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PDX OPERAbeat | A Company Blog is the blog for all things Portland Opera, featuring a variety of guest contributors who will provide insider's tidbits on all we do to celebrate the beauty and breadth of opera.

Galileo Galilei: Scene 7, A Walk in the Garden

Scene 7: A Walk in the Garden
 

Galileo: Both nature and holy scripture are the outward forms of Holy Spirit. Yet I think you might agree, the Bible is a book about how to go to Heaven -- not how the heavens go.
Barberini: Very clever, Galileo. Of course the mind of God is beyond what we can imagine. Even with your telescope, you cannot see that far.
 

In this scene, Galileo visits the garden of Cardinal Maffeo Barberini, a long-time close acquaintance. The Cardinal greets Galileo warmly, and reads a section of a poem he's composed for the astronomer, called "Dangerous Adulation."
 

When the moon shines and displays
Its golden procession, and its gleaming fires In its serene orbit
A strange pleasure draws us and rivets our gaze.
This one looks up at the shining evening star
And the terrible star of Mars
And the track colored with the luster of milk
That one sees your light, oh Cynosure.


Or another marvels at either the heart of the Scorpion
Or the torch of the Dog Star
Or the satellites of Jupiter
Or the ears of father Saturn
Discovered by your glass, O learned Galileo . . .

 

Not always, beyond the radiance that shines
Does it become clear to us:
We notice the black defects on the sun
(Who would believe it?)
By your art, Galileo.

 

"It goes on nineteen stanzas," the Cardinal continues. "I'll let you read it at your leisure."


the cardinal
(Nicholas Nelson as Cardinal Barberini, in rehearsal)


Galileo comments on the loveliness of the garden, full of the sound of birdsong. He begins to address the subject of enemies he has made with his work, but is interrupted by Barberini, who immediately reassures him: he's heard of Galileo's troubles, and has written a letter, which he presents to the astronomer, declaring Galileo's unwavering faith.
 

The two men continue to talk; Barberini warns Galileo to stay away from the theories of Copernicus: "The Bible is unmoving on the motion of the sun."
"Yes, of course," answers Galileo, backing off the topic. "I only spoke of him as an allusion, as a dream."
 

They come upon Galileo's daughter, Maria Celeste, praying in the garden. She is introduced to Barberini; Galileo explains that she is about to enter the convent. He remarks upon rumors of Barberini's own imminent rise within the Church; the Cardinal takes a moment to imagine it, but then dismisses the thought. The two men continue their walk.

 


 

Most Illustrious Lord Father,
 

The happiness I derived from the gift of the letters you sent me, Sire, written to you by that most distiguished Cardinal, now elevated to the exalted position of Supreme Pontiff, was ineffable, for his letters so clearly express the affection this great man has for you, and also show how highly he values your abilities. I have read and reread them, savoring them in private, and I return them to you, as you insist, without having shown them to anyone else except Suor Arcangela, who has joined me in drawing the utmost joy from seeing how much our father is favored by persons of such caliber. May it please the Lord to grant you the robust health you will need to fulfill your desire to visit His Holiness, so that you can be even more greatly esteemed by him."
 

-- excerpt of a letter from Suor Maria Celeste Galilei to her father, Galileo, on the 10th of August, 1623
 

Galileo Galilei met Cardinal Maffeo Barberini in Rome during the spring of 1611, and then again in October of the same year, when the Cardinal was the grand duke's dinner guest, and Galileo the after-dinner entertainment. That night, Galileo staged a debate with a professor from the University of Pisa about the properties of bodies floating in water. Galileo was known for his debate style, which was to build up his adversary's arguments, reinforcing them so that they seemed irrefutable, before tearing them apart point by point. (Later in his life, answering for his work in front of the Holy Inquisitors, this style of argument would cost him dearly).
 

Galileo and Barberini were close in age -- Galileo born in 1564, Barberini in 1568. Both were graduates of the Unversity of Pisa, and shared an interest in literature. Barberini admired Galileo's scientific work, and in the debate about floating bodies, enthusiastically sided with Galileo. "I pray the Lord God to preserve you," Barberini later wrote to his new acquaintance, "because men of great value like you deserve to live a long time to the benefit of the public."
 

Maffeo Barberini had begun his ascent through the church ranks in 1601, when he was appointed a papal legate to the court of Henry IV of France. In 1604, Pope Clement VIII appointed him archbishop of Nazareth (an honorary title, as Nazareth was under Turkish rule); he was raised to Cardinal by Pope Paul V on September 11, 1606.

 

maffeo barberini
 

After meeting him in 1611, Galileo wrote to Barberini with relative frequency, updating the Cardinal on his latest scientific discoveries and sending him a copy of every new publication. After receiving Galileo's Letters on the Sunspots, Barberini responded, "I shall read them with pleasure, again and again. This is not a book which will stand idly among the rest. It is the only one which can induce me to withdraw for a few hours from my official duties to devote myself to it, and to the observation of the planets it treats. Meanwhile, thank you for remembering me, and never forget the high opinion I have for a mind so extraordinarily gifted as yours."
 

Galileo's relief must have been palpable, then, when Barberini was elected Pope in 1623, taking the name Urban VIII. For Galileo, it must have seemed as though the way would be clear for him to work as he liked, with the Church's blessing.
 

After the election, the Venetian envoy wrote the following description of Barberini:
 

"The new Pontiff is 56 years old. His Holiness is tall, dark, with regular features and black hair turning grey. He is exceptionally elegant and refined in all details of his dress; has a graceful and aristocratic bearing and exquisite taste. He is an excellent speaker and debater, writes verses and patronises poets and men of letters."
 

I don't know how to feel about Cardinal Barberini. The opera nudges you to see him as the 'bad guy,' which you will understand better when we get to the recantation (Scene 2). But as Cardinal, Barberini clearly had profound respect for Galileo's achievements, and viewed him with an affection that bordered on ardor. To tell you the truth, I like him, and I feel sorry for him. He had a little crush on Galileo, who, in Scene 5, is going to rather callously make him look like a complete idiot.
 

If you want, you can like Cardinal Maffeo Barberini on facebook!
 

A little bit about those 'enemies'
 

… The ones Galileo speaks of in the opera, prompting Barberini to write a letter avowing Galileo's faith.
 

"It seems to me," Galileo writes, in a letter to Benedetto Castelli, a former pupil and Benedictine monk, "that Holy Scripture cannot err and the decrees therein contained are absolutely true and inviolable. I should only have added that, though Scripture cannot err, its expounders and interpreters are liable to err in many ways … when they would base themselves always on the literal meanings of the words. For in this wise not only many contradictions would be apparent, but even grace heresies and blasphemies, since then it would be necessary to give God hands and feet and eyes, and human and bodily emotions such as anger, regret, hatred, and sometimes forgetfulness of things past, and ignorance of the future."
 

The letter between Galileo and Castelli, written in 1614, made the rounds through Italy, eventually falling into the hands of Tommaso Caccini, a young Dominican priest who was also a member of a group long known for being harsh critics of Galileo's scientific findings. On Advent Sunday, Caccini opened his sermon with a veiled reference to Galileo, from Acts 1:11: "Men of Galilee, why do ye stand looking up to heaven?" The remainder of his sermon drew heavily from the book of Joshua (which our priest in Scene VIII quotes at length), including this segment:
 

On this day, when the Lord delivered up the Amorrites to the Israelites, Joshua prayed to the Lord, and said in the presence of Israel: Stand still, o sun at Gabhaon, o moon, in the valley of Aialon! And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, while the nation took vengeance on its foe. Is this not recorded in the Book of Hashar? The sun halted in the middle of the sky; not for a whole day did it resume its swift course. Never before or since was there a day like this, when the Lord obeyed the voice of a man; for the Lord fought for Israel.
 

Caccini denounced Galileo and all his followers (and all mathematicians in general, actually) as "practitioners of diabolical arts … enemies of true religion." Although Caccini was rebuked by his Dominican superior, the damage was done: another Dominican, Niccolo Lorini, submitted Galileo's letter to Castelli to the inquisitor general in Rome.
 

To counteract the damage, Galileo published a longer expounded form of his letter, which he addressed to Madama Christina (who had initially argued these points of Scripture with Galileo's pupil, Castelli). Although no publisher dared to print it, it appeared all over Italy in its manuscript form. It took to task all those who would use Scripture, which, Galileo argued, they did not always completely understand, to criticize and condemn discourses on scientific theories which they had never read. He also argued vehemently against the potential suppression of the Copernican model of the universe.
 

"I believe," he wrote, "that the intention of Holy Writ was to persuade men of the truths necessary for salvation, such as neither science nor any other means could render credible, but only the voice of the Holy Spirit. But I do not think it necessary to believe that the same God who gave us our senses, our speech, our intellect, would have put aside the use of these, to teach us instead such things as with their help we could find out for ourselves, particularly in the case of these sciences of which there is not the smallest mention in the Scriptures; and above all, in astronomy, of which so little notice is taken that the names of none of the planets are mentioned. Surely if the intention of the sacred scribes had been to teach the people astronomy, they would not have passed over the subject so completely."
 



The full text of Galileo's letter to Grand Duchess Madama Christina can be found here.
 

For more on Galileo Galilei:
Scene 8

Scene 9

Scene 10