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Photo of Galileo Galilei -  Dialogo... sopra i due massimi Sisstemi del mondo tolemaico, magnify
Dialogo... sopra i due massimi Sisstemi del mondo tolemaico,

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GALILEI, Galileo. Dialogo di Galileo Galilei… sopra i due massimi Sistemi del mondo tolemaico, e copernicano. Florence: Batista Landini, 1632. Octavo, early full brown calf, raised bands, endpapers renewed. Housed in a custom clamshell box.

First edition of the work that led to Galileo’s persecution by the Inquisition, his famous and celebrated defense of the Copernican system, with 31 in-text woodcut illustrations and diagrams. This copy with the iconic engraved frontispiece depicting Aristotle, Ptolemy and Copernicus discussing their astronomical theories—issued separately and often not present.

“Eight years after Pope Paul V had forbidden him to teach Copernican theory, Galileo received permission from a new Pope, Urban VIII, to discuss Copernican astronomy in a book, so long as the book provided equal and impartial discussions of the Church-approved Ptolemaic system. Galileo’s Dialogue concerning the two chief world systems held to the letter of this command: the device of the dialogue, between a spokesman for Copernicus, one for Ptolemy and Aristotle, and an educated layman, allowed Galileo to remain technically uncommitted. After the book’s publication, however, Urban took offense at what he felt to be its jibes against himself and ordered Galileo to be brought before the Inquisition in Rome” (Norman 858). The Dialogo was suppressed by the Church five months after its publication and formally condemned in June 1633. Galileo’s defense of “the Copernican heresy” resulted in his permanent house arrest. Soon thereafter he was forced publicly to recant his defense of Copernicus.

The book “remained on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum until 1823. It is an eternal reminder of human endeavour and human fallibility. As everyone knows, it was a historical accident, the invention of the telescope, that converted… Galileo [into] the celebrated international crusader for the Copernican hypothesis… Galileo’s first publications had little circulation. Then in 1615 he was officially silenced as regards the truth of astronomy. 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, willfulness, 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 science 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. Every fear of Galileo’s enemies was justified; only their attempts to stifle thought were vain” (PMM 128).


Frontispiece in the fourth state (of four), as usual, with artist’s signature present. With pasted cancel slip correcting the shoulder note on page 92 and manuscript addition of letter H to diagram on page 192, both as usual; without final blank leaf only (KK4), often not present. A few leaves in signature Bb bound out of order, but all present.

Horblit 18c. Dibner 8. PMM 128. Norman 858.

Interior generally quite clean and fresh, with only a few instances of faint foxing and a very few pages (pp. 207-227) lightly embrowned. Frontispiece and title page skillfully rehinged, most likely at the time when the early calf binding received expert restoration. An extremely good copy of this extraordinary scientific landmark, most desirable with iconic frontispiece engraving, often not present.