Galileo's Dialogo: Censorship and Early Modern Science

Posted on September 24, 2019

By Ute Schechter - Warren E. Burger Archivist

In honor of Banned Books Week (September 22-28), we're republishing a blog post from Ute Schechter on a clandestine edition of Galileo's Dialogo found in the Special Collections Research Center. Read on to learn more about her investigation of censorship and early modern science publications.

Dialogo's title page, featuring text that alternates line-by-line from black to red. A small print illustration takes up the bottom third of the page, depicting an unidentified bowl on top of what appears to be a wooden box or chest.
The title page of Galileo's Dialogo, published "In Fiorenza"

Among an array of early modern science books in the Special Collections Research Center is a copy of the second Italian edition of Galileo Galilei’s Dialogo or Dialogue concerning the two chief world systems, Ptolemaic and Copernican, published in 1710 (QB41 .G13 - Rare Books)

Something that intrigued several William & Mary students when presented this volume was the fact that the book’s title page lists ‘Fiorenza’ (Florence) as its publication place, whereas the bibliographic record states that the book was actually printed in Naples. While I was able to explain in general terms the then rather common practice of falsifying publication information as a protection from censorship, I was curious to find out a bit more about this particular case.

When Galileo (1564-1642) first published his Dialogo in 1632, defending the Copernican heliocentric view of our cosmos, the Catholic Church put him under house arrest and banned not just the Dialogo but also all of Galileo’s earlier writings. This censorship only fueled the demand for his works and several editions of his writings were published in France, England and the Netherlands throughout the 17th century. But as far as Italian editions were concerned, the 1710 printing of the Dialogo was only the second of its kind, due to the fact that it remained on the Index of Forbidden Books. And so it should not come as a surprise that an identifying printer’s mark or publisher’s device was missing from the volume. With this information missing, how do we know who was responsible for this clandestine undertaking? And that it had indeed taken place in Naples instead of Florence?

The sources I consulted enlightened me to the fact that the introductory letter to the reader at the beginning of the volume provides us with an important clue: the signature Cellenio Zacclori is (with the exception of one missing letter) an anagram for Lorenzo Ciccarelli, a Neapolitan lawyer who ran a print shop in Naples that specialized in the publication of forbidden books.

According to Vincenzo Ferrone, there is evidence that Ciccarelli’s shop was tolerated by some of the more progressive members of the Catholic Church, which helps to explain how he was able to elude shut-down by the authorities. Both Ferrone and Mayaud, cited below, are fascinating reads if you are interested in the history of science and the enlightenment.

Last page of Cicarelli's letter (in Italian) to the reader of Galileo's Dialogo. The letter is signed "Cellenio Zacclori" at the bottom of the page, an anagram for Cicarelli's real name.
Cicarelli’s letter to the reader, signed ‘Cellenio Zacclori.’

References and More to Explore:

Library catalog entry for Galileo's Dialogo, found in the Special Collections Research Center.

Ferrone, Vincenzo. 1995. The intellectual roots of the Italian Enlightenment: Newtonian science, religion, and politics in the early eighteenth century. Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, p. 34-35, 186-187, 334.

Mayaud, Pierre-Noël. 1997. La condamnation des livres coperniciens et sa révocation à la lumière de documents inédits des Congrégations de l’Index et de l’Inquisition. Roma: Editrice Pontificia Università Gregoriana, p. 113-118.