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Hermes and the Telescope

In the Crucible of Galileo's Life-World


Paolo Palmieri

This book explores the life of Galileo Galilei through a philosophical and scientific lens, utilizing an innovative hermeneutic perspective that places his work in the wider context of early modern hermeticism, religious heresy, and libertinism.

As the first comprehensive study of Galileo’s life and work from a phenomenological and existentialist viewpoint, Paolo Palmieri calls into question the positivist myth of Galileo, the founder of modern science, and interrogates the positivist historiography that has shaped the myth since the historic publication of the monumental edition of Galileo’s works at the turn of the twentieth century. The book highlights the entanglement of Galileo’s natural philosophy with his private unorthodox convictions about Christian theology, Biblical hermeneutic, sexuality, and the hidden traditions of Italian heretics and libertines. The text demonstrates the philosophical, pedagogical, and political implications of this new reading of one of the founding fathers of modernity for both the sciences and the humanities.

Addressing hotly debated questions of ethnicity, racism, subjectivity, the self, and pedagogy, this study will be of particular interest to scholars who teach both undergraduate and graduate courses in history of science, philosophy of science, phenomenology and existential philosophy, cultural studies, Italian studies, humanism, and the European Renaissance.

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Chapter 3. Luna


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Received historiography has it that the publication of Galileo’s Sidereus nuncius in 1610 shook the intellectual foundations of Europe, ushering in the age of the telescope.1 The most spectacular announcement made by Galileo indicated that the moon, observed through a mysterious optical instrument, was mountainous and valleyed, in fact much more similar to the earth than hitherto believed. I suggest that the actual “shaking” was done not so much by the moon headlines and brilliant publishing operation mounted by Galileo, as by an intense, all but now forgotten debate that, in the aftermath of Sidereus, conjured early myths, unconscious visions of the cosmos, and philosophical undercurrents that had remained dormant in academic thought as practiced in early modern European universities. First, I will look at Galileo’s colleague in Padua, Cesare Cremonini, the most revered Aristotelian natural philosopher in Europe. Cremonini exhumed (though not espoused) Dante’s theological theory of the moon spots, as an indirect response to Galileo’s Sidereus. Second, I will look at Giulio Cesare Lagalla, a professor at Rome, who portrayed Galileo as a Mercurius wielding a telescope-caduceus, as a second Trismegistus, and evoked an alchemical setting featuring a Galileo intent on ← 103 | 104 → the restoration of the philosophies of the ancient pre-Socratics. Finally, I will aim the spotlight at Fortunio Liceti, who challenged Galileo on the ashen light of the moon from the perspective of Aristotelian natural philosophy.

The historiographic canon presents a view that was...

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