Galileo was born in 1564 in Pisa, Italy, the oldest of seven children. He was born into a time when the Roman Catholic Church was the overarching authority in all disciplines, including science. Galileo and the Church had many run-ins over the course of his life. So strict was the hold of the Catholic Church on new ideas and questions about science that to question was to threaten the authority of the Church itself. Many were put to death for their ideas, which the Church often interpreted as heretical, during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in Europe. When he was still a child, a tutor educated him and it is thought Galileo learned grammar, literature, arithmetic and geometry. Marcus writes that for Galileo it wasn’t enough to be told a fact, but he wanted to investigate it for himself, and through experimentation, prove it right or wrong. At age ten, his family moved to Florence where his father became a wool merchant and young Galileo attended school at a Jesuit monastery.
Galileo was born into a world where most children did not go to school, nor were books plentiful or readable. Science as we know it today was relatively unknown—a vast sea of uncharted waters. Galileo’s father was a musician and music teacher who was not wealthy by any means, but was willing to see that Galileo got a good education, because he could see how smart and able a student his young son was. Galileo grew to be the quintessential Renaissance Man, interested in music, the arts, mathematics, geometry, physics, chemistry, and astronomy, to name a few. In fact, his scientific experiments were among the first of their kind because prior to his time, it was not popular to question anything about the universe or the workings of the planet itself. Galileo is described as a “ceaseless experimenter whose inquiries into motion, light, and the organization of the solar system awakened men of his time to the possibility of viewing the universe scientifically”. When Galileo burst upon the scientific scene, people still believed that the earth was the center of the universe and that the sun, the stars, and the planets moved in a circular course around it, rather than around the sun. At the age of seventeen, young Galileo went to the University in Pisa to study medicine. Most of what he was taught there was based on the teachings of the Greeks, who had lived centuries before. The texts he studied were mostly in Latin. He lost interest in medicine and worked in the areas that fascinated him most: mathematics and physics. Nearly every Galileo scholar tells the story of his fascinating observation of the swinging lamp overhead that cast its arc on the floor. As Galileo watched the swinging arc, and noted it becoming smaller and smaller, he timed the lamp’s arc. From this observation and the subsequent experiments that Galileo created to duplicate and document the time it took for a swinging lamp to make its arc, he was virtually the creator of experimental science.