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Galileo Galilei, 1564-1642

In the year that saw the birth of Shakespeare, Galileo Galilei, the revolutionary Italian astronomer and mathematician, was born in Pisa.

Justus Sustermans - Portrait of Galileo Galilei, 1636
Justus Sustermans - Portrait of Galileo Galilei, 1636

Towards the end of the first decade of the sixteenth century the city of Pisa was conquered by Florence, and so became part of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. Once proudly independent, but now in decline, it still boasted a famous university and remained a respected centre of learning. Living in this city was the noble but poor Galilei family. Its head, Vincenzio, traded as a cloth merchant, and it was to him and his wife Giulia that a son, Galileo, was born in February 1564 – the year that also saw the death of Michelangelo and the birth of Shakespeare.

Galileo’s upbringing was in no way unusual, and in 1575 he was sent to the Jesuit monastery school at Vallombrosa. Here he was taught Latin, Greek, philosophy and logic, as well as some elementary science based on Aristotle’s teachings. The atmosphere of the monastery gave impetus to what was a naturally religious temperament, so that by the age of seventeen he had become a novitiate of the order and, but for the prompt action of his father, would have gone farther. As it was, he returned home and it would seem that for a while no decision was reached as to what career he should follow.

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