The poetry and art of Galileo Galilei

Bill Dennison ·
13 February 2014
Science Communication | 

'Scientists who made a difference' series

This blog accompanying the biographical sketch of Galileo Galilei looks at a selection of his writing as poetry and a selection of his scientific sketches as art. The ‘Poetry’ uses Galileo's exact words (translated into English) in prose form, using the title ‘The Greatest Astonishment' to focus on the cadence and word choice. The ‘Art’ uses a multiple panel illustration that Galileo used the describe the phases of the moon that he was able to observe with a telescope that he constructed. It is worth noting that Galileo spent a couple of years at the Academy of the Arts and Drawing in Florence. He really had an artistic 'eye' and an ability to write eloquently. Both the ‘Poetry’ and ‘Art’ of Galileo are found in his book Sidereus Nuncious (Starry Messenger), published in 1610.

Galileo Galilei
Galileo Galilei (1564-1642).

The greatest astonishment

By Galileo Galilei

 In the present small treatise

I set forth some matters

Of great interest

For all observers

Of natural phenomena

To look at

And consider.


They are of great interest,

I think,

First, from their intrinsic excellence;

Second, from their absolute novelty,

And lastly,

Also on account of the instrument

By aid of which

They have been presented

To my apprehension.


But that which will excite

The greatest astonishment by far,

And which indeed especially moved me

To call the attention

Of all astronomers and philosophers,

Is this,


That I have discovered

Four planets,

Neither known

Nor observed

By any one of the astronomers

Before my time,

Which have their orbits

Round a certain bright star,

One of these previously known,

Like Venus and Mercury round the sun,

And are sometimes in front of it,

Sometimes behind it,

Though they never depart from it

Beyond certain limits.

All which facts

Were discovered and observed

A few days ago

By the help of a telescope

Devised by me,

Through God's grace

First enlightening my mind.

Drawings of the Moon

By Galileo Galilei in 1609

Phases of the moon by Galileo Galile
Drawings of the Moon by Galileo Galilei in November-December 1609. Source: Museo Galileo.

About the author

Bill Dennison

Dr. Bill Dennison is a Professor of Marine Science and Vice President for Science Application at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES). Dr. Dennison’s primary mission within UMCES is to coordinate the Integration and Application Network.

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