Life of Galileo

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Title: Life of Galileo
Genus: Epic theater
Original language: German
Author: Bertolt Brecht
Music: Hanns Eisler
Premiere: September 9, 1943
Place of premiere: Zurich
Place and time of the action: Italy in the 17th century
  • Galileo Galilei
  • Andrea Sarti , Galileo's student since the beginning
  • Mrs. Sarti , mother of Andrea and housekeeper of Galileo
  • Ludovico Marsili , student of Galileo and fiancee of Virginia
  • Virginia , daughter of Galileo, fiancee of Ludovico
  • Sagredo , friend of Galileo
  • Federzoni , the uneducated lens grinder who helps Galileo in his research
  • The little monk (Fulganzio) , monk who lets himself be carried away by science
  • Barberini , cardinal and mathematician who is appointed Pope
  • Bellarmine , friend of Barberini, also a cardinal
  • Inquisitor , a cardinal
  • Mr. Priuli , curator of the University of Padua
  • Clavius , Vatican Supreme Astronomer
  • Cosmo de Medici , childhood adversary of Andreas, Grand Duke of Toscana

Bertolt Brecht's play The Life of Galileo , which he usually describes as an epic piece rather than a drama, was written in 1939 in exile in Denmark and premiered in Zurich on September 9, 1943 . The music was written by Hanns Eisler .

Brecht produced a second, English-language version in Los Angeles in 1945 with the actor Charles Laughton . He put the responsibility of science in the foreground by changing the penultimate image of the piece against the background of the atomic bombs being dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki . While in the original version he was primarily concerned with the presentation of the handling of power (the church), in this version he moved the question of the value and usability of knowledge as well as the political and social conditions of science as a central aspect of the Piece in the foreground.


The life of Galileo in the edition suhrkamp .

The play takes place in Italy of the 17th century , in an era of change and renewal, and extends over a period of 28 years.

The ingenious physicist Galileo Galilei , notoriously lacking in money, improves a telescope constructed in Holland, claims it as his own invention and is rewarded by the city of Padua with 500 scudi salary increase per month. With the help of his telescope he proves the heliocentric Copernican worldview and refutes the idea of ​​the old geocentric Ptolemaic worldview that the earth is the center of the universe.

This leads to a conflict with the Catholic Church, which forbids him to spread his teachings, because the overthrow of the old worldview raises concerns among those in power in church and politics that it may also lead to a social overthrow. After a controversy within the church, Galileo is finally arrested and asked to revoke his new teaching. Contrary to the expectations of his friends and co-workers, he does so when the Inquisition threatens him with torture. Almost completely blinded due to his long observation of the sun, Galileo withdrew in the following years to a country house, which he was no longer allowed to leave and which was closely guarded by the church. When his former student Andrea Sarti comes to visit him, Galileo tells him that he does not want to have a copy of his forbidden writing, the Discorsi , smuggled out of the country, but does not want to take any responsibility for it. Andrea is delighted about this, declares she is ready to take the papers across the border and suspects that Galileo's intention is to revisit the old studies. But Galileo has to disappoint him: He accuses himself of betraying science because he has revoked his teaching for fear of physical pain.

Characterization of Galileo

Galileo Galilei
Wolfgang Heinz as Galilei 1971 at the Berliner Ensemble

Galileo, 46 ​​years old at the beginning of the drama, lives in Padua with his daughter Virginia, his housekeeper Mrs. Sarti and their son Andrea Sarti. He earned his living as a math teacher and through useful inventions, for example a water pump and a telescope, which he copied and improved. Nevertheless, he suffers from a notorious lack of money, so that under pressure from his housekeeper he has to take private students - albeit reluctantly, because he loses time on his research. This becomes particularly clear when the wealthy Ludovico asks for lessons at his mother's request: Because Ludovico is more interested in horses than science, Galileo demands a fee of fifteen instead of the usual ten scudi per month from him (1st picture).

Not much is learned about Galileo's appearance. In view of the fact that he likes to eat a lot, it can be assumed that he is not exactly skinny. His lifestyle as a connoisseur is not cheap and also contributes to his lack of money, which cannot be eliminated even through his meanwhile grown, high reputation all over the world - one knows his name even in Northern Europe.

Galileo researches mainly in the field of physics and astronomy. With his new telescope, he succeeds in revolutionizing the contemporary worldview based on observations of the moon and Jupiter's moons. It proves that it is not the earth but the sun that is the center of the universe, and thus contradicts the position taken by the church. Galileo reacts indignantly to the resulting conflict with the Church. Although the papal astronomer in Rome initially confirmed Galileo's discoveries, his writings are placed on the index. It was only after eight years when a science-friendly Pope ascended the throne that Galileo resumed his research and, to the annoyance of the inquisitor , published his results in Italian, the “idiom of fishwives and wool merchants”, instead of in Latin.

However, Galileo, threatened by the torture of the Inquisition, finally revokes his findings, but continues to research secretly under house arrest. Both sides of his character - scientist and connoisseur - can be recognized by the fact that during the plague he does not think about his health and flees Florence, but instead sticks to his instruments and continues to experiment (5th picture). On the other hand, he is afraid of the torture instruments used by the Inquisition and gives in to the mere sight of them. Later, he risked his eyesight as he ruthlessly explored the sun, and in the end he even risked his life when he made a handwritten copy of his "Discorsi" even though he was under the surveillance of the Inquisition. However, his pious daughter Virginia is not allowed to know about it, because she fears for the salvation of her father's soul and could betray him to the church, even if she would deliver him to the knife.

Galileo constantly pursues his goal of revealing his research and the truth therein to the world. In doing so, he takes little account of economic or socio-political conditions. In his scientific zeal, he steadfastly, sometimes naively, believes in the victory of reason. On hearing the news that the mathematician Barberini is going to be Pope, he begins to announce his research results to the whole people in the local language: “Barberini on the rise! Knowledge will be a passion and research a lust. ”(9th picture). Until the end, Galileo does not give up hope and his belief in human reason. So he manages to give his student Andrea the "Discorsi" without anyone noticing. But when he himself is in danger and is advised to flee (11th picture), he misjudges his situation and falls back into the clutches of the Inquisition. As precise as he is in the field of science and as suspicious as he acts there, he is just as misjudged in political matters. A symbolic indication of this is that in the course of the play Galileo becomes more and more blind - but recognizes the connections in the world much better.

Galileo's relationship with other people is very different. While he looks after and brings up Andrea, the son of his housekeeper, almost like a father, he seems to care very little about his own daughter. Because Andrea shows an interest in science, while Virginia is more interested in church and household and is therefore little valued by her father (3rd picture).

Galileo's idea of ​​the scientist is not limited to research, but also to its origin and use. He cooperates with his scientific colleagues as long as they are willing to serve only science. But those who hide the truth for the good of the Church are in his eyes "criminals", as is clear from his meeting with the little monk Fulganzio (8th picture) and with the scholar Mucius (9th picture). But anyone who shares his enthusiasm for research meets Galileo without prejudice. His lens grinder Federzoni, for example, is no worse scientist for him, just because he has no command of Latin. The same freedom from prejudice is also shown in the fact that at the age of ten he encouraged Andrea, the son of his housekeeper, and found him worthy to understand great physics. Galileo thus makes himself the advocate of the little man who does not represent the interests of the authorities, but is actively committed to the people. He revolutionized science by dispensing with the incomprehensible Latin terminology and making his research accessible to everyone.

In the 14th picture of the play it becomes clear that Galileo missed the unique world-historical opportunity for natural science to take a vow that obliges it to serve only the good of humanity. His high level of fame and the fact that he was originally friends with the Pope and that he was also a scientist, might have made such a vow, which still does not exist today, possible at the time. Instead, in the end, Galileo confesses his human weaknesses, his fear of “physical pain”, torture, and his preference for “worldly pleasures”. It is no coincidence that his last sentences are about food: “I have to eat now. I still like to eat. "

The importance of place and action

At the beginning of the plot, Galileo is in the Republic of Venice, more precisely in Padua, where he pursues his scientific research on new territory freely and without fear of the Inquisition. He's working with the state here to get a raise. The unrestricted scientific work of Galileo in the Republic of Venice is mainly due to the geographical and economic situation. In Galileo's time, Venice was a free trading city ruled by the citizenry. This liberalism allows Galileo unlimited research - but only in principle: In Venice Galileo is scientifically free, but financially dependent on the stingy city-state. In contrast, the Medici feudal city of Florence is dominated by the nobility and high clergy. Here science has to serve the fame and expansion of power of the court and is therefore dependent on its interests in its content. Science in Florence is subject to the prevailing ideology there, but receives generous financial support. Galileo wanted to take advantage of this generosity by moving to the Florentine court, but he lost his scientific freedom.

Figure constellation

Brecht often appointed citizens and merchants to represent the new era, and large landowners and church representatives for the old era.

Large landowners and church representatives were influential and wealthy at the time and accordingly did not have the need for change, but preferred to stick to the old. In addition, the church representatives referred to interpretations of the Bible and ancient scriptures and were therefore not open to new ideas. The merchants and citizens, on the other hand, were worse off, so their desire for change was great.

With his figure constellation, Brecht set a sign that a social reorganization was absolutely necessary at the time described. The common people, like the bourgeoisie and merchants, who have suffered for years under the rule of the nobility and the clergy, are pushing their way to the top with the new knowledge and ideas of the world order and thus endangering the political and social position of the court and above all of the court Church. With the dawn of a new era in which people are beginning to think rationally, the centuries-old position of the Church has been shaken.

Brecht wants to achieve this effect of human rethinking and human reason with his epic theater, so that even structures and paradigms that have been established over the years cannot be understood as self-evident, but rather can be changed.

Fig. 1: The turn of the century / Galileo's figure conception (exposition)

Pictures from the sea

Galileo Galilei often uses images from the field of seafaring. On the one hand, he uses these as illustrative examples; on the other hand, he refers to the beginning of the age of great discoveries in the 15th century, such as the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus in 1492, or the finding of the sea route to Africa and India.

Great discoveries in astronomy and science in general are pending in the 17th century. From the 17th century to the 18th century, science remains the matter of small elite groups and is usually of little public interest. Only later does the interest in this area increase.

In the first picture, Galileo makes the comparison that the ships used to "crawl" along the coast for fear of falling down in the middle of the ocean, and suddenly sailed across all seas with renewed courage and scientific knowledge. This is carried over to the social situation, which is about to change as soon as new banks are discovered.

How is Galileo presented to the viewer in the first picture?

Galileo is in a room and is busy with his morning toilet. He appears in a good mood despite his financial worries, as the viewer learns immediately afterwards.

Right at the beginning his competence as a teacher comes to the fore when he tries to explain the Copernican view of the world very clearly to his ten-year-old student Andrea. He appears critical of traditional truths and of belief, willing to experiment and open-minded. Almost euphoric and full of optimism, he looks forward to the new age. His own conviction does not leave him in doubt that the rest of society can be influenced so quickly by the new scientific findings. In this respect he seems downright naive.

His sometimes very simple way of speaking ("You connect the ox that threshes there, the mouth" - reference to the Bible, p. 20) and his refusal to speak Latin, show that he is not aloof and is normal Citizens, contrary to the aristocrats, want to express understandably.

Image 4: Galileo's unsuccessful attempt to convince the scholars

Galileo's persuasion fails because of the great differences between him and the scholars. On the one hand the scholars want to dispute with Galileo, whereas Galileo wants to convince them with empiricism. However, they are not ready to get involved. They refuse, for example, to look through the telescope and see for themselves, as Andrea does as a student of Galileo. Another crucial point for failure is the different language. So the scholars use the Latin language, Galileo, on the other hand, uses the simple vernacular and even asks the scholars to use it too, in order to enable the lens grinder Federzoni, who has no knowledge of Latin, to understand. The main reason for failure, however, is due to their different understanding of the world. So the scholars rely on the testimony of antiquity, the church fathers, and give more faith to ancient teachings such as that of Aristotle . Galileo, on the other hand, relies on his own five senses and doubts the existing theories if they cannot be reconciled with his observations and the calculations based on them.

The argument structure

The scholars argue that, according to the ancient world and the Church Fathers, the existence of such stars is not possible. Furthermore, they object that in view of the harmony of the old worldview, these stars are not "necessary". Above all, however, they question the reliability of the telescope and accuse Galileo of fraud. According to the philosophers, Aristotle's teachings cannot be wrong, as even the high church fathers recognized them.

Galileo, on the other hand, tries to refute the Ptolemaic system by pointing out the difficulties in calculating the movements of the stars, such as discrepancies between the calculated and the actual location of the stars or that inexplicable movements occur. To prove that the moons of Jupiter actually exist, he takes a look through the telescope. He argues that what you see with your own eyes is the truth. Finally, he uses vivid examples from everyday life.

Evaluation of the arguments

The scholars try to use Latin expressions to give their arguments “more shine”, which clearly shows that they are otherwise less than convincing. With the reference to the confirmation of old theories by high institutions, the counterpart is forced to place himself on a higher level in order to refute this argument. By doubting the correctness of the telescope, they embarrass Galileo, who does not succeed in providing counter-evidence without further ado.

Galileo, on the other hand, argues very vividly and in such a way that it would basically be logical and easily understandable for every child. However, he in no way goes into the scholars or tries to make himself understandable to them in their own way, which is why his way of reasoning ultimately inevitably fails, especially since they do not look at all through his telescope. Finally, the dispute is broken off due to lack of time and the conflict remains unresolved.

Figure 6: Linking the astronomical worldview and society / human image

The representatives of the ancient doctrine take themselves particularly seriously because they believe that they are God's highest and most valued creatures. Thus they perceive the heliocentric worldview as an insult and degradation of themselves. With the recognition of the heliocentric worldview they would have had to give themselves a lower rank, which they resist. As a result, they come into conflict with the representatives of the new worldview. Above all, the church does everything to prevent the establishment of the heliocentric worldview, because this also called into question their authority and significance and, ultimately, their power.

Figure 7: Representation of the church as secular authority

In the 7th picture, the viewer accompanies Galileo on a visit to Bellarmin's Cardinal Palace, where a ball is currently in progress. The ball guests are all masked. With the masking of those present, Brecht alludes to concealment and hypocrisy in the church ranks. Two clergy secretaries play chess in the vestibule and take notes about the guests. The church is shown here controlling, as a violation of the right to privacy and freedom of expression. Galileo asks the secretaries why they are still playing the old chess , in which one cannot make big leaps. He praises the new way of playing, where you have space and can make plans. To the reply of one secretary that big leaps do not correspond to their salaries, Galileo replies that on the contrary, the church pays the wasteful the most (“Whoever lives big, they pay the biggest boot!”, P. 65). Brecht hereby draws a church that is carefree and irresponsible with its money, which it invests in pomp and bribes. The outdated way of playing and Galileo's advice “You have to move with the times” (p. 65) point to Brecht's view of the church as a backward institution that is unwilling to rethink its principles.

Brecht introduces a very old cardinal who is unsure of Galileo. The old age and the resulting insecurity of the high church prince underscores Brecht's portrayal of the church as an outdated system that closes off all attempts at reform and new knowledge, like an old, stubborn man who does not want to give up his decades of tried and tested practices.

Cardinals Bellarmine and Barberini are introduced with masks of a lamb and a dove. The lamb symbolizes the lamb of God, a vulnerable and innocent creature of God. The dove is a symbol of the Holy Spirit and peace. With the peculiarity that these properties only exist as a mask, Brecht denies the church these. Under the harmless mask of godliness and peace, the church hides political and financial interests (“It is my mask that allows me a little freedom today”, p. 70).

In the further conversation Barberini reports on the earthly pleasures of Rome in the form of "three or four ladies of international repute" (p. 67). At this point Brecht emphasizes the worldliness and viciousness of the high Roman church princes.

A basic attitude of Brecht becomes particularly evident in the quotation duel (p. 66 f.) Between Galileo and Barberini. The originally biblical quotations are taken to absurdity by the debaters, as they contain political or scientific and non-religious messages. Brecht does not want Galileo's struggle to be understood as a religious one, but rather as a socio-political one about which the viewer can form his own opinion.

Picture 11

In the eleventh scene, which takes place around 1633, the explorer Galileo Galilei is ordered to Rome, where the Inquisition receives him. Galileo and his daughter Virginia wait in the Medici's house in Florence to be admitted to the Grand Duke Cosmo. He wanted to bring his latest book over to him and therefore asked for an audience. Shortly afterwards, Mr. Gaffone, the director of the university, comes down the stairs and, ignoring them, walks past them, although the director is a talkative man and liked to get involved in profound conversations with Galileo. Next, Vanni, the iron caster for whom Galileo developed a melting plant, enters the scene. He tries to clarify the position of the researcher and advises him to go to Venice because of the great danger that awaits him in Rome and Florence. In addition, Vanni offers him a possibility of escape, which also means a great danger for him, but Galileo refuses. When Galileo realizes the gravity of the situation and wants to flee, it is already too late. He is brought to Rome in a car.

This scene clearly shows the power play between churches, princes and the business world. The churches fear for the position of faith and fear people's doubts that could refute the whole of biblical history. They are doing everything to remove this doubt and secure their position. The princes, who of course are partly dependent on the church authorities, try to support them as best they can. The business world, on the other hand, takes the side of the scientist, as he can guarantee them new technology, progress and thus more profit and performance.

The people standing for this are Cosmo and Vanni. Cosmo is a Grand Duke and therefore completely dependent on the Pope. Therefore he tries to rise in his favor. But even the Pope himself, whom Galileo trusts and whose reason he pleads, is only interested in the question of power and the position of the Church. Vanni, in turn, sees that it is time for a new era and that it is not worth insisting on old beliefs. It stands for the general business world. Galileo's problem is that he cannot tell friend from foe and only realizes too late what is threatening him. He is a rationally thinking person and forgets that political and economic interests are at stake in this dispute.

Brecht uses only individual representatives who are confronted with Galileo to represent these various interest groups. Mr. Gaffone, the director, shows the power the church has over the people and the reverence the people have for the church. He normally enjoys talking to a scholar like Galileo, but the pressure of the Inquisition fears him to openly communicate with Galileo. Vanni, on the other hand, tries to help him and continues to treat the researcher with respect and respect. Galileo appreciates this and yet he does not see that the iron caster wants to help him. Cosmo only deals with Galileo to the extent that decency demands. However, he tries not to go into Galileo's research and rejects his book, which was the real reason for Galileo's visit. The high official and the individual, who also appear on the scene, stand for the Inquisition and the mistrust of the church towards Galileo. Galileo has very weak eyes due to his old age and the many hours in front of the telescope, so Virginia has to take on the role of the seer. Her father takes on more of the role of a listener in this scene, since he only has a very small portion of the speech.

Image 12: Pope and scientist

In the 12th picture of the drama there is a conversation between Pope Urban VIII, the former Cardinal Barberini, and the Inquisitor. With a long, argumentative speech, the inquisitor successfully tries to persuade the Pope to forbid Galileo's teaching.

As an argument, the Inquisitor cites the use of the vernacular Galileo in his notes, which he sees as a danger to the authorities. A reference to Brecht's position can be established here. As a Marxist, he strives to dissolve all social classes and the vernacular in this context means that every social class can understand his research and results.

The external circumstances of the conversation

The conversation takes place in the Pope's room in the Vatican; H. the inquisitor goes to the Pope with his request. This person is dressed during the audience, which means that at least one other person is present in the room. From the outside “the shuffling of many feet” (p. 105) can be heard (“This shuffling makes me nervous. Excuse me if I always listen.”, P. 107; “This trampling in the corridors is unbearable.”, P 108).

The aspect that the interlocutors are not alone suggests that the Pope cannot respond to the Inquisitor's remarks without thinking about his surroundings. The simultaneous dressing and the restlessness in the environment distract the Pope's attention and in this context also contribute to the Pope's premature giving in to the demands of the Inquisitor. This is also noticeable through the distribution of the language components (initially Pope: very little, Inquisitor: very much; later the other way around) and the stage directions. While the Pope, who embodies a kind of mediator role between Galileo and the Inquisitor, is presented at the beginning as a mathematician and “friend” of Galileo, at the end of the conversation he is “in full regalia” (p. 108) and has to fulfill his role as Pope pursue.

The levels of argument of the inquisitor

In order to achieve his goal, the inquisitor grabs the Pope by his vanity when he stands before him, fully dressed and in full regalia. When the Pope asked whether the whole world was coming, the Inquisitor replied “Not all of them, but their best part” (p. 108).

In the conversation it becomes clear that the Inquisitor has a conservative view of the world. He criticizes that people are beginning to doubt and no longer fully trust God. He also addresses the war with the Protestants, which they threaten to lose through the intervention of scientists ("[...] that you are in a secret alliance with Lutheran Swedes in order to weaken the Catholic emperor", p. 106) . The aim of the conservative clergy is particularly expressed in the Inquisitor's argument. They demand the unity of faith through spiritual alignment and totality.

In addition to the religious and political aspects, the inquisitor also points out the personal threat to the Pope. He reports that people no longer need the church because they have found a kind of replacement and could therefore quickly rebel against the church (“If the weaver's boat wove by itself and the zither mallet played by itself, then the masters needed no journeymen and the masters no servants ”, p. 107). The inquisitor claims that Galileo “incites” and “bribes” (p. 107) people and thus endangers the church as a spiritual authority. He reports on Galileo's book, in which the church is portrayed as stupid, and as a result reaches the outrage of the Pope, who sees his trust in this man as unjustified.

The role of the Pope

The Pope is in a difficult position in this picture. His scientific experience and his affiliation with the mathematicians initially produce a certain solidarity in his adherence to the teachings of Galileo. Initially he trusts mathematics and strictly refuses to forbid the teachings of Galileo ("I will not let the calculation table break. No!", P. 105). But already in his first reply to the Inquisitor's argumentation, he shows uncertainty, since he is solely concerned with the question of taste in Galileo's behavior ("That shows very bad taste; I'll tell him that.", P. 107), instead of the content Points received.

His trust initially in the words of Galileo (“He held on to it.”, P. 108) and, as a direct consequence, his distrust of them and his trust in the words of the Inquisitor testify to the great influence of the Pope, a quality that already exists is indicated by his almost childlike behavior at the beginning of the picture (“No! No! No!”, p. 105).

The Pope is primarily interested in his continued claim to power, since he can only be convinced by the Inquisitor after he has recognized the personal threat posed by Galileo's writings.

The cardinal and mathematician Barberini became Pope in the course of the conversation, which is also shown visually during this conversation in the form of Barberini dressing as Pope, and as a consequence he now begins to think and act as Pope. He gives in to the arguments of the inquisitor and has Galileo's teaching forbidden.

The role of the church

The Church is in a dilemma, illustrated in this picture with the example of the star maps. On the one hand, she wants to maintain her power in the world and thus has to prohibit the new scientific teachings, but on the other hand she has material interests that dictate her to allow the new, valuable star maps of Galileo. While recognizing and accepting the nautical charts, she paradoxically denies the accuracy of the knowledge on which they are based (“One cannot condemn the doctrine and take the star charts”, p. 107).

Figure 14: Revocation and its consequences

Conversation Analysis

After Galileo revoked his teachings in picture 13, he lived with his daughter Virginia and a watchful monk in a country house near Florence as a life prisoner of the Inquisition from 1633 to 1642. A few years have passed since the last picture.

Andrea Sarti, who has meanwhile become a middle-aged man and has not seen Galileo again since that fateful day of the revocation ("You never came.", P. 118), visits Galileo in a country house.

Andrea, who completely turned away from his teacher after the revocation ("He was his student. So he is now his enemy.", P. 118), is, as he himself often emphasizes, on the way to Holland, where he wants to work scientifically. He was asked to report on Galileo's condition. This fact suggests that Andrea does not visit Galileo of his own free will, but only tries to do his duty. He does not have great expectations of the conversation or the course of the conversation. The conversation seems to him rather annoying and shameful, since his attitude towards the teacher has changed from admiration to contempt since the revocation ("Wineskin, snail-eater! Have you saved your beloved skin? I'm sick.", P. 113). He goes into the conversation with the intention of clearly showing his contempt for Galileo and his low esteem for his former actions.

Galileo, marked by old age and illness, hopes that Andreas' visit will make a statement and the publication of his works. Since he himself is denied contact with the public, Andrea offers him an opportunity to spread his old teachings again and for the first time his new knowledge. His expectations of the conversation are therefore very high, also for the reason that it means his first contact with his former friends.

During the dialogue between Andrea and Galileo, Virginia and the monk are present at the beginning. Andrea begins with the cool, clichéd question about one's state of health, which Galileo does not go into, but instead immediately poses a counter-question to Andrea's scientific work. And Andrea does not answer the interlocutor's question either and returns to his original question about Galileo's feelings, but now adds that it is not he who is interested in the answer, but that he only has the task to inquire. With this distant introduction, Andrea clearly shows how he feels about his former teacher. Galileo now answers his question and adds to the message that he feels deeply repentant and devotes himself to scientific studies under spiritual control.

Andrea meets this narrative with some sarcasm, with which he criticizes the church's satisfaction with Galileo since the revocation ("We too heard that the church is satisfied with you. Your complete submission has worked", p. 119). He continues his speech directly with an allegation by reporting that science has stagnated since the submission of Galileo ("that no work with new claims has been published in Italy since you submitted", p. 119). Galileo knows how to interpret these allusions, but in view of the circumstances of the conversation (presence of the monk and Virginia) he is forced to express himself with hypocritical regret that some countries may oppose the Church and spread condemned teachings. Andrea, since his first accusation did not meet with the approval he had probably hoped for, starts a new attempt at provocation. When asked about a certain scholar, Andrea again reacts subliminally offensive (“When you heard of your revocation, he stuffed his treatise on the nature of light into the drawer”, p. 119). Despite the multitude of provocations on the part of Andrew, Galileo remains calm and self-controlled. He deliberately avoids the accusations of Andreas, even emphasizes his knowledge of earlier errors and his current loyalty to church doctrine, for example with the question “which I have led on the path of error. Have you been informed by my revocation? ”(P. 120). In response to this question, Andrea declares his departure for Holland. The conversation develops into a report by Andreas about the whereabouts and scientific work of Federzoni and the little monk. Frequent and often long pauses show that the conversation is halting and in some embarrassment. This can be explained on the one hand by the long time that has passed since their last encounter and on the other hand by the supposed alienation of their thoughts. For the first time, however, there is a slight familiarity between him and Galileo in Andrew's stories, despite his aggressive narrative style. He is happy to hear from his former friend, which becomes clear in his laugh (p. 120). After he raves about his “mental recovery” (p. 120), he sends his daughter out harshly. The suspicious monk follows her out.

This is the turning point in the conversation between Andrea and Galileo. After Andrea urges to leave, Galileo answers in a more confidential tone. He asks why Andrea came. He explains to him that he has become more careful and should not be disturbed because he has relapsed. Only after the monk has left the room does Galileo react to Andrew's hostility by admitting that he has not forgotten his teachings and declaring that he still believes in them. The initial distrust of Andreas suddenly turns into enthusiasm when Galileo tells how he finished writing the "Discorsi", notes on mechanics and the laws of fall (p. 121). The enthusiasm turns into horror when Andrea learns that the church approves Galileo's letter and keeps its results in custody ("The 'Discorsi' in the hands of the monks! And Amsterdam, London and Prague are starving for it!", P. 121; “Two new branches of knowledge as good as lost!”, P. 121). At this point it is up to Galileo to be sarcastic. He scoffs at scholars who are safe and who demand books from him, and reports of his exhausting undertaking to make a copy out of vanity in secret. At Andreas' insistence, he hands them over to him, although he is aware of the risk ("it is the height of folly to hand them over", p. 121). For this reason he gives Andrea all responsibility and admonishes him to keep Galileo out of the matter. This agreement introduces the reconciliation between Andrew and Galileo. Andrea, now convinced of Galileo's moral innocence and overwhelmed by the joy of his copy, apologizes for his slander against Galileo and in return he recognizes the need for Andrea's action.

In order to explain Galileo's previous revocation, Andrea now develops a theory that Galileo acted out of tactics. In the following section of the picture Andrea is gaining more and more speech shares, after these were previously distributed very evenly. He devotedly explains Galileo's genius in the fight against the Church and for science, which, according to him, is based on the thesis that a living fighter can achieve more than a man condemned to death (“They came back: I have revoked, but I will live . - Your hands are stained, we said. - They say: Better stained than empty. ", P. 122;" that they merely withdrew from a hopeless political brawl to continue the actual business of science. ", P. 123). However, Galileo reacts cautiously and skeptically to Andrea's remarks (“Aha.”, P. 123). This culminates in his statement "I withdrew because I feared physical pain.", P. 123, with which he refutes Andreas' theory and thus proves his loyal connection to the truth. And here, too, Andrea reacts in a conciliatory manner, because despite this confession he forgives his former teacher ("Science knows only one commandment: the scientific contribution:", p. 124).

In the further course of the dialogue, the dominance of the speech is reversed, as Galileo brings up his own accusation with very long speeches. He condemns his withdrawal, while Andrea defends him. The situation is completely reversed at the end of the dialogue, as Andrea gives up his opinion, which Galileo surprisingly now represents himself, which has been firmly entrenched for years.

Galileo's self-accusation

Galileo sees the fight against ecclesiastical repression lost through him. He fears further machinations of the church, while people are kept stupid by superstition and the Bible ("old words", p. 124). The doubt that science created is now again transformed into blind belief in the so-called immutability of the divine order and thus the inevitable state of the wealth of the church and the misery of the common people. Galileo's doubt offered the chance of overthrow as people looked at him and hoped the church feared him. He regrets his withdrawal and imagines the possible positive consequences for a resistance, especially since he is convinced that because of his strength (p. 126) he was never really endangered.

Galileo sees two goals in scientific work. The social struggle between the ruling apparatus of the ecclesiastical authorities and the elementary needs of the poor people, as well as the internal scientific struggle that takes place for him between two goals. On the one hand the aim “to ease the toil of human existence” (p. 125) and on the other hand the aim “to accumulate knowledge for the sake of knowledge” (p. 125). Galileo himself pursues the first of the two goals, because in his eyes the other only leads to mutilation.

At this point, Brecht makes political reference to the world situation at the time the drama was written around 1938/39. He condemns the planning of the atomic bomb, which in his opinion could cause a disaster ("[...] and your new machines may only mean new tribulations. In time you may discover everything there is to be discovered, and your progress will only a progress away from humanity. The gap between you and you may one day become so great that your cry of joy at some new achievement could be answered by a universal cry of horror. ", pp. 125 f.).

Galileo comes to the conclusion that because of his shameful betrayal of science he can no longer be a scientist (p. 126).

The thesis is that Galileo, through his repudiation, has indeed enriched science in its one goal, the accumulation of knowledge, but betrayed the other goal, which is to make life easier for people. Brecht calls this “original sin” [from “The price or condemnation of Galileo?”] Galileo and even goes so far as to call the atom bomb the “classic end product of his scientific achievement and his social failure”. This is echoed in the 14th picture, when he lets Galileo say that he would have had the historically unique chance to bring about a "vow" from the scientists to "use their knowledge solely for the benefit of mankind" (p. 126).

Epic structural elements

Since the life of Galileo does not consistently follow Brecht's drama theory of epic theater , Brecht calls it a formal step backwards in his work journal. On the contrary, a few sections can be found here that are structured in a classical Aristotelian way. Many typical elements of epic theater, which can be found in The Good Man of Sezuan , for example , are missing. An epic structural element that is present are the numerous reflection dialogues, which represent a reflective and commentary perspective and complement and alienate the actual stage plot. Another means used is the juxtaposition of images with contrasting content that follow one another closely. In the 6th picture, the papal Collegium Romanum sets in motion a thought process that exposes the ambivalent attitude of the church, which on the one hand wants to benefit from Galileo, but on the other hand persecutes him. This means of contrasting can also be found in the language of the piece: Many sentences have an antithetical structure, thus juxtaposing two contradicting theses: “The old time is over, it's a new time” (p. 9), “Should we base human society on doubt and no longer on faith? ” (p. 105). Another element of alienation is the comedy that is created when, for example, an acting person exposes himself to ridicule by refuting himself or when language and action are in an obvious contradiction to one another, as in the 6th picture, as the old one Cardinal, after arrogantly announcing that "it is irrefutably everything depends on me, the person" , collapses exhausted. The often quoted passages from the Bible are also a stylistic device of epic theater. The biblical quotations, originally in a religious context, are often quoted from all sides to justify political and social positions and are thus placed in a completely alien context. B. in the quote duel between Galileo and the two cardinals in the 7th picture. Ironically, the cardinals' supposed quotes from the Bible are not quotes from the Bible at all.

According to Marcel Reich-Ranicki , the play is an examination of the processes in the Soviet Union. Some of Galileo's statements stem from the Bukharin trial .


  • Bertolt Brecht: Life of Galileo . edition Suhrkamp Vol. 1, 1963 (= first volume of the edition series)
  • Bertolt Brecht: Life of Galileo . Suhrkamp Verlag 1998, ISBN 978-3-518-18801-9 (Suhrkamp Basis Library).

Secondary literature

See also

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. A statement by Galileo from the 7th picture supports this assumption: “It is said that it is easy to look beautiful in the Roman spring. Even I have to look like a bigger Adonis ”.
  2. ^ Karl-Heinz Hahnengress: Klett reading aid: Life of Galilei. Klett, Stuttgart 1992, ISBN 3-12-922311-8 , p. 5.
  3. The Literary Quartet Special - Bertolt Brecht (August 11, 2006)
  4. intended for 11. – 13. Class. Primarily for teachers as a lesson proposal and material. With CD-ROM