Letter

January 6, 2020

Galileo Galilei A Gentleman Of Florence, Professor Of Mathematics In The University Of Padua, With The Aid Of A Telescope

THERE is certainly something very noble and large-minded in the intention of those who have endeavoured to protect from envy the noble achievements of distinguished men, and to rescue their names, worthy of immortality, from oblivion and decay. This desire has given us the lineaments of famous men, sculptured in marble, or fashioned in bronze, as a memorial of them to future ages; to the same feeling we owe the erection of statues, both ordinary and equestrian;

hence, as the poet1 says, has originated expenditure, mounting to the stars, upon columns and pyramids; with this desire, lastly, cities have been built, and distinguished by the names of those men, whom the gratitude of posterity thought worthy of being handed down to all ages. For the state of the human mind is such, that [2]unless it be continually stirred by the counterparts2 of matters, obtruding themselves upon it from without, all recollection of the matters easily passes away from it.

But others, having regard for more stable and more lasting monuments, secured the eternity of the fame of great men by placing it under the protection, not of marble or bronze, but of the Muses’ guardianship and the imperishable monuments of literature. But why do I mention these things, as if human wit, content with these regions, did not dare to advance further; whereas, since she well understood that all human monuments do perish at last by violence, by weather, or by age, she took a wider view, and invented more imperishable signs, over which destroying Time and envious Age could claim no rights; so, betaking herself to the sky, she inscribed on the well-known orbs of the brightest stars—those everlasting orbs—the names of those who, for eminent and god-like deeds, were accounted worthy to enjoy an eternity in company with the stars. Wherefore the fame of Jupiter, Mars, Mercury, Hercules, and the rest of the heroes by whose names the stars are called, will not fade [3]until the extinction of the splendour of the constellations themselves.

But this invention of human shrewdness, so particularly noble and admirable, has gone out of date ages ago, inasmuch as primeval heroes are in possession of those bright abodes, and keep them by a sort of right; into whose company the affection of Augustus in vain attempted to introduce Julius Cæsar; for when he wished that the name of the Julian constellation should be given to a star, which appeared in his time, one of those which the Greeks and the Latins alike name, from their hair-like tails, comets, it vanished in a short time and mocked his too eager hope. But we are able to read the heavens for your highness, most Serene Prince, far more truly and more happily, for scarcely have the immortal graces of your mind begun to shine on earth, when bright stars present themselves in the heavens, like tongues to tell and celebrate your most surpassing virtues to all time. Behold therefore, four stars reserved for your famous name, and those not belonging to the common and less conspicuous multitude of fixed stars, but in the bright ranks of the planets—four stars which, moving differently from each other, round the planet Jupiter, the most glorious of all the planets, as if they were his own children,[4] accomplish the courses of their orbits with marvellous velocity, while all the while with one accord they complete all together mighty revolutions every ten years round the centre of the universe, that is, round the Sun.

But the Maker of the Stars himself seemed to direct me by clear reasons to assign these new planets to the famous name of your highness in preference to all others. For just as these stars, like children worthy of their sire, never leave the side of Jupiter by any appreciable distance, so who does not know that clemency, kindness of heart, gentleness of manners, splendour of royal blood, nobleness in public functions, wide extent of influence and power over others, all of which have fixed their common abode and seat in your highness,—who, I say, does not know that all these qualities, according to the providence of God, from whom all good things do come, emanate from the benign star of Jupiter? Jupiter, Jupiter, I maintain, at the instant of the birth of your highness having at length emerged from the turbid mists of the horizon, and being in possession of the middle quarter of the heavens, and illuminating the eastern angle, from his own royal house, from that exalted throne, looked out upon your most happy birth, and poured forth into a most pure atmosphere all the[5] brightness of his majesty, in order that your tender body and your mind—though that was already adorned by God with still more splendid graces—might imbibe with your first breath the whole of that influence and power. But why should I use only plausible arguments when I can almost absolutely demonstrate my conclusion?

It was the will of Almighty God that I should be judged by your most serene parents not unworthy to be employed in teaching your highness mathematics, which duty I discharged, during the four years just passed, at that time of the year when it is customary to take a relaxation from severer studies. Wherefore, since it evidently fell to my lot by God’s will, to serve your highness, and so to receive the rays of your surpassing clemency and beneficence in a position near your person, what wonder is it if you have so warmed my heart that it thinks about scarcely anything else day and night, but how I, who am indeed your subject not only by inclination, but also by my very birth and lineage, may be known to be most anxious for your glory, and most grateful to you?

And so, inasmuch as under your patronage, most serene Cosmo, I have discovered these stars, which were unknown to all astronomers before me, I have, with very good right, determined to designate them with the most august name of your family. And as[6] I was the first to investigate them, who can rightly blame me if I give them a name, and call them the Medicean Stars, hoping that as much consideration may accrue to these stars from this title, as other stars have brought to other heroes? For not to speak of your most serene ancestors, to whose everlasting glory the monuments of all history bear witness, your virtue alone, most mighty sire, can confer on those stars an immortal name; for who can doubt that you will not only maintain and preserve the expectations, high though they be, about yourself, which you have aroused by the very happy beginning of your government, but that you will also far surpass them, so that when you have conquered others like yourself, you may still vie with yourself, and become day by day greater than yourself and your greatness?

Accept, then, most clement Prince, this addition to the glory of your family, reserved by the stars for you; and may you enjoy for many years those good blessings, which are sent to you not so much from the stars as from God, the Maker and Governor of the stars.

Your Highness’s most devoted servant,

Galileo Galilei.

Padua, March 12, 1610.

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