Science historian Salvatore Ricciardo has dug up Galileo Galilei’s original letter, which shed light on the heresy process against the astronomer, in the British Royal Society, according to the outlet Nature. The website reports that he came across the document, allegedly written by Galileo and dated back to December 21, 1613, when his condemnation saga began.
Incidentally, the unearthed letter has been in the possession of the Royal Society for at least 250 years, but was catalogued under a wrong date so nobody suspected that it was somehow connected with the beginning of the battle between inquisitors and the scientist, who was sentenced for prison on “vehement suspicion of heresy.” His sentence was later replaced with house arrest, under which he lived until his death.
“I thought, ‘I can’t believe that I have discovered the letter that virtually all Galileo scholars thought to be hopelessly lost. It seemed even more incredible because the letter was not in an obscure library, but in the Royal Society library,” the scholar said.
The discovery is considered to be evidence of Galileo’s attempts to alter his original letter to a more moderate version, containing softer language, the original address, which was used against him by the Catholic authorities in the famous process.
The original letter was thought to have been lost. There are two circulating variants of the letter, which lay out the same arguments about scientific freedom, disputing the imperative of theological doctrine and aruging that a heliocentric model of the solar system doesn’t contradict the Bible.
The first variant, addressed to mathematician Benedetto Castelli, was explosive at the time and ended up with Roman inquisitors in 1615. The second variant was attached by Galileo to a letter he wrote around that time to his friend. Galileo argued that the version taken by religious authorities was edited by “enemies” and claimed the latter version was the correct one, asking for it to be given to the Vatican.
The newly discovered document presumably shows the astronomer’s original wording, which coincides with the more inflammatory copy. He had initially described some verses from the Bible as “false if one goes by the literal meaning of the words,”, but eventually softened the wording by stating that they “look different from the truth.”