[GALILEI, Galileo (1564-1642)]. AESOP (ca. 620-560 B.C.). Fabulae graece et latine, cum aliis opusculis. Basel: Johann Herwagen, 1541.
8o (185 x 127 mm). Greek and roman types. Printer's woodcut device on title and on verso of last leaf, historiated and ornamental woodcut initials. The Homeric Batrachomyomachia appears on fols. r4v-s7r. (Marginal tear to title-leaf, title-page a bit soiled, some corners creased, blank portions of lower margins of f4 and f5 torn away, as is a small piece of the upper portion of front flyleaf [not affecting inscription], some finger-soiling, occasional faint traces of marginal dampstaining.) Contemporary Italian limp vellum laced-case binding, evidence of two fore-edge ties, spine liners from a 13th-century manuscript on vellum, contemporary inscription on upper cover of a scrolling ribbon bearing the title (very worn, large tears at positions of ties, front cover with old doodles in ink including a spiraling ribbon inscribed in roman capitals).
Provenance: GALILEO GALILEI, AUTOGRAPH INSCRIPTION ON VERSO OF FRONT FLYLEAF: "Adi io Agosto 1604 incominciai tradurre in versi volgari la guerra dei topi et delle rane di homero" (On this day in August 1604 I began to translate into the vulgar tongue the war of the mice and the frogs of Homer), signed "G. Galilei" in a later hand; possible inventory number ?20 at top of title-page; later pen-and-ink doodles including sketches of 2 human figures on lower pastedown; Guglieglmo Libri (sale, 12 April 1855, lot 975).
GALILEO'S COPY. The present rare survival is a moving testimony to the breadth of Galileo's erudition. Galileo's education had included a thorough study of classical liturature, and his literary interests are well documented. A fervent admirer of the early Italian poets, he modeled his own literary style after Ariosto, whose works he knew by heart. He was a master of the Tuscan vernacular, in which he wrote all but one of his major scientific works, because he needed, as he put it, "to have everyone able to read them" (Drake, Galileo at Work, 1981, p. 187). Galileo, who famously stated that to understand the "book of the universe... we must first learn its language... the language of mathematics" (Il Saggiatore), made ample use of poetic images and devices in his scientific writings, the more vividly to evoke his readers' own sensory experience, which so often contradicted the traditional teachings of authority. A skilled versifier and a sharp tongue, author of rhyming jokes and burlesque comedies, Galileo's bitingly satirical verses more than once offended influential personages and hindered his professional progress.
Galileo's interest in Italian literature went beyond his scientific writing. His principal work of literary criticism, written in 1618, was a detailed comparison of the poetry of Tasso and Ariosto. During his early years in Padua Galileo moved in a literary circle, with whom he shared an interest in the local lingua volgare, the native Paduan dialect. This had come into vogue through plays and dialogues written by Angelo Beolco (c. 1495-1542) under the pseudonym Ruzante, whose rough country characters and their down-to-earth speech appealed to "intellectuals who disliked polite pretense and affectation" (Drake, op cit., pp. 48-49). In later years Galileo gave his benediction to a group of young Italian poets, led by Virginio Cesarino and Giovanni Ciampoli, whose goal was to create a "new" Italian poetry, blending Tuscan forms with forms based on the Greek classics. Scholars have discerned a parallel between these poetic innovations and both Galileo's "new science" and the "new music" advocated by his father Vincenzio, one of the first composers to experiment with recitative, who rejected, on abstract, quasi-mathematical grounds, the ornate polyphonic music of the time in favor of a return to a purer monophonic music thought to have been practiced in classical Greece. One might also perhaps draw comparisons between Galileo's desire to translate a classical Greek fable, the mock-Homeric Batrachomyomachia, into the "vulgar tongue" of modern Tuscan, and his later favorable attitude toward the Greek-influenced compositions of this young group of poets.
It is not known whether Galileo ever completed his translation of the "Mice and Frogs"; no manuscript survives. Undertaken as a diversion toward the end of summer, during one of the most peaceful and productive periods of Galileo's life, the little project was probably set aside for more urgent matters. Throughout 1604, Galileo had been working on the problems of motion along inclined planes, culminating in his correct statement, in a famous letter to Paolo Sarpi, of the law of falling bodies. That letter was dated 16 October; within weeks the supernova of 1604, first spotted on October 9th, and of which Galileo's first recorded observation is dated 28 October, became the topic of heated public discussion. In November Galileo gave three well-attended and controversial public lectures on its implications for the Aristotelian concept of the incorruptibility of the heavens.
SURVIVING VOLUMES FROM GALILEO'S PERSONAL LIBRARY ARE OF THE UTMOST RARITY. A handful of presentation copies of Galileo's own works are known, and some have circulated in the rare book market within recent years. A copy of Cicognini's 1631 encomium of Galileo with en ex-dono note and inventory number in the latter's hand appeared at auction in 1998 ($22,000). Other than these, to our knowledge no other volumes from his personal library have appeared on the market in the past 50 or more years. The editors of the National Edition of Galileo's works knew of the present volume from its appearance at auction in 1855, but, unable to locate the book, they could not verify the authenticity of the inscription.
Adams A-284. Galileo Galilei, Le Opere. Edizione Nazionale, ed. Antonio Favaro (Florence, 1890-1910 ), IX, pp. 278-79.