is less about the Earth's position than it is about its motion

Chris Clavius.  Thank him
next time you use a calendar.
Christoph Clavius is quite pleased.  He is at this time director of the Jesuits' Roman College -- Europe's first institute for advanced mathematics -- and has given us (using the Ptolemaic model!) the Gregorian calendar.  (He will also give us the crater setting for 2001: A Space Odyssey.)  There has been a movement among physicists to restore the pure homocentric Aristotelian cosmology, and Clavius regards the Aristotelians as as big a threat as the Copernicans.

The Jesuits Odo van Maelcote and Giovanni Paolo Lembo have been making telescopic observation of their own even before Galileo had published his pamphlet.  Lembo knows his telescope is not powerful enough either to confirm or to refute Galileo’s claims and tries to construct a more powerful one; but he fails in his attempt to grind and polish the necessary lenses -- a problem that will bedevil many of the telescopic pioneers. 

Galileo's discoveries -- if confirmed -- are a punch in the Aristotelian nose, but do not lay a glove on Ptolemaic astronomy.  But try telling that to Galileo. 

The Last Hurrah of Claude Ptolemy.

Ptolemy sez: Awshit.  But I
had a good run of attaboys!
Sept. - Dec. 1610. The knockout blow lands in the early autumn.  Galileo, Marius, Harriot, and Lembo observe the phases of Venus during this time frame, and discover that Venus goes behind the Sun.

Oct. 1610.  Kepler tells Galileo that many looking through the look-glass (e.g. Martin Horky) have not seen the Medicean stars.  Is Galileo  pranking everyone?  But other astronomers are already making the same discoveries.  Harriot in England sees the Jovian moons in October, as does Kepler using his borrowed instrument.  Kepler publishes his own telescopic observations of the moons in Narratio de Jovis Satellitibus, calling them 'satellites.'

Nov. 1610.  De La Vette and de Peiresc see the moons in different regions of France.

Dec. 1610.  Christoph Grienberger,* the senior mathematician at the Collegio after Clavius (and soon to be his successor) had been absent at the time of Galileo’s publication.  Now he returns to Rome and he and Lembo construct a suitable instrument with which they confirm all of Galileo’s claims.  Fr. Clavius writes his friend immediately to inform him of this vital corroboration.
(*) Grienberger invents the equatorial mount still used today, so that
stars can be tracked over time by making adjustments on only one axis.  

Dec. 1610.  In a letter to his former student Castelli, Galileo writes  that those not convinced of the truth of Copernicus -- even before the discovery of the phases of Venus -- are bookish philosophers who care only for the empty applause of the vulgar crowds.*  He was a charmer, all right.  Lacking empirical evidence, he wants Copernicanism accepted on faith.
 (*) Shea, William R. & Mariano Artigas 2003, p. 26

The phases of Venus (bottom)
also: Saturn has handles.
11 Dec 1610.  Galileo gets the credit for the phases of Venus because he immediately sends a letter announcing the discovery to Kepler, even before he is sure.  In typical Renaissance Italian style, he does this using an anagram of a Latin riddle.  Thus, if it proves out, he can provide the key to decipher it, establishing priority in case someone else makes an announcement in the meantime.  If not, no one will ever know he made a hasty announcement.  The anagram reads:
Haec immatura a me iam frustra leguntur o y
Kepler tries to crack it and fails.  A month later, Galileo sends him the key and it descrambles as:
Cynthia figuras aemulatur mater amorum.
(Cynthia's appearance is emulated by the mother of love)
meaning: Venus has phases just like the Moon.  Hot damn.  Renaissance dawgs just loved to pull cryptic stuff like that. 

The Ptolemaic model does predict phases for Venus, but not this phase!  The Ptolemaic model has been decisively falsified and immediately goes down for the count, dragging the Gilbertian model with it.  Two thousand years of scientific consensus is tossed on the ash heap of history. 

But the phases of Venus are also predicted by the Tychonic/Ursine models.   

Three down, four to go.

1611. Galileo parties hearty.

Galileo did not like to leave his villa, except to go to his townhouse in Florence.  He suffered from a form of rheumatism that often had him bed-ridden.  In his whole life, he made only six trips to Rome.  His first, as a youth of 23, was made in 1587 to put his name about and meet the movers and shakers in mathematics.  Among those he met were Christoph Clavius and Roberto Bellarmino.  The latter, while lecturing on cosmology at the University of Louvain, had trashed the notion of the 'crystaline spheres' and proposed that space was a liquid.  Both men took a liking to the young math teacher and his first papers, and Clavius in particular boosted him, becoming a friend and mentor.

Now at age 47, an accomplished mathematicus, Galileo asks permission(*) of the Grand Duke to visit Rome a second time to flog his book about the Medicean Stars (hint-hint). The Duke is assured that both the head of the Roman College (Clavius) and the Imperial Mathematician (Kepler) have endorsed the findings and that the trip will no doubt enhance the Grand Duke's stature.  Permission is duly granted.
(*) Notice that permission had to be sought.  Galileo was a
courtier and couldn't travel without Ducal permission.  

26 March.  Galileo arrives in Rome, calls on his friend Cardinal de Monte, and presents his bona fides from the Grand Duke.

30 March.  Galileo drops in at the Roman College to shmooze with Clavius, Lembo, Grienberger, Maelcote and the others Jesuits, whom he finds entirely supportive.   They had begun regular observations of the Medicean stars two months earlier and, comparing notes, found them in complete agreement with Galileo’s observations.  Grienberger had done optical calculations that indicated the telescopic lenses might distort the images, but improved lenses had dispelled his doubts. 

2 April.  Galileo meets with Cardinal Maffeo Barberini, who writes to the Medici immediately afterward that he would be delighted to help Galileo in any way in his power.  Keep an eye on Maffeo. 

14 April.  Federico Cesi throws a party in Galileo’s honor in the vineyard of Monsignor Malvasia high atop the Janiculum, the tallest of the Roman hills.  The guests include Fr. Johann Schreck from the Swiss, Jan van Eyk from the Low Countries, and Joannes Demisiani from Greece, and others.  Van Eyk and Cesi are Lynceans. Galileo and Schreck will be before the year is out.  Before dinner, they use a look-glass to spy the Lateran Palace across the Tiber, reading the inscriptions and counting the windows.  After dinner, they observe the moons of Jupiter.  In between, either Demisiani or Cesi himself suggest a Greek name for the look-glass: telescope.  It caught on.
-- Shea, William R. & Mariano Artigas, p. 34
Bobby Bellarmine
19 April.  Cardinal Roberto Bellarmino, now a bigfoot in the administration, had been a professor at the Roman College on the occasion of Galileo’s first visit to Rome and maintains a deep interest in the latest science.  After peering through a telescope himself,* he wonders about the broader implications of the new discoveries and asks the Roman College whether Galileo’s observations are reliable. 
(*) peering through a telescope.  There are cases of neo-pagan  
physicists refusing to look through the scopes.
 I know that Your Reverences are aware of the new celestial observations by a worthy mathematician using an instrument called a canone or ochiale.  By means of this instrument even I have seen some very marvelous things concerning the Moon and Venus, but I wish that you would do me the pleasure of telling your sincere opinion of these things....  I hear various opinions spoken about these matters and Your Reverences, versed as you are in the mathematical sciences, will easily be able to tell me if these new discoveries are well-founded, or if they are rather appearances and not real. 
-- Bellarmino to Clavius
There is room for doubt.  The lenses then in use have a restricted field of view, can not always be aimed or focused well, and (due to impurities in the glass) give the images a greenish tint.   (Hence, the Moon looks like green cheese!  WTF?)  Some astronomers [like Horky] can see no Jovian moons, lunar mountains, or sunspots.  Others [like Cremonini] refuse to look.  Remember, these are the first instrument-mediated observations in history, the first time an observation cannot be directly verified by the senses.  The true telescopic revolution was to convert the planets from lights in the sky to objects about which physical discoveries could be made.  Astronomy began to transition from the math department to the physics department.

The Jesuits respond to Bellamino a few days later.  Clavius is in his seventies and his eyes were not up to it, but his younger assistants, Grienberger, Maelcote, et al. have been making meticulous observations with their own telescopes and these have confirmed all of Galileo’s observations, if not all of his interpretations.  Clavius wonders if the lunar mountains may be differences in density of a pellucid surface.  Cigoli, Galileo's booster among the artists, thinks this is proof that all mathematicians need to learn drawing.  But Clavius is, by God, a scientist, and eventually changes his mind as the evidence accumulates. 

22 April.   Galileo receives an audience with Pope Paul V, in which he is much honored.   He writes to his friend Salviati that the Pope would not let him kneel, but told him to stand.  He also mentions some back-biting letters received in Rome from Florence, but with the Pope's good wishes and the Jesuits' support he regards them as unimportant.  (Paul V had made the decision in 1607 to tear down Constantine's dilapidated basilica and build the St. Peter's we know today.  It was nearing completion when Galileo visited.)
-- Shea, William R. & Mariano Artigas pp38-9

25 April.  Galileo is inducted as the sixth member of Cesi’s Lyncean Academy.  (Later that same year, Fr. Schreck will be inducted as the seventh member.  Schreck will take a telescope with him on his mission to China, where it will have almost no impact on Chinese astronomy.)  Cesi will be made a Prince in 1613, and will agree to underwrite Galileo’s future books.  Had he not died before the Dialogo was written, it is likely that many of the difficulties that followed would have been avoided.

13 May.  On Friday the 13th, the Jesuits throw a big shindig for Galileo at the Roman College, where they give him the equivalent of an honorary doctorate.  Fr. Maelcote reads an address about The Sidereal Message in the presence of the entire College, as well as several cardinals and notables (including Cesi).  It is the highpoint of the Roman visit and as a result Galileo can now refer to himself as a "celebrated" astronomer.*  Clavius, a friend of Galileo’s for many decades, will publish these discoveries and his institution’s confirmations of them in the final edition of his Sphaera , the most important textbook for astronomy in Europe, shortly before his death in 1612.
(*) celebrated astronomer.  To be a celebrity you must have been celebrated at such a fete.    

4 June 1611.  Galileo leaves Rome on Saturday, pleased with himself and his successes.  Cardinal Francesco del Monte has prepared a glowing report to the Grand Duke.
"During his stay in Rome, Galileo has given great pleasure and, I believe, received as much. He showed off his discoveries so well that those who are competent here all agreed that they were not only true and well founded but simply marvellous. Were we still living in the ancient Roman Republic, I am certain that a statue would be erected in his honour on the Capitol."
-- Francesco Maria del Monte to Cosimo II, 31 May 1611

Kepler, Harriot, Marius, Lembo, Maelcote, Grienberger, Fabricius, Scheiner?  Who dey?  Galileo is on top of the freaking world! 

What could possibly go wrong?


  1. TOF.  The Grest Ptolemaic Smackdown
  2. Aslaksen, Helmer.  Myths about the Copernican Revolution 
  3. Christie, Thony.  The Renaissance Mathematicus.  A treasure trove!  Some items used above:
  4.            Galileo's Great Bluff .  
  5.            One Day Later
  6.            The Starry Messenger What it Said and What that Really Meant!
  7.            Teleskopos: How the telescope got its name
  8.            A small spot in front of the sun, a small step down the road to heliocentricity.
  9.            Extracting the Stopper
  10. De Santillana, Giorgio. The Crime of Galileo. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1955.
  11. Heilbron, J.L.  The Sun in the Church: Cathedrals as Solar Observatories 
  12. Huff, Toby. Intellectual Curiosity and the Scientific Revolution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011
  13. The Partnership of Art and Science: The Moon of Cigoli and Galileo
  14. Rowland, Wade. Galileo's Mistake. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2003.
    Shea, William R. & Mariano Artigas. Galileo in Rome. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003
  15. Sant, Joseph (2012). Jesuits and the Early Telescope:Scheiner and Grienberger. Retrieved from


  1. Thanks -- learning a lot from this. But the present St Peter's was begun in 1506, not 1607. Paul V just enlarged it, added the colonnade. See:

  2. Michael,
    Write a book on this stuff.
    Start with Albertus Magnus and go through the 10 or 15 biggest names of each of the succeeding centuries.
    I'll buy 3 copies.

  3. I just finished reading James Hannam's God's Philosophers several days ago. That -- combined with Mr. Fkynn's posts here -- should be required reading for students of the history of science.

    1. Can't anything but agree.
      Add this one (which ought to be found in every decent library), and you will be a master student.

  4. A couple of Roman issues. Paul V had certainly not started the demolition of the Constantinian St.Peter's and the building of the modern basilica; he had finished it (and his name is on the inscription everyone sees on the building front - PAVLVS V BVRGENSIUS. The rebuilding of St.Peter's had began over a century earlier in the days of the warrior Pope, Julius II, and the expenses associated with it were actually among the casi bellorum of Luther's revolt.

    The Janiculum - now, this is something that might mislead people who do not actually live in Rome. Rome is famously built on seven hills, all on the eastern bank of the Tiber. The Janiculum is on the western bank and never was a part of classical Rome at all. However, during the Middle Ages, the whole city moved north-westwards, towards the new pole of the Vatican - a hill that had never been inhabited during classical times, which is why it was dedicated both to sacred activities (prophecy - it was the Hill of Prophets, in Latin Vates, hence Mons Vaticanus) and to unhallowed ones that could not take place within the city walls, such as the execution and burial of prisoners like St.Peter. Once Peter's shrine had been established there, the area between the Vatican and the old city became a magnet for the population, and the old city was largely abandoned, to the point where the Forum became a cattle pasture. In this mediaeval and modern city , the Janiculum became indeed the highest settled area, other than the Vatican itself. But to say that it was the highest of Rome's hills might make anyone think that it was one of the original Seven Hills.

    1. I was careless about when the modern St. Peter's was built. You are right that Paul finished it, but did not start it. The inscription you mention was not there when Galileo made his second trip to Rome.

      Ditto, Janiculum. In classical times, the war flag was flown there. It was taken down if an enemy was approaching, otherwise left up. The Renaissance city is the scene of these adventures, but the unwary reader might make the assumption you pointed out. Thanks.

    2. And they apparently forgot this, not long after the big move. This was the coolest archeological find in the last few years; kinda surprised it didn't get more press.

    3. Only one of them, sir, only one of them.

  5. > Galileo is on top of the freaking world!
    > What could possibly go wrong?

    Let me guess:

    Galileo's telescope could be used to to peer into the heavens above, but couldn't be used peer into the future ahead; and so, quite understandably, he failed to notice that Benjamin Franklin would have some helpful advice for people like him -- such as, "He that spits against the wind spits in his own face."

    (Lest there be a misconstrual here, I should add that I don't for a moment suppose -- and have not intended to imply -- that the CC was the wind against which Galileo spit.)

    1. Franklin may well have repeated that, but it was well known long before he was even born; the Elizabethan playwright Webster used a variant of it, and it could easily have been merely a widespread saying that he recorded in his commonplace book for later use.

  6. This is way better reading than the Ilardi "Renaissance Vision: from Spectacles to Telescopes" (2007) I have borrowed right now. But it's full of great related lens history & photos of medieval/Ren. art showing spectacles.

  7. Btw, have you been following this review-and-discussion? (Review of James Hannam's 'God's Philosophers' by Tim O'Neill). Touches on alot of what you've written not only in this set of posts (which I'm thoroughly enjoying) but elsewhere as well.

  8. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


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