Apr. 12, 2004

Some Glad Morning

by Joyce Sutphen

MONDAY, 12 APRIL, 2004
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Poem: "Some Glad Morning," by Joyce Sutphen, from Naming the Stars (Holy Cow Press).

Some Glad Morning

One day, something very old
happened again. The green
came back to the branches,
settling like leafy birds
on the highest twigs;
the ground broke open
as dark as coffee beans.

The clouds took up their
positions in the deep stadium
of the sky, gloving the
bright orb of the sun
before they pitched it
over the horizon.

It was as good as ever:
the air was filled
with the scent of lilac
s and cherry blossoms
sounded their long
whistle down the track
It was some glad morning.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1633 that Galileo Galilei was put on trial by the Inquisition, for supporting the theory that the earth revolves around the sun. In 1543, Nicolaus Copernicus published a book called Revolutions of the Celestial Orbs, which argued that the sun was at the center of the universe and that the earth revolved around it once a year, while also rotating on its axis. For the next fifty years, most people didn't believe Copernicus; it seemed obvious that the earth wasn't moving at all, and that it was the sun that moved from east to west across the sky each day.

Galileo came to the conclusion that Copernicus was right when he was still a young man. He thought it was ridiculous that the Church had decided that the earth was the center of the universe without the support of scientific evidence. In 1597 he wrote to the astronomer Johannes Kepler, "Like you, I accepted the Copernican position several years ago and discovered from thence the cause of many natural effects which are doubtless inexplicable by the current theories." But Galileo knew that he would risk public ridicule if he supported Copernicus's theory, so he kept his opinions to himself and a few friends.

In 1609, Galileo collected even more evidence for the Copernican theory when he invented the refracting telescope. Many people were already using telescopes, but Galileo's was more than twenty times more powerful than the strongest to date. He set up his new telescope in the garden behind his house, and from it he observed the surface of the earth's moon, sunspots, and the four moons orbiting Jupiter, which provided a model for the planets orbiting the sun.

Galileo started sharing his discoveries at dinner parties and public debates in Florence, where he was living at the time. He thought he would be able to convince everyone that the earth moves around the sun, but many scientists and church officials still didn't believe it. In 1610 he wrote to Kepler, "My dear Kepler, what would you say of the learned here, who . . . have steadfastly refused to cast a glance through the telescope? What shall we make of this? Shall we laugh, or shall we cry?"

In 1613, he published Letters on the Solar Spots, which explicitly defended the Copernican theory of the solar system. A Florence priest named Lorini began regularly preaching against the "Galileists" in his sermons, and in 1615 he filed a complaint against Galileo with the Roman Inquisition. The next year, an Inquisition committee declared that it was heretical to hold the view that the sun is the center of the universe. They warned Galileo that if he continued to defend that view, he would be brought to trial.

Galileo remained silent on the Copernican theory for the next seven years. But then, in 1623, a new Pope was elected, Pope Urban VIII, who was known to be a supporter of the arts and sciences. Urban VIII told Galileo that he was free to discuss the Copernican theory, as long as he treated it as a hypothesis rather than a truth.

Galileo spent the next five years working on his magnum opus, the 500-page Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems (1632). In his book, Galileo presented a dialogue between two men, one who argued that the sun and the planets move around the earth and one who argued that the earth and the planets move around the sun. He was careful not to openly criticize the Church's official position, but in 1630 the secretary of the Vatican told him he would have to revise the preface and conclusion to make it more clear that he wasn't contradicting the official theory. Galileo started to think that his book might never be published; he wrote in a letter, "The months and years pass, my life wastes away, and my work is condemned to rot."

Finally, in February of 1632, the Church allowed the book to be published, and it was an immediate success. But just a few months later, Galileo got word that the Pope was angered by the book; he thought Galileo had intentionally ridiculed him by putting the Church's official views into the mouth of a simple-minded man. The case was referred to the Inquisition, and in 1633 Galileo was brought to Rome to undergo his trial. Galileo was already something of a celebrity, and the Pope wanted to make a statement to anyone who dared to challenge the views of the Church.

For over two weeks in April of 1633, Galileo was imprisoned in a small cell and interrogated by the Inquisition. He was tired of fighting against authorities; he wrote, "I curse the time devoted to these studies in which I strove and hoped to move away somewhat from the beaten path. . . . I feel inclined to consign [my writings] to the flames and thus placate at least the inextinguishable hatred of my enemies."

In late April 1633, he agreed to plead guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for a more lenient sentence. Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems was officially banned by the Church, and Galileo was sentenced to an unlimited period of house-arrest in his home in Florence. He gradually went blind, and died in 1641.

Galileo said, "In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual."

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