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1634: The Galileo Affair: Chapter Thirty One

       Last updated: Thursday, March 11, 2004 01:48 EST



    Cardinal Antonio Barberini the Younger—that last an important distinction with his Uncle Antonio in the room—felt mildly out of his depth, and completely out of place. The most he could find to think of himself in this company was that he knew more of art than all of them put together. And that, alas, most of the people in the chamber would be fascinating company if they weren’t all concentrating so hard on the business at hand.

    Could there be anything in world so tedious as this affair with the miserable creature Galileo Galilei? Not for the first time, Antonio found himself wishing that the nasty old man would simply have the good grace to drop dead. He was seventy years old, after all. It was not as if Antonio were asking for a miracle.

    Alas, the terms “good grace” and “Galileo Galilei of Pisa” were not to be found in the same sentence. Restraining yet another sigh, the young cardinal’s eyes moved across the chamber. The sight brought him no relief. It was a very well populated chamber.

    There were his brother Francesco and his Uncle Antonio—for whom he was named—and Cardinal Zacchia. All were theological authorities and Inquisitors and well suited to the business of these interminable weekly meetings.

    Fra Vincenzo da Macalao and the Jesuit Inchofer were also well suited to the task. An engineer and a classicist, each well learned in his field. Both of them were also experienced in Inquisition business. But the lead in that matter, among the members of the Commission of Inquiry who were not cardinals, was taken by Sinceri; who, during the rest of the week, was a prosecutor of the Holy Office.

    Barberini half-listened to Sinceri’s droning, dry-as-dust exposition of the laws of the Church pertaining to heresy. Picking his way, with difficulty, through Sinceri’s salvos of hold-and-defends and teaching contrary to magisterium, and what-not else. Privately, Antonio thought that the Inquisition would be better feared for its tedium than its tortures. He prayed, silently, that his other uncle—Maffeo, now Pope Urban VIII—would unilaterally settle the issue with regard to the ranting Pisan so that Antonio would not have to take any decision in what was becoming a wholly vexed matter.

    From the sound of the thing, Galileo had tried to weasel out of the charge. That was a joke, if one cared to laugh. Decades of sneering at everyone who dared to contradict him, of publishing viperous sallies against his opponents, had finally stumbled against the one tribunal that could call him to account. Years of being the biggest bully in Italian natural philosophy had come to a halt when the bigger bullies of the Inquisition summoned him to Rome.

    They had been gentle with him, though. They had told him to rest and get well before traveling, seen to it that he had an escort and a litter to ride in, bid him choose his own lodgings and requested, not ordered, that he not make public appearances while awaiting his trial. When they examined him—Antonio read between the lines, here, not having been present as Sinceri and da Maculano had been—Galileo had tried to pretend that the whole point of his book had been to refute the Copernican hypothesis, not to hold, defend or teach it. Had he not written Simplicius in as a character? Aristotle’s great interpreter, who gave the Philosopher’s view and gave it ably and well? Surely, Galileo had asked, the Holy Office could see that he had defended Aristotle against Pythagoras?

    The truth was, no one could see any such thing, which was why Inchofer had had to read the whole of the damned turgid book and write a review of it. Antonio felt sure that Inchofer had been more bothered by the tone of the text than anything it might say about the motion of the heavenly spheres. What was the phrase? He slights as mental dwarfs all who are not Copernican or Pythagorean. As well he might, in some cases, since the mental dwarfdom of some of his opponents was not wholly beyond doubt.

    Which thought led Antonio, somewhat unfairly, across the room to the other three members of the Inquisi—not the Inquisition, Antonio reminded himself, never to call it that—the Commission of Inquiry.

    Scheiner, whose presence was inexplicable since he was the prime complainant. Or, at least, had provoked all the complaints about Galileo—so rumor had it, with some evidence on its side—out of nothing more than desire for vengeance. Perhaps that was one of Uncle Maffeo’s little jokes: to make the man who least wanted to be impartial, swear before God that he would judge without partiality. Scheiner would do it, too, out of his fourth vow as a Jesuit if nothing else. But it would take monstrous prejudice in Galileo’s favor to acquit him.

    Grassi was also an agitator against Galileo, and he again had had good personal reason. Over the years, Galileo had called him about seven sorts of idiot. Including, at one point, for advancing evidence in favour of the Copernican hypothesis that Galileo didn’t agree with—which was some measure of the defendant in this trial. Grassi’s presence was, if it was to be explained at all, part of the same game that had put his fellow Jesuit on the trial panel. Even if he, too, was scrupulously fair, the only question was Galileo’s penalty.

    Finally, Cardinal Gaspar Borja y Velasco. Probably not even the direct intervention of God Himself would cause him to vote in Galileo’s favor. Too many of the people around the Pope, people who opposed the Spanish party in Rome, were Galileo partisans as well. The Spanish Inquisitor would not be in the least partial to Galileo, even if he had come before the Inquisition looking more Catholic than the Pope.

    The fact that His Holiness Urban VIII had violated every canon of Inquisition procedure with this Commission of Inquiry had almost certainly caused the Spaniards to smell a rat. Six of the regular Inquisition cardinals had been asked to step aside, and been replaced with a third Barberini—Antonio himself, whom nobody including Antonio thought was in the least bit qualified to judge such a matter—and five assorted lawyers, theologians and scientists. And yet His Holiness had not explicitly said that he wished to see an acquittal. The message seemed to be that the committee was to deal as gently with Galileo as it could. It would all be much easier if Uncle Maffeo and Father-General Vitelleschi would let anyone else see the papers that had come from Grantville. Then perhaps the game they were playing might be more obvious to the less exalted members of the hierarchy.

    Putting Grassi, Scheiner and Borja on the Commission seemed to be a sop to the anti-Galilean opinion and, perhaps, to the Spanish. Even together, and even assuming Scheiner and Grassi went against their vows, they would not change the outcome. Unanimity was not required, from what Sinceri had said in an earlier meeting. The lawyer seemed to be enjoying his chance to be a judge and was now holding forth, from the one word in three Barberini was catching, on whether the evidence permitted a conviction as it stood or whether all they could find was vehement suspicion calling for a public abjuration.

    Barberini half-turned in his chair to see what Inchofer would say to that, and was not disappointed.

    “He holds it, it is certain,” Inchofer said. “He did his best to respect the formalities, but the man is so full of conceit that he put every contrary case—”

    Cardinal Francesco Barberini waved him down. “So long as there is room to say that he did not mean heresy, the details don’t matter.”

    Scheiner cleared his throat noisily, and spoke for the first time in one of these meetings. “If Your Eminence will permit, heresy was the last thing Galileo would have meant—but it was still the first thing he wrote in this book.”

    Antonio sat up straight. There seemed to be some life in these tedious meetings after all. “Father Scheiner, do you say we should absolve him of heresy?”

    “No, Your Eminence,” Scheiner said, half turning to address Antonio. “And with Your Eminence’s permission, I shall explain.”

    Barberini nodded. Indeed, everyone in the room sat up straighter to hear Scheiner’s contribution. Having their complete attention, Scheiner went on. “What one must always remember of Galileo is that he is capable of great personal malice.”

    “He is an ignoramus, and arrogant!” Grassi snapped.

    “Just so,” agreed Scheiner, “and a plagiarist, and bereft of manners. Above all else, a monstrous conceit afflicts him, far above that which must motivate any natural philosopher.”

    Grassi barked a laugh in agreement. Of those in the room who had had encounters with the Pisan, his had been the most bruising.

    Scheiner went on again, glaring. “The fact that he is often—not always!—right is no great soother of our hurts.” He paused, and laughed briefly. “And that hurt led me, until these last few weeks, to think him a damned heretic. Which he is! Not a page of his book passes without he arrogates to himself matters of scriptural exegesis.”

    Sinceri nodded. “The very pith and marrow of the grave crime of heresy,” he said, in his best graveside manner.

    Scheiner harumphed. “But he meant to win an argument, and perhaps guide and persuade those for whom deciding what is and is not heresy is their duty under God.”

    “You, too, are Copernican now, Scheiner?” Borja demanded, from his seat beside Scheiner. Grassi just glowered.

    Scheiner took a deep breath and folded his hands. “As God is my witness, and may He forgive me, but I despise that man and I pray that he may be wrong in every particular and iota of his work. It may be that he is wrong about the Copernican hypothesis. But then again, he may not be.”

    Scheiner raised his eyes to heaven. “I would give all I have and all I ever will have to see Galileo Galilei humbled for all the wrongs he has done me. I am a natural philosopher and an astronomer, Grassi, and unlike you I have seen my own work stolen by this fraud, not just reviled as yours was. But in this”—he picked up Galileo’s book—”he says much that is true. Did you but compare him with Kepler and the Tycho you championed yourself, Grassi, and with this new learning—”

    “Basta!” Grassi got to his feet, shaking a finger at Scheiner. “I can read Kircher’s letters from Grantville as well as you can!”

    There was a silent moment. Antonio Barberini tore his eyes away from the two Jesuits. Borja was rigid, his small mouth pursed tight as a cat’s ass. The regular Inquisitor-Cardinals were leaning forward, impassive but watching and listening carefully. The other priests were looking decidedly uncomfortable. They were used to the gentle tones of theology or the sedate protocols of cardinals. To see the kind of mayhem that natural philosophers regarded as convivial debate practiced in front of princes of the church was embarrassing them. For himself, it was all Barberini could do not to burst out laughing.

    But Grassi was continuing. “There is that in the Congden Library, yes? That was a child’s library, full of books for the instruction of children, yes? And they teach the Copernican hypothesis to children in the future! To children! And, I might add, I was right about that wretched comet and Galileo was not. Optical illusion, indeed.”

    Grassi sat down, evidently much satisfied to have said that last.

    “Then where are we in disagreement?” asked Scheiner, spreading his hands in as disarming a manner as he seemed capable of.

    “That you want to excuse him his heresy, and excuse him being a bad scientist!” Grassi snapped back. “With these I will never agree.”

    “Bad?” Scheiner asked, suddenly wearing the face of a man three steps ahead of the argument. “Because he was once wrong and you were once right?”

    Grassi snorted. “Because he holds an opinion he cannot prove at a time when such opinion is heresy.”

    “Then,” said Scheiner, “can we perhaps declare his hypothesis true and contrary to scripture?”

    Barberini nearly lost control of his face.

    To his credit, Grassi laughed aloud. “Such a contagious heretic, this Galileo! He corrupts his very Inquisitors!”

    A rumble of chuckles went around the room. Barberini noted that even Borja twitched a corner of his mouth.

    “Just so,” said Scheiner. “I think the worst we can lay before him is that he has made a thoroughly misguided attempt to convince the Church of a genuine error. And if it be no error, we can add that he is wrong to his tactlessness, indiscretion, plagiarism and arrogance.”

    Grassi struck a pose of astonishment straight out of the Commedia dell’Arte. “You—after all we did to bring him here? You find that he—that damned winetaster—acted out of the best of motives?”

    Scheiner slumped down heavily in his seat, like a puppet with cut strings. “But it is still heresy,” he sighed.



    Neither of the two astronomers said anything further in that meeting. Antonio Barberini was again finding it hard to concentrate. Soon enough, he gave up the effort entirely and went back to the contemplation of matters in which he was an expert.

    He was on the verge of deciding to throw his patronage in support of Artemisia Gentileschi. Very generous patronage, to boot. Female or not, the woman was one of the most superb painters of the day. Antonio considered her variant on the famous theme of Judith slaying Holofernes—both her variants, in fact—of being the best ever. Yet neither one of those paintings, magnificent as they were, compared in his opinion to either her youthful Susanna and the Elders or the recent Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting. True, her latest variant on the theme of Cleopatra was perhaps a bit prosaic—but only in comparison to the magnificent version she had painted some ten years earlier.

    In truth, Antonio’s remaining hesitation was entirely political, not artistic. Despite her sex, Artemisia Gentileschi now enjoyed the patronage—miserly, to be sure—of no less a figure than King Philip of Spain. King Charles of England too, it was said, as well as the Duke of Modena.

    But those last two were irrelevant, in political terms. It was Philip who mattered, all the more so now that Gentileschi had moved from Rome to Naples. The Spanish were already aggravated with the Barberini clan. If Cardinal Antonio Barberini, nephew of Pope Urban VIII, were to steal Gentileschi away—perhaps he could even persuade her to move back to Rome...

    Antonio cast a considering eye on his uncle Maffeo. The Pope, as he had throughout these proceedings, was sitting silently and simply listening. His face, utterly impassive to anyone who did not know him well.

    For a moment, their eyes met. Then the Pope looked away.

    But Antonio did know his uncle. Maffeo Barberini, he thought, was on the verge of some great and momentous decision. And Antonio thought he could guess which way he would decide. Underneath it all, the man now known as Urban VIII was something of a gambler.

    Why else, Antonio thought wryly, would he had taken the risk of elevating so many of his clan to positions of such prominence in the church? That had risks and well as gains. Looked at the right way, it was almost Antonio’s duty to gamble himself.

    The least he could do! It was not, after all, as if Antonio would be gambling the same great stakes that sat on the table before his uncle the Pope.

    So. This session on the Galileo affair seemed to be coming to an end. Thankfully. Antonio was careful not to be the first to rise. Only the third. By the time he came fully erect, he had made his decision.

    Yes. He would send an emissary to Naples on the morrow. No point in dallying. Great matters were coming to a head; it was his simple duty to do the same with smaller ones.

    Besides, there was this. The Spanish would be furious. But the Americans would be pleased. The reason for that was somewhat mystifying to Antonio. Such odd notions those creatures had regarding the position of women. Still, he’d paid careful attention to the political reports and didn’t doubt the reaction at all. Artemisia Gentileschi was the most prominent female artist in all of Europe, of the few there were at all. Were Cardinal Antonio Barberini to advance his public and munificent patronage to the woman... stealing her right away from the King of Spain...

    Once again his eyes met those of his uncle.

    Yes. Antonio was sure of it, now. The Americans even had an expression for the thing, he suddenly recalled. Knows which way the wind blows.

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