‘MADE THE HELIOCENTRIC SYSTEM A COMMONPLACE’

Dialogo … sopra i due massimi sistemi del mondo Tolemaico, e Copernicano. 

Florence, G.B. Landini, 1632. 

4to, pp. [viii], 458, [32], with engraved frontispiece by Stefano della Bella; woodcut Landini device on title, 31 woodcut text diagrams and illustrations, woodcut initials and typographic ornaments; 28 mm strip at blank foot of title and lower blank corner of G1 renewed at an early date, frontispiece neatly remargined, but a very clean, wide-margined copy, much less browned than is usual with this book; in eighteenth-century Spanish vellum, preserving the original deerskin ties, spine lettered in ink; endpapers renewed; preserved in a modern red morocco box.

£160000

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First edition of one of the most famous works in the history of scientific thought, Galileo’s defence of Copernican heliocentrism, which led to his trial and imprisonment for heresy. 

The Dialogo takes the form ‘of a discussion between a spokesman for Copernicus, one for Ptolemy and Aristotle, and an educated layman for whose support the other two strive. Galileo thus remains technically uncommitted except in a preface which ostensibly supports the anti-Copernican edict of 1616. The book will prove, he says, that the edict did not reflect any ignorance in Italy of the strength of pro-Copernican arguments. The contrary is the case; Galileo will add Copernican arguments of his own invention, and thus he will show that not ignorance of or antagonism to science, but concern for spiritual welfare alone, guided the Church in its decision’ (DSB).

‘The Dialogo was designed both as an appeal to the great public and as an escape from silence.  In the form of an open discussion between three friends – intellectually speaking, a radical, a conservative and an agnostic – it is a masterly polemic for the new science.  It displays all the great discoveries in the heavens, which the ancients had ignored; it inveighs against the sterility, wilfulness, and ignorance of those who defend their systems, it revels in the simplicity of Copernican thought and above all, it teaches that the movement of the earth makes sense in philosophy, that is, in physics.  Astronomy and the silence of motion, rightly understood says Galileo, are hand in glove.  There is no need to fear that the earth’s rotation will cause it to fly to pieces.  So Galileo picked up one thread that led straight to Newton.  The Dialogo, far more than any other work, made the heliocentric system a commonplace’ (Printing and the Mind of Man). 

The famous frontispiece shows Aristotle in conversation with Ptolemy and Copernicus, beneath a dedication to Galileo’s patron, Ferdinando II de’ Medici (1610–1670). 

Carli & Favaro, p. 28; Cinti 89; Dibner, Heralds 8; Grolier/Horblit 18c; Norman 858; PMM 128.