Galileo Furioso

I am just beginning a new biography of Galileo by Heilbron, and what an unusual biography it is!  Rather than giving us a blow-by-blow of the life of the great man in embryo, we are almost immediately tossed into the chaos and ferment of late Renaissance Italian intellectual life.  Perhaps the details of Galileo’s early life are few and far between anyway.  But, more surprising, the attitude of the writer towards his famous, sainted subject is frequently one of ironic detachment and humor.  No hagiography here!  It’s an exhilarating and fresh approach to a man who is crucial in the history of modern science, but whose own accomplishments seem relatively slender compared to Newton and some others.

One of the most entertaining and unusual elements of the biography is its focus on Galileo as an aspiring literary lion of Florence.  He wrote criticism of poetry, fought in furious and futile intellectual battles over the relative merits of Tasso, Dante, and Ariosto, was instrumental in diagraming the true extent of the Inferno as described in The Divine Comedy, and was influenced by the ironic epic, Orlando Furioso, as much as he was by Aristotle.  Not exactly a typical resume for a giant of early modern science.  (Of course, we conveniently forget that Isaac Newton spent more time on numerology and alchemy than he did on physics.)

I have been hearing about Orlando for so many years now, it’s time to read it.

5 Responses to Galileo Furioso

  1. Steve says:

    I greatly enjoy your blog, and this sounds like a fantastic read. Orlando Furioso is one of the most delightful books I’ve ever read, and it absolutely floored me when I first read it a couple years back. Pulci’s Morgante is nearly as good. Enjoy!
    If you’re interested, my gushing review is here:

  2. Man of Roma says:

    I wonder how an author such as Ariosto can be translated. The musical harmony of his verses is one special quality he has, together with all the traits so well listed in Steve’s review, although I guess good translators can do almost anything.

    For a more complete picture of Italian Renaissance literature and society I would add Bandello’s novels (only remembered by anglos for the novels plot that inspired Shakespeare) and Bronzino Renaissance faces. All these authors are very sensual and entertaining.

    One more thing I always wanted to tell you but never did (or I did but I forgot): in case you are interested in getting a real ‘feel’ of the Roman Jews milieu do read Alessandro Piperno. Born in 1972 in Rome he has been associated with Proust and Philip Roth. Exaggerated possibly but great writer in my opinion, with a lot of sense of humour too.

    “Con le peggiori intenzioni (With the Worst Intentions)” is the novel that made him famous. His second novel – whose title I forgot – has not been translated yet I imagine, but seems even better.

    Sorry for my usual long comments.

    • Lichanos says:

      Comment as much as you like!

      Reading something in translation…well, you just have to accept that you’re not getting the original. I looked into the ones available – not many for Orlando, and I selected a prose version. Several critics who appeared knowledgeable felt that the prose version was more true to the sense and feel than the few verse efforts around.

    • Lichanos says:

      I’ve started reading Orlando. I chose a verse translation in Penguin – I just couldn’t see reading it in prose. I am thoroughly hooked – I think I’ll read the whole gigantic thing!

      I took a look at the original Italian online. It certainly does move along in a wonderful sing-song fashion! I’m all the more impressed with the English translator. She captures a bit of the music of the rhyming Italian, although English just has such a different sound.

      What a CRAZY poem!

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