Galileo Church v. Hero Essay

Galileo Church v. Hero Essay

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Galileo Church v. Hero

It is a volatile point in history: the intersection of science and religion at the height of the Inquisition; it is a time when the Church reigns and a man, a physicist, must choose life or death, himself or science. Galileo Galilei's legendary dilemma and the circumstances surrounding it are presented in Bertolt Brecht's Galileo from a perspective that is clearly criticizing institutions with such controlóin this case, the Catholic churchówhile reminding us that men are simply men, no matter how heroic their actions appear. These issues are expounded throughout the play; however, Scene 11 has the most significant role in Galileo's development, as it simultaneously reveals the extent of the Church's control and humanizes Galileo in just a few lines.

Despite his courage to venture into unexplored realms of science and thought, Galileo is not a hero. He is only a man. Scene 11 is the shortest scene in the play and one of only three scenes in which the title character does not appear. Yet it is here that Galileo is made completely human. In the quest for a hero, one might ignore his almost hedonistic desire for food, thought, and fine wine and the sacrifices that he makes to acquire money. These characteristics of Galileo are revealed early in the play, when he plagiarizes another man's telescope invention in order to get a salary raise from the city (Scenes 1 and 2), and then again in Scene 11 when the Pope says, "He has more enjoyment in him than any other man I ever saw. He loves eating and drinking and thinking. To excess. He indulges in thinking bouts! He cannot say no to an old wine or a new thought" ( Brecht 109). However, one cannot ignore a hero's cowardice in the face of physical pain. I...

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... Nobody has planned a part for us beyond this wretched one on a worthless star. There is no meaning in our misery'" (Brecht 84). The people rely on the Church to lead them to a better life in heaven; their faith is all that they know. It is the Pope's duty to preserve the unity that comes from shared faith, and because he is controlled by that which he governs, he cannot refuse to punish Galileo for fear of social collapse.

Brecht cleverly uses Scene 11 to plant seeds of thought in the minds of his audience members. Through the controversy of Galileo's life and the circumstances surrounding his session with the Inquisition, Galileo explores both the dangers of institutional control and the folly of elevating men to a heroic status. One will only be disappointed when both prove fallible.


Brecht, Bertolt. Galileo. New York: Grove Press, 1966.

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