10 Interesting Facts about Galileo Galilei: the greatest Italian scientist of all time!

In this article we’re going to talk about one of most famous Italian scientists of all time, known all around the world as the father of modern science: Galileo Galilei. Mind you, I’m not going to talk about his life because you probably already know that (or at least you can google it). I want to tell you some fun facts about him, something that maybe you don’t know yet and that might surprise you.

Historical curiosities about Galileo Galilei


Nobody doubts that Galilei was a brilliant scientist, especially in the field of astronomy. But, apparently, he wasn’t as good at teaching the sciences in which he excelled.

As a matter of fact, the University of Pisa gave him a chair to teach Mathematics, but after his first year it wasn’t reconfirmed. Why? Allegedly not only his lessons were too difficult for his students to understand, but his colleagues also found very difficult working with him!


Galilei was well aware of the risk of plagiarism of his studies. So he found a clever way to protect his discoveries: he used to write them as anagrams, often using codes!

For instance, when he discovered the phases of Venus, in the document he sent to Giuliano de’ Medici to certify the ownership of his discovery he wrote: “HAEC IMMATURA A ME IAM FRUSTRA LEGUNTUR O.Y.”, which can be anagrammed into “CINTHIAE FIGURAS AEMULATUR MATER AMORUM” which means: “Cinzia’s (Venus) appearance imitates the lovers’ mother (the Moon)”

Quite a big job for Giuliano de’ Medici…who had to decrypt it all!


Science wasn’t the only field in which Galileo was particularly talented in.

The scientist was actually a great lutenist as well. His father, Vincenzo, was a composer and a music theorist and he was the one who taught Galileo how to play the lute.

4 – ME OR HIM?

One of Galileo Galilei’s biggest astronomical discoveries was the discovery of Jupiter‘s four main satellites.

But, for a long time, the credit for the discovery was attributed to someone else: the German astronomer Simon Marius.

The two scientist documented the same discovery within days of each other: Marius on December 29, 1609; while Galileo on January 7, 1610. So, for most of the twentieth century, it was believed that Marius was the one who discovered the satellites first.

But then it turned out that Galileo was using the Gregorian calendar, while Marius the Julian one: according to the Gregorian calendar, Marius discovery can be dated to January 8, 1610; one day after Galileo’s!


In addition to various scientific tools, Galileo also designed many unique inventions, like a tomato picker and a combination of candles and mirrors that diverted light towards hallways.

But his most peculiar invention is actually a pocket comb that when needed it turned into an eating utensil. Was it some kind of Swiss army knife?


Even though he never married, Galilei had three children: two daughters, Virginia and Livia and a younger son, Vincenzino.

He was the only legitimized child of the three; his daughters were not, so that Galileo wouldn’t have to pay the dowry for them.

Both Virginia and Livia were taken in by a convent at the request of Galileo himself. Virginia felt called and gladly took her vows to become a cloistered nun. Her sister Livia on the other hand, took them reluctantly in the same convent.


Through the years Galileo has become a pop-culture icon: the scientist’s figure has been used in iconography since the nineteen’s century.

During the twentieth’s century Galileo appeared in many promotional campaigns: you could find him on notebooks, cards, on the Coca-Cola’s bottle caps, on brandy’s bottle labels, even in the Pirelli’s tire commercial.

During the years of the economic boom, Campari decided to use Galileo’s figure in its promotional campaigns as well, specifically on the billboards to promote their bitter beverage.

The picture used in most of the commercials is Galileo’s face from the famous portrait painted by Justus Sustermans, that was then copied by many artists who visited the Uffizi museum, where the original portrait is located.


Galileo’s most famous experiment is certainly the one of the Leaning Tower of Pisa: it is said that Galileo climbed to the top of the tower and let two cannonballs of different masses fall, to demonstrate that the rate of fall is independent from the mass of the body.

Even though it is believed that Galileo actually climbed to the top of the tower to let two cannonballs fall, the majority of historians state that it was probably a thought experiment, through the calculation, not a physical one.


Another famous theory formulated by the scientist is the one of the pendulum and its oscillation.

He came to the breakthrough discovery after observing a chandelier inside of the Cathedral of Pisa: Galilei noticed that the chandelier’s oscillations always had the same duration, even when they decreased the width.

The most interesting part of his theory? To measure the time taken to complete each oscillation he used his own heartbeat as a stopwatch! What a genius!


Many of Galileo’s theories were considered heretical by the Church; especially Catholics heavily criticized Galilei for supporting Copernicus’ heliocentric theory, that put the Sun at the centre of the solar system, instead of the Earth as it was believed at the time.

Galilei was tried and sentenced to house arrest for his arguments and ideas.

All of the allegations made against Galileo were then formally dropped by the Vatican in 1992, almost 400 years after the scientist’s trial. Better late than never…don’t you agree?

These were some fun facts about the famous scientist Galileo Galilei, not only about his great discoveries and scientific experiments but also about him as a person!

If you’re interested in other fun facts check out our video about some interesting facts about coffee. If you want to improve your Italian instead, check out our individual Italian lessons taken by qualified native teachers!

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