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Galileo’s Grocery List

Did Galileo go grocery shopping?

You bet he did ! I saw his grocery list in the Museum of Science in Florence, Italy. 

On display at the museum was a page from one of the famous astronomer Galileo’s notebooks on which he listed the supplies for a scientific experiment having to do with optics. Interspersed in that list he had scribbled words like chickpeas, rice, pepper and sugar, obviously grocery items he needed. I’m not really interested in astronomy but that grocery list intrigued me. It revealed a personal side of Galileo and I wanted to know more about him. 

On a cold and rainy day we visited the town of Pisa where Galileo was born.  I found out his Dad was an accomplished lute player and composer and that Galileo actually played the lute very well too. He had five siblings and one of his younger brothers Michelangelo (not to be confused with the artist of the same name) often needed to borrow money from Galileo. 

This was the church in Pisa that Galileo’s family attended.In 1581 when he was a medical student he was watching a chandelier like this one I photographed in the church, swing back and forth. It’s changing arc prompted him to begin a study of the pendulum. 

I took a picture of Susterman’s portrait of Galileo in the Pitti Palace in Florence. Galileo looks old, tired and a little sad. It is no wonder. The painting was done in 1636 when Galileo was under house arrest for heresy because he had written that the sun and not the earth was at the centre of the universe. His beloved daughter Maria Celeste had died just two years before and he was still mourning her passing. 

I bought the book Galileo’s Daughter by Dava Sobel and it was here I learned about Galileo’s three illegitimate children, the product of his relationship with Marina Gamba.  Since marriage wasn’t a possibility for his girls because they were born out-of-wedlock, he put them in a convent. His daughter Virginia or Sister Maria Celeste maintained a healthy correspondence with her Dad during her years as a nun and over a hundred of her letters to him have survived. She adored her father and was very interested in his scientific work. 

We visited the Santa Croce Basilica where Galileo is buriedHis tomb is very ornate and elaborate, a fitting tribute to a great scientist. It is nice to know that although he was ostracized and labeled a heretic in his own time, his contributions merited him a resting place of honor and distinction. In 2000 Pope John Paul II issued a formal apology for the way the church treated Galileo. 

A grocery list got me interested in Galileo and because of it I learned Galileo was more than a scientist and astronomer. He was a son, a father, a brother, a lover, a musician, a student, a prisoner and worthy of a pardon from a pope. 

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