The Battle For Truth
Throughout the course of history, from era to era, mankind has been on a continuous attempt to perpetuate what they perceive as the truth; and in doing so, embark on a quest to find their true identity and place in life. One must realize that the common theme in all literature is the search for identity and belonging. Bertolt Brecht, author of “The Life of Galileo,” effectively uses the developing character Galileo Galilei to portray a strong message; a message which five hundred years after the fact has still not been completely comprehended. Through Galileo’s continuous battle with the Church in prevailing his work, Brecht is telling the readers that in any one man’s attempt to propagate the truth, whether it be in terms of literature, discoveries or new technologies, there is always an opposing power to suppress this new found truth. In doing so, it is through such opposing power against the search for truth which suppress our ability to think. In a sincere attempt to eliminate the common generalization that “Science is the devil”, Brecht uses Galileo’s external struggles such as those with the church. The writer also uses his personal internal struggles as a basis for developing Galileo’s character to inform readers of the common yet false misconception of Science and the truth.
In many instances throughout the course of this play, “The Life of Galileo”, Brecht is found to use Galileo’s struggles with the church and the public as one of the vital backbones of his message. It is quite apparent that Galileo is fighting a battle with the church throughout the play to further spread his findings to enlighten citizens about the scientific truth of the universe beyond ficticious traditional religious values. The church, which served the purpose of the the governments in Italy at that time (around 1600’s), consists of the popes and the Italian Renaissance. Drawn from the nobility, the Italian Renaissance are ruthless politicians whose central goal is the expansion of their political power. In an understandable sense, Galileo’s new findings and teachings pose a serious and susceptible threat to the government’s (church’s) scheme of expansion and power. The church fears the lack of strength in the people’s belief in religion because the fundamental structure of religion is the people themselves. Galileo’s theories in Science and his views on the Copernicus System and the Book of Discourses would advance and transform the society. Development and change are issues which the church fears due to the fact that advancement undermine the strength of the chruch when changes are brought to religion. The church’s opinion and attitude towards Galileo’s discoveries are clearly outlined by Sagredo on Pg. 23 as he states:
“Do you think the Popes will hear your truth and say ‘Wonderful, I’m wrong.’ Do you think he’ll even listen to you? …When I saw you just now, at the telescope, looking at your new stars – I saw you standing on burning logs. When I heard you say ‘I believe in reason’ – I smelt burnt flesh.” (Brecht 23)
What Brecht is telling us through the use of Galileo and his stubborn and persistent need to present his findings, is that even though one is presented with adversities, in Galileo’s case, the church, one must continue to use reason to spread the truth. In any case, Galileo believes that religion does not necessarily have to be sacrificed in order to advance a society in terms of technology. At this point in the play, he believes that the use of reason can overcome any obstacle in the attempt to prevail the truth; in a sense, what Brecht is telling the readers through Galileo’s stance against the church is that the ability to think, innovate, and propagate the truth are the key requirments that will enhance our society. In this case, Galileo is faced time and time again with adversaries that tell him to stop what he is doing and to follow the Church’s orders. On page 40, the Old Cardinal tells Galileo that if he is to continue with his research, then he will be exemplifying atheism:
VERY OLD CARDINAL: You want to degrade God, though it gives you life and all you have. ….Everything is irrefutably seen to depend on me, man, the work of God, the creature at the centre, the image of God,…. (Brecht 40)
LITTLE MONK: …You’ve won.
GALILEO: It has won! Not me, reason has won! (Brecht 40)
After the Old Cardinal implicitly tells Galileo that his research and teachings symbolize atheism, he is approached by Clavius whom tells Galileo that he is right and that he is invited to Rome to show his research. It is interesting to see Galileo’s response in crediting “reason” for his achievement. It is here where the reader sees Galileo’s thoughts and perceptions on life; that science and its achievements should not only be credited to the founder yet the society that encourages these findings; that the progress of human kind as a whole should be the objective of inventions. Using Galileo, Brecht continuously stresses these points throughout the play and is making it clear that he is against the notion of the discouragement of ideas, inventions, and thinking.
Although external forces such as the church and other characters do not influence Galileo’s personal belief, there are also internal forces, such as the battle against self, that also influence Galileo’s perception on both his work and human kind. It is through his experiences with Andrea, the young protg of Galileo, that we see the character of Galileo at the beginning of the play. In the earlier parts of the play, the reader sees Galileo as a courageous man who is always in pursuit for truth and reason; Galileo increases his power over his students, namely Andrea, as the former overcomes more difficulties in discovering the truth. Andrea immediately feels angry and insulted when others challenge Galileo’s discoveries; as seen on page 29, Andrea is upset due to the fact that the scholars do not share congruence with Galileo:
SARTI: What’s up with you?
ANDREA: They’re stupid. He tears himself away and runs off.
This particulare scene illustrates how Andrea worships Galileo and his dedication to Galileo’s theories.
However, throughout the course of this play, instead of seeing a positive growth on the part of Galileo’s character, we notice that Galileo’s character is deteriorating as he continuosly fights battles with himself. His priorities as outlined in the earlier stages of the play, namely those of him being courageous and overcoming any struggle in pursuit for the truth and knowledge, are now in question as his will to continue his research slowly declines. On page 40, we recognize the first signs of his loss of motivation on Galileo’s part; after his conversation with the Little Monk, Galileo halts his research which he has been conducting for the past eight years. The Little Monk uses his family’s fate and suffering to prove his point; the point being that Galileo’s new discoveries will surely upset the society and bring distruption amongst the people.
In the final stages of the play, we see a surprising and shocking side of Galileo as he recants his findings and teachings. It is then that one can say that Galileo’s search for self has ended; he is quick to regret the fact that he has recanted and is demoralized by his actions:
“I have betrayed my profession. A man who does what I have done cannot be tolerated in the ranks of science.” (Brecht 85)
Accompanied by the fact that Galileo realizes what he did is wrong, one can also argue that he realizes that the actions of any one human plays a vital role in the progress of society and its mentality; he realizes that science is not merely a group of ‘inventive dwarfs’. Instead, science is a way of life. The book of discourses (dealing with the laws of motion), that was published after Galileo’s recantation, represents a way in which Galileo can contemplate for his unethical and immoral acts by generating knowledge to the public. Although Galileo reassures the making of science by making the book of discourses, nothing can ever bring compensation to the harm which he brought on humanity and the way in which he destroyed the meaning of sacrifice.
Through Galileo’s quest for identity, Brecht is once again sending us a strong
message; to think that even a character as strong and sure as Galileo can be altered and
changed for the worst, really leaves the readers pondering on one thought; in the journey
of prevailing the truth, there will always be an opposing structure that will pose an
adversary. One must learn from Galileo’s life that sacrifice in the way of progression of
a society should be recognized and encouraged; Galileo might have failed to show the
meaning of sacrifice, but he taught us to think, take risks and understand the true significance of science.