Fake manuscript of Galileo led experts to a treatise he secretly wrote
The manuscript, which was believed to be the author of Galileo Galilei, was recognized as a fake in August; but her research led historians to another, very controversial book, the author of which turned out to be the famous Italian astronomer
Galileo’s note, previously unpublished. In it, he responds to the criticism of the Italian scientist Ludovico Delle Colomba, who suggested that the “new star” found in 1604 had always existed, and it had simply not been seen before.
American historian Nick Wilding discoveredthat the Galileo Galilei manuscript from the University of Michigan library is a forgery. Supposedly it was made by the famous forger Tobia Nicotra in the 1930s. But thanks to the research carried out, historians were led to another, very controversial book, the author of which turned out to be a famous Italian astronomer – but he wrote it under a pseudonym.
Galileo’s previously unpublished notes, which were subjected to verification based on the discovery of a fake, indicate that in fact he was the author of the treatise “Considerazioni Astronomiche di Alimberto Mauri” – “Astronomical fabrications of Alimberto Mauri” – published in 1604.
Some contemporaries suspected that Galileo was the real author of the treatise, although it was published under the pseudonym “Alimberto Mauri”. In those days, scientists often resorted to pseudonyms when publishing controversial works in order to avoid persecution. Other pseudonyms are known under which Galileo published, but until now the authorship of Considerazioni Astronomiche has not been confirmed.
“This is a complete treatise written by one of the greatest minds in Western science,” said Matteo Cosci, a researcher in the Department of Philosophy and Cultural Heritage at Venice’s Ca Foscari University, who made the discovery.
Title page of a treatise written under the pseudonym “Alimberto Mauri”, published in 1604 – now believed to be an early work by Galileo
The treatise was published just a few years before Galileo’s famous work “Sidereus Nuncius” [Звёздный вестник]in which in 1610 he described his breakthrough observations of the Moon and the four moons of Jupiter, made with the first astronomical telescope in history.
Koschi says the new treatise can be considered a prequel to Sidereus Nuncius and marks a turning point in the history of science and astronomy in general. For historians of philosophy, this is a real treasure.
Portrait of Galileo Galilei by Justus Sustermans (1597-1681), painted in 1636.
Working under a pseudonym
The discovery that Galileo was the author of the Considerazioni Astronomiche is closely related to the revelation of a forged manuscript in the University of Michigan library.
Water marks the paper on which the manuscript was written suggests that it may have been written more than 100 years after Galileo died in 1642. Its author is probably the prolific Italian swindler Tobia Nicotra, who specialized in forging various kinds of documents and art objects. It was created, probably in the 1920s and 1930s, and bought at auction in 1934 and then donated to the university in 1938.
It was also found that the two letters used to confirm the status of the manuscript were also fake – probably also done by Nikotra. And since one of the letters claimed that Considerazioni Astronomiche was written by Galileo, doubts also arose in this aspect.
Galileo never acknowledged the authorship of the Considerazioni Astronomiche di Alimberto Mauri, and so far the only evidence of this has been a forged letter. However, this year Cosci discovered an unpublished note in the Florentine Library that was definitely written by Galileo. In the note, Galileo mentioned several points on which his work was criticized by Ludovico Delle Colomb. And among other things, Galileo also mentioned the work Considerazioni Astronomiche di Alimberto Mauri, which indicates that Galileo took her criticism personally.
When Galileo wrote in his private note that “Ludovico Delle Colombe treats me with no respect,” he revealed himself as Mauri, Kosci said.
Controversial theories of Galileo
According to Koska, Delle Colomb once published a treatise where he claimed that the “new star” that was seen in 1604 (and in fact it was a supernova – SN 1604, or Kepler’s supernova) was not a new star, but quite common – just not always visible. These ideas fit within the framework of the theories of Aristotle, combined with the geocentric model of the solar system from Ptolemy – these thinkers believed that the stars, the Sun and other planets were something constant and never changing, and that all this revolved around the Earth.
Galileo, publishing under the pseudonym Alimberto Mauri, suggested that the “new star” was indeed a new celestial body, and proposed mechanisms that could give rise to it, thereby challenging Aristotelian views. He also introduced some more radical ideas for that time – for example, that there could be mountains on the moon.
According to Peter Barker, professor of the history of science at the University of Oklahoma, it was safer then to use a pseudonym. If the author’s ideas were not justified in the future, no one would blame him. And if the ideas were justified, you can always say: I came up with this.
Barker, who was not involved in the study, says Kosky did a convincing job. Georgia State University historian Nick Wilding, who recognized the forgery in the Michigan manuscript, also agrees.
“This is a great example of how patient and sensible archival research can recoup the losses caused by scammers,” Wilding said. “Dr. Koski showed us that a combination of skepticism and skill leads to historical truth.”
Koski believes that Galileo wrote Considerazioni Astronomiche while teaching at the University of Padua, located in the northern Italian city, which at that time was under the control of the Venetian Republic. Perhaps with the help of this treatise, Galileo tried to find a patron in Rome, since he was addressed to the treasurer of the Pope.
However, Rome and Venice were having diplomatic disputes at the time, “so it was not worth putting your real name under a treatise addressed to an enemy of the state,” Koski said.