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Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Blogging the Starry Messenger - Introduction

As part of the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth, and the 150th anniversary of the publication of the Origin of Species, people have been re-reading the Origin and blogging it (and here). There is even an entire blog site devoted to the Origin.

So I thought to myself, it's the 400th anniversary of Gaielo looking through a telescope, why not blog Sidereus Nuncius (The Sidereal or Starry Messenger)? True, it was not published until 1610, but it was the first evidence that the Aristotelian world was finished, and the first step leading to the 'Two World Systems" and the collision with the Church. It also represented a revolution in how astronomy was done, and a large chunk of it relied on observations made in 1609.

Also, it's short. Slogging through page after page of archaic italian translated into twee Victorian English is mentally draining. You have to restrain the urge to shout "Come to the point already" after a page of waffle.

So I'll do a chapter of the Starry Messenger every week. Strictly speaking, it doesn't have chapters, but there are logical shifts in the content I can pretend are chapters. I'm using a 1960's translation by Edward Carlos, so how well the Italian is translated is unknown.

But I do love how the title page has each line in a different font and typeface, and then there is the language itself


And it goes on and on...

Respecting the Moon's Surface, an innumerable number of Fixed Stars,
the Milky Way, and Nebulous Stars, but especially respecting
Four Planets ...

... and on and on, you expect it to end "..and that's not all! Every reader gets a set of steak knives!" Still, that was the style in those times, but it does read oddly to the modern mind.

Even odder is the dedication to Cosmo de' Medici, 6 pages of dedication! Galileo praises Cosmo in terms of such fawning fastidiousness that you half expect him to go "gollum, gollum". But again, in those times, overblown praise of the rich and powerful was de riguer, especially if they were your patron (or you wanted them to be your patron).

But in the middle of all this fulsom praise is this ticking timebomb:

"..while with one accord they [Jupiter and its Moons] complete all together mighty revolutions every ten years round the centre of the universe, that is, round the SUN."

Cheeky Galileo. Next week, the Telescope.


At the same time a German astronomer is blogging Kepler's Astronomia Nova - he also has only covered the introduction so far.
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