Life of Galileo

After reading the play Life of Galileo by Bertolt Brecht, it made me question how we as humans come to the idea of truth and what is part of a discourse. Anything and everything can be brought into question of how valid it is and whether if it is deemed worthy of being knowledge by society or authorities. Galileo’s proposal for putting forth the heliocentric model to correct the existing Ptolemaic model is a great example of knowledge being questioned and shows how authorities dictate the knowledge exposed to the public. In act four, Galileo says, “Truth is born of the times, not of authority. Our ignorance is limitless: Let us lop one cubic millimetre off it. Why try to be clever now that we at last have a chance of being a little less stupid?” Galileo wants to change the existing system that is proven through his physical evidence as incorrect, but the evidence is still rejected simply because the authorities (Chief fathers of church, philosophers, Classical scientists) don’t want their current system to be disrupted. If the Aristotle model is abolished, it would prove that the church was wrong, thus tarnishing the ‘perfect’ representation of earth and heaven.

The authorities who decides on what knowledge is are represented in the play as people who aspire to become so close to God that they are too ignorant to realise the truth that is presented to them. In act nine, the opening epigraph states,

“Eight long years with tongue in cheek

Of what he knew he did not speak.

Then temptation grew too great

And Galileo challenged fate.”

The focus of this poem is the word ‘fate’ as it implies that it is beyond one’s control but in this case, fate is controlled by those with power and authority. When Galileo challenged fate, he challenged the belief of Christianity thus challenging the sphere of influence of the church and cardinals. This is further shown through the views of the old cardinal as he says, “I am walking, with a firm step, on a fixed earth, it is motionless, it is the centre of the universe, I am the centre and the eye of the creator falls upon means me alone.” He is represented as such an ignorant person who rejects knowledge given to him simply because if Galileo were to be right, he would no longer be the one who God favours because he is the ‘centre’.

Anyone can say that they know something, but to prove it is harder and even if it is proven to one’s self that it is true, it does not mean that society will accept such truths and views. This limits and restricts the boundaries of our knowledge and also our creativity, as truths are rejected due to how beneficial it is for the authority.

One comment

  1. Nice discussion here! This helps me see better what you were getting to at the end of your essay on Brecht. It makes sense to say that this play highlights how what we think of as true may be heavily influenced by what those with power and influence think is true. Even if we don’t have direct censorship in the way that Galileo experienced, there could still be indirect effects of the popularity of some views even when there is evidence to the contrary. It could be that if most people, or those who count as authorities, believe something to be true, then the new idea simply won’t make any sense if they can’t fit it into their current worldview.

    And that does make one question the degree to which what we think of as true now may instead be the result of dominant views, and whether some new thing might not be more true.

Leave a Reply to Christina Hendricks Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *