Galileo Galilei

Hartwick Lecture Planned on Galileo Trials

April 6, 2012

Dr. Thomas F. Mayer, professor of history at Augustana College will deliver a lecture titled "Trying Galileo" on Tuesday, April 10 at 7 p.m. in Eaton Lounge, Bresee Hall, on the Hartwick College campus. His talk is free and open to the public.

"Galileo did himself in," Mayer says.  "True, he had help, whether from Paul V and Urban VIII, the Jesuits, the Dominicans, the Congregation of the Index or even the Inquisition, but his fate was still largely his own fault."

Mayer's talk focuses on Galileo's trial before the Roman Inquisition.  It went through two phases, the first in 1615-16 and the second in 1632-33.  It led to his condemnation for violating an order given in 1616 to abandon the belief that the sun was the center of the universe.  Unlike most previous approaches, Mayer's does not assume that the outcome was inevitable.  Nor does it assume that philosophical, scientific or even theological issues necessarily determined the result.  Instead, he takes a legal and political approach beginning from the discovery that Galileo arrogantly rejected a strong case in law that could have allowed him to avoid condemnation.  Given the flexibility of the Inquisition's procedures (which have been ignored until recently), both of his investigations contained lots of legal oddities, twists and turns at which other outcomes became temporarily possible.  In both phases, perhaps unsurprisingly, the pope's role turned out to be vital.  But equally, both Paul and Urban had at least to bend if not break the rules in order to bring Galileo to book.  He gave them plenty of provocation.  Highlighting the trial as trial leads to a much different picture than the still dominant view that Galileo fell victim to intolerance and superstition.

Mayer, Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, Fellow of the American Academy in Rome, Fellow of Villa I Tatti: The Harvard University Center for the Study of the Italian Renaissance, and Professor of History at Augustana College, Rock Island, IL, specializes in early modern Europe.  He has published mainly on the inglesi italianati, Englishmen whose experience in Italy turned them into "incarnate devils."  Among them is Reginald Pole, one of the Inquisition's principal 16th-century targets who was nearly elected pope in 1549.  Mayer's books include Reginald Pole, Prince and Prophet (Cambridge, 2000) and a five-volume edition of Pole's correspondence.  The first volume of his Roman Inquisition in the Age of Galileo will be published by the University of Pennsylvania Press.

This event is sponsored by the Hartwick College Department of History. For more information, contact Professor of History Peter Wallace at 607-431-4905 or

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Hartwick College is a private liberal arts and sciences college of 1,500 students, located in Oneonta, NY, in the northern foothills of the Catskill Mountains. Hartwick's expansive curriculum emphasizes a uniquely experiential approach to the liberal arts. Through personalized teaching, collaborative research, a unique January Term, a wide range of internships, and vast study-abroad opportunities, Hartwick ensures that students are prepared for the world ahead. A Three-Year Bachelor's Degree Program and strong financial aid and scholarship offerings keep a Hartwick education affordable

Contact: Christopher Lott
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