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UCL Festival of Culture: Galileo: what was his crime?

By Siobhan Pipa, on 2 June 2016


Portrait of Galileo Galilei, Justus Sustermans

Nearly 400 years ago in April 1633 the Italian astronomer, mathematician and natural philosopher, Galileo Galilei was put on trial by the Roman Inquisition.

The main charge against him centred on his support for the Copernican theory, aka the belief that a mobile Earth orbited a stationary sun. The theory was thought to contradict the Bible and Galileo was placed on trial for heresy.

But what was Galileo’s real crime? Was science really defeated by religion, as legend would have it? These were some of the questions raised by Andrew Campbell from UCL Italian in his lecture Galileo: what was his crime?, organised as part of the UCL Festival of Culture.

I’ve always found the Galileo Affair fascinating and it’s often used as the leading example of the supposed battle between science and religion. Florence’s Galileo Museum proudly displays his mummified middle finger pointing towards the heavens – a definitive display of science triumphing over the Catholic Church.

When Galileo is mentioned today it’s often not in recognition of his scientific work but as the poster child for the war between religion and science. However, is it as simple as this – can you separate science and religion from the politics, and personalities, of the day?

To delve a little deeper into the whole affair Andrew provided a short run through of the events which led up to 1633.


At the gates of heaven: a beginner’s guide to Dante’s Paradiso

By Lara J Carim, on 7 February 2013

Only be prepared to be dragged through hell by someone you trust to lead you through purgatory to heaven.

This timeless life lesson was expressed by Abi Warburg, founder of the Warburg Institute, nearly 120 years ago in a letter to a friend, which unfavourably compared a literary sensation of the day to Dante’s Divine Comedy.

The Divine Comedy – the 14th-century Italian epic charting the author’s mid-life crisis and subsequent enlightenment via a dramatic journey to hell and heaven – has been the subject of a pretty epic series of seminars, running from October 2012 to March 2013.

The Vision of Hell viii, iII. Gustave Doré (UCL Library Special Collections)

The Vision of Hell viii, iII. Gustave Doré

UCL Italian’s Professor John Took, Dr Alessandro Scafi (Warburg Institute) and Tabitha Tuckett from UCL Special Collections have been guiding Dante novices and specialists alike on a multi-sensory whistlestop tour of the great poem for the past four months.

This has involved scene-setting introductions, advice on key elements to listen out for and readings – in Italian and English – of selected pivotal cantos (verses) – all complemented by a changing display from UCL’s outstanding Dante Collection, dating back to the 15th century.