Letters to Father: Suor Maria Celeste to Galileo, 1623-1633 [NOOK Book]


When she was 13, Virginia Galilei, eldest daughter of the great scientist Galileo, was placed by her father in a convent near him in Florence and took the name Suor Maria Celeste. Unable to see him except on his occasional visits, she wrote him continually, as her 124 surviving letters (which Galileo kept) attest. Now, for the first time, all of these letters are reproduced in English, translated by Dava Sobel, and in their original Italian, and Ms. Sobel has also written an introduction and annotations ...
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Letters to Father: Suor Maria Celeste to Galileo, 1623-1633

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When she was 13, Virginia Galilei, eldest daughter of the great scientist Galileo, was placed by her father in a convent near him in Florence and took the name Suor Maria Celeste. Unable to see him except on his occasional visits, she wrote him continually, as her 124 surviving letters (which Galileo kept) attest. Now, for the first time, all of these letters are reproduced in English, translated by Dava Sobel, and in their original Italian, and Ms. Sobel has also written an introduction and annotations placing the letters in historical context.

The 124 letters span only a decade of Maria Celeste's 33 years. In that dramatic period, a pope came to power who battled the Protestant Reformation; the Thirty Years' War embroiled all of Europe; the bubonic plague erupted across Italy; and a new philosophy of science, promulgated most forcefully by Galileo himself, threatened to overturn the order of the universe. Maria Celeste's evocative, beautifully written letters touch on all of these situations, but they dwell in the small details of everyday life; and though Galileo's letters to her have not survived, it is clear from hers that he answered every one. Especially for those who have read Ms. Sobel's Galileo's Daughter, but even for those who haven't, Maria Celeste's letters provide an indelible chronicle of convent life in the early 17th century, a memorable portrait of deep affection between a famous father and his daughter, and fascinating insight into Galileo himself.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Dava Sobel made publishing history with her bestselling biography of Suor Maria Celeste, Galileo's Daughter. Much of that book was based on letters the devoted nun wrote to her father. Here, in a stunning volume, are the actual letters, in both English and the original Italian!
Publishers Weekly
Suor Maria Celeste's story is well known to readers of Sobel's bestselling Galileo's Daughter. At 13, she boarded as a student at the Convent of San Matteo, near Florence, Italy; three years later she professed her vows. During her two decades with the Franciscan order known as the Poor Clares, Suor Maria Celeste and her sisters prayed constantly for the well-being of the world's souls (among other things, asking God to rid Florence of the bubonic plague), and Suor Maria Celeste maintained a close correspondence with her father during those years (124 letters are offered here both in the original Italian and in translation). Suor Maria Celeste urged her "`Most Illustrious Lord Father'" to guard his health, encouraged his work, and asked him for favors, such as food and wine, and, one time, for funds that would allow her to purchase a private cell within the convent. In an early letter, she promised to write him daily, read his letters eagerly and think of him always. Once, she described the indiscreet behavior of some confessors "who fraternize" with several nuns. She reproved Galileo for not writing her often enough; in fact, none of his letters to her now exist. Suor Maria Celeste mentions Galileo's heresy charge and imprisonment only once in these letters. However, while the letters are models of fervent filial devotion and shed some light on the daily life of a convent, they reveal little about the milieu in which they were written or their addressee. (Nov. 16) Forecast: These letters may have been eagerly awaited by Sobel's readers, but the book's high price (the attractive design pads the book out with wide margins), may dissuade some buyers. Both Sobel and Walker will donate allprofits from the book to the Poor Clares in Roswell, N.Mex. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Collected and translated by the author of Galileo's Daughter, this book offers 124 letters to Galileo from his older, illegitimate daughter Virginia (later Suor Maria Celeste), documenting her life from the time she entered the Convent of San Matteo in 1613 at the age of 13 with her sister Livia. The hardship of their living conditions with the Poor Clares and resultant poor health is obvious from the earliest letters and continues throughout but is accepted almost matter-of-factly. Occasionally, when conditions deteriorate too drastically or when a sick sister would benefit from something "special," Maria Celeste would ask her father for assistance. The references to the plague that swept the area in the 1630s and her father's trial for heresy are touched on gently and sometimes indirectly but certainly indicate that Maria Celeste knew what was happening in the "outside" world. Maria Celeste died in 1634, shortly after Galileo's release, and the letters conclude before his return. Both the original Italian and English translation with annotations are included. The book will appeal to the general reader, particularly those who enjoyed Sobel's previous book. Recommended. Hilary Burton, Lawrence Livermore National Lab., Livermore, CA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The gentle, intelligent voice of Galileo's daughter speaks across the centuries in 124 remarkable epistles-published for the first time in English-written to her father in the early 17th century. In 1613, when daughters Virginia and Livia were 13 and 12, respectively, Galileo placed them in Florence's Convent of San Matteo, operated by the religious order called the Poor Clares. (Both Editor Sobel [Galileo's Daughter, 1999, etc.] and the publisher are donating all proceeds from this book to the Poor Clares of New Mexico.) When the girls turned 16, they both took vows and new names. Virginia became Suor Maria Celeste; Livia, Suor Arcangela. In one of the fortuitous coincidences of history, the later letters in this collection come from the period when Galileo appeared before the Inquisition and was forced to deny the validity of the Copernican system. Maria Celeste's fear for her father's safety permeates virtually every line of these letters, even when she is writing about such mundane affairs as the health of a mule or the condition of her teeth. ("Recently I pulled a very large molar, which had rotted and was giving me great pain.") Maria Celeste displays enormous veneration for Galileo. She addresses him as "Most Illustrious Lord Father" and throughout employs the most respectful tone and diction that Italian will allow. (The English translations are accompanied by the original-language versions on facing pages.) Occasionally she chides him very gently for not visiting often enough, for failing to write often enough, or for neglecting his health. She warns him about the presence of the plague in Florence, sending "a marvelous defense," a concoction consisting of figs, nuts, rue,salt, and honey. Like any other child away from home, she asks for money, sympathy, care packages, and respect. Lively and lovely. Making these available to the English-speaking world is a great public service.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802718075
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
  • Publication date: 5/26/2009
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 1,223,162
  • File size: 5 MB

Meet the Author

The eldest daughter of the great scientist Galileo.
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Read an Excerpt

Most Illustrious Lord Father,

We are terribly saddened by the death of your cherished sister, our dear aunt; but our sorrow at losing her is as nothing compared to our concern for your sake, because your suffering will be all the greater, Sire, as truly you have no one else left in your world, now that she, who could not have been more precious to you, has departed, and therefore we can only imagine how you sustain the severity of such a sudden and completely unexpected blow. And while I tell you that we share deeply in your grief, you would do well to draw even greater comfort from contemplating the general state of human misery, since we are all of us here on Earth like strangers and wayfarers, who soon will be bound for our true homeland in Heaven, where there is perfect happiness, and where we must hope that your sister's blessed soul has already gone. Thus, for the love of God, we pray you, Sire, to be consoled and to put yourself in His hands, for, as you know so well, that is what He wants of you; to do otherwise would be to injure yourself and hurt us, too, because we lament grievously when we hear that you are burdened and troubled, as we have no other source of goodness in this world but you.

I will say no more, except that with all our hearts we fervently pray the Lord to comfort you and be with you always, and we greet you dearly with our ardent love. From San Matteo, the 10th of May 1623.

Sire's Most Affectionate Daughter, Suor M. Celeste

Most Illustrious Lord Father,

The happiness I derived from the gift of the letters you sent me, Sire, written to you by that most distinguished Cardinal, now elevated to the exalted position of Supreme Pontiff, was ineffable, for his letters so clearly express the affection this great man has for you, and also show how highly he values your abilities. I have read and reread them, savoring them in private, and I return them to you, as you insist, without having shown them to anyone else except Suor Arcangela, who has joined me in drawing the utmost joy from seeing how much our father is favored by persons of such caliber. May it please the Lord to grant you the robust health you will need to fulfill your desire to visit His Holiness, so that you can be even more greatly esteemed by him; and, seeing how many promises he makes you in his letters, we can entertain the hope that the Pope will readily grant you some sort of assistance for our brother.

In the meantime, we shall not fail to pray the Lord, from whom all grace descends, to bless you by letting you achieve all that you desire, so long as that be for the best.

I can only imagine, Sire, what a magnificent letter you must have written to His Holiness, to congratulate him on the oc-casion of his reaching this exalted rank, and, because I am more than a little bit curious, I yearn to see a copy of that letter, if it would please you to show it, and I thank you so much for the ones you have already sent, as well as for the melons which we enjoyed most gratefully. I have dashed off this note in considerable haste, so I beg your pardon if I have for that reason been sloppy or spoken amiss. I send you loving greetings along with the others here who always ask to be remembered to you. From San Matteo, the 10th of August.

Sire's Most Affectionate Daughter, Suor M. C.

Most Illustrious Lord Father,

It was through your most gentle and loving letter that I became fully aware of my backwardness, in assuming as I did that you, Sire, would perforce write right away to such a person, or, to put it better, to the loftiest lord in all the world. Therefore I thank you for pointing out my error, and at the same time I feel certain that you will, by the love you bear me, excuse my gross ignorance and as many other flaws as find expression in my character. I readily concede that you are the one to correct and advise me in all matters, just as I desire you to do and would so appreciate your doing, for I realize how little knowledge and ability I can justly call my own. But since, considering your continuing indisposition, we are prohibited from seeing you again for some time, we must patiently submit ourselves to the will of God, who allows everything that contributes to our well-being.

I set aside and save all the letters that you write me daily, Sire, and whenever I find myself free, then with the greatest pleasure I reread them yet again, so that I abandon myself to thoughts of you, and equally as eagerly do I anticipate reading those letters written to you by persons of distinction who feel affection for you.

Not wanting to inconvenience or bore you, I will end here, sending you warmest greetings together with Suor Arcangela and the others in our room, and Suor Diamante, too. From San Matteo, the 13th of August 1623.

Sire's Most Affectionate Daughter, Suor M. Celeste

Most Illustrious Lord Father,

This morning I learned from our steward that you find yourself ill in Florence, Sire: and because it sounds to me like something outside your normal behavior to leave home when you are troubled by your pains, I am filled with apprehension, and fear that you are in much worse condition than usual. Therefore I beseech you to send news of yourself via this steward, so that, if you are not faring as badly as we fear, we can calm our anxious spirits. And truly I never take notice of living cloistered as a nun, except when I hear that you are sick, because then I would like to be free to come to visit and care for you with all the diligence that I could muster. But even though I cannot, I thank the Lord God for everything, knowing full well that not a leaf turns without His willing it so.

If there is anything you need, and you will only tell us what it is, we shall never fail to try to fulfill it in the very best way we know how. Meanwhile we continue, as is our custom, to pray the Lord for your coveted health, and ask that He grant you His holy grace. And I close with loving regards to you from all of us, with all our hearts. From San Matteo, the 17th of August 1623.

Sire's Most Affectionate Daughter, Suor M. Celeste

Most Illustrious and Beloved Lord Father, Wishing above all else to have news of you, Sire, I dispatch our steward to you once again, and, as an excuse for the trip, I send several little fish-shaped pieces of marzipan, which, even if they do not taste quite as good as the ones you may find down along the banks of the Arno, still I think they will do you no harm, especially coming from San Matteo.

I do not, of course, mean to inconvenience or annoy you with this note, or to pressure you to write back, but only to hear a word carried from your lips about how you feel, and to learn whether there is anything we can do for you. Suor Chiara sends her love to her father and brother as well as to you, Sire; and the two of us do the same, praying to the Lord God in our longing for your perfect health. From San Matteo, the 21st of August 1623.

Sire's Most Affectionate Daughter, Suor M. Celeste

We received the delicious canteloupes and watermelons, and we thank you for them.

Most Illustrious Lord Father,

We are enormously disturbed to hear that you have not improved much as yet, Sire, that on the contrary your illness has left you bed-ridden and stripped you of your appetite, as we learned yesterday from Master Benedetto. Nonetheless we have firm hope that the Lord, through His mercy, is on the verge of restoring at least part of your health, I do not say all, as that seems almost impossible to me, considering the number of aggravations that continuously plague you, and which will undoubtedly earn you great reward and glory in the other life, since you tolerate all of this vexation with such patience.

I have searched everywhere to find you these four plums and I send them to you now, even if they are not at quite the level of perfection I would have wished; do please accept them, Sire, along with my best intentions.

Let this serve to remind you that, whenever you receive a response from those gentlemen in Rome, you did promise you would allow me to look at the letter; as for those other letters, which I know you have been meaning to let me read, I will not bother you about them now, as I imagine you do not have them with you. Not wanting to overburden you, I will say no more, except that I send you all my love together with Suor Arcangela and the others. May our Lord comfort you and be with you always. From San Matteo, the 28th of August 1623.

Sire's Most Affectionate Daughter, Suor M. Celeste

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