Galileo, Courtier: The Practice of Science in the Culture of Absolutism

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University of Chicago Press, Sep 15, 1993 - Science - 402 pages
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Galileo, Courtier is Mario Biagioli's radical reinterpretation of Galileo's career. In the early baroque court of the Medicis and the Vatican, Galileo fashioned both his career and his science to the demands of patronage and its complex systems of power and prestige. Where other writers make distinctions between Galileo the scientist and Galileo the courtier, Biagioli demonstrates that the two cannot be separated. He argues that Galileo's courtly role was integral to his science - the questions he chose to examine, his methods, even his conclusions. Biagioli focuses on the period between 1610, when Galileo became philosopher and mathematician to the Medici, and 1633, when he was tried and his theories were condemned. He evokes the vibrant cultural and intellectual life of the Italian courts where, as a courtier, Galileo had to produce novel and noteworthy scientific work as well as entertain the court. The prestige of his patrons gave Galileo the freedom to address the larger issues about the nature of the cosmos that interested him, while at the same time requiring him to confront problems he was not prepared to consider. It was a precarious life: Galileo engaged in constant struggles over the legitimacy of his own science and his advocacy of the new Copernican astronomy that challenged both existing worldviews and the authority of the Church. Ultimately, however, Galileo's scientific positions made unsustainable demands upon his patrons and he lost their vital backing. Through Galileo's experience, Biagioli explores the limits patronage imposed on the practice of science - limits that were transformed by the new scientific institutions developed in the decades after Galileo's trial.Riagioli's close readings of The Assayer and Discourse on Floating Bodies add surprising depth and complexity to our understanding of two of Galileo's most puzzling works, as does his skillful analysis of original archival materials. Informed by currents in sociology, cultural anthropology, and literary theory, Galileo, Courtier is neither a biography nor a conventional history of science. It is, rather, a fascinating cultural and social history highlighting the workings of power, patronage, and credibility in the development of science.

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Galileo, courtier: the practice of science in the culture of absolutism

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Biagioli here views Galileo's career in a new light. Instead of the traditional view of Galileo as the "new scientist'' championing the Copernican cause against the Aristotelians, Biagioli presents a ... Read full review


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About the author (1993)

Mario Biagioli is associate professor in the Department of History at the University of California, Los Angeles.

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