GALILEO’S DEFENSE OF THE COPERNICAN THEORY, FIRST EDITION

Istoria e dimostrazioni intorno alle macchie solari e loro accidenti… Si aggiungono nel fine le Lettere, e Disquisizioni del finto Apelle.

Rome, Giacomo Mascardi, 1613.

£39,500

4to, pp. (4), 164, 55, (1), plus folded table. Roman letter, little Italic; device of the Lincei Academy on title, historiated initials and engraved full-page portrait of Galileo at p. 5, 43 full-page engravings of sunspots and of Jovian satellites, several engraved tables and woodcut diagrams in text; light foxing mainly to margins, couple of tiny wormholes to gutter, light damp stain to tail of central gatherings, ink splash on f. Aii. A good copy in contemporary limp vellum, eps renewed; two minor repairs to head and tail of spine; occasional early underlining; label of David P. Wheatland (1898-1993), founder and curator of the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments of Harvard on front pastedown.

Rare first edition of Galileo’s earliest published endorsement of the Copernican theory, in its most complete variant. Two issues appeared in Rome by Mascardi, one with three additional letters by the Jesuit scientist Christoph Scheiner. Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) was one of the greatest mathematicians and astronomers of all time. His cutting-edge discoveries revolutionised early modern physics and eventually provoked the famous condemnation of the Holy Inquisition. Amongst many other acknowledgements, he was a member of the prestigious Academy of Lincei, a pioneering scientific fellowship established in Rome by Federico Cesi.

Galileo wrote the Istoria e dimostrazione in the form of three letters to his fellow academician Marcus Welser of Augsburg, arguing that sunspots appeared on the surface of the sun: they were not tiny satellites, as the traditional Aristotelian interpretation suggested. Based on telescopic observation of their motion, Galileo concluded that the sun rotated on a fixed axis like the Earth and other planets, thus embracing and somehow overstepping Copernicus’s view. In his usual combative tone, he maintained: ‘this planet also, perhaps no less than horned Venus, agrees admirably with the great Copernican system on which propitious winds now universally are seen to blow …’ His further discovery of the Satellites of Jupiter is described and illustrated with 5 plates. The work also includes Galileo’s first written account of the phases of Venus and Mercury as well as some considerations on the many puzzling mysteries surrounding Saturn. His circumstantial approval of the Copernican model anticipated many of his later theories and the related political and religious consequences.

This issue contains a second part entitled De maculis solaribus tres epistolae, comprising the three letters written to Welser by Christoph Scheiner about 1611. Scheiner was a Jesuit scholar and professor in Ingolstadt, Rome, Vienna and Nyssa. A pugnacious defender of the Ptolemaic system, he was a major antagonist of Galileo. His epistles, in which he states that sunspots are small planets, prompted Galileo to publish his account of his own observations. This was the first of several other debated between the two scholars, involving also the paternity of the discovery of the spots. The two issues of the editio princeps of Istoria e dimostrazioni were published at the same time; apparently, the first was meant to be distributed in Italy (where there would be no copyright dispute on Scheiner’s letters), whereas the second was tailored for export.

The edition bears a beautiful engraved portrait of Galileo within architectural border, drawn by the famous artist Francesco Villamena (1564-1624). Two putti are representations of astronomical science: one is measuring with a compass, the other is observing the sky with a telescope.

BM STC It. 17th, 373; Cinti, 44; Carli and Favaro, 60; Riccardi, I, 509 (without Schenier’s letters); Waller, 12046; Dawson, 2587 (‘[This issue] is generally considered to be the rarer of the two, and certainly to be preferred, as it gives us the full story of these celebrated discoveries’).

K24

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