375 Year Old Banned Book on Display in Mills’ Archives

Submitted by libbairdca on
Filed under Library News:  Mills Archives & Research Collections

Freedom to Read Week takes place each year during the last week of February and this year to celebrate the event Mills Library's Archives and Research Collections will be putting Galileo's Dialogo on display, a book which was banned in 1633.

400 years ago, Italian scientist Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) changed Astronomy forever. He pushed us into the future with his use of the telescope, which he made after he heard about the invention of the spyglass in 1609. Later that year he presented an eight-powered telescope to the Senate in Venice and was awarded tenure at the University of Padua. Galileo observed the moon through his telescope, which he had perfected until it magnified objects a thousand times. Imagine his amazement and excitement when he saw Jupiter’s moons!

Galileo Galilei was a mathematician, philosopher and astronomer who lived in Italy from 1564-1642. He is credited with the discovery of the moons of Jupiter, sunspots, on the sun's surface and proof for the heretical notion that the Earth was, in fact, not the center of the universe. In 1632 Galileo published Dialogo…sopre I due massimi sistemi del mondo Tolemaico, e Copernicano (Fiorenza, 1632) (Dialogue concerning the two chief world  systems). It demonstrated the validity of the Copernican heliocentric theory over the Ptolemaic theory of the solar system. Its publication led to him being brought before the Inquisition, being made to recant the views about Copernicanism and to his imprisonment. The Pope had felt misled as permission had been given for a balanced discussion of the two theories but Galileo had written a disguised attempt to establish the Copernican system as fact. Urban VIII ordered all copies to be burned. Galileo’s Dialogo was placed on the Index of Prohibited Books (Index librorum prohibitorum) in 1633.  It remained there for 200 years.

McMaster University Library is the proud owner of this early seminal European work of scientific literature.  Galileo’s celebrated defense of the Copernican view of the solar system was published in Florence in 1632 by Gian. Battista Landini.  The Library acquired the book in 1966 from Dr. Aldo Caselli, along with over 100 books of the Italian Reniassance.

The McMaster copy is a first edition with untrimmed pages.  It is unique by virtue of its marginal geometrical diagrams and editing of text in sepia ink . Archivist Renu Barrett speculates that the diagrams and corrections were made in the 17th century. Marginalia in a controversial scientific book is of cultural and historical value.  It tells us about the scholar/editor who has engaged with the text by way of the marks he has left behind and who has examined and annotated it as a means of  revising, understanding or refuting its provocative subject. It tells us also that the book has invited a response from the reader. Closer scrutiny reveals over 15 instances of marginal notes, editing and diagrams in the  McMaster copy. The interesting fact is that only some corrections are noted on the printed Errata page, implying that the book was in its early printing and still undergoing the process of textual revisions.  However, the identity of the person who made the marks remains unknown.

Inspite of having to recant his heliocentric theory in 1633, Galileo believed in scientific method and sacrificed his liberty for his beliefs.  He is truly an inspirational figure.

by Renu Barrett

Image: Etched frontispiece by Stefano della Bella shows Aristotle, Ptolemy, and Copernicus discussing matters of astronomy.