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Galileo's Lost Message

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Galileo’s Lost Message

 

by

 

D. Allen Henry

 

© D. Allen Henry 2016

 

Shakespir Edition

 

 

Shakespir Edition, License Notes

 

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Shakespir.com and purchase your own copy. This includes free copies, as the author keeps track of readership through the website. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Dedication

 

To Claudia, who tolerates my eccentricities, supports my obsession, and apparently even loves something about me…

 

To my daughters Laura and Lisa, who joined me on my endless quests to find myself in all of those places throughout the world, searching for mysteries without any clues…

 

And finally, to my students, the more than one thousand of you who travelled with me to the far corners of the earth…

 

Thank you all for being a part of my journey, and for teaching me the meaning of life.

Preface

 

I first published this novel under the title The Starry Message in 2012, and although I believe the seeds were there for a good read, it being my first attempt at literary writing, I believe I fell somewhat short. Readers complained about my style of writing, which was at the least hackneyed, and at the most simply dreadful. Still worse, the character development was shortsighted, and worst of all, the plotline was muddled.

Having in the interim completed six additional novels, each one leading me inexorably along the road to improvement, I eventually came full circle back to The Starry Message. I wondered for the longest time whether this, my first romantic involvement with literature, could be resurrected. One never forgets one’s first love, I suppose, but one can only face down that question by means of revisiting it. And so it is that I have taken up my pen once again, in the perhaps forlorn hope of resurrecting this, my first literary love.

Galileo is arguably one of the most famous and important scientists in history. This is certainly due in part to his scientific accomplishments, but it is also most assuredly related to his struggles with the Roman Catholic Church during the latter part of his life. His conviction by the Inquisition in 1633 resulted in his detention, most of which he endured at his home in Arcetri, for the remainder of his life. During that span of time his health deteriorated, several members of his family died, and he went blind in late 1637. Despite these hardships he managed to produce perhaps his greatest scientific work, Dialogues Concerning Two New Sciences, which was published in 1638. Over the remaining four years of his life he is known to have continued corresponding with friends and colleagues, and on occasion, welcoming them to his villa Il Gioiello. However, he is not known to have published much of scientific significance during his declining years. This book provides one possible answer to the following question; What would a man of towering intellect and an insatiable passion for the pursuit of knowledge such as he possessed, blind and legally forbidden to publish his findings, do to pass the time?

Though it should go without saying, I am not the first to put pen to paper in an effort to elucidate the life of Galileo. Count me among the myriads nonetheless. Why, you ask, am I engrossed in this endeavor, given the enormous extent of literature on Signore Galilei? I will defend myself by asserting the following thesis: despite the enormous impact of Galileo, far too many people today are not aware of the significance of Galileo to humankind. I have taught thousands of students in universities during my long career in higher education, and believe me when I say, “I know from experience.” To those purists who will be offended by my treatment of Galileo in novel form, I can only apologize with the caveat that I hope that this idiosyncratic approach to the subject provides a more facile means of introduction to Galileo than would another in the list of (many – perhaps too many!) dry biographies that fail to maintain the attention of virtually all but those who are already professed Galileo devotees. In truth, I find a great paucity of literature on the personal life of Galileo. In bringing this text to the reader, I hope to provide something of an idea of what everyday life might have been like for inhabitants of Italy in the early seventeenth century. If I accomplish this, then I shall consider it “frosting on the cake”. And if, even more unlikely, this tale spurs readers to pursue their own pilgrimages in the footsteps of Galileo, I can only say, “Va bene!”

Let me now voice my disclaimer in plain English – this book is a work of fiction! Nevertheless, I have endeavored to conform to the historical record in so far as I am able. For those who find fault with my perception of the events described herein, please remember the goals that I have elucidated above, and know that while I am indeed a Galileo devotee, I am in no way a historian.

Accordingly, the careful scholar will find here and there that I have taken license with respect to the exact details of history and science in order to maintain the reader’s attention without detracting from the storyline. For example, the statue of Leonardo of Pisa in the Camposanto of Pisa did not exist in Galileo’s time, having been sculpted in the nineteenth century. Similarly, it has never been proven that John Milton actually met Isaac Newton. Nonetheless, such a meeting seems to be not only plausible but also desirable as regards the narrative. Historical departures such as these notwithstanding, it is my hope that this novel will produce an enjoyable and informative experience for the reader, and perhaps even an amplified appreciation of Galileo Galilei.

The interested reader will find further information and photos related to the events chronicled in this book at the author’s website: http://dayhahaha.wix.com/dallenhenry.

 

D.A.H.

2016

 

Author’s Note Regarding Sectional Perspectives

 

The reader will notice that throughout the text I have delineated sections by the use of boldface titles. Each title normally describes the setting location and date for the section that immediately follows. However, when only a date is included, it is implied that the location for that section is identical to that of the previous section. Furthermore, each section begins with a few boldface words immediately after the section setting. The name of the first person included in boldface within the section is intended to be the person whose perspective is taken within that section of the text.

 

 

Figure Credits

 

On the cover: Hypothetical photo of Galileo’s desk taken by the author {{PD-DAllenHenry}}

Photo modified by the author

 

On the Title page: Portrait of Galileo Galilei by Justus Sustermans painted in 1636. National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London {{PD-Art}}.

 

From Chapter 3: Sketch of a cantilever beam from Dialogues Concerning Two New Sciences by Galileo Galilei (1638) {{PD-Art}}.

 

Timeline

 

1543-De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium is published by Nicolaus Copernicus, a graduate of The University of Padova, shortly before his death.

 

1545-The Council of Trent is convened to deal with the Protestant Reformation.

 

February 15, 1564-Galileo Galilei is born in Pisa, son of Vincenzo and Giulia Galilei.

 

1575-Galileo’s family moves to Firenze.

 

1576-79-Galileo Galilei spends three years within the Abbey of Vallombrosa

 

1581-Galileo enrolls at The University of Pisa.

 

1585-Galileo leaves The University of Pisa without a diploma.

 

1587-While tutoring mathematics in Siena, Galileo enters and wins a competition to calculate the volume of Hell

 

1589-Galileo is appointed the professor of mathematics at The University of Pisa.

 

1592-Galileo is appointed the professor of mathematics at The University of Padova.

 

1593-Galileo and two friends visit a cave near Verona, wherein they fall asleep. On awakening Galileo is stricken by illness, a malady that will haunt him intermittently for the remainder of his life.

 

1600-Giordano Bruno is convicted of heresy by the Inquisition (council headed by Cardinal Roberto Bellarmino) and burned at the stake in the Campo dei Fiori in Roma.

 

1604-Galileo discovers the law of falling bodies.

 

1605-Galileo tutors Cosimo II.

 

1608-The telescope is invented in the Netherlands by Hans Lippershey.

 

1609-

 

Summer-Johannes Kepler publishes New Astronomy.

 

August-Galileo hears of the invention of the telescope and sets to work building his own. He subsequently demonstrates it to the doge.

 

Fall-Galileo points his telescope skyward at night, especially at the Moon.

 

1610-

 

January-Galileo discovers the moons of Jupiter.

 

March-Galileo publishes The Starry Messenger.

 

September-Galileo moves to Firenze to become Philosopher and Chief Mathematician to Cosimo II, now the Grand Duke of Tuscany.

 

December–Galileo discovers the phases of Venus.

 

1611–Galileo studies sunspots. He visits Roma and is inducted into the Lincean Academy.

 

1613-

 

March-Galileo’s History and Demonstrations Concerning Sunspots is published.

 

December-Galileo writes a private letter to his former student Benedetto Castelli arguing in favor of Copernicus’ theory of the solar system.

 

1614-Friar Tommaso Caccini charges Galileo with heresy in a sermon at the Church of Santa Maria Novella in Firenze.

 

1615-

 

February-Friar Niccolò Lorini lodges a formal complaint against Galileo to the Catholic Church, enclosing a copy of Galileo’s letter to Castelli.

 

March-Friar Caccini gives a deposition to the Inquisition in Roma charging Galileo with heresy.

 

December-Galileo travels to Roma to defend himself against the charge of heresy.

 

1616-

 

February-A committee convened by the Inquisition reports that Copernicus’ theory is philosophically absurd and heretical.

 

February-Under orders from Pope Paul V Cardinal Roberto Bellarmino formally warns Galileo to acquiesce to the position of the Catholic Church, which he agrees to do.

 

March 5-The Congregation of the Index publishes a decree formally condemning all theories that claim that the earth moves.

 

June-Galileo returns to Firenze.

 

1620-The Congregation of the Index publishes the “corrections” to Copernicus’ book.

 

1621-

 

February-Grand Duke Cosimo II dies prematurely; he is replaced by his ten year old son Ferdinando II.

 

September-Cardinal Bellarmino dies.

 

1623-

 

July-Pope Gregory XV dies.

 

August-Cardinal Maffeo Barberini is elected Pope Urban VIII.

 

October-Galileo’s The Assayer is published.

 

1624-Galileo visits his old patron Maffeo Barberini, now installed as Pope in Roma, where he receives a warm and extended welcome.

 

1625-An anonymous complaint is filed with the Inquisition that Galileo’s views in The Assayer are heretical. After an extended review, Galileo is exonerated.

 

1632-

 

February-After eight years, Galileo’s book Dialogues on the Two Chief World Systems, Ptolemaic and Copernican is published in Firenze.

 

September-Pope Urban VII summons Galileo to Roma to stand trial before the Inquisition.

 

1633-

 

February-Galileo arrives in Roma.

 

Spring-The trial drags on for several weeks, finally concluding.

 

June 22-Galileo is convicted of “vehement suspicion of heresy”. He is forced to recite formal abjuration and penances at the convent of Santa Maria sopra Minerva. His book Dialogues is prohibited from distribution, and he is imprisoned.

 

June 23-Galileo’s sentence is commuted to house arrest at the Villa Medici.

 

June 30-Galileo is allowed to move to house arrest in Siena. Galileo begins working on a book on mechanics.

 

December 1-Galileo’s sentence is commuted to house arrest at his villa in Arcetri.

 

1635-Galileo’s prohibited book Dialogues on the Two Chief World Systems is published in Strasbourg.

 

1636-Galileo’s Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina is published in Strasbourg.

 

December 1637-Galileo permanently loses his sight.

 

1638-Galileo’s revolutionary book on mechanics entitled Dialogues Concerning Two New Sciences is published in Leiden.

 

1642-

 

January 8-Galileo dies at Arcetri.

 

January 9-Galileo is buried in an unmarked grave under the Bell Tower in the Santa Croce Basilica in Firenze.

 

1687-Isaac Newton’s Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy (Principia) is published.

 

1729-James Bradley proves that the earth moves using aberration of starlight.

 

1737-Galileo’s body is exhumed and moved to the left front of the Santa Croce, opposite the tomb of Michelangelo. During the move someone removes three fingers from Galileo’s right hand.

 

1835-The Catholic Church discontinues prohibition of Copernicus’ De Revolutionobus and Galileo’s Dialogue.

 

1942-The Catholic Church commences the formal process of rehabilitating Galileo.

 

January 7, 1990-The Leaning Tower of Pisa is closed to the public after the collapse of the Civic Tower of Pavia

 

1979-92-Pope John Paul II commences a second rehabilitation process, finally formally admitting that “The Roman Catholic Church acknowledges that errors were made in the trial of Galileo…”

 

1998-Archimedes’ Palimpsest is sold at auction by Christie’s

 

December 15, 2001-After constructive stabilization of the Leaning Tower, it is reopened to the public

 

Main Characters

 

Historical Characters

 

Cesar Cremonini was the most highly acclaimed philosopher of his time. He was born in Cento, and began his career at The University of Ferrara. In 1591 he became the chair of natural philosophy at The University of Padova, where he spent the remainder of his life.

 

Federico Cesi was a scientist and founder of the Lincean Academy. He was born in Roma in 1585.

 

Galileo di Vincenzo Buonaiuti de Galilei was the foremost Renaissance scientist in the world. He was born in Pisa in 1564.

 

Giordano Bruno was born in Nola in 1548. He was a Dominican friar who espoused heretical views regarding the nature of the universe that eventually led to his incarceration by the Holy See in 1592.

 

Maffeo Barberini was a Catholic cleric who was for many years Galileo’s patron. In 1623 he was elected Pope Urban VIII. He was born in 1568 in Firenze.

 

Michelangelo Galilei was the younger brother of Galileo. He was born in 1575. He followed in the footsteps of his father Vincenzo, becoming a professional musician.

 

Roberto Francesco Romolo Bellarmino was a cardinal in the Catholic Church during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century. He was born in Montepulciano in 1542.

 

Vincenzo Galilei was the father of Galileo Galilei. He was one of the foremost musicians of his time. He was born in Santa Maria a Monte in 1520.

 

Vincenzo Maculano was born at Fiorenzuola d’Arda in 1578. He studied architecture and mathematics at the University of Bologna, matriculating to become a cleric. He eventually became the Inquisitor for the Roman Catholic Church.

 

John Milton was born in London in 1608. He studied at Christ’s College, Cambridge.

 

Isaac Newton was born in 1643 in Woolsthorpe. He went on to study at Trinity College, Cambridge.

 

Vincenzo Viviani was Galileo’s last student, studying with him during the last three years of his life. He was born in 1622 in Firenze.

 

Fictional Characters

 

Contessa Antonietta Floridiana da Vinci is an Italian countess who lives in Arcetri, near Firenze. She was born in the village of Vinci.

 

Giovanni Bazzocchi (the elder) is the owner of the Hotel Palazzo Galletti Abbiosi in Ravenna. He is a lifetime citizen of Ravenna, having been born there during the Italian campaign of World War II.

 

Inspector Bustamente is a police inspector in Firenze.

 

Luigi Bulgatti is a professor of engineering at the Università di Roma. He was born in Brindisi.

 

Marco Vincenzo da Vinci is the son of Contessa Antonietta Floridiana. He was born in Pisa.

 

Paul Woodbridge is a professor of Mechanical Engineering at The University of Cleveland. He was born in Moscow, Idaho.

 

Glossary of Terms and Places

 

Allora – Italian word for ‘then’

 

Anch’io – Italian word for ‘me, too’, or ‘same here’

 

Arcetri – a village on the hillside south of Firenze where Galileo’s last home was located

 

Basilica – Italian word for ‘church’

 

Basta – contracted form of the Italian word abastanza, meaning ‘enough’

 

Bo – Italian word for ‘ox’, the affectionate name for the University of Padua, one of the oldest and most respected universities in the world

 

Braccia – a unit of length approximately equal to the distance from a man’s nose to the tip of his finger when his arm is outstretched

 

Campanile – Italian word for ‘bell tower’

 

Camposanto – Italian word for ‘cemetery’

 

Certamente – Italian word for ‘certainly’

 

Cisterna – Italian word for ‘well’

 

Coniuge – Italian word for ‘spouse’

 

Contrade – the districts of a city in Italy, used herein to refer to the districts in Siena

 

Doge – the head of the Venetian Empire

 

Ecco – Italian word for ‘here’

 

Esattamente – exactly

 

Firenze – Italian name for Florence

 

Galilei an Italian family name, implying that the family came from Galilee

 

Non so – Italian phrase for ‘I don’t know’

 

Perspiculum – the term initially used by Galileo to describe his magnifying glass, later to be termed a telescope by Giovanni Demisiani

 

Piazza – Italian word for ‘public square’

 

Pietà – Italian term for a depiction of the Madonna and Jesus

 

Professore – Italian word for ‘professor’

 

Roma – Italian name for Rome

 

Scavi – Italian word for ‘excavations’

 

Sempre – Italian word for ‘always’

 

Signoria – Italian word for a group of leading citizens

 

Stessa cosa – Italian phrase for ‘same thing’

 

Truffatore – Italian word for ‘crook’

 

Va bene – literally ‘it goes well’ in Italian, but used to mean ‘okay’

 

Venezia – Italian name for Venice

Prologue

 

I’ve loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.

 

-Galileo Galilei (1564-1642)

 

1998

 

British Press Limited, London

 

Thursday, January 8, 1998

 

It was announced today at the University of Padova, Italy that a poem has been discovered that appears to be the last known writing of Galileo. This discovery comes on the three hundred fifty-sixth anniversary of the passing of Galileo, who died in 1642 at his villa in Arcetri, near Firenze.

Apparently, the poem was found hidden within a credenza, where it had lain undetected for more than three and a half centuries. The poem was discovered by the Contessa Antonietta Floridiana da Vinci, who recently purchased the credenza at auction.

To date the credenza has been authenticated to have been owned by Galileo during his last years. In addition, it has been determined using chemical analysis that both the paper and the ink used to write the poem are consistent with paper and ink used in the mid-seventeenth century.

The text of the poem appears to be written in some sort of as yet undiscernible secretive code, much like that used by other scientists of the time, including Leonardo Da Vinci. An international team of scientists has been assembled to study the poem and ascertain the underlying meaning. One member of the team expressed confidence that the message will be deciphered within a short period of time, so stay tuned for further word on this astounding discovery.

 

January 1642

 

He awakened with a start. He had been dreaming. In his dream he had been back in the abbey at Vallombrosa, a young boy of fifteen. Now fully awake, the thought of those days brought a smile to his face. Thinking back, he wondered to himself how his life might have turned out had his father not taken him away when he had declared his intention to become a monk. “No,” he thought, “It surely would not have worked.” Though in hindsight he might have preferred a life of obscure piety, sooner or later he would have rebelled had he remained in the abbey. His mind was too inventive to have tolerated the conformity, and his desire to prove himself could not have been denied. Yes, despite his current state of disgrace, his wistful dreams of happier days were just that and nothing more – dreams.

He rolled onto his side and reached for his hour glass and, checking to see whether it had drained completely, he could tell that it had indeed. He frowned as he thought of how he had invented a pendulum device for telling time that would have performed admirably for both the sighted and sightless, but he had been unable to build one before he had become blind due to the encroachment of his other infirmities. It had been an imposition, being without the use of his eyes, but not so much so in his current circumstances. He still had his mind, and imprisoned as he was, there was little to see anyway. He thenceforth waited patiently for the dawn, but while he did so, he allowed his mind to wander.

For the thousandth time he wondered to himself whether it had been the eye infection from his childhood or the long nights of star gazing that had caused his eyesight to fail. Whatever the cause, he would not have done things otherwise had he known the outcome in advance. “I am, and will be throughout the history of humankind, the first to see the wonders of our universe.” At this thought he gazed sightlessly to the heavens, seeing in his mind’s eye the moons of Jupiter, the face of the Moon wobbling back and forth, the strange shape of Saturn, the horns of Venus, and surely most significantly of all, the strange comet. So many images, all stored in his mind forever.

Pondering his woeful disgrace, he nonetheless smiled to himself, his greatest discovery in the stars yet to be revealed. And whenever his discovery should be made known, he was confident that he would be restored to his rightful place in history.

Contemplating his deception, he bit his lip with concern regarding his secretive method for divulging his greatest discovery. “Surely the right person will find it, and the world will know at last,” he thought to himself, but he subsequently murmured aloud, “May God be with humankind in the Age of Aquarius.” Contentedly envisioning his precious stars, he subsequently drifted off to sleep.

A short time later there came a knock at his door, a voice calling out, “Signore Galilei? Boungiorno, Professore.” A young man entered the bedroom, treading slowly to The Great Man’s bedside. The morning sunshine pouring in through the window; a beautiful day was dawning. A ray of sunlight brightened the face of the recumbent figure, a serene smile playing upon his waxen lips.

Suddenly concerned, the youthful admirer nudged the elder man gently, but to no avail. Having achieved no response, he stepped back a pace, transfixed by the ethereal tranquility of the scene before him. Moments passed, his heart beating wildly, each loud thump coursing within his now swelling throat. He found himself rooted to the spot, a feeling of despondence draining all energy from him. Finally, gathering himself, the significance of the moment sweeping over him like a chilling breeze, he uttered softly to himself, “Now The Great Man is with the angels,” and sobbing, he added, “And together they will carry his message to the stars.”

Chapter 1

 

A Starry Message

 

What hath night to do with sleep?

 

-John Milton (1608-1674)

 

March 1997

 

Professor Paul Woodbridge paced intently to and fro across the expansive dais, the auditorium packed with a bulging throng of bemused students. Behind him, the blackboard was arrayed with an assemblage of formulas and diagrams that even the brightest of scholars would have found dizzying. To his side stood a large mechanical contraption consisting of a ramp approximately ten feet long, bells having been attached to it at unequal intervals. At the base of the ramp three balls of varying sizes lay within a collection area.

As if he assumed everyone within the classroom understood such a mystifying concept, Professor Woodbridge now announced with decisive self-assurance, “And, as we can see, Newton’s laws win the day once again. The law of falling bodies, first espoused by Galileo Galilei, soundly defeats the erroneous Aristotelian myths that were accepted in Galileo’s time, and Newton’s second law confirms that Galileo was correct.”

Having said this, he strutted to the contraption and, using a lever, he adjusted the height of the ramp. He then posited, “Now, watch what happens when I increase the slope of the ramp dramatically.” Gingerly placing a ball onto the ramp, he observed triumphantly as it rolled madly towards the lower end. After a short pause for effect, he queried with palpable arrogance, “What is the problem here, students?” at which his query was met with absolute silence.

He frowned momentarily, as if astounded by the intellectual vacuum arrayed before him, but abruptly he pronounced with seemingly undaunted enthusiasm, “Suppose I adjust the ramp until it is in the vertical position,” and once again pausing for effect, he added, “What happens then?”

At length, the silence growing embarrassing to one and all, a single courageous student spoke up hesitantly, offering, “Sir, uhm, I suppose then you have the experiments that Galileo did when he dropped balls from the Leaning Tower,” but then the daring pupil added somewhat inanely, “I know, I’ve been there!” And at this rather pugnacious pronouncement, snickers erupted from the audience.

Ignoring the emerging cacophony, Professor Woodbridge responded with enthusiasm, “Excellent! We have a world traveler in our midst! Not only that, he is an observant world traveler.” He paused momentarily and, his broad smile slowly fading noticeably, he added surreptitiously, “Unfortunately, our peripatetic genius may not be quite correct. You see class, it has never been substantiated that Galileo actually dropped balls from The Leaning Tower of Pisa, and at any rate, had he done so, he would have found out what countless others have since determined – that the balls hit the ground so closely to the same moment in time that it is virtually impossible to prove anything one way or the other. After all,” and, his unctuous grin emerging yet again, he added with perfect timing, “Nobody could afford a wristwatch in Galileo’s time!” And at this he gesticulated at his wristwatch, pausing momentarily in the vain anticipation of laughter. Hearing none, he continued undaunted, inquiring, “Mister….?”

The now terrified student replied somewhat haltingly, “Er, Nelson, sir.”

“Ah, yes, Mr. Nelson. You, sir, deserve a gold star today for valor! I hereby award you the gold star. Wear it with pride!” And with this rather ludicrous pronouncement Professor Woodbridge traced the form of an invisible star in the air, accentuating his archaic motion with absurdly prancing footwork.

The student arose in mock valor and, clasping his hands together over his head as a sign of victory, he was rewarded with simultaneous twitters and applause by the temporarily bemused audience.

Professor Woodbridge now continued his monologue with feigned eloquence, “With his newfound award, Mr. Nelson is entitled to a cup of coffee for a dollar at McDonald’s,” and, the class now breaking into a wild ovation, the student rose out of his seat yet again and bowed to accept this farcical accolade.

The commotion having eventually abated, Professor Woodbridge continued his lecture on a more somber note, stating doubtfully, “Now then, my students, dare I say, future leaders of our planet? Yes, I shall be presumptuous – leaders of tomorrow,” and here once again he broke into a broad and perhaps even denigrating grin, adding, “Here is my question for the day. Why did Galileo build a ramp like this when all he had to do was drop balls from The Leaning Tower?”

At this the lecture hall once again descended into deathly silence. Excruciating seconds passed, Professor Woodbridge eventually commencing to pace impatiently to and fro. Back and forth he strutted before his captive audience, clearly bent on silent accusation until some poor soul mustered the nerve to venture a response.

Finally, dread of silence overwhelming even fear of failure, one student hazarded a terrified guess, “Maybe he wanted to slow things down.”

Clapping his hands together in apparent glee, Professor exclaimed, “Hooray! Thanks be to God! Praise Allah! We have a winner!” Now gesticulating with his finger in the approximate direction of the distraught volunteer, he expostulated, as if it were an accusation of error, “And what, sir, is your name?”

The erstwhile intrepid student, now clearly regretting having spoken up, muttered softly, “Uh, Bobby, sir.”

“Well, Robert…I shall call you Robert. After all, Bobby is much too familiar. Exactly how did you come to this conclusion, Sir Robert?”

The student seemed to consider for a moment, then responded apprehensively, “Sir, when the ramp is tilted steeply it is impossible to distinguish between the times when the bells start ringing. But when the tilt is low, the balls move slowly enough that the clang of each bell can be distinguished quite easily.”

“Exactly, Robert, and our Galileo determined the interval of time between the clangs of each bell with a device called a clepsydra, which is a fancy name for a water clock. When balls were dropped from a high place such as The Leaning Tower, everything happened far too quickly for the time measuring devices of Galileo’s time. And here is where the genius of Galileo emerges. He recognized that if the ball was rolled down an inclined plane, not only would the interval of time be expanded considerably, but Galileo also understood that the underlying physics of the two problems are identical. And that, my students, is the genius of Galileo Galilei!” At this pronouncement Professor Woodbridge held his hands apart in triumph, gesturing grandly as if he himself had invented the law of falling bodies.

Professor Woodbridge’s brazen solicitation of applause having failed miserably, one brave student raised his hand and inquired timidly, “Sir, is Galileo Galilei the same person as Galileo?”

At this deplorable regression, Professor Woodbridge turned and responded with a piercingly condescending glare, “What is your name, sir?”

“Rodney, sir,” came the terror-stricken response.

“Not your first name. I can’t remember first names. What is your last name?”

Now measurably discomforted, the student uttered, “Weatherby, sir…Rodney Weatherby.”

“Ah, yes, Mr. Weatherby,” Professor Woodbridge responded, his withering stare continuing unabated. “Excellent question!” at which the student brightened measurably. “Students, take note of Mr. Weatherby. While his educational skills appear to be somewhat lacking, he shows initiative. I expect that he will go far in life,” and at this Professor Woodbridge glowered intensely at several other members of the audience, all of whom seemed to wither under his probing glance.

Turning back towards Weatherby, Professor Woodbridge continued, “As to your question, Mr. Weatherby, Galileo Galilei is indeed the person that we refer to today as Galileo. We have simply dropped his surname, just as we have dropped the last name of Michelangelo and Raffaelo, as well as the first names of Mozart and Beethoven. You see, occasionally it so happens that a person’s contributions to humankind are so important as to transcend the necessity for using two names. I expect that someday society may well speak of you, sir, as simply ‘Weatherby’, the founder of the ‘Weatherby Theory’. For my part, I am quite certain that you students have already assigned to me a far more descriptive name than Woodbridge.”

At this, the class breaking into snickers of delight at his self-deprecating humor, Professor Woodbridge volunteered genially, “Ah, excellent! I see that most of you are actually awake this morning. Now, let us continue. Where was I? Oh yes, Galileo and Newton. Ah, yes, that reminds me of a good story involving these two towering scientists.”

At that moment the bell rang, signaling the end of class, at which Professor Woodbridge roared above the instantaneously erupting din, “Please read the first ten pages of Chapter 3 before the next class!”

 

Moments Later

 

Professor Woodbridge trudged into his office and launched himself wearily into his dilapidated leather swivel chair, measurably lost in thought despite the tumultuous end to his Monday morning class. Placing his feet on the desktop, he sipped coffee from an ancient looking cup that appeared to have last been washed during the Pliocene. Had he gazed out the window, he would have noticed off in the distance a beautiful sun-crested array of clouds over the pinnacle of the university administration building. Instead, he peered purposely into nothingness, his mind clearly transported elsewhere.

At forty-seven, a slight graying of his hair at the temples was the only evidence that betrayed his age. At well above average height, he was possessed of a rugged and hardened physique. His attire was another matter, there being a distinct lack of attention to his personal appearance. Though he wore a perfectly starched white dress shirt, he rarely sported a tie; this occasion being no exception. His lone redeeming piece of attire was his pristine jeans, but only because his favorite pair had sprung a leak that had been beyond repair. Although his collar-length hair was appealing in a haphazard way, it was apparent that Professor Woodbridge possessed nothing resembling a comb or hairbrush. His only visible attempt at personal care was his oxford loafers, which were shined immaculately.

Enshrouding him on all sides were stacks of papers, books and boxes, an enormous mass of disorganization that could have only been achieved through years of careful planning. Indeed, a cockroach would have been hard pressed to maneuver through such a maze of clutter. It was obvious that Professor Woodbridge had never been one to belabor such trivial activities as orderliness. Indeed, he despised all forms of planning, including university administration and its infantile politics, he himself going to extraordinary lengths in order to avoid involvement in committees, social events, indeed anything at all associated with the cultural hegemony of the academic community.

What would have appeared to the untrained observer as a distinct penchant for sloth was in fact something entirely different. Woodbridge was possessed of a very common malady among the academic intelligentsia – he was in fact afflicted with a compulsion towards disarray. And it was clearly terminal, having abated not a single iota over the course of a lifetime of academic pursuit. In a word, Dr. Woodbridge was a classic academic – he loved what he did – and he practiced it with single-minded determination nearly every waking hour of his existence.

He had long since lost track of anything on television. To wit, he had no earthly idea who had won the Super Bowl, and furthermore, he eschewed most forms of modern technology. He not only did not own a cellphone, he also despised computers, preferring to type out manuscripts on an old-fashioned non-electric typewriter. His lone acquiescence to the lightning advance of technology in the late twentieth century was a decidedly sparing use of the internet, studiously deceiving himself with the belief that it was nothing more than a trivial matter of expedience where the search for knowledge was concerned.

Had he a choice, he would most certainly have lived in another earlier century, although he was known to blurt out absentmindedly to himself on occasion, “There would have to be penicillin.” Everything else within his much too rapidly changing world was in his view simply excessive.

Leaning back in his unsightly chair, he considered wistfully for a moment, “Of course, I would have loved the first century AD. Yes, that was the golden age of mechanical engineering! That would most assuredly have been exceedingly stimulating!” Still, in his more sensible moments he had to admit to himself that he would have missed air travel, automobiles, electricity, and plumbing – all inventions of the twentieth century. But he would never admit to a need for such devices as televisions and telephones, at which moment, as if on cue, the telephone on his desk chimed offensively.

Grabbing the receiver from the cradle, he spat churlishly into the mouthpiece, “Woodbridge – what do you want?” his normal recalcitrant mode for those who dared to encroach on his Monday morning solitude.

A voice on the other end responded mysteriously, “Please hold for the contessa.”

“What?” he blurted in stupefaction. Yanking the receiver from his ear, he stared at it in confusion and muttered to himself, “What the hell…” at which he abruptly hung up, jamming the receiver forcefully back into the cradle. Reclining back within his chair, he glared at the phone as if it were the source of this offense and pronounced with palpable irritation, “Probably some student prank. Now, where was I?”

Momentarily, the phone clanged yet again. Somehow better prepared for this second intrusion, he nonetheless glowered offensively at it, daring it to continue pealing. Finally, his curiosity betraying him, he yanked it cruelly from its cradle and grumbled, “Yeah, what do you want?”

A feminine voice on the line inquired politely, “Professor Woodbridge?”

“You got him,” he replied gruffly, but he softened a bit in response to the apparent courtesy of the caller and appended, “What can I do for you?”

“Professor Paul Woodbridge? THE Paul Woodbridge?” the voice exclaimed urgently, and her accent, though cultured and precise, was clearly Italian.

Now obviously confused, he responded with a query of his own, “I’m not sure, signora. To which Paul Woodbridge are you referring?”

“The author, of course,” was her response. “Professore, please be so kind as to inform me, am I indeed speaking to the world famous expert on Galileo?”

At this rather transparent attempt at flattery he calmed and, intrigue sweeping over him, he responded curtly in a half-hearted attempt to disguise his growing interest, “Suppose I am. What would it be to you?”

From the other end emanated, “Thank God! I apologize for intruding on your valuable time, Dr. Woodbridge, but I have made a discovery that I believe you will find most interesting. Oh, I’m sorry, I forgot to say, I am Antonietta Floridiana, Contessa da Vinci.”

Lurching violently, he queried incredulously, “Vinci? Vinci, in Italy?”

“Why yes, do you know it?” the voice replied pleasantly.

“Of course, Contessa. Everyone knows the birthplace of Leonardo.”

“Well, that is a subject for discussion, Professor Woodbridge. But the purpose of my phone call to you today is regarding an entirely different and most important issue, I assure you.”

“And what might that be, Signora Floridiana?” he asked, all spurious thoughts having by now completely vanished from his consciousness.

At this she proffered, “This may sound preposterous, but I believe that I have come into possession of a document that was written by our mutual icon – Professore Galileo Galilei. This document needs verification by an expert such as you,” and, apparently fearing that he might be disinterested, she added breathlessly, “And here is the most important part – if the document is authentic, I am confident that there will be significant ramifications.”

Now completely transfixed, he asked with obvious curiosity, “What sort of ramifications?”, but before she had time to answer he added, “And what makes you think that the document is genuine?”

She responded diffidently, “For purposes of security, I cannot divulge too much more to you by telephone, Professor Woodbridge. But let me say that the document seems to point to an as yet undisclosed discovery by Galileo. So you see, the impact of the document may or may not be significant. As to your second question, I came into possession of this document partly by accident, but also partly because I am – just as are you – shall we say, a ‘fan’ of Galileo. In fact, I bought a piece of furniture at auction purported to be from Galileo’s private study. I discovered the document in a hidden compartment within.”

Lurching yet again, he exclaimed, “What? You have a piece of Galileo’s furniture? I’ll bet that wasn’t cheap!” seemingly missing the point altogether. But then he continued with, “Have you been able to verify that the piece indeed belonged to Galileo?”

“Would that I could, Professor Woodbridge, would that I could,” she replied enigmatically.

“What does that mean?” he responded in like kind.

“Signore, I mean – Professore – I am not in a position to give you further details by phone. Let me just say that given your distinguished reputation, I would have expected no other response from you. That is precisely why I have contacted you – for the purpose of verifying the authenticity and also to decipher the poem.”

Now completely flabbergasted by the entire conversation, he replied incredulously, “Did you say poem?”

Certamente,” she responded matter-of-factly, “Our Galileo seems to have written a secret message, and for reasons as yet unknown to me, he saw fit to encode it within a poem.”

At this admission he stared incomprehensibly at the receiver, slowly absorbing the potentially far-reaching implications. Regaining his senses, he offered reticently, “Well, okay, I suppose I could do that for you. Could you send me some photographs?”

At this she rejoined pointedly, “I am afraid that is impossible, Professor Woodbridge. You must do so in person, and time is of the essence. I have taken the liberty of reserving you a first class seat on the 4:40 TWA flight out of Hopkins this afternoon, arriving tomorrow in Firenze at 11 in the morning.”

“What!” he blurted in obvious consternation, “I can’t do that! I’m in the middle of a semester!”

“Suit yourself, Signore,” was her incongruously placid response, “You realize of course that you will be missing the opportunity of a lifetime. I do hope most sincerely that you will reconsider.”

He contemplated a moment and, curiosity rapidly transcending his irritation at her discernibly overconfident offer, he inquired, “You said there is a seat reserved for me. Are you buying?”

“Yes! Yes, of course,” she exclaimed, “And I shall meet you at the airport in Firenze tomorrow morning.”

“Alright, let me think…Okay…” he stammered, “Okay…okay, I’ll do it!” Uncertain as to what else there was to say, he inquired inanely, “How will I know you, Contessa?”

“Oh, you needn’t worry about that, Professore, I shall know you. I have your photograph from the cover of your latest book on Galileo.”

“Oh, that. That photo was taken two years ago.” he mumbled absently, already starting to pack in his mind.

“Ha!” she responded, “Have you gained weight since, Professor Woodbridge?”

“No!” he responded egotistically.

“Alright then, I shall see you tomorrow morning. I wish you good travels, Professore.”

“Thank you, and goodbye,” he responded and, gently replacing the phone in its cradle, he was instantaneously surprised by the realization that his mood could be altered so dramatically within such a miniscule span of time.

 

Arcetri, Italy – Moments Later

 

Contessa Antonietta Floridiana da Vinci punched the disconnect button on her cellphone and laid it aside. Seated on a chaise lounge in the garden of her Italian villa, she gazed serenely out over the valley before her. The pale blue tint of the adjacent swimming pool, ringed by tall trees, lent a certain indescribable serenity to the opulent setting. The weather in Tuscany having now turned to that state of seemingly perpetual iridescence that reigned for eight months of every year, she contemplated the exciting challenge ahead.

Though inscrutable, her visage was at once strikingly attractive and elegant. She wore a simple white knee length high-waisted dress punctuated by a pearl necklace, her long black hair falling loosely to her shoulders. Her aquiline nose and trim figure attested to her Italian lineage and, her meticulous appearance deftly disguising her age, the net effect was altogether quite stunning.

Emerging from the villa, a young man approached her with apparent familiarity. Possessed of strikingly similar features, the pair obviously mother and son, her femininity somehow transposed itself into an air of machismo in her offspring. His jet black hair flowing negligently over the sweater draped across his shoulders, it was apparent that he had just reached that age when one so striking could effortlessly turn the heads of the fairer sex.

Approaching her, he remarked casually, “Allora, what did he say, mother?”

Turning to peer at him in the afternoon light, she responded nonchalantly, “He said yes, of course.”

Va bene!” he answered with a confident grin. “I was afraid that my first attempt had failed miserably.”

“Thank you for trying, my dear,” she responded. “I actually think that your call set the stage perfectly. I suspect that he thinks that we are wealthy Italian aristocrats. That must surely have weighed into his decision to come.”

“But we are!” he replied with poorly disguised vanity.

“Well, perhaps you are right, but we are certainly not so wealthy as all that. I myself am no aristocrat, my dear, although you are, being your father’s son. I, on the other hand, am a peasant who simply married into royalty.”

“Yes, and someday I shall be a Count!”

“Ha! It isn’t all that it is supposed by many to be, my son.”

Ignoring her thinly veiled contempt, he inquired, “So, when does he arrive?”

“We must meet him at the airport tomorrow morning. Now, let us turn our attention to the documenti,” she responded perfunctorily.

 

Arcetri – Fall 1641

 

Vincenzo Viviani gingerly conveyed the tray down the steps to the garden. Searching about, his eyes fell upon the Great Man standing solitary within the garden. Vincenzo wondered what went through the mind of his professore during all of those hours of solitude, day after day. After all, the Great Man had now been completely blind for more than three years.

At the sound of footsteps, Galileo declared cheerfully, “Ah, is that you, Vincenzo?”

Si, professore. I have brought your mid-day meal. We have wine, with a wonderful array of olives and cheeses, and today we also have figs!”

“Excellent!” the elderly man replied, “It is a beautiful day, is it not, Vincenzo? I can feel the sun shining on my face. It will be sultry this evening, but it is very pleasant in the garden at this moment. Shall we dine here? Yes, of course, can you lend me a helping hand, please?”

Si, professore, certamente,” Vincenzo responded politely and, advancing to give Galileo his hand, he guided him to his seat at the table.

“So, Vincenzo, what have you learned since our meeting yesterday? Please, impress me with your knowledge.”

Embarrassed, Vincenzo sought for the appropriate thing to say. Despite the fact that each and every lunch commenced this way, he was always at a loss for words. He felt that the Great Man was so far beyond him in understanding that he seemed to always make himself look foolish. Finally, he found the nerve to commence, proffering, “Professore, I was contemplating the square-cube law. I thought perhaps we could discuss it further.”

Galileo frowned noticeably and murmured in that distinctly condescending way of his, “But we have been over that, Vincenzo. Surely you understand it by now.”

Not wanting to appear obtuse, Vincenzo overstated, “Oh, yes, of course I understand it in principle, Professore, but the details still seem to elude my grasp at times.”

Allora,” Galileo responded impatiently, placing his fingertips together in a decidedly arrogant gesture, “Perhaps you could begin by recounting the square-cube law for me?”

Vincenzo winced, aware that although Galileo could not hear him when he did so, the Great Man’s penchant for belittling everyone was nonetheless painful to him. Thus, Vincenzo commenced with an audible sigh, recounting, “It is the law that says that the weight of an object is proportional to its volume, which is expressed in length multiplied three times, whereas the surface area of an object is proportional to the length multiplied only twice.”

Galileo pondered intently and then interjected with apparent disappointment, “Well, I suppose that will have to do, Vincenzo, but you must do better. You must be more precise!”

Si, professore,” Vincenzo remarked, already dreading the remainder of the lesson. The old man was evidently in one of his intransigent moods, and they seemed to erupt more often of late.

“Can you give me an example of the square-cube law, my pupil?” Galileo queried acutely.

Si. Consider a cube of dimension one braccia on each side. The volume of the cube will be 1 times 1 times 1 or one cubic braccia, whereas the surface area will be 6 times 1 times 1 or six square braccie. If one then doubles the lengths of the sides of the cube to two braccie in length, then the volume will grow to 2 times 2 times 2, or eight times the original volume. On the other hand, the surface area will grow to only 6 times 2 times 2, a total of 24 square braccie, which is only six times the original surface area. Thus, the volume and therefore also the weight grows faster than the surface area.”

“Congratulations, Vincenzo,” Galileo replied with deprecation, “You are able to repeat the example from my book almost perfectly from memory. Vincenzo, my dear boy, the world does not need people who are able to memorize. No sir, the world needs people who can think. The world needs ideas!”

“Ideas? Like what ideas, Professore?”

“You do not see, you do not truly see the world. I sit in my garden day after day, sightless, and yet I see far more than you do!” Galileo gestured sweepingly as if taking in the world, continuing with, “I will tell you what I see, Vincenzo. I see stars – I see universes beyond universes. I never saw them in all their glory until I lost my sight. Now I see more clearly.

“It is only a matter of time, you see. Man will see the stars ever more clearly with each passing day. The dam has broken, and now it will flood over our planet, shrinking our place in the world little by little, bit by bit, day by day. And in time, mankind will escape our planet, and we will go to the stars. We will go out there, beyond the ‘crystal spheres’ of Kepler. And that is only the beginning, my pupil. That is only the beginning. We will build vast engines, and we will use them to power mankind. We will go vast distances in a single day, and someday, we will even fly, like the birds do in the sky!”

Vincenzo had heard these rantings before – the old man was obviously becoming senile. Surely it was best to humor him as he neared the end of his existence. “Si, professore. I can see that your vision reaches far beyond my own. Could I perhaps ask a question regarding your last vision?”

“Yes, certainly, Vincenzo,” the elderly man replied patronizingly.

“How, sir, do you propose that we will fly?”

“Ah, I’m glad you asked that, Vincenzo! A very good question! I have been thinking on that question for more than half of my life, but much more so lately,” and, placing his fingertips together, he expounded, “You see, birds behave according to the square-cube law, Vincenzo. I should think that would be obvious.”

“Yes, sir,” Vincenzo replied agreeably, having no idea what the Great Man was talking about.

Paying no attention, Galileo rushed onwards impatiently, “You see, the weight of a bird is proportional to the volume of the bird, but the force with which the bird can push downwards with its wings so as to rise and thereby overcome its own weight is only proportional to the surface area of the bird’s wings. Ergo, the larger the bird, the more massive the wings need to be, while the bird itself must be more and more gossamer as it grows in size!” and he said this last with great aplomb, flapping his arms, as if he could see the bird in his mind’s eye.

“Yes, sir, I think I see, but how will a man be able to do such a thing? We weigh so much more than does a bird!”

“Ah, you have hit on the conundrum, Vincenzo! I have been thinking on that problem, and I think that the force the bird exerts downwards is directly proportional to the speed with which the bird flies. The faster the bird flies, the greater the force exerted downwards by its wings. So a man, because he weighs so much more than a bird, will have to fly very fast, my son, very fast indeed!”

Vincenzo doubted the possibility of this last pronouncement, but he knew better than to press the Great Man onward, because there was no stopping him once he became animated, and he was on this occasion clearly excited. Thus, Vincenzo chose to remain silent.

Galileo sat for a few moments, the enthusiasm slowly draining from him. Calming himself, he uttered sociably, “Come, let us not become too engaged in the sublime, Vincenzo. As I said – all in good time my boy. However, I wonder if you would be so kind as to write a letter for me. Would you mind, Vincenzo?”

“I would be honored, Professore. I am always happy to write letters on your behalf.” Vincenzo wondered to himself who this one would be written to. The Holy See would have to see anything transcribed by him before it was allowed to leave the villa. Besides, the old man had no friends left. Those who had not turned against him had all died by now, including nearly everyone in his family.

Taking up quill and ink, Vincenzo inquired, “To whom shall I address it, Professore?”

“Well, actually, it is not a letter at all, my boy. It is rather, a small poem. Something that I have been contemplating in my spare time, which as you well know is limitless. It is just a poem for myself, you see, Vincenzo.”

“Oh, yes, I see…” he replied eagerly, but suddenly realizing the absurdity of it, Vincenzo blurted, “But professore, you cannot read it, so why would you want to have it written down?”

“Ha,” Galileo replied knowingly, “I suspected that you would ask that question – very perceptive, my boy, very perceptive. I will respond to you by saying what is the obvious – I suspect that I am not long for this world.”

“But no, Sir! Do not utter such an unthinkable thought! You will have many more years to enjoy here in your garden, I am certain of it.”

“Yes, that may be, my son, but I have already had eight long years to enjoy my garden, and I assure you that I have explored it to the utmost dimensions that are humanly possible,” and at this he gazed out over the garden, as if he could actually see it still. Continuing, he now proselytized, “My pupil, Vincenzo, my time is near. Trust me on this point. I want to be prepared when my time arrives. I wish to carry with me my last will to The Pearly Gates. There being no one here on Earth to hear my case, I wish to present my best position to St. Peter, when we are met face to face. I dare not fall speechless on such a momentous occasion, my son.”

“But you cannot see, sir!” Vincenzo replied dimly.

“Ah, yes, my son, that is a fact. But when I reach The Gates to Heaven, I assure you, I shall most certainly be able to see the glory of God. So please, take up your quill, and write my will, without so much as a tiny deviation from my words…please!”

Taking a piece of parchment in hand, he began transcribing as Galileo dictated to him. Unfortunately, as the dictation progressed he lost track of the train of thought of the poem as, struggling to keep up with his professore, he could focus on nothing more than the transcription itself.

At one point Galileo halted for a moment and inquired, “Are you getting all of this down, Vincenzo?”

By then hopelessly lost, Vincenzo had somehow managed to write down every word exactly as it had been spoken, thereby permitting him to announce proudly, “Yes, Professore, yes, I have it all just so, exactly as you have spoken.”

“Excellent,” Galileo replied, who without so much as a moment’s hesitation set off yet again at breakneck pace. When the dictation of the poem was complete the Great Man asked Vincenzo to read it back to him in its entirety. At the completion of Vincenzo’s reading, Galileo placed his fingertips together, uttering a single word, “Perfetto!”

Vincenzo smiled silently in response, proud that he had managed to transcribe the entire poem correctly. Unfortunately, the Great Man immediately asked for the parchment. Vincenzo, desperate to have a chance to read the verses over one more time, felt powerless to deny the old man his request. While it was true that he had been instructed to never allow the old man to write anything unchecked, this small departure seemed in no way harmful. There was indeed no possible avenue for Galileo to spirit his “will” outside the walls of the villa. And for all that, to Vincenzo it sounded like nothing more than the babblings of a senile old man.

Tucking the sheet of paper discretely within his tunic, Galileo announced abruptly, “And now, let us continue our lesson!”

 

That Night

 

Galileo arose in the cool of the night, the silence within the villa enveloping him like an impenetrable fog. As he commenced his labor, he contemplated with amusement how this was one circumstance wherein sightlessness was surely a blessing in disguise. After nearly four years enshrouded in total blindness, he was still surprised that no one had thought to maintain watch over him at night. Indeed, the night had become his salvation, his trusted ally, the time when he made his greatest strides, for only the blind know the light that is hidden within darkness.

Now, using practiced patience, he carefully disassembled the concealed partition in his credenza, patiently removing the wooden panel that would be the final resting place for his penultimate revelation. Would it be found? How long before someone stumbled onto it? How long would the world await the final discovery of Galileo? These questions weighed mightily on his somnolent reverie.

He carefully appended his signature at the bottom of the poem and patiently awaited the ink to dry. Next he gently folded the message so that it would fit between the two thin slats of wood. He then placed an additional small strip of paper within, knowing that it would form a tiny but nonetheless important clue for the discoverer. He dared not include the other two sheets of paper within the hiding place. Although he was forced to hide these in an even more covert location, he was confident that the clues secreted within the poem would surely guide the finder to the two additional documents.

Thus, as he had carefully planned over many months, he took his favorite telescope in his hands and carefully unscrewed the lens cap on the end, drawing out a thin sheet of lacquered linen that was used as a non-reflecting liner inside the lengthy tube. He then slowly wrapped the two remaining sheets around the linen and reinserted the entire assemblage into the barrel of the telescope.

Reattaching the lens cap, he quietly recounted to himself, “There, that will have to do.” His last offering to humankind properly concealed, he leaned back in his chair. Though exhausted by the completion of this most intricate means of disclosure, he contemplated with satisfaction the enormity of this, the final and most assuredly the most significant scientific accomplishment of his life.

 

Florence Airport – 1997

 

Paul Woodbridge murmured,Grazie,” and, retrieving his passport from the customs agent, he proceeded to the baggage return area. Somewhat refreshed by the first class accommodation on the overnight flight, he quickly retrieved his luggage and ambled apprehensively toward the green customs aisle, wondering to himself if the contessa would be awaiting him outside customs as promised.

He needn’t have worried. The moment the opaque glass doors swung open, he made eye contact with a striking woman who smiled broadly and waved to him. Visibly impressed with his first sight of the Contessa, he murmured to himself, “Hmmm…this is going to be interesting.”

He strode affably up to her, at which point she grasped him in a friendly embrace and kissed him on one cheek. Any onlooker would have thought they were old friends. Greeting him thusly, she immediately gushed in rapid-fire staccato, “Buongiorno, Professore Woodbridge! How was your flight? Was it very bad for you? You certainly look none the worse for wear. And the Tuscan weather has certainly obliged you!”

Suddenly observing his discomfort at her precipitous preamble, she blushed, threw him an entrancing smile, and turning to the young man next to her, she continued without so much as even pausing to catch her breath, “Oh, I’m sorry, this is my son, Marco. Marco, this is Professore Woodbridge.”

Still recovering from her impromptu speech, Paul nevertheless managed to smile politely and shake Marco’s hand, replying in English, “Pleased to meet you, Marco.”

It was indeed a gorgeous day in Firenze, a welcome change from the drab gray of late winter that he had so recently escaped in Cleveland. And predictably, the drive along the autostrada in the contessa’s Alfa Romeo brought back a plethora of memories for Paul – so many adventures in his beloved adopted country over the years.

Unfortunately, Marco’s driving was not to Paul’s liking. Marco had apparently been taught to drive in Naples, in Paul’s opinion the birthplace of what he termed “speed demonism”. Nonetheless, they managed to exit the A1 unharmed, and Paul was surprised to find that it was the Galluzzo exit. “Where exactly do you live, Contessa Floridiana?” he queried in anticipation.

“Signore Professore, we live in Arcetri, but of course. I thought that you knew!” she responded with animation.

“What!” he answered in disbelief. “No. No, I didn’t know. Well, this is certainly a surprise! And would it be too much to presume that you also live near Galileo’s house?”

“Actually, yes, everyone who lives in Arcetri is not far from Galileo’s house. We live on the Via di San Michele a Montepaldi. Do you know it?” she queried in response.

“Yes. Yes, of course. It’s not far at all from Galileo’s house,” at which he halted for a moment, but subsequently murmured to himself, “Soooo, the plot thickens.”

“Pardon?” the Contessa responded.

Anxious to begin filling in the loose ends, he inquired, “Oh, nothing, I was just thinking aloud. So what exactly is your connection with Galileo, Contessa?”

“Please, call me Antonietta. I am not really a contessa anyway.”

“And by all means, please, call me Paul,” and, his curiosity continuing to mount, he added, “And why do you say that you are not a contessa?”

“My goodness, where do I begin?” she responded, “Allora, I married young, much too young. But I suppose it was not a mistake because here is Marco, the joy of my life. I was divorced three, no, almost four years ago. I should have done so long ago, but I had to build up my nerve. You see, divorce is frowned upon in Italy.”

“Yes, I am aware of that,” he replied succinctly.

Now well up into the hills above Firenze, the Alfa turned into a driveway, and Marco punched a button on a brick column to open the rather ornate gate blocking the driveway. The villa was not overly sumptuous, but it was nevertheless impressive.

On seeing the grounds, Paul volunteered with discernible elation, “This is quite impressive!”

Catching his eye, she responded, “Thank you, Paul. It is comfortable for me. I grew up near here, so it is also convenient for me. You see, I received it as a part of the divorce settlement.”

“Ah, I see,” he replied pleasantly, but he really didn’t see at all. Still, there was plenty of time to sort out that part. Since she appeared to be forthcoming, he determined to patiently await further insight.

Gravel crackling under the tires, the car drew to a halt in front of the villa. It was a typical two story Italian villa, graced with tall green shutters framing the windows, and painted in that distinctive Umbrian hue that is emblematic of Tuscany. The villa was accented with an ample supply of tall pine trees, thus creating an atmosphere of cool serenity. Here and there one could see the paint cracking, a gutter amiss, or a flower pot overturned, all of which only added to the ethereal appeal.

Upon entering the villa, Paul was ushered to a spacious bedroom that had been prepared for him. The moment the door was closed behind him, he pulled back the drapes and pushed open the windows in anticipation. There, not two miles distant lay the Santa Maria del Fiori, with Brunelleschi’s distinctive herringbone red dome dominating the skyline of Firenze.

Paul stood motionless, a smile slowly spreading across his features. In his mind, he was at this precise moment positioned perhaps as near to heaven as was humanly possible on Earth. Given what he would have been doing had he not answered the phone the previous morning, he asked himself aloud, “Was that only yesterday?”

Reluctantly, he dragged himself from his reverie, pondering to himself, “Okay, down to business,” and, summarily showering, he changed to a loose-fitting white dress shirt and jeans. Shortly thereafter, he located the Contessa sipping a cup of tea on the terrace within the garden.

“My, you look refreshed,” she observed, clearly pleased by his simple and carefree attire, “May I pour you a cup of tea, Professore?”

“Yes, please,” he responded and, taking a seat, he posited, “And now, what can I do for you, Contessa?”

At this, she almost spilled her coffee in mid-gulp and, placing her cup on the table before her, she snorted, then actually giggled, finally proffering with obvious mirth, “You Americans, you are such a delight!”

Perplexed by her reaction, he asked, “What did I do?”

“Oh, nothing. Tis just that we Italians do not possess the instinct to progress quite so quickly. We have a penchant for savoring life. We languish, we partake, we sometimes relish the joy contained within the simple act of doing nothing. One might say, we try to squeeze every drop of pleasure from the simple act of existence that we possibly can.”

“I know that!” he responded defensively, “But in all fairness, you did seem in quite a rush on the phone yesterday,” and, leaning back in his chair, he made a rather feeble attempt to do her bidding. Still, he found himself powerless to avoid admitting, “I still can’t believe that was only yesterday!”

“Well, there you are! Things are moving quite rapidly, even by your standards,” she allowed, and she was smiling at the absurdity of such an admission. “Besides, my ploy on the phone seems to have been successful, as here you undeniably are, Professore!”

At this it was his turn to laugh. The truth was, he felt himself in no hurry to do anything whatsoever. After all, he contemplated to himself, “How often does one get the chance to sit with a contessa in the garden of a villa overlooking Firenze?” But of course, he already knew the answer to his own question.

Observing his change of expression, she proffered, “I see you smiling, and I suspect that I know what you are thinking.”

He peered at her and, curving his mouth into an impish half-smile, he countered, “Well, all I can say is – this beats the heck out of teaching introductory dynamics to a bunch of disinterested twenty year olds who own significantly more expensive cars than I can afford,” and at this rather pointless admission they both chortled convivially.

The comfort level having now advanced significantly for both, the pair managed to settle into mutual silence made perfect by the glass of wine she served him. Accordingly, they languished a few moments, Paul clearly satisfied with their first exchange. Eventually he could no longer contain himself and, gesturing toward the Florentine skyline, he volunteered probingly, “That Brunelleschi was a genius, wasn’t he!”

“Undeniably,” she responded forcefully.

Her evasive answer having divulged nothing whatsoever to him, he attempted a second approach, “I confess – I’m curious. What is it that is so important that you have gone to great expense to bring me here so hastily?”

“I thought you’d never ask,” she replied with a knowing look and playful smile that seemed to him to say, “Impatient American!” Placing her glass of wine on the table, she began, “We have a situation. Yes, that is what I shall call it – a situation. As I mentioned to you on the telephone, I purchased a piece of furniture that I suspected might have belonged to our Galileo. It appears that I may have been correct.”

“May I see it?” he asked brusquely, now clearly beyond impatient to satisfy his curiosity, but in his own mind he remonstrated, “What if this is a wild goose chase?” Horrified at the possibility, he realized that the thought of boarding a plane for the return trip was at this moment indeed quite unbearable.

Tugging him back to reality, she responded enigmatically, “Of course,” and, rising from her chair, she entreated, “Follow me, if you will,” and as she did so, she beckoned him towards the door.

Pursuing her, he found himself being led to a locked room which she summarily opened. As they stepped inside Paul found that the room was large enough to house quite an assembly of furnishings, but he nonetheless walked directly to the piece in question and began to examine it.

Nodding her concurrence with his selection, she volunteered, “I knew that you were the right person for this.”

Having become instantaneously absorbed in his examination of the credenza before him, he inquired vacantly, “Why?”

“Oh, many reasons – you clearly know your history, but more than that, I believe that you can be trusted.”

Something about the way she said this last made him turn back toward her, and eyeing her doubtfully, he asked, “Just exactly what have you gotten me into, Contessa?”

“I am afraid the answer to that question depends at least in part on what you determine from your examination,” she replied evasively.

“Yes…I see…” he murmured haltingly and, turning back to the credenza, he rubbed his chin for a few moments and subsequently announced, “Well, it is certainly from the right period of time – close to four hundred years old, if that is what you are wondering. Unfortunately, we have no extant detailed listings of what was in Galileo’s house during his lifetime, so I’m afraid that I can neither verify nor deny its authenticity. I’m sorry. I wish I could be of more help”

“Oh, that’s fine. I hadn’t really expected you to respond otherwise,” she replied patiently.

Nonetheless intrigued, he suggested, “What makes you think it came from his house, Antonietta?”

“Well, I bought it at auction from the estate that is across the street from his villa on the Pian dei Giuliani.”

“Oh!” he replied with obvious excitement, “That’s where a friend of his lived, if I am not mistaken.”

“Once again, you are quite correct.”

“What other evidence do you have that makes you think it might have once belonged to Galileo?”

“Actually, I had none whatsoever when I purchased it. Had there been more substantial evidence, it probably would never have been possible for me to purchase it. As I’m sure you well know, anything that belonged to Galileo is now either in a museum somewhere, or it is in the house of some very wealthy collector.” At this submission she halted for a moment as if gathering her thoughts, but then she abruptly posited, “I happened to know that his friend lived in the house across the street when Galileo died, and I reasoned that it was quite possible that he would have purloined some ’keepsake’, shall we say, of his world famous neighbor. Accordingly, when the auction was announced, I determined to see what might be available from the house. The credenza you see before you was quite clearly the only piece that could possibly have come from the early seventeenth century. I therefore determined to buy it on pure chance. Fortunately for me, times are tough here in Firenze, and I was able to purchase the piece for two million lira.”

“You were indeed quite lucky. If it does indeed turn out to be Galileo’s credenza, it may be worth twenty or thirty times that.”

“Oh, I didn’t buy it as an investment. I plan to keep it, but that is not the reason I bought it either. I was hoping that it might produce ‘buried treasure’, as you Americani say.”

“Oh, that’s right, you said on the phone that there was a hidden document,” he responded and, now regaining the train of thought, he added, “Where is it?”

Casting a challenging glance toward the credenza, she suggested, “Surely one such as you can guess.”

Never one to pass up a challenge, he set to examining the entire credenza, but after a few moments he found himself nonetheless stumped. At length he blurted, “I see nothing untoward,” but suddenly contradicting himself, he exclaimed, “Wait a minute, I know, or at least I think I know! During the sixteenth century craftsmen would construct a secret compartment that was specifically designed to hold just a few sheets of paper. The addition was really not a compartment as much as it was two thin pieces of wood placed adjacent to one another in such a way as to appear to be a single piece of wood. The secret documents were to be laid between the two pieces of wood for safekeeping. Those were times filled with intrigue, so that these sorts of things were not uncommon.”

“Perhaps,” she responded evasively, “Please continue, Professore.”

“What is this – a game?” he responded. “You already know where the document is, so show me!”

Giggling in superiority, she replied, “Not on your life! I am enjoying watching you at your profession. Now get on with it, Professore,” and she offered this last with a toss of her head.

His hangdog glance speaking volumes, he nonetheless turned back to his task with relish. Tapping around on panels for what seemed an eternity, he finally declared that he was relatively certain that the back piece within the left-hand drawer was hollow.

Observing no reaction whatsoever on her part, he set to the process of determining how he might succeed in removing the telltale piece without damaging the credenza. It turned out to be a simple matter, and when he managed to remove the piece from the casing he could see that it was indeed the item he sought. His heart suddenly leaping into his throat, he laid the wood on the desk top and carefully removed the upper piece. Beneath it rested a single piece of folded and timeworn parchment.

Paul laid it carefully on the table and, brows furrowed in concentration, murmured, “Please Antonietta, get me some small paper weights. If this is indeed what we think it to be, we must take great care to avoid damaging it.”

Rummaging around within a drawer, she pulled out some polished rocks, which she handed to him. Picking one up, he examined it inquisitively and mumbled to himself, “I’m not even going to ask what this is about,” at which he proceeded to unfold the paper ever so cautiously.

At length he observed, “There’s something inside it.” Subsequently peeking between the folds as he separated them, he exclaimed, “Oh, I see. It’s another piece of paper, obviously from the same batch,” and as he said this last, he gently tugged a smaller piece of paper out and pushed it aside. Placing rocks on the four corners of the now unfolded larger piece of paper, he then proceeded to examine it more carefully. As expected, it was written in Italian.

At this point Antonietta inquired breathlessly, “Is it Galileo’s handwriting?”

“No,” he replied distractedly, his attention still focused squarely on the paper before him.

“Oh,” was all Antonietta could say, but after a moment she slumped down, completely deflated.

Failing to notice her dejected reaction, Paul continued his implacable examination.

At length, Antonietta mumbled disconsolately, “I’m so sorry, Professore. I was sure it was Galileo’s handwriting. I’m afraid I’ve brought you all this way for nothing!”

Having ignored her lamentation, he abruptly grasped her in an impromptu hug and crowed excitedly, “Yeehah! It’s a riddle. I love riddles!”

Shocked by this inappropriate display, Antonietta tore herself from his grasp and, stepping back, she frowned at him in utter dismay. Her irritation heightened by his bizarre admission, she blurted, “What are you, some sort of game freak? What do you say in the United States – a geek?”

At this, Paul exclaimed lugubriously, “No, Contessa! And don’t look at me like that. I assure you that you picked the right person when you called me. The document was not written by Galileo. It’s even better!”

“What! What do you mean?” she responded, her eyes now bulging in anticipation.

An infectious grin spreading across his face, he posited, “The document was written by Galileo’s pupil, Signore Vincenzo Viviani!”

Crossing her arms in apparent confusion, she inquired, “Why does that make it better?”

“Signore Viviani was Galileo’s assistant only for the last three years of his life. Galileo went completely blind in 1637!”

“Yes, of course. I know he was blind,” Antonietta replied in obvious irritation but, realization slowly dawning on her, she stammered, “Ah…wait a minute…I think I see. Galileo would have written it himself had he been able to see, but Galileo could not write himself during the last four years of his life. So if I understand correctly, Galileo would have had to employ Signore Viviani to write everything on his behalf, right?”

“Exactly!” Paul replied knowingly.

“But wait a minute,” she repeated, “Just because Galileo didn’t write this, it doesn’t mean that he in fact dictated it.”

“Oh, but indeed it does,” he replied gleefully, “I am quite certain that this is a message from the great Galileo himself. There is simply far too much circumstantial evidence here for it to be otherwise.”

“How so?”

“It is speculated that Signore Viviani, though hired by the Grand Duke of Tuscany, may have been planted by the Holy See to spy on Galileo. Blind and known to be paranoid, Galileo would most certainly have been reticent to trust Viviani. We also know that Galileo was very fond of labyrinthine writings such as this. We may therefore conclude that this poem contains a clandestine message that Galileo desperately wanted to convey beyond the walls of his villa.”

Contemplating momentarily, he subsequently hypothesized, “Suppose that you were a genius, and that you were at the end of your life, and you were blind and cut off from the world. More importantly, suppose that you were desperate to pass on one last flash of brilliance to the world. How would you attempt to communicate with the outside world?”

“Oh…I see….” she murmured wistfully. Her brow furrowed in concentration, she suggested, “So he had to devise a way to get by Signore Viviani. But why didn’t he just tell a family member? They were allowed to visit, weren’t they?”

“They were almost all dead by then,” he responded. The pair then fell silent, lost in the moment, but he then took up again with, “Antonietta, it seems that you are the very fortunate possessor of a poem that is quite possibly the last writing of Galileo. Unfortunately, his circumstances required him to place it in the form of a riddle that is so convoluted that we may never know the true meaning of it.”

“What exactly is a riddle?” she asked.

“It means a writing that has a hidden meaning,” he replied matter-of-factly.

Her face lighting up, she posited, “Ah, uno rompicapo! So you think that our Galileo duped Signore Viviani into transcribing what appeared to him to be some mindless little poem, but that in reality it had a hidden meaning?”

“Exactly,” he responded, “Now, suppose we set to the task of translating it to English so that I may better appreciate the hidden meaning within,” and so saying, the pair set to their appointed task. Within a few hours they had painstakingly translated the document to English to the best of their combined abilities. It read as follows:

 

Tis said that dark must dull the mind,

But one man’s dark is bright as day.

Still, all too soon this light shall fade,

Thus pray these lines reveal the way-

The quill alight with fear and haste.

 

Now learn herein with stanzas seven

The end result shall lead to heaven

Fruit of life – one filled with strife –

And born with ardor for each soul

One need endure till timed to ripe.

 

First pilgrims shouldst ye be in turn

Each ending in a tomb of fame

Commence ye with the Dome inventor

Thence on to unseen Abbey founder

Next back to whence your trek commenced

Thence sea she called back the pope

Thereafter to the tomb of numbers

Then overhead the utmost next

Followed by the Wolf’s admirer

Endeth with the Lion to The Great.

 

The sinuous web doth point the way-

Near circles crossing with the endings

Each tracing out MS abodes,

With semblance marked unto his sign.

 

Next grasp the tool that saw the moon

Turn slide round thrice and open wide,

Therein to find, the web emblazoned

Image of the blind.

 

The end result – a time

Placed squarely within his sign

The time of Christ plus M signed twice

Add X’s three and I four more.

 

Thenceforth find Leonardo, count his way

Eighty paces toward the tilt

And left (from lantern) eighty more

The tilt shall be found in the way,

And falter on the selfsame day?

 

Passed by the Sea not long ago

Heir poet to Verona bard,

Doth harbor one within the heart

When naught obstruct right line the stars.

 

The brightness must call home the star

The arc approaching from afar

Soon after shall the pair collide

Lord let this lamb not be denied.

 

Upon completion of the translation Paul was initially euphoric, but his joy quickly turned to gloom as he realized that he had no earthly idea what the verse was about. Studying it carefully, he observed complacently, “Well, there is one good thing.”

“Oh, what might that be?”

His head propped within his hands, he observed, “Galileo is most definitely the author.”

“Oh, really? How can you be so certain, Professore?”

“He actually refers to himself within the poem.”

Frowning doubtfully at him, she blurted, “He does?”

“Yes, I am certain of it, although once again he has employed practiced deception in order to pass the watchful eye of Viviani. In the third line of the fourth stanza, he refers to ‘MS’. We both know who that is – il messaggero stellato – the Starry Messenger – Galileo himself. He dared not include his own initials, and no one else would have thought to use these two letters to identify himself.”

Over the next several hours a pall gradually cast itself over the pair as they slowly recognized the enormous complexity of it all. By late afternoon they had deduced that the long stanza seemed to beckon the reader to undertake a pilgrimage of some sort, but that was the full extent of their discernment to that point.

Finally, her head resting disconsolately in her hands, Antonietta exclaimed with apparent dismay, “I confess, I was so confused by the time I finished reading it the first time that I failed to pay much attention to the last paragraph. It seems to be rather poignant, does it not?”

“Yes, it certainly does,” he agreed, “However, we may never completely understand it if we are unable to decipher the preceding verses. Still, what I can say thus far is that it appears that this last verse is not a part of the riddle. Instead, it appears to me to be some sort of prayer to God to protect his soul, although he refers to himself as a star. One would think that a man on his deathbed would express greater humility before God.”

“I agree,” she put in thoughtfully.

Scratching his chin in contemplation, he continued, “Similarly, I believe that the first verse is little more than a preamble. Perhaps Galileo initiated the poem that way in order to throw Viviani off the scent. In addition, it appears to me that the second verse is simply informing the discerning reader that there are major clues hidden within the succeeding seven stanzas. Do you agree?”

“Yes. Yes, I do,” she concurred, “But what do you make of the eighth stanza?”

He responded thoughtfully, “Well, it being the second to last, it seems to me to be the most important verse in the entire poem. Unfortunately, I have no idea what it means. One thing that jumps out at me though is the last two lines of the second verse. They seem to be saying that it is supposed to be difficult, and that to solve it ‘one need endure’.”

At this he ran his hands through his hair in frustration, abruptly exclaiming, “Oh, hell… it’s just completely baffling!” but, seeing her disapproval of his choice of words, he blurted, “Sorry, I’m just out of sorts. Why I expected it to be easy, I have no idea, but I suppose that I did. I am afraid that our Galileo has stumped me, Contessa.”

At this Antonietta was silent, but her sly smile was nonetheless not lost on him.

Rushing to cover his embarrassment at having been outclassed by a man long in his grave, he stumbled onwards, suggesting, “He also seems to be referring to Shakespeare when he says ‘Verona bard’, but what on earth does that have to do with the sea?”

Non so, I don’t know,” she responded in like measure, but suddenly bounding to her feet, she exclaimed, “Wait a minute! We’ve forgotten something!” at which she dashed over to the counter and located the nearly forgotten item.

Thrusting the small slip of paper toward him, she exclaimed, “This!”

 

 

“Oh my…and so we did!” he replied with newfound interest. “Perhaps this little piece of paper holds a clue.”

Examining it carefully, he discovered that it was a strip of paper that seemed to be composed of seven holes arrayed in a more or less straight line. The spacing between the holes was somewhat uneven, stretching over perhaps half its length, and there was a smear of ink encircling each hole. Completely flummoxed by it, he stared at it silently for what seemed an eternity.

Finally, Antonietta broke the silence with, “Well, what is it, Professore?”

Glancing at her in utter bewilderment, he muttered, “You’ve got me. I have absolutely no idea what on earth it is. It seems to only deepen the mystery. There is an ink smear towards one end that seems to be nothing important. I also noticed that three of the edges are cut, but one has been torn along its length, as if he had no knife or scissors to cut it with. After all, he was blind. Perhaps he took a full sheet of parchment and tore it along a sharp edged surface such as the edge of the credenza.”

The pair studied it a bit longer, neither able to discern its purpose. Paul eventually turned his attention back to the poem, positing, “Okay, I propose a different approach. Suppose we focus on stanza three – the long one. There seem to be plenty of interesting clues within that one.”

Va bene,” she responded. Then pausing to gaze wistfully from the window, she exhaled audibly and announced in surprise, “My goodness, I didn’t realize that it is getting towards sunset.”

Following her gaze, he blurted, “Oh! We seem to have lost all track of time!”

“Suppose we take a break. I’m hungry!” and she said this last with evident gusto.

Grinning affably at her, he responded, “Of course. What do you propose?”

“Why not give ourselves a well-earned breather. I know a ristorante in Firenze that I believe you will like. It’s named Ristorante Paoli. It is in fact several hundred years old!”

“Ah, yes, I’ve eaten there once, Antonietta. It’s a lovely place.”

“You know too much, my friend, far too much!” and she smiled back, clearly happy that he knew and understood something of her culture.

“Ha!” he croaked sardonically, “I know exactly what you’re thinking, Contessa!”

Smiling demurely, she said slyly, “And what might that be, Paulo, I mean Paul? I’m sorry, it just sounds so right to say it the Italian way.”

“Oh, I like Paulo,” he grinned, “Please, feel free,” and, seeing that she had lost the train of the conversation, he suggested, “Shall we meet in the foyer shortly?”

At this she posited, “Perfetto!” and so saying, she sauntered from the room.

Perusing her departure, Paul whistled softly to himself in admiration at the wonders of nature. Ensconced within the shower a short time later, he realized that he had no idea what day it was – a sure sign that life was indeed good.

In the end, dinner was a revelation. Paul had dined in Italy countless times over the years, but never before with a celebrity. It seemed that everyone in Firenze knew the Contessa Floridiana, and all forms of greeting included kissing on both cheeks. Indeed, they were subjected to so much greeting and kissing that Paul wondered if they would ever be allowed to actually dine. But that of course was the very essence of Italian culture, and in the end they were afforded a fine meal as well.

Properly sated, they returned to the villa as midnight closed in. Goodnights were shared and each trundled off to their respective solitude in anticipation of the oncoming challenge.

 

The Following Morning

 

 

Dispelling the cobwebs, Antonietta arose with unforeseen excitement to face the morning light. Dressing quickly, she padded to the kitchen in search of breakfast, but upon entering the kitchen she stopped short. There he was, sipping a cup of coffee as if he had been awake for hours.

Arching one eyebrow in shock, she stammered, “What the…and there I thought that I had found an American who could assimilate Italian culture! But here you are, up at the crack of dawn, acting just like some workaholic!”

His smile disarming her, he countered, “Oh, I think that you will find that I have ample ability to sleep late, Contessa, but I have a good excuse today.”

“And what might that be?”

“I’m jet lagged…couldn’t sleep. So I got up at sunrise, and believe me, I am most definitely NOT an early riser.”

At this she snorted and nodded approvingly, but said nothing.

Seeing the opportunity to continue, he imparted, “And I believe I have some good news – I believe that I have deciphered a portion of the poem!”

“Oh, that IS good news! Tell me, tell me!” she replied conspiratorially.

“Yes, of course,” he volunteered, “But first let me get you a cup of coffee.”

Peering doubtfully at his cup, she inquired, “Did you make that?”

“Yes, yes, I know how to make espresso. Would you like it with milk, or straight?”

Surprised at this unanticipated skill, she responded, “Straight, please.”

“I should have guessed,” he replied wistfully. “I can’t do that. I drink it about half and half, and – believe me – it’s still twice as strong as Café Americano.”

Giggling as she accepted the tiny proffered cup from him, she surreptitiously drained it in a matter of seconds.

Gaping at her in sheer wonder, he exclaimed, “Amazing!” at which she simply smiled enigmatically.

Apparently embarrassed, he blurting somewhat inanely, “Okay, so where was I? Oh, yes, stanza number three! Let’s see here,” and at this admission he fumbled through a newly arisen stack of papers for the translated verse, subsequently announcing, “Right…look here, Contessa. It’s ten lines long, and it is clearly divided into two parts. The first two lines are instructions detailing what to do, and the last eight lines tell you where to go. So it’s clear, there are eight different cities that we are instructed to visit. See?”

“Yes, I do see,” she replied and, frowning with intensity as she studied the poem, she posited, “So, I assume we’re off to Firenze again today.”

“Right you are, Contessa!” he responded with obvious astonishment.

Glancing knowingly at him, she surmised, “What? Did you think I didn’t know who the dome inventor was? Everyone in Italy knows that.”

“Right,” he responded sheepishly, not wanting to irritate her further, “But I confess, I myself was not certain at first that line three refers to the Brunelleschi Dome. There are in fact two other very famous domes in Italy, and both existed in Galileo’s time. Either of them could be the dome referred to in the poem. The first is of course the Dome of the Pantheon in Roma. The second is the Dome of St. Peter’s Cathedral, also in Roma. It took me quite a while to rule these other two out.”

“And how did you do that, Paulo?” she queried.

“Both of these are most likely out for the same reason – there is already another tomb that we are supposed to visit in Roma.”

Perplexed, she asked, “And what might that be?”

“Look at line eight.”

Frowning in deep concentration, she carefully read the eighth line of the fourth stanza. After further contemplation, she said, “I don’t get it…”

“Hooray!” he replied gleefully, “Then I’m not as stupid as I thought I was! It took me a couple of hours, but I kept wondering what ‘the utmost’ meant. Put in the context of a tomb, I am thinking it means ‘the tomb of the most important person’. Now, in order to decipher the meaning of that, I think that we need to put ourselves in Galileo’s shoes. There can’t be many possibilities from his perspective, but I am betting our Galileo means The Tomb of St. Peter!”

“That’s perceptive,” she replied matter-of-factly, “But wait a minute…IS there a tomb of St. Peter?”

“Yes, it’s right under St. Peters’ Cathedral, where one would expect it to be.”

“I didn’t know that!” she answered with surprise.

“Don’t feel bad, I didn’t either. A friend told me about it a few years ago, and I managed to arrange a visit to the tomb. You can only see it by special invited tour.”

“Do you think we could get in to see it, Paulo?”

“Actually, with this poem we have, I think we could indeed!”

Non!” she almost screamed.

“What the…” he stumbled backward, shocked by her strangely emphatic response. He subsequently replied in apparent confusion, “What was that for, Antonietta?”

“I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you, but to be honest, I do not think that informing members of the Roman Catholic Church about Galileo’s document is a good idea.”

At this he blurted, “Surely not, Antonietta. Surely they’re not still after Galileo after more than three hundred and fifty years!”

She gazed downcast towards the table for a few moments, then admitted tersely, “I have not told you everything, Paul,” thereby casting an immediate pall over the pair. “You see, I have a past. I was married to a count, as you are well aware.” She hesitated momentarily, then murmured softly, “He is Mafioso, Paulo. I am, you see, quite fortunate to be alive. No one escapes the Mafia.”

His eyebrows arching skyward in astonishment, he blurting impertinently, “Why on earth did you marry him in the first place, Antonietta?”

“He was good looking! And, after all, he IS a count!”

At this he responded with nothing more than a perplexed stare, as if to say, “So what!”

Distraught by her obvious loss of standing in his eyes, she sought for an explanation, responding weakly, “I didn’t know, Professore….” and then, as if to herself, she whispered, “I didn’t know. I was very young…” and at this she began to sob.

The worst having momentarily passed, she drew her hands across her face, in the process smudging her eye liner. She now crossed her arms defiantly and, a look of misery pasting her visage, she simply glared silently at him

Softening at her forlorn attempt at defiance, he murmured regretfully, “Let’s just forget it. It’s none of my business. I am truly sorry, Contessa. I can see that you have suffered,” and, suddenly appearing to regain his train of thought, he added surreptitiously, “But what does all that have to do with the Church?”

At this change of tack she twittered hopelessly and, once again pulling her now entangled hair back, she explained, “Nothing and everything!” Narrowing her eyes piercingly, she disclosed, “Paulo, the system is rotten to the core. The whole of Italy is a quagmire of corrupt officials. Surely you know what I am talking about – you, who are a well-known historian of Italian culture and history.”

“Well, that may be true, Antonietta, but my grasp of Italian history stops about two hundred years ago. Of course, I knew that Italy was corrupt in the Roman Era, The Middle Ages and the Renaissance. But how could I have known that it has persisted right up to this very day?”

“Always…always, Paulo, for the entire history of Italy, it has been corrupt. There doesn’t seem to be any way to change it. And here is the worst part of all – they are all entwined together – the politicians, the polizia, the clergy, and the mafiosi. They are all corrupt. So you see, I was married to a mafioso, and they have infiltrated the Roman Catholic Church!”

“But what could they possibly want with this document, Antonietta?”

At this, she nearly shouted, “Don’t be obtuse, Paulo, it’s worth a fortune!”

Peering at her, he concurred, “Of course, I knew that.” He then halted and, glancing downward, he seemed to ponder the reality of the situation. After several moments, he glanced towards her and probed, “So what am I doing here, Antonietta? Why did you call me? I am by no means anything resembling a James Bond.”

At this admission, she threw her head back and laughed deeply, “Ah, that’s the spirit, Paulo. You will help me, no?” and she knew she had him – it was clear by his every reaction.

“Aw, crap…” he mumbled, “Yes…yes…I suppose so. I never could resist a great puzzle, much less a gorgeous woman in the offing,” and at this he smiled bravely, obviously unable to resist or even attempt to hide her power over him.

Her mood now turning somber, she cautioned, “But we must be careful, Paulo! We must be very careful. So far as I can tell, no one knows about the poem but us, but of this I cannot be certain. There are those who were at the auction who may ‘smell a rat’, as they say in your American gangster movies. So, need I say – we must move cautiously.”

At this pronouncement the blood seemed to drain from Paul’s face. He nonetheless replied sternly, “I hear you, Contessa. Well then, shall we begin?”

“Begin? Begin what?” she looked startled and confused.

“Why, begin the pilgrimage, of course, as our Starry Messenger himself has termed it.”

“Certainly,” she replied, her enthusiasm now visibly restored.

“Excellent, Contessa,” he responded deftly, “And now, let us be off!”

“Yes, yes, but where are we going?”

“Why, to Firenze, of course, to see Brunelleschi.”

“Yes, I understand, but where exactly is his tomb, Paulo?”

“Ha, you’re like a New Yorker who has never been to the Statue of Liberty! His tomb is beneath the Cathedral, of course!”

“At the risk of sounding stupid, what cathedral, Professore? Firenze is filled with cathedrals!”

“The Santa Maria del Fiori! I should have thought that would be obvious. For his magnificent feat, he was entombed within the very cathedral that he spent fourteen years of his life crowning.”

“Ah, excellent!” she posited.

He then added, “We must also visit the dome, it’s behind Giotto’s campanile…” but at this point he paused and, a strange look coming over his face, he abruptly stammered, “Behind…on the back…” and it was clear that he was engrossed in some new profound revelation.

A perceptive look suddenly coming over him, he exclaimed, “This may be a waste of time, but before we go, I think that we should look on the back.”

Completely lost, she responded quizzically, “On the back? On the back of what, Professore?”

“On the back of the poem, of course,” he replied diffidently, “Somehow we seem to have overlooked that.”

“Why would you think that there might be anything on the back of the poem?”

“It’s just a hunch, but Galileo was after all blind. Mistakenly assuming that it was in fact the front, he may have written something on the back of the poem.”

“That’s ridiculous,” she replied. “Surely he could have felt the ink on one side.”

“Not necessarily, Contessa. Parchment was often rough, as well as somewhat porous during his time, so that enough ink might have diffused through to the other side so as to render it impossible for a blind person to tell which side was the front.”

“Well, there is only one way to find out,” she replied doubtfully.

They stepped into the study and located the original of the poem. Antonietta carefully grasped it and turned it over, thereby eliciting an immediate audible gasp, “Oh! Oh, my goodness, you were right!”

Paul approached the parchment and, carefully examining it, he observed the following:

 

 

After meticulous examination, Paul announced cautiously, “Well, I’m no handwriting expert, but I am as certain as I can be that this is Galileo’s signature. Admittedly it is a bit messy, but one must remember that he was at this point totally blind, and it appears that he had some difficulty with the quill that he was using. I am quite familiar with Galileo’s signature, and this appears to be consistent with what his signature would look like once he lost his sight.”

At this Antonietta exhaled audibly, to which Paul turned and queried, “What is it?”

“Nothing. I was just holding my breath,” she replied in apparent relief.

Tilting his head in mystification, he responded, “Why?”

“I was afraid it might be a forgery, that’s all. But since it isn’t – that’s good!” She halted for a moment, and seeing the doubtful look nonetheless clouding Paul’s visage, she added, “Er, at least I think it’s good.”

“Oh, it’s good alright. I would say that it is better than good. I would say that this is absolute confirmation that Galileo is the author.”

“Even though the signature is on the back?”

“On the contrary, precisely because the signature is on the back. No sighted forger could have possibly conceived of such an error.”

“But what does ‘Linceo’ refer to? I didn’t know that he had another name,” she queried, a frown on her face.

“It’s not well known today, but Galileo was admitted to the Lincean Academy in 1611, and thereafter Galileo was seen to sign his name on many occasions as you see it here. I cannot say that it has any hidden meaning with respect to the poem, but we will explore every possibility.”

Antonietta responded, “Sounds good to me!”

Steering the conversation back to the subject at hand, Antonietta queried, “So it’s genuine?”

Turning to face her, he replied reassuringly, “My dear Contessa, I promise you, this is the real thing.”

Slowly rising to her feet, she stood quite still for a moment, then hopped once, and with a slowly expanding smile pronounced succinctly, “Va bene!

Taking her cue, Paul stood as well and, hopping once himself, he exclaimed, “Anch’io! Anch’io, Contessa!

Suddenly, the pair embraced in a friendly hug and, simultaneously hopping up and down, their jubilation somehow evolved into nothing short of a comical jig.

Chapter 2

 

Firenze

 

Truth emerges more readily from error than confusion.

 

-Francis Bacon (1561-1626)

 

1575

 

Vincenzo Galilei called playfully to his son, “Galileo, stop running! You will tire yourself out before we even begin the assent. Stop! Come back here. First we must see the famous Ghiberti doors!”

Having been running to and fro within the piazza, the young boy halted and returned to this father, blubbering rapid-fire, “Aw, Papa, do I have to? I love coming here. I want to see more! Can we go up the duomo? I’ve never been up the duomo!”

The elder Galilei remonstrated, “Yes, my son, of course we can, but you must wait for your brothers. You are the oldest, and your brothers cannot run so fast as you. You must set a good example for them, Galileo.”

“Yes, sir,” Galileo replied and, taking one of his brother’s hands, he set off once again.

Signore Galilei halted to explain the Ghiberti doors but, having seen them many times, Galileo’s attention was focused on the dome. As he had never been up the dome, he was excited beyond belief. He was desperate to know how it was built, how it could have been made. It was so big! It was the biggest thing he’d ever seen in his life. Someday he wanted to build something that big. Someday he wanted to be like Filippo Brunelleschi, the builder of the duomo, the man revered by all Florentines.

Eventually completing his discourse, the elder Galilei turned to lead his sons to the entrance to the duomo. Halting at the stairway, he announced, “Now boys, be careful, and follow your brother Galileo,” but Galileo was already noisily scampering up the stairway.

 

1997

 

Paul and Antonietta deposited the Alfa in the parking garage across from the central train station. From there they walked, and as they rounded the corner on the Via Panzani the cathedral came into view amidst the mid-day bustle of the cramped city center of Firenze.

Paul abruptly gasped at the site of the portico of the Santa Maria del Fiori, exclaiming, “It never ceases to take my breath away!”

“It is magnificent, isn’t it,” Antonietta responded matter-of-factly.

“Words cannot express my feelings for that dome,” Paul responded as they paced hurriedly towards it. “It is one of the great structures on earth, and I am a structures guy. For me, it is an altar of worship. As far as I am concerned the dome is the very symbol of the Renaissance.”

“We Italiani are quite proud of it, you know, Paulo,” she responded breathlessly.

“As you should be, Contessa, as you should be. That dome ushered in modern technology.”

“I knew it was important, but coming from you, an engineer, it seems to mean even more. Please tell me why, Professore.”

“Of course, but first we must climb the dome, Antonietta.”

Climb the dome! Why on earth would we do that? Only tourists do that!”

“Not quite, my dear. Only tourists – and us!” he responded with glee. As they entered the square he continued his soliloquy, “Brunelleschi was kind of a failure, you see, having lost out on the Baptistery doors right over there to Ghiberti,” and he pointed to the famous doors as they passed by them. “But when the competition for the dome was announced, Brunelleschi built a scale model from bricks without the use of scaffolding. Thus, impressed, the Signoria awarded the contract to Brunelleschi in 1418.” By this point the pair had arrived at the entrance to the dome.

Entering the stairwell, they began the long climb to the top of the lantern. Halfway to the top, they stopped in an alcove to catch their breath. Paul took the opportunity to explain that the implements in the alcove were the actual tools designed by Brunelleschi to build the dome. “You have to understand, it was an unprecedented amount of stone that had to be raised to the top of the cathedral in order to construct the dome. And the double herringbone supported dome within a dome was shear genius.”

“Two domes?” Antonietta asked.

“Yes, one within the other, built both for egress and structural support. You will see, Antonietta, very shortly you will see,” and with that he continued the assent.

“So exactly what is the principle of a dome, Paulo?” Antonietta asked, already huffing yet again.

“Hoop stress, Contessa, hoop stress,” he responded breathlessly.

“What’s that?” she asked with obvious dismay.

“To understand that you would have to be a structural engineer. Suffice it to say that our Signore Brunelleschi understood this principle despite the fact that it was not explained with scientific rigor until the mid-nineteenth century. The man was clearly a genius – well ahead of his time. I suspect that Galileo would be numbered among his admirers, having spent much of his life in this city, and studied, enunciated, and ultimately invented the science of mechanics, he would most assuredly have been a fan of Brunelleschi. And with that, let us finish our pilgrimage to the top of the dome. Moments later they emerged onto the deck of the lantern, where they were presented with the best view in all of Firenze.

“Oh, my…” Antonietta exclaimed, completely overwhelmed by the scene before her. “I see what you were talking about, Paulo. This is absolutely incredible! It’s even better than the view from the Piazza Michelangelo near Arcetri.”

“Now we must go visit Signore Brunelleschi,” he responded. “He is beneath the cathedral. Shall we?” They forthwith began the descent, reaching ground level inside the cathedral in considerably less time than their ascent had taken.

Once inside the cathedral Antonietta first walked to the intersection of the nave and the transept and, peering skyward, she announced, “I can’t believe we were just up there. And where is he, Paulo – Brunelleschi? We must go pay our respects.”

“Absolutely, Antonietta. This way, please.” He led her to a stairway close to the entrance on the right side of the nave, summarily descending them to the basement. There was a bust of Brunelleschi, and one could see his tomb within. But no clue jumped out at either Paul or Antonietta.

Eventually, Paul proffered disconsolately, “I’m afraid it’s a dead end Antonietta. There just isn’t enough contained in the message. I feel certain that we have the right location, but I see nothing of any use here. We will most likely have to visit other places indicated in the poem before we discover the hidden meaning.”

He stood for a moment pondering what to do next, but then abruptly suggested, “Listen, since we’re here, why don’t we go see Galileo’s tomb as well? And let’s stop by the Science Museum. Perhaps one or the other will give us a spark of revelation. Okay?”

“Sure,” she replied, and off they went to the Cathedral of Santa Croce.

 

1610

 

Galileo strode confidently across the Ponte Vecchio. His dream had become a reality. Within the space of a few short months he had gone from mere professore to one of the most famous people on Earth, and it was all because of his development of the telescope, furthered by his amazing discoveries in the heavens above. It had all happened so quickly, followed shortly thereafter by his publication of The Starry Messenger the following spring.

To think, only a year earlier he had been struggling to make ends meet. Now he was the court Scientist for The Grand Duke of Tuscany, and living once again in Firenze, the most fabulous city on Earth, with a lifetime income of a thousand florins a year. His dreams had come true, and now he could pursue his greatest passion of all – a world of scientific discoveries yet to come.

On this day he knew exactly where he was headed – to the Santa Croce. It had been several years since he had visited his father’s tomb but for the first time in his life he felt that he could face his father as an equal. Stepping inside the basilica, he walked directly to the tomb near the front door in the left aisle. His father’s tomb was not particularly impressive, but it was nonetheless within the Santa Croce, and that in and of itself was better than most. He stood for a moment gazing at the tomb, thenceforth kneeling to pray for his father’s soul.

After a few moments he rose to leave, but something attracted him to turn and view the magnificent tomb of Michelangelo, and adjacent to it the unfilled tomb of Dante. Gazing at the tombs of these two great men, Galileo wondered idly if it might be possible for his remains to be someday placed within the Santa Croce. Perhaps now, with his newfound fame, it was just within the realm of possibility. But that was far in the future. There was so much to do before such an honor might be bestowed upon him.

 

1997

 

Paul and Antonietta stepped gingerly within the cathedral. There were the tombs of Michelangelo and Dante, and directly opposite was the magnificent tomb of Galileo.

They followed the visit to the Santa Croce with a short walk down the narrow sun-shaded streets of old Firenze. Eventually arriving at their intended destination adjacent to the Arno, Paul announced, “Here we are.”

Falling into step with him, Antonietta responded, “I never even knew where the Science Museum was, but there is the banner, right on the building.”

“Right, not much of a tourist attraction, I’m afraid,” Paul replied matter-of-factly. “Let’s take a look and see what we can figure out.”

Once inside they carefully studied Galileo’s telescopes and the reproductions of his mechanical ramps. Paul pointed to the interior of a large glass case and explained, “And here is his finger, Antonietta.”

Apparently taken aback, she said, “What sort of person would steal his finger? I ask you, Paulo…”

“No idea, probably an avaricious one,” he replied succinctly, “I agree, it is somewhat macabre, but there it nonetheless is for the world to see. In Siena you can see the head of Santa Caterina. Chopin is buried in Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, but his heart is buried in Poland. Something similar was done to Robert the Bruce in Scotland. And I could go on. The relics of saints, meaning body parts, are to be found in basilicas all across Western Europe. There seems to have been a certain inexplicable attraction to the remains of departed ones in former times, and Italy was certainly no exception.”

“Right. Let’s get out of here, Paulo. That thing gives me the creeps!”

By the time they made an impromptu stop at a coffee shop on the Piazza della Signoria, Paul was clearly deep in thought.

Sipping her espresso, Antonietta queried introspectively, “Any ideas, Professore?”

His head planted within his hands, he replied morosely, “No…no…nothing comes to mind at all,” at which the pair sat gazing silently at the passing tourists.

Abruptly rising from his chair, Paul croaked, “Wait a minute! I’ve got it! I don’t know why I didn’t see it before. It’s his telescope! Aha! Man, was he smart!,” at which point he resumed his seat.

Eyeing him in obvious confusion, she inquired, “What on earth are you talking about?”

“He hid something in one of his telescopes, Antonietta! It’s so obvious! It’s the only place he could have hidden something. He knew they would be preserved. He was no fool, that Galileo. Well, I’ll be, I’ll be a son of a gun!”

“You’ll be a what?” Antonietta asked doubtfully.

“Oh, nothing. Look at this, Antonietta,” and so saying, he pulled out the copy of the poem and commanded, “Look at the fifth stanza…”

 

Grasp wondrous tool that saw the moon.

Turn slide round thrice and open wide,

Therein to find, the web emblazoned

Image of the blind.

 

“That’s his telescope! We’ve been so baffled by the long stanza that we completely overlooked this little one. And here it is, plain as day. Come on. We’re going back to the Science Museum.”

Peering quizzically at him, she exclaimed, “Surely you’re not serious!”

Rising from his seat, he posited, “To the Science Museum, of course. I should think that would be quite obvious!”

Refusing to follow him, she called, “Stop it, Paulo. Wait a minute. Stop!”

At this, he drew up and turned to face her, blurting, “What!” and it was clear he was ruffled at her lack of compliance with his command.

“Just what do you think you’re doing, Professore! Do you think to waltz right in there and grab his telescopes?”

“Of course not, Contessa, I am well aware they’re under lock and key. You needn’t worry. I’m not going to steal them! But we’ll think of something.”

She pursed her lips antagonistically and, her hands planted on her hips in a clear-cut pose of resistance, she bellowed, “Like what…I’d really like to know!”

Shaking his head impatiently, he murmured, “I don’t know…” but he nonetheless added, “Look, I remember one time I was in there, and I was trying to take a photo of his inclined plane for my engineering class back home, and one of the room monitors stopped me. I might have heeded her, but she made a big deal out of the stupid American tourist attempting to take pictures, when there were obvious signs placed throughout the museum forbidding photography. She irritated me so much that I hung around until a family came wandering through, and I paid a kid to take a flash photo in the next room. While she was in the process of arrogantly debasing his manhood to his parents, I was taking some really nice pictures of the ramps. Still have ‘em. So you see, we’ll think of something!”

Bursting into uncontrollable laughter at this hilarious turn of events, she exclaimed, “Why, you devious truffatore, you. I had no idea you could be so sneaky! Mind you, you’re still a rank amateur compared to my former coniuge, but you seem to have a discernible streak of deceit, and once you’ve started down that road, tis a slippery slippery slope!” and though she posited this last with attempted solemnity, it was nonetheless obvious that she was struggling mightily to maintain a serious visage in the face of his exceedingly lame attempt at larceny.

Obviously affronted, he gurgled, “Deceit, blablaschmeit! This is all in the name of science, and history, for God’s sake. This is ridiculous, Antonietta!” and so saying, he turned once again and stomped off in quest of his intended destination.

Giggling at such infantile behavior, she countered in jest, “I couldn’t agree more, Paulo. I was just trying to get your goat, and mio dio, did I!”

At this he turned to stare at her and, a slow smile curling his lips upward, he replied sheepishly, “Well, score one for the contessa. Let me see, that makes it about three thousand four hundred and thirty-six to one!” and at this submission he grinned in contrived triumph.

For her part, she snorted loudly, “WhatEVER!” and so saying, she skirted past him, chin held high in mock superiority.

Unfortunately, the Science Museum was a second rate attraction in Firenze. For Paul that would have normally been a blessing, but on this occasion he would have preferred the cover of a few well-placed tourists to distract the ever vigilant security guards. On this particular day the guards actually outnumbered the visitors, and to make matters worse, they seemed doubly suspicious of the pair who were now visiting the museum on a second occasion within the selfsame day.

As it turned out, it wasn’t difficult at all. While Paul was attempting to figure out how to distract the guards, a group of boisterous Italian schoolchildren lumbered in. They appeared to be about the age of ten, and the boys fortuitously attempted to either climb onto or disassemble anything and everything within reach. Needless to say, the guards had their hands full.

Paul simply awaited the telescope room to be vacated and assigned Antonietta to stand guard at the door to the adjacent room in the event that a wayward guard appeared. He was subsequently able to jimmy the lock to the glass case that held the telescopes, and, recalling the instructions posted within Galileo’s message, he managed to open the barrel of the larger of the two. He discovered two pieces of parchment rolled up within, and seeing that the parchment appeared to be identical to the type used to compose the poem, he carefully removed them. He then quickly reassembled the telescope and replaced it in its proper position within the cabinet.

Dusting off his hands, he whispered to himself, “No harm done.” He then signaled the completion of his mission to Antonietta, whereupon he proceeded directly to the men’s restroom. Once inside, he stepped inside a stall and carefully secreted the papers within one of his socks.

That being the extremity of the slippery slope that constituted his newfound life of crime, he murmured to himself with evident satisfaction, “So be it.”

Subsequently emerging from the restroom, he commented casually to Antonietta, “Come on. Let’s get out of here before the kids leave and the guards regain their senses,” whereupon the larcenous pair beat a hasty retreat.

Arriving back at the villa, Paul exclaimed impatiently, “Come on, let’s take a look, Contessa. I can’t wait a minute longer.”

“Me either,” she rejoined, “Where are they anyway?”

“Where are what? Oh, you mean the papers. They’re in my sock,” he replied matter-of-factly, and so saying, he bent to retrieve them.

Shaking her head contemptuously, she derided, “I swear, you must have been a criminal in a former life, Professore!”

Displaying a wicked grin as he straightened, he retorted, “No need to sound so proud of me!” and, opening them, he murmured fortuitously, “Sooo, here they are. What do we have here?”

Carefully pulling the two pieces of paper apart, he observed the following:

 

Staring at the first drawing, Antonietta blurted in bewilderment, “What the…what on earth?”

For his part, Paul simply stared, silently memorizing every detail.

After several moments, she blathered, “What are they, Paulo?”

“Please, silence!” he commanded brusquely.

In the end, he took so long that she wandered off and poured herself a glass of wine. When she finally returned, he glanced at her absently and posited bluntly, “Where’s mine?”

Grimacing coldly at him, she responding, “You didn’t appear to be in need of one.”

At this he chuckled and proffered, “My dear Contessa, I am terribly sorry. I am afraid I have hurt your feelings.”

“No, you didn’t,” she denied, but it was nonetheless clear that he had been correct in his assessment.

“Please accept my apology, Antonietta. I was simply overwhelmed,” and as he said this he held his palms upwards in a gesture of supplication.

Abruptly transcending her irritation, she replied with obvious interest, “Overwhelmed? Overwhelmed by what, Professore?”

Seeing her acceptance of his apology, he announced imperiously, “We are looking at what are almost certainly the last scientific drawings of the great Galileo Galilei.”

Grimacing yet again at his somewhat overwrought jubilation, she replied, “Yes, yes, I see that, of course,” at which point she glanced yet again at the papers and, still clearly unimpressed, took a lingering sip of wine. The silence growing unbearable, she finally suggested, “Oh, get on with it, Professore. Tell me… what is it?”

“Both pages refer to the message, of course,” he replied succinctly.

“I gathered that, but how?”

“I’m not sure, but I suspect that the first one is related to Dante’s seven levels of Hell.”

“What? Oh, from The Inferno. Yes, I see,” she said, leaning forward for a closer look. “Yes, there are seven circles. Of course, that makes sense. Perhaps they are related to the long stanza. After all, it mentions seven pilgrimage destinations.”

“Eight,” he corrected her. “So it may not be related to that at all.”

For lack of something more concrete, she observed, “Well, seven is still close to eight. Besides, weren’t there actually eight levels of Hell in The Inferno?”

“That may be, Antonietta. I’m really not sure,” he replied. “Anyway, we have some work to do to decipher them.”

“Sure, but first, can you tell me what the second drawing is, Professore?”

“Of course. It’s the leaning tower, Contessa.”

“What? You mean THE Leaning Tower – The Leaning Tower of Pisa?”

“Absolutely!”

“What makes you think that?” she queried in apparent confusion.

“Read the sixth stanza of the poem.”

She gathered up the poem and carefully read the sixth stanza:

 

Thenceforth find Leonardo, count his way

Eighty paces toward the tilt

And left (from lantern) eighty more

The tilt shall be found in the way,

And falter on the selfsame day?

 

“Oh, my goodness. I never caught that before. ‘Leonardo’ doesn’t refer to Leonardo Da Vinci. Tis Leonardo do Pisa – Fibonacci! And the stanza refers to the Piazza dei Miracoli. Start from the statue of Fibonacci in the Camposanto, and, following the instructions, you end up at The Leaning Tower. Mio Dio!”

At this she glanced upward, exclaiming, “Oh, Paulo, this is fabulous! It’s finally beginning to come together. After all this confusion, it’s starting to make sense.”

Eyeing her victoriously, he posited, “Actually, I would say it has been more error than confusion. But therein lies the solution to the whole puzzle. I believe that we are closing in on some answers, Contessa.”

Chapter 3

 

Arcetri

 

The strongest arguments prove nothing so long as the conclusions are not verified by experience. Experimental science is the queen of sciences and the goal of all speculation.

 

-Roger Bacon (c. 1214-1294)

 

Arcetri – 1631

 

Galileo lounged on the veranda, gazing absentmindedly toward the garden below. As he took in the placid view he contemplated his next project. It was too bad that Kepler had died. He would have loved to have traded letters with him regarding his new book. Kepler’s had been the only intellect to match his own. Now he would have to move ahead entirely on his own.

Suddenly, a thought came to mind. Noticing a small remnant of wood extending laterally from the brick wall surrounding the garden, he said to himself, “Ah, here it is! Here is the introduction to my next challenge. I shall build a beam, cantilevered from that wall, and this will be my first experiment on the mechanics of the materials that make up our world.” The problem of the beam had perplexed him for half a lifetime. Although he was certain that the solution was related to Archimedes’ principle of the lever, up to now he had been unable to carry his theory further. Accordingly, he resolved that the logical step was to perform careful experiments, and these he would commence as soon as possible.

 

1997

 

Antonietta relaxed within the kitchen and, the morning sun pouring indiscriminately in through every window, she pressed her first cup of espresso gratefully to her lips. Her brain cells abruptly responding to the shot of caffeine, she suddenly asked, “Why are we back here in Arcetri, Professore?”

Contemplating momentarily, Paul responded nonchalantly, “No reason, other than the fact that the message says ‘Next back to whence footsteps commenced’.”

“Oh, right – I forgot about that,” she admitted, but then added inquisitively, “Isn’t there a line before that in the poem?

“Yes, there is…” he murmured absently.

“Well, what does it say?” she prodded impatiently.

Examining the poem, he read, “It says, ‘Thence on to hidden Abbey founder’.”

“Oh, right,” she said thoughtfully. “I forgot that, too. We have no idea where that one is, so we’re back here. What do you suggest?”

“I’m thinking that ‘whence footsteps commenced’ could mean something very specific. It could mean his footsteps, which would be where Galileo was born – in Pisa. But I doubt that it means that. If I am right, the entire stanza is meant to be viewed as events unfolding in chronological order. So I am guessing that it means where our footsteps commenced.”

“And where would that be?”

“Frankly, I’m not sure. I wasn’t actually here, Antonietta.”

She pondered for a moment and then volunteered, “Perhaps it means at Galileo’s house Il Gioiello. Perhaps there is a clue there.”

Frowning momentarily, he offered with poorly disguised condescension, “But that’s what I meant – that’s where his footsteps would have commenced, not ours.”

Ignoring his veiled insult, she responded, “But think of it this way, wouldn’t he also view that as the place where the discoverer’s footsteps commenced? After all, I did in fact purchase the credenza across the street from Il Gioiello.”

He stared out the window for a moment, but then he turned to her and spoke barely above a whisper, “Of course, Contessa, you are right. It makes perfect sense. It’s just a short walk from here. Why don’t we go have a look?”

Perplexed by his sudden change in demeanor, she nonetheless responded, “Sounds good to me.”

Suddenly, he caught her by the shoulders, and murmured contritely, “I’m sorry, Antonietta, I was rude. I assumed that I knew everything, and that you are the pupil. But of course, you are not. We are in fact in this together. I promise I will try to do better.”

Placing her hands on his outstretched arms, she smiled convivially and offered, “You needn’t apologize, Paulo. Hold on, you’re still jetlagged, aren’t you. I’ll bet you didn’t sleep at all last night. Am I right?”

And now it was his turn to smile, “Well, er, I suppose you are right,” and he grinned with relief at her proffered olive branch. “But that doesn’t excuse my acting like a stronzo.”

Now tugging him into a full-fledged hug, she giggled and responded, “Apology accepted. And my, such colorful language! I had no idea you spoke Italian, my erstwhile James Bond.”

He gently pulled back from her embrace and posited the single word, “Grazie.”. Now reassured in their mutual resolve, the pair gulped down their coffee and off they went in search of Galileo’s house.

It was a gorgeous morning, the Tuscan hills enhanced by a touch of morning fog that lent a halo to the distant skyline of Firenze. As the pair strolled silently along, Paul reached across himself with one arm and pinched himself with the other.

Frowning at this incongruous action, Antonietta queried, “What was that for? Stumped by the riddle, Professore?”

“What?” he responded absently, “Oh…no, actually I wasn’t even thinking about the poem. I was just pinching myself to make sure I’m not dreaming. This view, this setting, it is all just beyond reality to me. You’d have to live in Cleveland in winter to understand how surreal it is. I’m sorry, I was distracted. I’ll try to focus on the business at hand,” and he said this last apologetically, as if he was embarrassed that his mind had wandered so far from their mutual challenge.

Glancing sidelong at him, she slipped her hand around his arm and posited, “There is no need to hurry. Professore, I can see that we are making progress. I shall make an Italian of you yet!”

Having been properly chastised, he strolled onward, she for her part keeping perfect pace. Still arm in arm, the pair arrived shortly at their intended destination. Of course, they could not enter, as the house is privately owned. But it was quite easy to discern the layout of the house, with the second floor balcony adjacent to the street.

“I would really like to see in his garden,” Paul hinted in anticipation.

Aware by now that he did not make such pointed comments out of hand, she inquired, “Why? What is there to see?”

“I doubt that you would be interested, Contessa. It has nothing to do with the riddle.”

Having induced exactly the opposite effect from his announced intention, she responded with visible interest, “Humor me.”

Returning her inquisitive glance, he responding pensively, “Okay, well, let me see…,” at which point he halted and, apparently deep in thought, he took up again with, “So Galileo wrote a book near the end of his life, right here in this villa, Il Gioiello. The book was entitled Dialogues Concerning Two New Sciences. This work, his last, was undoubtedly his greatest, and it was arguably the first truly scientific book written in modern times.”

“Why arguably?” Antonietta queried.

“Well, there were the books by Copernicus, Bacon, Kepler, and Descartes. All of these were essential to the scientific revolution. Nonetheless, Two New Sciences was transformative far beyond these other works.”

“How so?” Antonietta asked quizzically.

“Well, the science of motion of bodies had been considered by others, but no one had ever studied the strength of materials in a scientific way before Two New Sciences. Thus, it could be argued that Galileo is the father of modern mechanics. And since mechanics is the underpinning basis of all science, it can be inferred that Galileo is the father of all modern science.”

“Yes, I’ve heard that,” Antonietta replied, “But I never knew why.”

“Well, there are other even better reasons perhaps, but that is certainly one of them,” he replied.

“So what does all of this have to do with getting into Galileo’s garden, Professore?”

“Ah, right, I almost forgot,” he replied with an impish grin, “Early on in Two New Sciences there is a sketch of a beam cantilevered from a brick wall. It just so happens that I have a copy of it here in my wallet.” He pulled out his wallet, searched within for a moment, and handed a small image to her.

 

 

Antonietta stared at it and, frowning apprehensively, she observed, “You are one strange person, Professore Paulo Woodbridge.” She paused momentarily and, tugging her hair back with one hand, she added, “I could see a picture of a loved one, a daughter or a son maybe, or a spouse…but this?”

“Here,” he replied laconically and, handing her further items from his wallet, he announced, “Here are pictures of my two daughters, both of whom I love dearly.”

At this she took the pictures and examined them intently, “Why, they are both lovely! You must be very proud, Paulo.”

Paul smiled at her, and, shrugging his concurrence, he mumbled, “You have no idea.”

“And a photo of your wife?”

“I don’t have a wife. I’ve been divorced for more than ten years. But you already know that, don’t you, Contessa,” and he said this last more as an accusation than a question.

“Yes. Yes, I know,” she replied sheepishly, “But I wasn’t checking up on you in that way. I just came across it when I was researching, looking for the right person to help me.”

Eyeing her noncommittally, he proceeded to provide his own sheepish explanation, “It’s okay. I wasn’t accusing you of anything.”

“So what happened?” she queried.

Having somehow lost his train of thought, he replied, “What, you mean the beam?”

Nudging him playfully, she contradicted, “No, your marriage, you idiot.”

At this he stumbled a bit but, recovering his balance, he chuckled and replied, “Oh, nothing. Oh, well, I suppose it wasn’t nothing,” and, apparently searching for something more forthcoming, he admitted, “I suppose it was my fault. Yeah, well, that’s life I guess.”

Shaking her head at such a muddled response, Antonietta probed, “Surely you can do better than that.”

Appearing totally off guard, he responded with, “Okay, I didn’t love her. Okay?” He halted for a moment as if he were admitting it for the first time, but abruptly added, “I hated myself. I tried to love her, but I just couldn’t do it. The harder I tried, the more I despised myself. Finally, I had to do something different, and that was when I realized that we do not get the luxury of choosing whom we love in life. Love is thrust upon us, and when it happens, it is unconditional. And without that, there is no hope for a romantic.”

Eyes glistening, Antonietta gazed at him and whispered softly, “My, my, our erudite Professore is a true romantic. Who would have thought…”

Paul glanced back at her, and then he looked away, attempting to hide his emotions. He then turned back towards her and responded defensively, “Guilty as charged, Contessa. But if you ever so much as whisper such an accusation publically, I will deny it vehemently!”

At this admission they both twittered, and she gave his left arm a brief hug. After a moment of embarrassing silence, Antonietta queried tangentially, “So what does all of this have to do with Galileo’s beam, Professore?”

At this the two broke into uncontrolled laughter, so much so that an apparently perturbed head appeared from the second floor window across the street. Spotting the offended inhabitant, Paul held his index finger to his mouth in an apparent attempt to elicit her silence, at which the pair broke into even more raucous laughter. The elderly man staring down at them now broke into a smile, and all three gave way to shared giggles.

Paul waved impulsively to the man in the window and, the man waving conspiratorially in return, he then disappeared within. At this the pair locked eyes and laughed yet again, but in shear exhilaration with the small wonders of life.

Finally regaining her solemnity, Antonietta prodded yet again, “The beam, Professore?”

Having finally regained his composure, Paul managed to respond solemnly, “Oh, right. Well, I had the picture in my wallet, not because I revered it as if it were a child of mine, but for the simple reason that I had hoped to get a look in that garden on this trip, and I wanted to see if the picture might have been an antiquated sketch drawn from an authentic experiment performed within Galileo’s garden.”

“Surely you’re not serious!” she exclaimed doubtfully.

“No, no, I don’t mean that the beam in the picture is in the garden behind the wall there. It’s just that it is a very famous picture. If there ever was a beam in that garden, I doubt that it is still there, but there might be some indication, such as a gap in the bricks, that it was once there.”

“Why is this so important, Professore?”

“Because, the problem that Galileo posed in Two New Sciences, the load carrying capability of a cantilever beam, turned out to be a very difficult one – one that stumped scientists for more than a century after Galileo’s death.”

“So he didn’t solve it?” she queried.

“No, he didn’t, although he, like his father before him had proven for musical instruments, discovered that the response was nonlinear in terms of the length.”

“So who did solve it?” she continued with her queries.

“Right,” he responded. “Robert Hooke couldn’t solve it, although he tried. Newton didn’t even attempt it so far as I can tell. It wasn’t solved until the middle of the eighteenth century, by Leonhard Euler, with help from Daniel Bernoulli. Their beam model laid the groundwork for all modern mechanics of deformable bodies. And it was in large measure due to the fact that Galileo described the problem in Two New Sciences.

“Wow,” was all Antonietta could think of to say, the story seemingly at an end. “Well, we can’t get into that garden, so I suppose we shall never know the answer to your question, Professore.”

“That is an understatement,” Paul replied. “Anyway, it’s not important, because once again, we seem to be foiled. The stanza is clearly unclear. We are up to now going around in circles, my dear contessa.”

“But we cannot give up, Paulo!” she responded, exclaiming it as if she was afraid of something.

“Who said anything about giving up?” he responded reassuringly. “What do you say we go to Ravenna tomorrow?”

“Ravenna! Why Ravenna?” Antonietta responded in bewilderment.

“Well, it seems to me to be the next line in the long stanza,” Paul responded. “Look here,” he said, pointing at the sixth line of the long stanza, “It says ‘And then sea she called back the pope’. The only place I can think of with sea that might refer to the pope is Ravenna.”

“That sounds weak to me, Paulo,” she responded.

“I know, but do you have a better idea?”

“I suppose not,” she answered distraughtly. “The rest of that line is total gibberish to me.”

“Me, too.”

She thus inquired, “Anything else you want to see around here?”

“Well, we could go up the street and visit the Monastery of San Matteo where his two daughters were, but that seems like a waste of time to me.”

“Why?”

“Well, he was blind for the last four years of his life, so he couldn’t have gone there around the time that the poem was written. His older daughter Virginia, or Sister Maria Celeste, as she was called at the convent, died in 1634, only four months after he was imprisoned here. It was a great blow to him, as she was his favorite. His younger daughter Livia lived until 1659, but she was never close to him. No, the convent did not hold good memories for him, so that seems like a dead end to me. Besides, I have an idea. It’s been buzzing around in my head all day.”

Brightening at the prospect, she asked, “What’s that?”

“Well, we’ve been basically going around in circles ever since we got that fricking poem. That got me to thinking about the line in the third stanza, the one that goes -

 

Near circles crossing with the endings

Each tracing out MS abodes

 

It seems like our Galileo is sending us a message that the circles on the map are somehow related to the circles that we have been tracing both figuratively and physically.”

“Huh?” she replied doubtfully.

“Okay, okay, I confess – I have no idea what I’m talking about. Does that make you feel any better, Antonietta?”

“Well, er, actually, no, Professore. However, a nice drive to Ravenna might do us some good. Clear our minds, so to speak. And besides, I have friends there who own a wonderful inn. Why don’t we drive there tomorrow?”

“Great! So Ravenna it is. What time do you want to leave in the morning?”

“Not too early, please Paulo. I must have my beauty sleep,” she responded entreatingly, “I have just one question.”

“Yes?” he replied succinctly.

“What does fricking mean?”

Paul arched his eyebrow and replied, “Trust me, you do not want to know, Contessa.”

Chapter 4

 

Ravenna

 

Follow your own star!

 

-Dante Alighieri (1265-1321)

 

Near Verona – 1593

 

Galileo awakened with a start. He had been dreaming of the nine circles of Hell. In his dream he himself had been relegated to the ninth circle, the realm of Satan! He was covered with sweat from the heat within the infernal regions of his dream. Was he yet alive, or was he indeed in Hell? As he could not erase the image of Lucifer from his mind, he momentarily found it exceedingly difficult to separate dream from reality.

Feeling sick to his stomach, he was disoriented and uncertain as to where he was. Slowly it came back to him – he had gone on holiday to Verona with two friends. From there they had hiked to the village of Costozza, where he had lain down by the draft of a cave. At first the cool breeze emanating from the cave had seemed soothing in the warmth of evening and, lulled by the peaceful setting, he had fallen asleep. But soon thereafter he had been beset by horrible nightmares.

Now, in the early morning light he found himself unable to stand. He was terribly ill, and his body ached from head to toe. Feeling terror rise up within him, he descended into a state of panic. Surely Satan had risen up from the cave in the middle of the night and confronted his soul.

As he lay prostrate on the ground, hoping against hope for someone to find and help him, he prayed to God, should he survive Lucifer’s attempt on his soul, he would devote the remainder of his life to the betterment of humankind.

 

Ravenna – 1997

 

Antonietta steered the Alfa Romeo onto a side street and turned towards a large wooden gate, whereupon she pulled the car to a stop and honked her horn. A door within the gate opened, a man peeking out from within. Seeing her, he promptly drew the gate open, exposing a tiny parking lot within. The pair pulled in and Paul got out, subsequently stretching his legs.

Paul and Antonietta had discussed options on their way to Ravenna from Arcetri, and it had occurred to both of them that the long stanza referred to the tombs of famous people. Since Dante was by far the most famous person buried in Ravenna, the immediate objective was to visit Dante’s tomb.

“What is this place, Antonietta?” Paul asked as they entered a hallway off the courtyard.

Appearing perplexed, she responded, “What place?”

THIS place,” he said, pointing at the building they were entering.

“Oh, I thought you didn’t recognize Ravenna. I’m sorry, this is the Palazzo Galleria Arnolfo.”

“Ah, so we’ve gone from a villa to a palace,” he announced somewhat inanely. “What gives, Antonietta? On the one hand, you seem to have convinced me that you are not wealthy, but on the other hand, here we are in a palace.”

“It’s not a palazzo really. It used to be a palace. Now it is a hotel. It is owned by a friend of mine, so we are their guests.”

“You mean we’re staying in a palace for free?” and now he was truly impressed.

“Yes,” she replied matter-of-factly and, ignoring his look of amazement, she headed for the interior of the palazzo.

Hurrying to keep pace with her, he interjected, “I have always thought that I was a master at travel in Italy. I mean, I’ve spent quite a lot of time in Italy over the past twenty-five years, but I’ve never had the good fortune to stay in a palazzo for free.” He halted for a moment, thereby falling behind again, but then suddenly admitted to himself, “Actually, I can’t remember ever staying in a palazzo at all.”

Overhearing his self-proclamation, she called over her shoulder, “Well, stick with me, Professore!” and at this pronouncement, she shot him a well-timed conspiratorial wink.

On arriving in the entryway to the hotel, they were greeted with an enormous embrace by Antonietta’s friend Giovanni Bazzocchi.

Giovanni was one of those nearly middle-aged people who is genetically wider than he is tall. His hair (and there was an abundance of it), was seemingly everywhere on his person, with the exception of the top of his head. Blessed with an innately garrulous nature, he was evidently one of those eternally optimistic Italians that, although they are by no means rare, they are nonetheless a revelation to the uninitiated visitor to Italy. His pale blue eyes sparkled with mirth, his accompanying smile totally disarming.

“Come-a, please-a come-a, follow-a me-a!” he demanded of Antonietta, “We-a have-a lunch-a all-a prepare-eda for-a you-a!” his English thereby demonstrating that liltingly melodic accent that Paul knew and loved so well in Italians.

Lunch was a gastronomic feast, something that is a time honored family tradition in Italy. Giovanni was joined by his wife Giovanna (really!), his two sons, Guido and Giovanni (really!) and several other people whom Paul did not know and could not hope to keep straight. Giovanna, whose girth was impossibly but somehow nonetheless in reality even ampler than Giovanni’s, was possessed of that identically infectious attitude of lusty optimism.

Once it became clear that Paul’s command of Italian was tolerably good, all pretense of English conveniently disappeared. In the midst of all this cacophony Paul wondered somewhat absurdly what he would be doing if he were back in Cleveland and, certain of the answer, he murmured to himself, “Nothing half so interesting.”

As if sensing his thoughts, Antonietta piped directly into his psyche, offering to one and all, “Molto bene! Paulo e mezzo Italiano, non?”

At this Giovanni (the elder) smiled and laughed, volunteering in broken English, “Yes-a, Antonietta, I-a would-a say-a that-a he-a is-a even-a more-a than-a half-a Italiano!”

Paul simply smiled in embarrassment, all too aware that this was high praise indeed. For the first time in his life, he seemed to have penetrated to the heart of real Italia, thereby bestowing him with a warm feeling of acceptance.

Their festive luncheon having finally come to an end, Antonietta and Paul set out to see the tomb of Dante. The central part of Ravenna being quite compact, travel by foot was the preferred mode of transit. Accordingly, they arrived shortly thereafter at the tomb.

Gazing at the tomb, Antonietta observed, “I’ve always felt that it’s a bit underwhelming. The one they built for him in the Santa Croce in Firenze is much more impressive.”

“Yes, but he isn’t in that one. Instead, he is in this one!” Paul replied with certainty, “And as far as I am concerned the Florentines have no right to him.”

“Why so?” she asked.

“Did you know that Dante was exiled from Firenze and never allowed to return?”

“Yes, but that was when he was old, wasn’t it?”

“No, Antonietta, I am afraid you are in error. Dante was exiled in 1301, when he was only about thirty-six years old. He was never allowed to return to Firenze the remaining twenty years of his life. He actually lived in several places during that span, spending only the last three years of his life in Ravenna.”

“Wow. I didn’t know any of that!” she replied in amazement. “I really think that you know more about Italia than I do, Paulo.”

“That’s why you contacted me, non?” he replied in good humor.

Ignoring his ludicrous query, she blurted, “And it’s all very interesting, but exactly why are we here, Paulo?”

“Oh, that. Good question,” he responded. “It’s really nothing more than a gut feel. I confess I picked Ravenna more on a hunch than anything else.”

“And what is the basis for your hunch, Paulo?”

“Well, some interesting coincidences. First of all, Galileo surely knew of the importance of Dante, and he regarded himself as a Florentine like Dante, despite the fact that he was born in Pisa. Secondly, Dante started out writing in Latin and changed over to Italian. Galileo did exactly the same thing, changing to Italian in the middle of his life. And just as this was a marked literary transgression in the time of Dante, it was a significant scientific impropriety in the time of Galileo.”

“Interesting,” she replied pensively, “Anything else?”

“Yes, there is another thing, though it’s a bit weak, I confess. Dante was an exile, and Galileo suffered a similar fate. Surely there must have been a sense on Galileo’s part that Dante was a kindred spirit. As I’m sure you know, Galileo was a very competitive man. Actually, I would go so far as to say that he was even paranoid at times. His ego was enormous, and as a result he seems to have found it difficult to tolerate his contemporaries. Remember, Dante lived more than two centuries before Galileo. So Dante would have been to Galileo like George Washington is to us, I mean – me – someone from the distant past, so not a competitor at all, but rather more like a forebear to be admired and emulated.”

“I had no idea that you considered George Washington a rival, Professore,” Antonietta replied tongue-in-cheek, but moving on rapidly, she glanced toward the tomb and added in all sincerity, “So you think Galileo knew all about Dante?”

“Undoubtedly, Antonietta. Dante was revered like a god in all educated circles during Galileo’s time. Dante described Hell in excruciating detail in The Inferno, so much so that his description was accepted at face value by everyone at that time.” He paused for a moment to gather his thoughts, and then added, “As you most likely know, Galileo used the text of The Inferno to calculate the volume of Hell.”

“You’re kidding!” she responded doubtfully.

“No, I assure you, I am deadly serious. It actually brought Galileo a measure of fame at a most opportune time in his life. He had dropped out of school in Pisa and he was relegated to tutoring math in Siena. His calculation of the volume of Hell brought him sufficient notoriety to gain him the Chair of Mathematics at Pisa less than two years later. And that is the final reason for visiting Dante – Galileo’s map of the seven levels of Hell seems to warrant this pilgrimage.”

“So exactly how big is Hell?” Antonietta asked with feigned gravity.

Responding in like measure, Paul expostulated sagely, “Well, I’m not exactly sure today, but it was pretty big back then according to Galileo’s calculation. Seeing as how world population has increased dramatically, one would tend to conclude that Hell is significantly larger now!”

Giggling at this, Antonietta volunteered surreptitiously, “All the more reason to avoid such a horrifying fate, my dear Professor. I intend to do so, but sadly, I am afraid that you shall not be able to escape the clutches of Mephistopheles!”

Startled by her accusation, Paul only muster, “Huh?”

“You sir, are a thief! My dear professore, you are a violator of one of the commandments brought down from Mount Sinai by Moses. Furthermore, if I am not mistaken, you have soundly tromped on at least three of the circles of Hell,” and she proffered this last with a perfectly serious tone. To emphasize her conjecture, she even stepped back from Paul as if he had contracted a deadly disease.

For his part, he stared at her as if she had accused him of breaking all ten of the commandments.

Seeing his horrified countenance, she threw back her head and bellowed, “Ha HA! Take that, you, you, you egotistical…professore, you!” but she was smiling playfully at him, and just to prove her obvious sense of superiority, she swirled a complete three hundred sixty degree turn, gently slapping his face with her hair as she did so. Stopping her victory spin directly in front of him, she giggled yet again as full measure of her assumed superiority.

A downcast look coming over him, he uttered in mock misery, “But this is not fair!”

“What?” she replied, and still grinning from ear to ear, she bent forward and pressed her hands between her knees to accentuate her sense of satisfaction with herself.

“Well, that’s twice you’ve scored on me,” he acknowledged, adding, “I’m pretty sure I’m still ahead, but why is it that every time you get my goat, I feel like it’s a really BIG victory, whereas my scores are all miniscule!”

At this she stood up and, raising herself to her full height, she responded with feigned superiority, “Sir, there is no beating a woman! This, I think…no – I am certain of it – you most assuredly must already know.”

His face slowly broadening into a hint of a smile, and then growing still further into a half smile of sorts, he admitted with visible alacrity, “Contessa, I can only reply that to be outdone by you would surely be the desire of multitudes.”

Clapping her hands together at this admission, she performed an ancillary half turn and crowed, “Oh, you are so deliciously FUN, Professore! I absolutely LOVE putting you in your place!”

“I knew there was a reason you contacted me, Contessa, and now I have my answer,” he replied matter-of-factly.

Apparently unwilling to allow the moment to fade just yet, she placed her hands together and held them to her face. Approaching him, she said, “Signore, you possess that most marvelous of qualities, one that is completely lacking in the male of the Italian species,” and so saying, she grasped him in a gentle embrace and said, “I adore you!”

Taken aback, Paul hugged her gently in return, but nevertheless mumbled in confusion, “What the…what do you mean, Contessa?”

“You sir, possess humility, the ability to admit defeat when you are defeated, and as we both know – you are!”

“Ok-kay…thank you. At least, I think,” he replied doubtfully.

Suddenly returning to reality, her visage restored itself to solemnity, allowing her to inquire, “So, where were we?”

Seemingly disoriented, Paul cast about with a bewildered glance. But then, remembering his erstwhile train of thought, he arched one eyebrow, peered skyward in thought and momentarily expounded, “Ah, yes, Dante.”

And then miraculously, as if nothing at all had transpired between the pair he took up exactly where he had left off, exclaiming, “Later, Dante would fall somewhat out of favor, regaining his stature in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but during the time of Galileo, Dante was considered to be Firenze’s, no, Italia’s most gifted literary figure. So there is my thin explanation for why we are standing here in front of Dante’s tomb.”

Allora, Shall we go inside then?” she responded, as if nothing at all had just passed between them.

“Of course we can, but there is no reason to do so other than curiosity.”

“What? Why, Paulo?”

“Simple. In the time of Galileo Dante was not buried in this tomb. His remains were not placed here until 1780.”

At this Antonietta threw up her arms in apparent disgust and exclaimed in frustration, “This just gets flimsier by the moment, Professore,” and it was obvious that she was suddenly a bit out of sorts with him.

Paul chuckled and replied, “Yes, but isn’t the company great?” And at this admission he showed her his grandest smile as a means of driving his point home.

Instantaneously dismissing her air of solemnity, she broke into a radiant smile and replied, “Okay, Mister smart-ass professore, what the hell is this all about? Just exactly why are we here in Ravenna?”

“I wanted to see the St. Apollinare Nuovo, of course.”

“The what-inare?” she asked, leaning yet again towards exasperation.

“Oh, never mind, my dear contessa. It’s a cathedral, and we will see it, too, all in good time. But first, we must find Dante’s original tomb!”

“And how do you propose to do that?”

“Well, I’m not certain of this, but I believe that Dante was actually buried in the church directly behind us. So I propose that we visit that church and see what we can find out.”

“Sounds like a plan,” she replied doubtfully, and off they went to find a means of entrance to the church.

As it turned out, it was named the Church of San Francesco. Paul, who was immediately concerned by this for some reason, decided to enter anyway. The church was empty but for a monk standing in the choir, thus prompting Paul to saunter over to him and ask jovially, “Excuse me, I am looking for the tomb of Dante. Would you know where it might be?”

“Ah, si signore. You seem to have missed it. It is behind the church in the Via Dante Alighieri,” the monk responded gravely.

“Yes, I know, but not that one. We’re looking for the original tomb of Dante, padre.”

At this the cleric arched one eyebrow and said, “Ah, I see, you know your history, signore…?”

“Woodbridge, Paul Woodbridge. And this is the Contessa Antonietta Floridiana.”

“Ah, yes, I am Padre Pietro. You are indeed in the right place Signore Woodbridge. Dante Alighieri died prematurely at the age of 56 in Ravenna on September 14, 1321. Some say it was malaria, but I suppose we shall never know for sure. His funeral was held in this church, and he was subsequently buried here.”

Paul glanced doubtfully towards Antonietta and replied to Padre Pietro, “Hmmm, I thought that his funeral was held in the Church of Saint Peter.”

“Ah, a studied pupil, I can see,” Padre Pietro responded with apparent admiration. “You are entirely correct, Signore Woodbridge. At the time of Dante’s death, this was called the Church of San Pier Maggiore. The name was changed later, after the Franciscan order rose to fame in Italia.”

“Ah, now I understand,” Paul replied, nodding his head in comprehension. “So where was Dante buried originally?”

“Oh, that tomb does not exist anymore, signore. The room that his remains were in was razed and rebuilt sometime later.”

Paul heaved a sigh and peered woefully at Antonietta, announcing, “Too bad. We were hoping to see it.”

Padre Pietro replied brightly, “But there is some good news, signore. There is a tomb of Dante still extant within the church. You see, his original tomb was considered to be unworthy of one so famous, so a new tomb was built within the church in 1483. And his remains were kept in that tomb until the current tomb was built in 1780.”

“Oh, that IS wonderful!” Paul exclaimed excitedly. “We actually wanted to see the tomb from that time period anyway.”

At this last revelation, Antonietta stared piercingly at Paul as if to say, “Stop right there. Say no more!”

Padre Pietro now studied the pair quizzically, but said nothing. He summarily turned on his heel and led them to the chapel within the church where Dante had been previously buried. “Of course, there are other worthy individuals entombed in this chapel now, as you can see, signore.” Padre Pietro said with solemnity. “Perhaps you would like a few moments of solitude to view the chapel?”

“Yes, please,” Paul replied, at which Padre Pietro withdrew obligingly.

As soon as the cleric had departed, Antonietta whispered, “What were you thinking of, Paulo?”

“Oh, that,” he answered dismissively. “I’m sorry, I was just excited. Besides, he’s nobody. He can’t have made anything of what I said.”

“Perhaps not…” Antonietta replied secretively. After several minutes they retreated to the main aisle of the church, whereupon they thanked Padre Pietro and made their way outside.

Once they were on the street, Antonietta queried expectantly, “Well?”

“Well, what?”

“Oh come now, what did you discover, Paulo?” she responded with obvious impatience.

Niente…nothing. I’m stumped,” he responded in dejection. He paused and, rubbing his chin in contemplation, he proffered, “I’m afraid my hunch may have been wrong, Antonietta.”

At this the pair wandered off down the street, each contemplating his admission. Thusly distracted, they both failed to observe a rather ominous looking man observing their departure.

Regaining his train of thought, Paul now suggested, “Well, things could be worse. We are in a wonderful city, Antonietta. Why don’t we make the most of it, and tomorrow we can continue to our next destination? Do you know Ravenna well?”

“Well? I’ve been here many times, Paulo, many times.”

“But do you truly know Ravenna, Antonietta?”

“What does that mean?”

“Well, for instance did you know that Ravenna was the last capital of the Roman Empire?”

“Yes, of course, I did know that,” and it was obvious that she intended nothing more than to humor his deep-seated need to share his obscure knowledge of Ravenna.

At this point he had arrived in front of an ancient edifice, announcing appropriately, “And here we are – the St. Apollinare Nuovo. Let’s go inside.”

Having completed their tour of the St. Apollinare shortly thereafter, Paul added one last tidbit, “The cathedral we just visited is supposed to be very similar to the old cathedral built by Constantine in Roma on the site of St. Peter’s tomb – Constantine’s Cathedral.”

“What happened to it, Paulo?”

“Brunelleschi, that’s what happened to it,’ he responded mysteriously.

“What? How so?” she asked in apparent bewilderment.

“Well, when Brunelleschi completed the dome of the Santa Maria del Fiori in 1434, the Florentines suddenly had a magnificent cathedral that vastly outshone Constantine’s Cathedral in Roma. It took about three quarters of a century for it to come to a head, but the Popes simply could not stand to be one-upped by the pesky Florentines. So they razed Constantine’s Cathedral and built the monumental Basilica that is St. Peter’s today.”

“Very interesting, but what is the point of all of this, Paulo?”

“Well, as I said, the church that we were just in is said to be similar to Constantine’s Cathedral.”

“So?” she inquired quizzically.

“All in good time, Contessa, all in good time. But let me just whet your interest by saying this – I think that we must go under St. Peter’s Basilica in Roma.”

“So what? I’ve done that several times. The popes are entombed down there.”

“I didn’t mean there. That’s the basement. We’re going below the basement, beneath the church. There is only one pope buried beneath the church – St. Peter.”

“Oh, right,” she replied brusquely, “I forgot.”

“Either that or you weren’t listening the other day,” he responded with an air of superiority.

Mon dieu! Pardon my French, but you can be so exasperating at times, Professore.”

Ignoring her insult, he continued, “Right. Anyway, it’s on our ‘pilgrimage’ itinerary.”

“Oh, that’s right. I forgot about that, too.”

At this Paul smiled at her but said nothing.

For her part, she warmed at this, hugged his arm, and said, “Okay, what’s next on today’s tour?”

“Well, first we must see the other churches in Ravenna, and then we will continue our pilgrimage tomorrow. Tonight I hope that you will be my guest at my favorite ristorante in Ravenna.”

“But of course! But of course,” Antonietta exclaimed, and off they went arm in arm.

Later that evening, as they were dining, Antonietta suddenly remarked, “Paulo, let me see the poem!”

Perplexed by her apparent clairvoyance, Paul rummaged around in his valise, eventually locating it. Handing it to her, he said, “Here.”

Antonietta perused it for a moment and exclaimed, “Ah, here it is. Something you said several times today kept buzzing around in my head – ‘the time of Christ’, and here it is – the third and fourth lines of the fifth stanza –

 

The time of Christ plus M signed twice

Add X’s three and I four more.

 

Paulo, I think that’s a date!”

 

Without so much as the blink of an eye, he grabbed the paper from her and exclaimed, “Let me see that!” Staring down at it momentarily, he suddenly proclaimed, “Antonietta, I could kiss you!”

“An Italian would kiss first and ask later,” she replied with mock condescension.

“I wasn’t asking,” he replied curtly. As he could see that this offended her, he gave her a small hug, and plowed ahead, announcing, “It’s 2034! The year is 2034. It says very clearly MMXXXIIII. That’s 2034! It’s a year. This is progress!” As he said this, he scanned backwards from that line in the poem, working his way upwards line by line. “Look at this line,” he said after a moment. “It says ‘Tracing out MS abodes’. I know we’ve been over this, but what do you make of it, Antonietta?”

“I’m sorry, Paulo, I understand the words, but I’m still stumped. What exactly does ‘abodes’ mean?

“Well, here’s the thing, abodes means houses. MS clearly means ‘Messaggero Stellato – Starry Messenger’, as we discussed. In other words, ‘MS abodes’ refers to Galileo’s homes. Could it really be that simple? Could it be that the places that we are supposed to ‘pilgrimage’ to are the places that Galileo lived?”

“Whoa, that might well be a very good guess, Paulo!”

Suddenly enlivened, they barely managed to complete their repast and, hurrying back to the hotel, they made a beeline for the circular map.

Staring at it in studied silence, an enormous grin suddenly came over Paul’s face. “Yes! Yes, yes, yes! We have it, Antonietta! The letters at the crossing points with the circles are matches. They match with the places that Galileo lived in his lifetime. See – Venezia, Padova, Roma, Siena, Pisa, Vallombrosa, and Arcetri. And the poem seems to refer to them in the reverse order, meaning – moving outwards rather than inwards on the circular map. This is something important, I’m sure of it. And there seems to be a reason that they are not listed on the map in the order that he lived in each place.”

He then shook his head in confusion and expounded vacuously, “What the…is he trying to tell us that the places he lived are the seven levels of Hell?”

“I have no idea,” she replied in obvious dismay.

“Well, one thing is certain,” he said, “We wasted our time coming to Ravenna.”

“Perhaps not,” she admonished, “Although it appears that Ravenna is not on this map, our visit here has certainly provided an important step towards the solution of the poem.”

The following morning they said their goodbyes to the Bazzocchi family and, promising to visit again soon, they hurried out to the Alfa. Unobserved by either of them, a black sedan parked down the street pulled out and duplicated their every move as they drove from the inner city towards the autostrada.

Chapter 5

 

Pisa

 

Those who read his works realize only too clearly how inferior all other minds are compared to Archimedes.

 

-Galileo Galilei (1564-1642)

 

Arcetri – 1997

 

Paul took the wheel of the Alfa, the drive from Arcetri to Pisa fleetingly picturesque as they sped along the Arno River Valley. Off to the north they could see the mountain range where Carrara marble is mined, and to the south were the hills of Tuscany that produce Italy’s favorite wine – chianti. It was a gorgeous spring day, matched only by the new-found enthusiasm the pair had discovered in Ravenna.

Arriving in Pisa, Antonietta directed Paul to yet another deliciously decaying Italian inn directly within the city center.

Amazed, Paul muttered to himself, “Not again!”

Overhearing him, Antonietta responded, “No. Unfortunately, this time we have to pay. Actually, we could have stayed at Sandro’s villa outside the city, but that would have led to dangerous entanglements.”

“And who, pray tell, is Sandro?” Paul queried with a blank look.

“Oh, sorry, I rarely mention him by name. Sandro is my former husband,” Antonietta replied succinctly. “Pisa is under the control of my husband’s family. So we are necessarily obliged to travel incognito hereabouts. I know this inn, but I have never actually stayed here. The good news is that it is very near the house where Galileo was born.”

“Excellent,” Paul replied. Accordingly, now that they understood the poetic meaning of the word “abodes”, they made Galileo’s house their first stop. That, of course, was a waste of time, as the house had been significantly altered and updated several times since the sixteenth century. True to the academic within him, Paul lamented that fact, but there was nothing to be done about it.

Any clues that might have been left behind by Galileo having long since vanished, Paul opined as they turned away to search for greener pastures, “Actually, I doubt that the house itself would hold any clues anyway, Antonietta.”

“Why do you say that, Paulo?”

“Galileo was no fool. He would have had no way of knowing how long it would be before his poem was discovered within his credenza, and in some ways, he would surely have hoped that it would remain hidden for quite a while, long enough even that his birthplace might even have been razed.”

“What makes you say that?” she replied quizzically.

“I suspect that he had some intuition that the Church would not alter its views any time soon. Were his poem to have been found soon after his death, it might easily have been suppressed by The Holy See. So he would have carefully connected his clues to places sufficiently revered to ensure that they endured, just as he hoped that his hiding place for the poem would endure.” Having said this last, he abruptly halted in his tracks and slapped himself on the forehead with his open palm. Somewhat inexplicably, he stood motionless in the middle of the street, with a vacant look creasing his features.

Herself transfixed by this rather bizarre scene, Antonietta eventually hazarded, “What? What is it, Professore?”

“The SEE! Oh, my, it’s THE SEE,” he said, “Don’t you see, Antonietta, it’s THE SEE!”

Very near to giggling at his inane babbling, she managed, “What on earth are you babbling about?”

Suddenly coming to his senses, he commanded sternly, “Give me the poem,” at which she pulled it from her handbag, still appearing confused.

He yanked it from her grasp and, examining it carefully, he announced brusquely, “Eighth stanza, first line, read it!”

Antonietta scanned down the page, looked at it a moment, then read aloud, “‘Passed by the Sea not long ago’? So? So what?”

“It’s SEE, not SEA, Antonietta! It’s The Holy See! Now I have it, it’s definitely referring to Milton’s visit to Galileo’s house in 1638. Milton’s visit had to be approved by The Holy See before he was allowed to visit Galileo.”

“Oh, my, Paulo. This is marvelous,” she stared inquisitively at the paper, “So the seventh stanza is about John Milton.”

He retrieved the poem from her and, without waiting for her approval, he exclaimed wildly, “Wait, that’s not all! Wait a minute!”

Frowning deprecatingly, she murmured, “Well, pardon me!”

“Oh, sorry. That was rude of me. But look here, Antonietta. Look!”

“Look? At what, Paulo?” she responded in total bewilderment.

“The long stanza, sixth line ‘And then sea she called back the pope’.” and he was grinning inexplicably from ear to ear. In all truth, he was smiling so broadly that it infected her as well, inducing her to grin in return even though she had no idea why.

Still smiling, she inquired, “Do I get to share in your little secret?”

“Ha! It’s see, too! Well, almost, anyway, except it isn’t capitalized. It’s really ‘And then see she called back the pope’. Look at the original Italian. We’re not very good translators, my dear contessa. We’ve been on a wild goose chase to the sea, and all it really meant was this – go see the woman who called back the pope.”

“And that would be whom?” Antonietta replied doubtfully.

“Santa Caterina, of course. We must go to Siena! Santa Caterina was from Siena.”

“And how do you know this?” Antonietta asked.

“Oh, well, Santa Caterina is the person who worked hardest to get the pope to move back to Roma in the fourteenth century. From 1309 to 1376 the popes lived in Avignon, in France. Santa Caterina was instrumental in convincing them to move back to Italia.”

“Ah, now I understand. Of course, I knew that the popes had been in France at one time, but I didn’t know any of the details. This is excellent, Professore. Yes, we will have to go to Siena next. And by the way, you have way too much trivia stuffed into your brain!”

“Yes, I suppose I do, but it can’t be helped, and it does turn out to be useful at times, I suppose,” at which they smiled playfully at one another.

By this time they had somewhat surreptitiously arrived at the Piazza dei Miracoli, causing Paul to shake his head in amazement. “All these people, it’s just ridiculous!”

“Why?” she replied.

“Oh, nothing. It’s just that they come from all over the world to see The Leaning Tower, and they hardly notice that this is perhaps the most harmonious assemblage of medieval religious structures in all of Christendom. Isn’t it just breathtaking!”

“Yes, I suppose it is. The Campanile, the Baptistery, the Cathedral, and the Camposanto. It’s just fabulous. I’m so happy to hear you say that, because it’s my favorite in all of Italy,” she responded agreeably.”

“Mine, too,” he replied. “Which one of the four is your favorite?”

“Oh, my, that’s a tough one, I suppose. No, no, it’s not after all…the Camposanto. Yes, of course, it has to be my favorite.”

“Mine, too. Yes, the cemetery, of course. We must go see it, but first, let us see the others.”

“Yes, of course,” she replied, thus they began with The Leaning Tower. Of course, they could not go up because of the fence enclosing it, but they could clearly see the enormous lead weights placed on the high side of the apron in an attempt to slow the rate of tilt.

“Is it working?” she asked.

“Well, yes, I suppose so,” Paul replied, “But I doubt that it will be the ultimate solution to the problem. The weights have slowed the progression, but they have not completely stopped it from tilting further. There is an international commission composed of experts in soil mechanics, mechanics of rocks, geophysics, meteorology, and even history and sociology. They are very capable people, but thus far no solution has been found.”

“What do you think, Paulo?”

“Falling objects, especially big stone ones like the tower, have the power to kill. So I hope that they find a solution soon.”

Having said this last, he seemed to regain his composure, disclosing, “I’ve been up the tower a couple of times before it was closed. Have you, Antonietta?”

“No, I have not. What’s it like?”

“Terrifying, absolutely terrifying. I confess to having a bit of vertigo, and the first time I went up there I literally crawled out on top and gripped the metal railing with white knuckles before I had the nerve to stand up. It’s only listing about 5 degrees, but it feels for all the world like you might fall off, especially if you go around to the south side, the direction that it is tilting. But I’ll tell you this, if they ever reopen it, I intend to go back up there!”

“I should be pleased to accompany you, Professore.”

“It’s a deal,” he replied with a smile. “Oh, there’s one other thing we will want to see if they do in fact reopen it.”

“What’s that?” she asked.

“Well, can you see there at the entrance, just inside. Unfortunately, we can’t get any closer due to this darned fence, but there is an inscription inside there.”

“I think I can see what you are talking about, but of course, I can’t make out what it says, Paulo. What is it?”

“It’s a plaque describing how Galileo dropped balls from the tower when he was a professore at The University of Pisa. That would have been perhaps around 1588.”

Would have been?” Antonietta asked.

“Right. There seems to be a great deal of disagreement about whether or not he actually did drop balls from the tower.”

“Too bad, it’s a good story,” she replied placidly.

“Well, I have another one, if you are interested,” he proposed.

“Okay,” she answered disinterestedly.

“This one relates to the poem,” he replied.

Brightening at the prospect of getting back on the trail of the puzzle, she responded, “Oh, well then, by all means, tell me!”

“Excellent!” he rejoined, “But for that, we must enter the cathedral.” He headed over to the back entrance, and she followed. Once inside they took a few moments to let their eyes adjust to the dim lighting, and he took the opportunity to give his small speech.

“Galileo is sort of the inventor of the pendulum clock, although the real credit goes to Christiaan Huygens, who came up with an effective design about fifteen years after Galileo died. But when Galileo was a very young man, he was apparently attending service one day right here in this cathedral when he noticed the lantern adjacent to the pulpit over there swinging to and fro. It was not uncommon for the lantern to be swinging to and fro during service, as the lantern was usually lit just beforehand by pulling it towards the pulpit with a long hooked bar and subsequently lighting the candles. By using his own heartbeat as a clock, Galileo noticed that the time of transit of one cycle of the swing of the lantern over there adjacent to the pulpit was more or less independent of the distance travelled. He apparently lost the thread of the sermon during the religious service, and his errant and inventive mind came up with what was the most common means of measuring time until well into the twentieth century.”

“Ah, so that’s THE lantern, is it?” Antonietta replied happily.

“No, it’s not,” Paul replied. “The lantern was replaced sometime after Galileo’s death, so that is not the lantern that he watched to discern the law of the pendulum.”

“Hee hee…” she answered ecstatically. “I knew that! I meant the lantern in the poem!”

“Oh! Right, right you are, that IS at the location of the lantern in the poem of course. But we already know what it refers to, don’t we, Antonietta!”

“We do?” she glared at him dubiously.

Smirking at his own superiority, he replied, “We know that the directions will lead us to The Leaning Tower. Here, give me the poem.”

She handed him the poem from her purse, and he read aloud, “Seventh stanza:

 

Thenceforth find Leonardo, count his way

Eighty paces toward the tilt

And left (from lantern) eighty more

The tilt shall be found in the way,

And falter on the selfsame day?

 

“Sooo, we start from the tomb of Leonardo in the Camposanto, walk eighty paces south, then…”

“Why south?” she interjected.

“I already explained that,” he responded impatiently. “The tower leans directly south.”

“Oh, right,” she replied.

Continuing, he said, “Where was I? Oh, right. Eighty paces south brings us directly to the lantern. From there we turn left and go eighty paces directly east. And voila, we arrive at The Leaning Tower.”

“Got it,” she answered laconically. “So let’s go check out Leonardo’s tomb. I want to see the starting point.”

“Do I detect a note of skepticism?” he asked with good humor.

“Not at all,” she answered noncommittally. “I just want to go inside the Camposanto.”

“Ooh, me too!” he replied with boyish charm. They exited the cathedral and crossed over to the Camposanto. Stepping inside, both stood frozen in their footsteps, the silent serenity pervading their senses.

“Oh, this is wonderful, Paulo. I love this cemetery. It is absolutely gorgeous.”

“Yes, and we are fortunate to still have it, after the terrible bombings in World War II,” he replied.

“So where is he buried?” she asked as they began to walk.

“At the other end, but first let us see the frescoes, I especially like The Last Judgment, The Hell, and The Triumph of Death, by Buffalmacco.” They stepped into the room and they found themselves all alone, surrounded by fabulous medieval frescoes. “They’ve done an unbelievable job of restoring them, don’t you think, Antonietta?”

“Yes, they were in really bad shape after the fire. Someday they hope to transfer all of them back from the Sinopie, you know, Paulo.”

“Yes, it is truly an incredible setting, don’t you think?”

“Oh yes,” she replied with obvious fascination, “But frankly, all of these good and bad Angels make these paintings appear rather menacing to me.”

“Well, it was the Church’s way of advertising in the Middle Ages, I expect. They were trying to herd the sheep, and they were using every means available to keep the masses in line.”

Antonietta shivered and said, “That reminds me of that horrible Last Judgment by Vasari in the Dome at Santa Maria del Fiori.”

“Yes, there are plenty of those still around. Actually we will see a really interesting one in Siena, perhaps tomorrow.”

Antonietta moved towards the portal to the room, and walked out into the portico. As she did so she noticed a man in the antechamber who was studying the photos depicting the restoration of the frescoes after World War II. Somewhat incongruously, the man was wearing a black business suit.

“This is my favorite part,” she said, stepping into the courtyard of the Camposanto. “Tis sacred soil, you know, Professore. It was brought here from Golgotha during the crusades. Imagine carting all of this dirt across the Mediterranean. Those people were dedicated, weren’t they!”

“Yes, I suppose that they were. And we are the beneficiaries of their toils. And now, let us go see Signore Leonardo. This way, please.” The walk to the other end within the Camposanto was solemn, punctuated by their passing of Roman sarcophagi, monuments, and carvings of various shapes and sizes, almost all cut from marble. They eventually arrived at the far end, where stood a magnificent statue of Leonardo do Pisa.

“Wonderful!” Antonietta said excitedly. “I’ve seen this statue before, but I never read the inscription. “I had no idea it was Fibonacci.”

“Yes, it is nice. And after all, we owe him a great deal today.”

“Exactly what do we owe him, Professore?”

“Well, he was a great mathematician. He wrote a book called Liber Abaci, which utilized Hindu numbers. Today we often call those numbers Arabic numerals, but historians have been able to trace them back to India, so they are actually Hindu numerals.”

“But why are they so important, Paulo?”

“The simplest way I can explain that is by asking a question: how would you like balancing your checkbook using Roman numerals?”

“Oh, I see, when you put it that way…” she replied. “So Fibonacci didn’t actually invent the numbers, he just translated them to the western world, right?”

“Right, but his book really helped to drive the Renaissance.”

“Amazing,” Antonietta replied with little interest, “But what sort of clue are we looking for here, Paulo?”

“Frankly, I don’t know, Contessa. But I do have a hunch.”

“I thought that you might…”

“I think that the clue has to do with numbers.”

“Why do you say that, Paulo?”

“Well, the poem says ‘then onward to the tomb of numbers’. As we discover more and more from this riddle, I am more and more convinced that Galileo labored long and hard to use very few words to impart an enormous amount of information. Thus, whereas I initially thought that ‘tomb of numbers’ referred uniquely to the tomb of Fibonacci, I now think that it may in fact be a double entendre.”

“Meaning?”

“I don’t know…something else having to do with numbers,” was all Paul could think of to say. “I need to think some more about it. Let’s go check out the Baptistery. I like the acoustics in there.”

“Okay,” Antonietta said thoughtfully. They walked onwards a few paces, and she suddenly said, “Galileo played the lute, didn’t he?”

“Yes. Yes, he did,” Paul replied. “His father was one of the great musical talents of his age. Actually, there is much extant literature today describing Vincenzo Galilei and his influence on Galileo. He taught his son the lute, and he also taught him something much more important – to never accept the voice of authority out of hand.”

“In what way?” Antonietta queried.

“Vincenzo Galilei instilled in his son Galileo an extraordinarily deep seeded passion to seek the truth. This quality that is today taken for granted as essential to all scientific advancement was spurned by all academics and clerics in Galileo’s time. Thus, we owe much to Galileo’s parentage.”

“So how does that play into Galileo’s later life?”

“Excellent question,” Paul replied. “As it turns out, it didn’t take long for that to take root. Within a few years Galileo designed and built a bilancetta, a balance for measuring relative weights of objects, right here in Pisa. That was a harbinger of his lifelong obsession with mechanics, especially experimental mechanics. Of course, he had already begun to suspect that Aristotle was wrong about many things, including the fall of heavy objects, but the bilancetta paid homage to Galileo’s hero Archimedes.”

“I am very much afraid that I am in need of a glass of something stronger than water,” Antonietta replied perfunctorily. “All of this is making my head spin.”

“Ha!” Paul replied. “Excellent suggestion. We should have no trouble locating a good ‘watering hole’ adjacent to the Piazza.”

 

1589

 

Galileo sat patiently listening to the Sunday sermon. As the sermon wore on, his mind drifted to other more interesting subjects. He thought of that other time, when he had noticed the swinging lantern right here in this place. That had led to his discovery of a medical device for measuring pulse rates.

Then he thought on his time in Siena, when he had calculated the volume of Hell using the text of The Inferno by Dante Alighieri. That had been little more than theatrics, but it had at least led to his current position as the Chair of Mathematics at the University. True, this was a backwater place when compared to where the great universities of the world were, but he was confident that he would rise to greater heights as his fame grew.

The sermon droned onwards, his mind wandering still further astray. He pondered his recent readings on the works of Archimedes. Surely here was an intellect to match his own. In his mind he imagined how a chance meeting would go if he could but meet the greatest scientist from antiquity.

“Good day, Professore Galileo,” Archimedes would say.

“And a pleasant day to you as well, Signore Archimedes,” he would respond.

“How is the development of your bilancetta proceeding?” Archimedes would ask with interest.

“Oh, excellent. I must say, quite excellent indeed,” he would answer agreeably.

At this pronouncement Archimedes would clap his hands in glee, saying, “Wonderful! Wonderful! You must demonstrate it to me!” In Galileo’s dreams true scientists sought only truth – disagreements fueled by personal jealousy simply were not possible among great men of science.

“Sir, I would be most happy to demonstrate it for you. I believe it to be in all ways superior to your balance,” Galileo would respond. “Of course, the theory of the lever that it is based on must be credited to you. My invention lies in the realm of application rather than fundamental concept such as you yourself have been so fortunate to give the world. The principle of buoyancy, the principle of the lever, the center of mass of a cylinder intersected by a plane, and the astronomical clock – these are all fundamental laws of nature invented by you, The Great Archimedes, that must be accorded the highest respect by mankind.”

“That is most kind of you, Professore Galileo, most kind indeed. Nonetheless, my work, however useful, is done. On the other hand, you – Galileo – you have the ability to change the world far more than did I. I must entreat you – Reach high, my son. Look farther than those before you. Change the world as no one before you has done.”

Galileo was suddenly snapped away from his reverie by the ringing of the bell announcing the Eucharist. As he arose to take his turn in line, he revisited his daydream. He resolved to spend more time studying The Great Archimedes, and to work especially hard to understand the principle of the lever more profoundly. Perhaps in time he might even be able to expand on this important concept in a way that approached the level of a fundamental principle. There indeed was a challenge worthy of his talents.

The mass ended and Galileo departed the Basilica, heading back towards his house. As he did so, he passed The Leaning Tower. He suddenly stopped dead in his tracks, an epiphany coming over him. The words of Archimedes were ringing in his ears, “Reach high, my son.”

Yes, of course, here was a sign indeed, as high above him stood The Leaning Tower, as if entreating Galileo to think on another even higher plane. Up to now he had envisioned the tower as little more than an expedient platform for performing experiments on balls of different sizes and weights. But now it seemed that Archimedes had sent him a message, and that message was to reach for the tower itself. Struck by this realization, he stood dumbfounded before it, imagining the tower to be supported on a balance. Such a monumental problem! How would he attack it? He resolved to take on Archimedes’ challenge – to reach high, and in so doing, to solve the problem of The Leaning Tower.

 

1997

 

The following morning, Paul stumbled into the breakfast room bleary eyed but nonetheless absurdly jovial.

At the sight of his incongruous smile, Antonietta volunteered matter-of-factly, “You look like hell. Want some coffee?”

Undeterred by her admonition, he ignored its implication and begged,“Yes, please! I am in desperate need of caffeine, and a lot of it!”

As she poured him a cup, she stated the obvious, “Were you up all night?”

“Pretty much. I caught a couple of hours sleep when I ran out of steam, but I have good news.” Seeing her peering over the rim of her cup with obvious anticipation, he volunteered boldly, “I believe I have solved a major piece of the puzzle!”

She placed the cup before him and said, “Cream?” but otherwise showed no reaction to his revelation.

“Did you hear me, Antonietta?” he growled his pointed reply.

“Yes, of course I did,” she replied with little interest.

Suddenly deflated by her unexpected lack of enthusiasm, he responded, “I thought you’d be excited.”

She flashed him a smile and exclaimed, “I am!” but then she added, “I am, and then again, I’m not.”

“But why?” he asked quizzically.

“I suppose I have enjoyed the chase…perhaps too much. I shall be saddened to see it come to an end.”

“Ah, I see your point,” he replied. “Okay, then. I won’t tell you,” and, buoyed by her explanation, he grinned broadly.

Suddenly brightening, she exclaimed, “Not on your life, Professore! Not after all we’ve been through. Tell me. Tell me everything.”

“Right, but you needn’t get all teary eyed just yet. I’ve only solved a part of the puzzle. There’s still plenty more to go,” and taking a long drag from his cup, he proffered, “I suppose that we should start with this.”

Va bene,” she responded but, unsure as to his meaning, she suggested, “Please continue, Professore.”

At this he pulled the poem from his valise and commenced with, “Okay, let’s review the seventh stanza -

 

Thenceforth find Leonardo, count his way

Eighty paces toward the tilt

And left (from lantern) eighty more

The tilt shall be found in the way,

And falter on the selfsame day?

 

“As we now know, this stanza refers to The Leaning Tower.”

“Yes, of course,” she replied impatiently, “But what pray tell does the last line mean?”

“Right!” Paul expounded in evident accord. “You see, I couldn’t sleep last night. Our conversation about fundamental laws of nature yesterday kept coming back to me. To put it more appropriately, I was unbalanced by Galileo’s bilancetta. That little balance kept getting into my head and saying, ‘Think like Galileo’! Thus challenged by his little toy, I asked myself, ‘How would he think?’ Galileo was clearly taken with Archimedes, with the law of the balance, or more appropriately, the principle of the lever, which today we call ‘summing moments’.” He paused, took another long sip of coffee, and at this point he covertly placed the following page of calculations before Antonietta.

 

Silently examining the page, she inquired diffidently, “Is this what you stayed up all night doing – some big homework problem? I haven’t a clue what all of this means. But you know that, you fool!”

“Yes, of course I know that,” he responded pleasantly, which seemed somehow incongruous given his seriously disheveled appearance. “And no, I didn’t stay up all night doing this. This page only took a couple of hours. Unfortunately, my travails over the remainder of the night produced little of value.”

“Okay, Professore,” she announced, making it clear that she would countenance no further prevarication on his part, “Please explain.”

“Yes,” Paul responded, signaling that he understood the implied warning in her tone. Thus, rushing onward, he now offered, “Take a careful look at the parchment that we removed from the telescope, Antonietta. It shows The Leaning Tower, and there are arrows on the drawing. I deduced from the arrows that Galileo was trying to work out some explanation of the forces acting on the tower. Here is my more detailed version of his drawing, at which he shoved yet another piece of paper before her.

 

 

As if it should have been obvious to her, he posited, “The equations on this other sheet of paper refer to my drawing.”

Displaying only the thinnest veil of civility, she commanded, “Just skip the mathematical stuff and tell me what all of this means, Professore.”

Smiling patronizingly at her, he proffered, “That’s what I’m getting to. Remember the last line of the seventh stanza?”

“Yes, of course. Let me see, ‘And falter on the selfsame day?’, if I’m not mistaken,” she replied knowingly, thereby making it clear to him that she understood the gist of the subject at hand.

“Exactly! The drawing refers to that!”

Now verging on bona fide rage, she exclaimed, “This is ridiculous. I know that! But I nevertheless have no idea what you’re talking about!”

Seeing no way forward other than to make the point directly, he declared, “Galileo predicted when The Leaning Tower of Pisa would collapse!”

Silence…dead silence, was her only response. Frowning doubtfully at him, she turned her head slightly to one side, in the process allowing the full realization of what he was saying to sink in. It was clear that she thought that he had a screw loose somewhere, but she somehow managed the strength to play along, imparting superciliously, “You don’t say. And when would that be?”

The selfsame day! He says so himself right here, and that, my dear, would be the year 2034,” at which he pointed to the Roman numerals in the fifth stanza of the poem.

“Well, that just clears up everything, doesn’t it!” she blabbered, turning away in the apparent hope that this whole episode would somehow simply disappear. But then, thinking better of it, she continued, querying apprehensively, “And how did you come to this conclusion, Professore?” and this time she used the word professore derisively for the first time in days.

Ignoring her obvious condescension, he replied, “Right. That is a very good question. But first let me tell you, this calculation that I constructed using his drawing required me to use some very ingenious tools that very few people during Galileo’s time would have been aware of.”

“Like what?” she replied with little discernible interest.

Disregarding her malaise, he pressed onward, “Well, he had to use Archimedes’ principle of the lever, but in a very ingenious way that borders on modern statics. Actually, I would go so far as to say, ‘Galileo invented modern statics in order to obtain this proof.’ In that sense he predates Newton. He also had to use Archimedes’ principle of buoyancy in order to estimate the distribution of the loading on the base of the tower. See here? That’s what he’s doing, assuming that the tower was floating on water. And note this arrow here. That’s the resultant of the pressure on the base. In order to calculate the location of that, he would have had to have access to Archimedes’ most important theorem – the location of the center of gravity of a plane intersecting a cylinder. But I digress.

“So Galileo must have had access to Archimedes’ theorem. No wonder he admired Archimedes so much. He knew something about Archimedes’ genius that most of the rest of the world did not know until recently – the theorem in the palimpsest that was later lost. And Galileo is known to have used the term infinity quite freely and often, which was unusual for his time. So he most likely knew about Archimedes’ theorem in the palimpsest.”

“Okay. That is mildly interesting, but what exactly is your point?” she replied, but by now she was beginning to see what he was saying.

“Well, basically, Galileo knew how much the tower was tilted in his time, and he knew the rate at which it was leaning further in time. From that and Archimedes’ principle of the lever, he was able to predict that the tower would topple in late July of the year 2034.”

“Huha ha,” Antonietta burst out in uncontrolled giggling, eventually erupting into uncontrolled guffawing.

“I’m not kidding, Antonietta!” he replied in all sincerity, nonetheless breaking into harmonious chuckling of his own.

“Oh…I thought you were joking,” she spluttered, and now calming in embarrassment, she added somewhat inanely, “Didn’t he know what day?”

“Ha! Now YOU’RE joking, Contessa. Actually, I don’t really know if he knew the day because of the word selfsame in the poem. After all, he did pose it as a question. And furthermore, he evidently had another event in mind as well, but I have no idea what that event might be.”

“Oh, of course!” she cajoled absurdly, “Alright then, let’s get to work on the other event!”

“All in good time, my dear contessa. But first, we must complete the tale of The Leaning Tower. It seems that our Galileo is the first person in history to use scientifically rigorous methods to predict an event far into the future. That is not an altogether insignificant revelation. Until now that honor had been reserved for Sir Edmund Halley, who scientifically predicted the return of Halley’s Comet a century in advance, although there is evidence that the Chinese, Indians, and even the Persians were able to predict solar eclipses with astonishing accuracy.”

“I think that the keyword here is scientifically, if I am not mistaken,” she replied matter-of-factly.

“Spoken like a scientist, and just so. Since the year 2034 has not yet occurred, and furthermore, The Leaning Tower has not yet fallen, we must wait and see.”

“I don’t know about you, but I do not intend to wait around,” she remonstrated, but then she added, “So, do you think that Galileo’s prediction could be even remotely correct? Might The Leaning Tower actually fall in 2034?”

“I suppose that it could, but frankly, I doubt it.”

“So you think he was wrong?” she responded.

Seeing that she was hopeful that he also viewed the entire supposition as ridiculous, as she obviously did, he felt forced to counter with, “No, not at all. I think that his methodology was sound, and that is what is important, at least from the scientific viewpoint. In his method, he was nearly a hundred years ahead of his time. However, it is unlikely that his predicted date of collapse of the tower is accurate.”

“Why?” she asked.

“For the simple reason that The Leaning Tower has been repeatedly tampered with and propped up, Antonietta,” he replied concisely. “As we discussed yesterday, the tower has been closed to tourists since 1990, because the tilt has become perilously large. And as you know, there have been a number of attempts to mitigate the tilt, most of them unsuccessful. Thus far the only solution that has slowed the tilt has been to load the high side of the base with lead weights, and this has slowed the progression somewhat. From the standpoint of Galileo’s prediction, all of the forms of human intervention since his passing would serve to reduce the accuracy of his prediction, as they could not have been anticipated in his analysis. Be that as it may, his approach to the problem was revolutionary, and perhaps even accurate had not buffoons such as Mussolini interceded.”

Mussolini?”

“Yeah, he had concrete pumped into the foundation in the 1930’s in an attempt to slow the rate of tilt.”

“Okay, I get the picture – you’re very impressed with Galileo’s method for predicting the collapse of the Tower. Now, might we move on to the rest of the puzzle, Professore?”

Eyeing her forlornly, he admitted, “Oh, that. Unfortunately, I have no idea what the rest of the puzzle is about yet.”

Chapter 6

 

Vallombrosa

 

Thick as autumnal leaves that strew the brooks In Vallombrosa, where the Etrurian shades high overarched imbower.

 

-John Milton (1608-1674)

 

1579

 

Vincenzo Galilei descended from the carriage, and without so much as glancing at the tranquil setting that surrounded him, he strode headlong into the abbey. Once inside he proceeded directly to the rector’s office. Entering without bothering to knock, he announced imperiously to the lone monk within, “I am Vincenzo Galilei, father of Galileo. I would like to see him, please.”

The monk stood up and bowed submissively, saying, “Yes, of course sir. I am Brother Sebastian. If you will wait a few moments I shall find out where Signore Galileo is at this instant.”

“Thank you,” the senior Galilei replied, and at this he sat down to await the monk’s return. He waited a few minutes, but in his current state of agitation that was far too long, so that by the time the monk had returned he was nearing a state of rage.

The monk was accompanied by the Abbott, who held out his hand and said politely, “Welcome, Signore Galilei. I am Brother Ferdinando. We have heard much about your musical exploits from your son Galileo. It is a great honor to have someone of your status visit us here at the abbey.”

Suppressing his irritation as best he could, Vincenzo responded brusquely, “Thank you Brother Ferdinando. I am here to visit my son. May I please see him immediately?”

“Yes, of course, Signore Galilei,” the Abbott replied. “But I should inform you that he has an infection. It is perhaps a serious one, an infection of the eyes.”

“What? Why was I not informed of this?”

The Abbott responded with supplication, “He just contracted it, sir. And we did send word, but it is most likely in transit to Firenze at this moment.”

Soothed by the Abbott’s silky manner, the elder Galilei inquired, “Just how serious is it?”

“Oh, he will fully recover within a few days, I am sure, Signore,” the Abbott replied imperturbably. “Please, Signore Galilei, if you will follow me, I will take you to the infirmary where he is resting at present.”

Hearing this, Vincenzo followed the Abbott down the arched hallway to a large room with several beds, but with only a single patient therein.

“Galileo, your father is here to see you,” the Abbott said as he came alongside Galileo’s bed. The boy was trussed up with bandages over his eyes so that he could not tell who his visitors were.

“Papa, is that you?” Galileo called out, clearly in a state of darkened misery.

“Yes, my son. It is your father,” and, taking Galileo within his embrace, he thereby demonstrated his extreme concern for his son’s current state. “How do you feel, Galileo?”

“A little tired, but otherwise I’m okay, Papa, except for my eyes, of course.”

“Can you see, Galileo?”

“Oh, yes, Papa. Yes, of course, but they told me that I needed to have bandages in order to rest them.”

“Alright, then,” his father replied. “Let’s have a look,” at which he gently began removing the bandages. Seeing this the Abbott started forward but, apparently thinking better of it, he halted and watched the scene unfold before him.

Removing the bandages, Vincenzo could tell that Galileo’s eyes were swollen and red but otherwise undamaged. “Can you see me, my son?”

“Yes, of course,” the boy replied.

The elder Galilei grabbed his offspring in yet another taut hug, obviously relieved to see him all in one piece. The boy smiled with relief at this and the elder Galilei released his son, in so doing tousling his hair in a paternal gesture. “There, there, Galileo. It’s good to see you, my son!”

“Yes, Papa, I am glad to see you, too.”

Vincenzo then turned to the Abbott and announced bluntly, “I’m afraid that I must take my son, Brother Ferdinando. I do not like the look of this infection. I want to take him to see my doctor in Firenze.”

“Sir, that is not necessary. We are perfectly able to take care of him here in the abbey.”

“That may be, but a father cannot stand by when his son is ill. You understand I’m sure.”

“Yes, of course,” the Abbott replied, all too aware that he could not stop Signore Galilei from taking his son with him. “When can we expect him to return? Will he be back in time for his investiture into the Faith? Tis in two weeks’ time.”

“Yes, if he is well by then. If not, I will send you word,” Vincenzo replied curtly.

Shortly thereafter father and son climbed into the carriage in preparation, at which the Abbott said, “God speed, Signore Galilei. We will see you soon, Galileo!” but the carriage was already moving.

Moments later Galileo asked, “Father, will I be well enough to attend my investiture, do you think?”

“Galileo, my son, I am afraid that you will not.”

“Why?” the boy inquired in confusion.

“My son, you are never going back to Vallombrosa. You are not going to be a member of the Vallombrosan order. You will never be a monk. I will not allow a son of mine to waste his life in such a menial pursuit.”

“But why, Papa? I love it there. I love Vallombrosa!”

“I know, my son. I know that you do. It will be hard, but in time you shall forget.”

By now Galileo was sniffling loudly, “Why, Papa? I don’t understand.”

“My son, please do not cry. You will someday thank me for this. You are destined for greatness. I see it in you. You must follow your destiny, my boy.”

In response Galileo could only ponder silently.

 

Pisa – 1997

 

Antonietta took the steering wheel, propelling the Alfa forward over narrow and sinuous roadways, deftly maneuvering the pair into the very heart of Tuscany. The drive into the countryside was serenely spectacular, the highway winding through the forested and rolling hills, eventually arriving where Antonietta was born – in the village of Vinci.

“It’s quite lovely,” Paul volunteered as they gradually came to a halt directly in the center of the village.

“Yes, I suppose it is,” she responded absently, “One doesn’t notice so much when it is one’s own heritage, but I could see where you would find it impressive. For my part, I couldn’t wait to get away from here when I was growing up.”

Surprised at her response, Paul asked, “Why?”

“Too small, too many secrets, too many –how do you say in English – bocche libere.”

“Ha, blabber mouths!” he replied with a snort.

Standing on the street within the ostensibly ancient setting, she gestured towards her surroundings with one hand, “Not to mention constant broken pipes, leaky roofs, and poor electrical services. I look back now and I realize that it wasn’t far removed from The Middle Ages. I’m sure that’s fine, if you like that sort of thing,” and at this she pursed her lips and, thereby signaling a change of subject, she suggested with palpable reticence, “Look, would you mind? I need to see my mother for a few minutes.”

Having by her demeanor anticipated something grave, he exclaimed with evident relief, “Oh! No, not at all. I can just sit here in the main square and watch the world go by. There is no place I would rather be at this moment, Antonietta. Whereas you are fortunate that your blood is Italian by birth, mine is merely by choice.”

At this she smiled with genuine warmth and, shaking her head slightly, she replied gently, “That’s not what I meant, but it’s nice of you to say nonetheless.”

Clearly befuddled, he blubbered, “Sorry. What did you mean, Antonietta?”

“I was asking you to come with me, you dear idiotic professore!”

“Ah!” he replied with genuine delight. “Why, of course! I would be honored to meet your mother.”

Va bene,” she replied brightly, “Just one thing, Paulo – she is very old. She could be, how do you say it – crotchety. She has her moods, you see…”

“Oh, right, not a problem. I shall take care,” he responded with sympathetic resolve.

Having trudged up a steep ancient street barely wider than an oxcart, Antonietta rang a doorbell implanted within a decrepit stone wall. “Mama, sono io, Antonietta,” she spoke into a microphone.

Si, sono qui, mia figlia, ti vengo,” was the muffled response from within. Antonietta, recognizing her mother’s voice, pulled a key from her purse and unlocked the door, pushing it inwards with apparent effort.

Entering, she offered candidly, “This is the house I grew up in. Please, follow me if you will.”

Entering the apartment, Paul observed that despite the evident age, it was possessed of a certain old world charm. Antonietta led him to the kitchen, where her mother sat quietly peeling carrots, a picture of domesticity straight out of another era.

At the sight of Antonietta the elderly lady looked up and, carefully placing her knife on the table, she smiled with perfect serenity. She then held out her arms for the obligatory hug from her daughter. “Mia cara, vieni qui!”

At this Antonietta leaned forward, embraced her mother pleasantly, and turned to introduce her companion. “Mama, this is Paulo, my friend from America.” Having completed her brief introduction, she turned to Paul and said, “She doesn’t speak English, Paulo.”

Paul stepped forward to the table and held out his hand, whereupon the elder lady took his hand in both of hers and, awarding him a sprightly grin, she exclaimed with evident gusto “Benvenuto, Paulo!” Though her grasp was frail, it was nonetheless firm, the sparkle in her eyes entrancing.

Mille grazie, signora, mille grazie,” he smiled back at her, warming immediately to her infectious compassion.

Turning towards Antonietta, the elderly lady proffered, “Suo Italiano è perfetto!”

Antonietta smiled, replying, “Si, mama, e mezzo Italiano, penso.”

For the second time in a week Paul had been accorded the title of half-Italian. “Perhaps two halves make a whole,” he thought contentedly to himself. In any case, he felt quite honored.

The ice thus broken, the three settled in for a lovely chat about everything and nothing, the type of conversation that parents have with their children when they are proud of them, when they know that they have somehow succeeded with their greatest challenge in life.

All too soon the hour slipped away and, as Antonietta’s mother was in need of her rest, it was time to be moving on. The farewell was at once happy and sad, with Paul promising to visit again soon.

Antonietta went ahead to unlock the door, and as he turned to leave, Antonietta’s mother grabbed him by the sleeve, and said in English, “I-a see-a much-a my-a son-a. Take-a good-a care-a mia figlia. You-a promeese-a?”

Holding down the huge lump welling up in his throat, he replied, “Si, certamente, capisco, signora.”

As they walked down the street, Antonietta slipped her hand around his arm and said, “I hope you don’t mind, it’s customary here,” and it was apparent that she was referring to walking arm in arm.

Feeling it a perfect dénouement to her mother’s parting words, he volunteered, “Not at all, it’s a lovely custom, if you ask me.”

“I heard you exchanging goodbyes from the other room. What did she say to you, Paulo?”

“Oh, nothing special. She just said to drive carefully,” he responded evasively.

“That was nice of her,” Antonietta replied, apparently satisfied by his deception.

“Yes. SHE is nice. You are very fortunate, Antonietta.”

“In what way, Paulo?”

“You still have her, that’s how. My parents died years ago. I still talk to my mom, and she’s been dead for six years.” He paused for a moment, and then continued, “Not only do you still have her, she is just perfect.”

“Thank you,” Antonietta responded with evident pride. “I suppose you’re right.” She gazed wistfully off into the fading sunlight of the Tuscan landscape and said, “It wasn’t always that way, but that’s a story for another day. I am fortunate indeed. On the other hand, you, professore, seem to have endured some hardships.”

Staring back at her in confusion, he replied simply, “Well, perhaps. Perhaps you are right. But I’ve never looked at it that way. To me, I’m just trying to get through life as cleanly as possible.”

“That’s ridiculous!” she responded, breaking into a foolish looking grin.

“What? What did I say?” he exclaimed, still perplexed.

“Oh, nothing,” she responded, her ludicrous grin fading, “Let’s just say, you’re due for some good times, Professore.”

“Oh?” he responded, a hint of a smile now crossing his features. “Who says?”

“I do!” she exclaimed emphatically, “And I’m in charge while we are in my country!”

At this, the pair broke down in genial twitters, Paul responding with an amiable military salute, “Yes, SIR! Order understood! Good times to be carried out forthwith!”

They dined at the Ristorante Leonardo within the village, and afterwards they headed back to Arcetri.

“Thank you,” Paul said as they drove down the darkened roadway towards Firenze, but before she could respond, he added, “I had never been to Leonardo Da Vinci’s birthplace, so my hopes were high. But nothing could have prepared me for the last few hours. You’ve given me a lifetime memory. Thank you, Antonietta.”

“You’re welcome,” she replied, and she drove the remainder of the way in silence, each absorbed in reminiscence.

 

Arcetri – The Following Morning

 

Paul arose late the following morning. Even tardier, Antonietta found him in the kitchen fumbling with the espresso machine.

Sensing that he was not up to it this morning, she volunteered, “Here, let me do that.”

“Thank you,” he replied, his despondence apparent. He abruptly collapsed languidly at the table and, propping his elbows on the table, he looked the very image of deep depression.

Antonietta started the espresso machine and then turned towards him, she encouraged, “And good morning to you, too, Professore!”

Smiling forlornly at her, he expressed, “Sorry, Antonietta. Where there is manic, there is inevitably depression as well.”

“No matter,” she replied empathetically, “We can simply sit here and overdose ourselves on espresso until the somber mood is lifted, non?”

“That – my dear Contessa – sounds perfetto. I’m not sure I’m up to anything at all today. Admittedly, we made great strides yesterday in Pisa, but I confess, I spent the night tossing and turning, haunted by the realization that we have really only solved a couple of stanzas in the poem, and they were most assuredly the easiest of the lot. Frankly, I must confess I’m worried.”

“Worried? About what, Professore?”

“You must promise not to tell anyone, okay?” And at her nod he continued, whispering as if this were a clandestine meeting, “It is just possible that our Galileo is over my head.”

Just the sound of him saying it made her burst into laughter, but as he immediately responded with a wounded look, she said with renewed formality, “I’m sorry, it’s so absurd. You are a brilliant man, Dr. Woodbridge. Trust me, you will solve the puzzle!”

“Thank you…” he replied and, brightening a bit, he rejoined, “I suppose I needed that, even if I confess to sort of soliciting it from you,” and at this admission he suppressed a giggle. He continued with, “But frankly, a man who has been dead for more than three hundred and fifty years has me cornered. It’s deflating, to say the least. One does not become a highly educated professor on the strength of humility; it takes chutzpah, and I have my share. So when a long deceased person defeats your best efforts, it’s demoralizing.”

“What’s chutzpah?” She replied tangentially.

“Aw, heck, Antonietta. Sometimes you make me furious. How in heaven’s name can you expect me to wallow in self-pity, even for a few well-earned moments, when you are standing there making light of my every attempt to evoke sympathy?”

Chin held high, she responded with solemn dignity, “My house, my rules,” and at this they both laughed, thereby breaking the stifling air of solemnity. She now turned to get him his coffee, suggesting, “Shall we get down to it, Professore? Today we have another stanza to solve!”

“Might as well, you’re certainly not going to allow me to spend the day wallowing in self-pity,” he replied with feigned desolation, “Where were we anyway?”

Plopping down beside him, she answered decisively, “We still seem to be stuck on the long stanza.”

Surrendering to her staunch resolve, he murmured, “Right. Okay, let’s read it again,” and, taking up the poem, beside each of the last eight lines within the long stanza he now inscribed a single word.

 

First pilgrims shouldst ye be in turn

Each ending in a tomb of fame

Commence ye with the Dome inventor Firenze

Thence on to unseen Abbey founder Vallombrosa???

Next back to whence journey commenced Arcetri

Thence see she called back the pope…Ravenna Siena

Thereafter to the tomb of numbers…*Pisa*

Then overhead the utmost next…*Roma*

Followed by The Wolf’s admirer…Padova???

Endeth with the Lion to The Great…Venezia???

 

Thrusting the page toward her, he inquired disconsolately, “What do you think?”

“Well, hmmm….” She replied with furrowed brow and, studying his insertions intently, she commented, “Vallombrosa…actually, I think that sounds pretty good. As good as anything I can think of. After all, there’s a famous abbey there.”

“Right,” he replied bluntly, “Go on, M,” taking another sip of coffee.

“M? Who’s that?” she responded blankly.

“Just a small joke,” he replied, “James Bond’s muse…er, actually, his boss.”

“Whatever,” she replied distractedly.

Seeing her stern rebuttal, he nodded reluctant acquiescence and coaxed, “Go on.”

Visibly perplexed, she replied, “Uhhmm…, I don’t get the last two.”

“Yeah, I confess – that’s admittedly a significant part of my morose mood today.”

“So, tell me,” she responded, by now well aware that he would be forthcoming if pressed a bit.

Taking her well-aimed bait, he proffered, “Yes, well, this is weak, I admit, but so much so far has been, hasn’t it. We agree that these are the places that Galileo lived, but the order of the places in this stanza somehow seems to be significant. And we know that they match the letters on the circular map.”

“Yes, yes, that makes sense,” she replied thoughtfully, “Go on.”

“Well, last night I was thinking about the fourth line. If these are indeed references to places he knew, then line four almost certainly refers to Vallombrosa.”

Scanning down the page, she agreed, “Yes, he was there as a child. His father came and took him away when he found out that he wanted to become a monk. I think you’re onto something, Professore. Ha…we were way off the track on Ravenna, weren’t we!”

“Yes, but I think that it helped in a strange sort of way. Remember, it got me thinking about Dante. And that in turn got me to thinking about the seven levels of Hell, which must be a clue to the solution of the ‘Hell’ map.”

“Ha! I like that,” she replied. “The Hell map. It fits nicely, doesn’t it.”

“I thought you’d like that touch,” he responded proudly.

“Okay, so the last two lines…if your theory is correct, the first would certainly be Padova. But he never lived in Venezia did he, Paulo?”

“Well, he spent so much time there, I suspect he may even have had a small apartment there. He loved Venezia, you know.”

“Okay, I’ll buy that, Professore, but why Padova first instead of the other way around?”

Scratching his day old beard, he agreed, “Good question. Again, it’s weak, but here goes…It seems that the order of the destinations gets farther and farther from Arcetri.” Suddenly he stopped and, shaking his head in realization, he exclaimed, “Wait a minute! I hadn’t thought of this before, but the distances might be measured from Firenze instead of Arcetri. Right, of course, that must be the case, since the fifth line brings us back here to Arcetri.”

At this he stopped for a moment, apparently sorting out this new viewpoint in his mind, and then he continued, “Okay, assuming that they are introduced so as to be in order of distance from Firenze, that would lead to the conclusion that the last two lines of the stanza refer to Padova first and Venezia second.”

“Makes sense to me,” she replied, “But if that is the case, what precisely do the last two lines refer to?”

He grinned at her and, impressed with her prompt grasp of the ramifications, he crowed, “Exactly! And that’s what I need your help with.”

Now herself excited, she exclaimed, “Va bene! What can I do?”

“Tell me about The Wolf, Antonietta.”

“The wolf? Hmmm…the wolf. Let me see…well, in Italian, tis Il Lupo.” She thought for a second, and then she said doubtfully, “Uhhmm, the only thing I can think of is ‘nel bocca di Lupo’. It means…”

“Yes, I know what it means,” he interrupted, “In the mouth of the wolf. It’s a very common saying in Italy, but what does it mean, Antonietta?”

“What does it mean? I don’t understand. You said what it means, Professore.”

“No, I don’t mean that. I mean, what is the underlying meaning, Antonietta?”

“Hmmm…well. It’s very old…” and she stopped a moment to think. “It refers to the incident with the wolf, in Gubbio. Yes, I remember now, that’s it!” and at this she glanced back his way.

Staring blankly in return, he said, “I don’t get it. What incident in Gubbio?”

“Oh, right. You wouldn’t know about that. Well, let’s see, it’s a long story, but I’ll give you the short version. It seems that when San Francesco was a young man, he was less than a saint, so to speak.”

“Yes, I recall. Let’s see, that would have been right around 1200 if I’m not mistaken. He lived in Gubbio at the time, right?”

“Yes, he did,” she replied. “So anyway, the story goes that one night he was sort of stumbling down a dark street after one of his nights of particularly unsavory debauchery, when he came face to face with the very wolf that had been terrorizing the citizens of Gubbio, killing and wantonly devouring them. So the story goes that Francesco said to the wolf something pithy like ‘if you will spare me I will sin no more’, to which the wolf agreed, or so the story goes. And to make it even more ludicrous, supposedly Francesco somehow extracted a similar oath from the wolf. And that, professore, is where we get the saying ‘Nel bocca di Lupo’. To top off the story, it is said that the wolf was never seen again, and Francesco returned to his birthplace of Assisi and founded the Francescan order, thenceforth becoming one of the most venerated saints in all of Christendom.”

Visibly enlightened, Paul was nonetheless unable to resist appending serendipitously, “And he was the first person on Earth known to have received the Stigmata.”

“Yes, the wounds of Christ,” she replied pensively.

“So, we are halfway there, Antonietta,” Paul said jovially.

“Halfway to what?” she replied, still caught up in the moment.

“Halfway to deciphering the ninth line of the long stanza,” he replied.

“Oh,” she answered and, returning to the issue at hand, she posited, “Right. What’s the other half?”

“For that I will need a map of Padova. Padova is not my strongest point. I’ve been there, but I confess I don’t know it well. So we need a map.”

“Okay, I think I may have what we need. I’ll be right back,” she replied.

Returning shortly, she found that he had made two new cups of espresso. “Eccelente!” she said, “And here is a map of Padova. I assume that you meant ‘old’ Padova, right?”

“Yes,” and at this he laid the map out on the table. After a moment he said triumphantly, “Ha! I knew it! We have it!”

Baffled by his ebulliance, she inquired, “We have what?”

“We have a location for the stop in Padova!”

Twisting her head doubtfully, she murmured, “Really…”

“Yes, it’s the Cathedral of San Antonio,” he responded proudly. “San Antonio was the first great follower of San Francesco of Assisi, ergo we have ‘The Wolf’s Admirer’.”

“I didn’t know that part, but I do know that he died in Padova, around 1230 or 31, only five years after San Francesco’s passing. They were both canonized shortly thereafter, if memory serves me correctly. And the last line obviously refers to San Marco, ergo Venezia.”

“Yes! So that’s it, Antonietta. We now know where our pilgrimage must take us. Because we’ve already been to Firenze, Arcetri, and Pisa, we must go in order to Vallombrosa, Siena, Roma, Padova, and Venezia.”

Frowning duplicitously, she blurted, “My, that sounds inviting. Are you sure this isn’t a vacation?” at which they both laughed so hard they cried. Somehow, their day had turned from sullen to sunny in the space of half an hour.

Having agreed to the plan, their next stop was the Abbey at Vallombrosa. Although the sky was sullen and gray, nothing could dampen their enthusiasm at having finally decoded the long stanza. On arriving at the abbey an hour later they parked and made their way up the long tree-lined walkway, arriving shortly at the entrance to the monastery. Once inside they were approached by an elfish looking cleric who offered his hand, saying affably, “Buongiorno, sono Figlio Giuseppe. Benvenuti a Vallombrosa!”

Grazie,” Antonietta replied.

“What brings you here to our monastery, may I ask?”

“Yes, well, we are interested in Galileo,” Paul answered. “I am Professor Paul Woodbridge, from the United States.”

“My, you have come a long way, Professore,” Brother Giuseppe replied, “And I see you are a student of history. Galileo did indeed live and study here as a boy. What may I help you with, Signore?”

“We were hoping for a short tour, if that is possible, sir,” Paul replied.

Certamente! This way, if you please. I can show you the monastery and the church and chapels. The remainder is closed to the public.”

“Yes, of course. That would be perfect. Is it possible to also see the tomb of St. Giovanni Gualberto?”

“My, you do know your history, Professore. Yes, we will also see his tomb. He is of course the founder of the Vallombrosan order. I can also show you the chamber where John Milton is said to have stayed during his visit to the Abbey.”

The tour spanned less than a half hour, and afterwards Paul and Antonietta offered a donation to the Abbey, summarily thanking Figlio Giuseppe.

“Ah, you are most kind, Professore, and I wish you a pleasant journey in your pursuit of Galileo,” he responded with sincerity.

They turned to leave, and, once outside, Paul said to Antonietta, “Hold on a second, I think I forgot something. I’ll be right back.” At his suggestion she waited, nonetheless wondering what this was about. Sure enough, when he returned, he looked a bit ruffled.

“Did you find it?” she queried.

Appearing confused, he responded, “Find what?”

“Whatever it was you left behind,” she shot back dubiously.

“Oh, that,” he replied evasively. “Come on. Let’s get out of here. This place gives me the creeps,” but it was nonetheless clear that he was upset about something.

Once in the Alfa and back on the road he began to relax noticeably, and after several minutes of telling silence, Antonietta hazarded a question, “Sooo, what was that all about, Paulo?”

Appearing ever so guilty, he queried, “What was what about?”

“Oh, come now, Professore. Let’s not start harboring secrets now, after all we’ve been through together.”

Glancing solemnly toward her, he exclaimed glumly, “You’re right. I suppose I can’t keep anything from you. Besides, you may know something that I don’t.”

Horror stricken, she responded, “Now you’re starting to scare me. What is it, Paulo?”

“Did you see that man?”

“What man?” she replied.

“That man in the abbey! Everywhere we went, he seemed to be there, not too far away.”

“Oh, yes, I did see him, but I didn’t think anything of it.”

“Well, I did. After all, you’re the one who said we needed to be careful. So after we came outside, I went back in, and sure enough, he was talking to Figlio Giuseppe.”

“Really. What were they talking about?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t want to be too obvious.”

“Perhaps he was asking for directions to the men’s restroom?” she asked in all sincerity.

“Perhaps. Perhaps you are right, but he looked somehow suspicious to me, Antonietta.”

“I find that interesting, because to me Figlio Giuseppe seemed suspicious.”

“Oh, really? In what way,” he responded with newfound interest.

“I don’t know. I can’t really put my finger on it. He seemed too nice, maybe. I’m not sure.”

“Okay, well, let’s try to be careful, okay?”

“Yes, I agree,” she replied thoughtfully. “Did you find any clues during the visit, Professore?”

“Not a one. How about you?”

“Me either,” she replied tersely. But, suddenly lurching forward in her seat, she slapped her hand to her forehead and exclaimed, “Wait a minute! Oh, stronzo! You’re right, Paulo. Oh, no…”

“What is it? For God’s sake, what is it, Contessa?”

“I’ve seen that man before. He was in the Camposanto in Pisa. Paulo, he’s following us!”

Chapter 7

 

Siena

 

What has philosophy got to do with measuring anything?

 

-Galileo Galilei (1564-1642)

 

Arcetri – 1997

 

Antonietta and Paul arrived at the villa none the wiser. Now burdened with considerably heightened apprehension, they nonetheless planned to visit Siena the following day.

That evening Antonietta inevitably wandered into the study where Paul was ensconced, his head propped within his hands. Noticing the wine glass nearby, she sensed that he was in an advanced state of inebriation.

Glancing up, he instructed, “Here, look at this, Contessa. I redrew the Hell map with the abode names inscribed in the order we discussed.”

 

 

Frowning dubiously at the drawing, she queried, “What are you up to, Professore?”

Betraying his state with a lugubrious grin, he responded, “So far, I’m up to three…ha,” his head lolling precariously, he continued, “Would you mind getting me another one?”

At this she tilted her head disparagingly and, drawing one arm to her chin, she concluded that he was well on his way to a state of uncontrollable silliness. Her interest piqued, she brought him another glass of chianti and shoved it toward him.

Taking the proffered item, he took a ridiculously large gulp, smiled up at her, and gurgled, “What I meant to say is – no good.”

Having completely discarded the train of thought, she blurted, “What on earth is that supposed to mean?”

“I’m answering your first question. I’m up to no good,” he offered with a sheepish grin, and pointing haphazardly, he commanded, “Here, look at this map, please.”

Placing her hands on her hips in apparent frustration, she stared at it for a moment and barked, “Yes, I see it.”

“What’s wrong with it?” he queried.

“I should think that would be obvious,” she replied condescendingly.

Frowning at it, he growled, “Obvious, schmobvious…there’s nothing obvious to me!”

“You’re missing the eighth abode,” she said, shrugging her shoulders.

“What?” He stammered and, abruptly grabbing the map, he held it far too close to his face and began counting. “One, two three, four…one, two three…one, two…,” at which point he pulled his head back from the page as if it were blurry to him and announced, “It’s smudged. Could you count for me?” and by this point his voice was also beginning to become a bit smudged.

“Don’t count the circles, Sherlock. Try counting the dots instead!”

At this he peered carefully at the map and observed, “Oh, yeah, right. One, two….Seven!” and, glancing toward her, he inquired, “Aren’t there eight places listed in the long stanza?”

“Yes, that’s what I’m trying to tell you. If you weren’t halfway to dreamland you would know that, you fool!”

“Aw, now, don’t get down on me, Tonyett-a, I needed something to give me a different angle on things. I was stumped, you see. And it looks like it might be working. See, we already figured out one’s missing. Now, which one do you suppose could it be?”

Her aggravation growing by the moment, she responded curtly, “Firenze…”

“Firenze?” he mumbled, “How’d you know that?” He frowned at the map in disbelief, then back at her, and yet again at the map. “Damn, I think you’re right, Contessa…beautiful Tessa.” Pointing at the circles to accentuate his newfound deduction, he volunteered, “But where could it belong, there’s no more room for it.”

“Try putting it at the center of the map, Professore.”

He scratched his head as if lost in thought but, his face suddenly lighting up, he stammered, “Oh…right…I knew that…”

“Actually, you did know that. At least you did yesterday, before you became a self-induced blubbering buffoon. You’re the one that told me we should put Firenze at the middle.”

“Oh…” he blabbed inanely and, studying the map yet again, he announced, “But that doesn’t make any sense.”

“And why is that, pray tell?” she replied in obvious exasperation.

“There are only seven levels of Hell. At least, that’s what I always thought. But what do I know. Maybe there’s an eighth one, and it’s Firenze. At least, that’s what our buddy Galileo seems to be telling us right here on this page.”

At this she intimated, “I believe that if you read Dante’s Inferno you will actually find that he wrote of nine levels in Hell, seven of which describe the seven deadly sins.”

“Really? I didn’t know that. I confess I’ve never read it,” he replied.

At this Antonietta volunteered, “Well, I did some checking after you wondered about it the other day. Regardless, I still don’t think that the map has anything to do with Hell. Have you ever considered the possibility that it might be something else, Professore?”

Clearly lost for the moment, he queried, “Like what?”

“I have no idea,” she answered derisively, “But if you were to sober up, you just might think of something.”

“Now see, Contessa Netta…mmmm, that has a nice ring to it…I’ll have to remember that…” he babbled, “See, we’re making headway. That right there is signicifant progress.”

“Significant,” she mumbled under her breath.

“What?” he responded.

“Nothing, nothing at all. I think you need a nap, Professore, and no more chianti. You have a very low tolerance level.”

“That’s completely wrong!” he blurted, “I tolerate you, don’t I?”

“Har har,” she responded deprecatingly, “I see that there is no communicating with you at the moment. I will check back with you a little later. Now, sober up young man!”

A little later turned out to extend all the way to the following morning, at which point Paul somehow managed to show up looking none the worse for wear. Acting as if he had in no way made a fool of himself the previous evening, he announced gregariously, “Good morning, contessa!”

“Good morning, Professore! So, are we off to Siena today?”

“Absolutely. When can you be ready?” he replied with obvious anticipation.

“Give me half an hour. How’s that?”

Perfetto!” he replied. “But before we go, look at this. I corrected the Hell map.”

 

 

Glancing at his latest rendition, she responded, “Yes, well, as I said last night, I have my doubts about that.”

“What, you don’t think Firenze belongs in the middle?” he replied.

“No, not that. I think Firenze does belong in the middle, but I seriously doubt that it is a map of Hell.”

Scratching his as yet unshaven chin he pondered the map carefully, but all that he could think of to say was, “Oh.”

 

Siena – 1587

 

Galileo hunched over his notes, attempting to understand all of the details contained within The Inferno. Outside his tiny apartment the rain fell in a continuous drizzle. The room was drafty, his fingers were frigid, and the grim look on his face betrayed his abject misery. At times like these he questioned his decision to pursue mathematics against his father’s wishes. His mind wandering for a moment, he contemplated what he would be doing now if he had pursued medicine. Doubtless he would be better off than this, stuck in this backwater town, his financial circumstances so dire that he was forced to tutor wet-nosed teenagers in math just to eke out an existence.

He was certain in his heart of hearts that he was better than this, but he couldn’t help but question his choice of careers. He understood all too well that he was a romantic, obsessed with pursuing his love rather than the pragmatic solution – working at a highly regarded profession. But he just could not dispel his belief that mathematics would someday also be highly regarded. In his own conceited way, he even hoped that he might be one of those who brought sufficient attention to the field to make his chosen avocation accepted as an academic profession.

So here he was, with his precious little spare time, using Dante’s Inferno to determine the volume of Hell. Completing one calculation, he was surprised to find that Satan was indeed quite a large specimen. Pondering this revelation, he hoped that he would never have the opportunity to verify his calculations first hand. At this thought he smiled to himself for a moment and returned to his calculations. Since his first lecture on the subject would be in two days, time was of the essence.

As he labored, he thought to himself how absurd this entire project was. He himself could not come to believe the writing of Dante as anything more than conceptual, as he was also certain that Dante himself had believed. In his mind Dante had been a man of towering intellect, one to match his own. Thus, surely Dante had meant The Divine Comedy as an allegorical tale. But somehow it had been received by generations as literal fact.

In truth, Galileo was somewhat ashamed of himself for pursuing this ludicrous project, but he was desperate. He had to escape Siena in order to move up the ladder. He needed to begin his profession. Tutoring mathematics would not hold up against his father’s scrutiny for long. Sooner or later he would be forced to return home in disgrace, and he did not want to think what that would lead to. Thus cornered, he redoubled his efforts to complete his calculations.

 

1997

 

Paul and Antonietta arrived in Siena just before lunchtime. Although there was light drizzle trailing from an overcast sky, it was an otherwise pleasant day. They parked near the fortress and strolled to the Basilica of San Domenico. As they walked Paul could not resist providing a discourse on Galileo, “So Galileo lived here as a young man. While he was here he was challenged by a friend to enter a contest to calculate the volume of Hell. He was already showing signs of that genius that would recur throughout his life.”

“Calculating the volume of Hell was genius?” Antonietta replied doubtfully.

“Antonietta, look around you. What do you see?”

“I see Siena.”

“Exactly, you see a medieval city, virtually unchanged since Galileo’s time. Galileo lived in an age that was barely beyond The Middle Ages. Most people were still illiterate. The few people who could read believed Dante’s Inferno to be fact. Galileo didn’t calculate the volume of Hell for religious or philosophical reasons. He did it to show off. He wanted to demonstrate his mathematical skills in a profound way, and what more visible way to do so than to calculate the volume of everyone’s greatest fear? It was shear genius, and it got him the Chair of Mathematics at Pisa.”

“Okay, I see now. When you put it that way it makes sense. So you don’t think he actually believed that stuff do you?”

“Who knows, Contessa. Who cares? At that point in his life he may have wanted to believe such nonsense, but later, when he had acquired so much scientific evidence that contradicted Church doctrine, I feel confident that his view of the world departed radically from the accepted views of his time. That, of course, is how he ended up getting into so much trouble later on in his life. My point is to make it clear that the self-same person that wrote the poem that we are at this moment attempting to decipher was, at least for his time, a quite credible mathematician, something that we would do well to remember in our search.

“But I digress. Today we are here on a pilgrimage to see Santa Caterina, and serendipitously, here we are at her doorstep,” and they were indeed at the door to the Basilica of San Domenico, thereby allowing him to suggest, “Shall we go inside and see what we can discern?”

“By all means, Professore, lead on, please.”

Once inside they were treated to the necessary but repulsive view of Santa Caterina’s head. Fortunately, it was encased in a bronze facade.

“Where is the rest of her body, Professore?”

“Oh, she’s buried in the Santa Maria sopra Minerva Basilica in Roma.”

“How did all this happen?”

“Oh, well this is not all that unusual. People do strange things. In the case of Santa Caterina, she was quite a woman if you believe the accounts. She apparently thought that she had been married to Christ in a dream or something, and as a result she became infatuated with Mary Magdalene. It is said that Mary Magdalene fasted for something like twenty-five years, so Santa Caterina followed suit. It probably killed her, around the age of thirty-three, I think. She died in 1380, in Roma. She was there at the time because she was greatly venerated by the Holy See.

“Anyway, she was buried in Roma, but more and more miracles were reported at her tomb in the Santa Maria sopra Minerva, and this caused the people of Siena to request that her body be returned to them. Well, the holy See refused, so they stole her head!”

“You have GOT to be kidding!” Antonietta replied with disgust.

“No, I’m afraid not. But as I said, this was considered to be acceptable culture six hundred years ago. We shall have to go see the rest of her when we visit Roma.”

“What does all this have to do with the poem, Professore?” she queried doubtfully.

His own doubt apparent, he responded, “Not sure, but the poem refers to her specifically, so we are leaving no stone unturned. For now, suppose we go visit the Palazzo Pubblico in the Campo. I want to show you something.”

By the time they arrived at the Campo the sun had finally begun to peek through the clouds, thereby casting a glorious light into the center of the piazza.

“Fabulous! I love it!” Paul giggled, “The home of the Palio, horse racing’s most ridiculous event in all the world.”

At this Antonietta laughed and suggested, “I couldn’t agree more. Shall we go inside?”

Once inside the Palazzo, Antonietta was quite surprised to find an entire art gallery. “My, it is impressive. You do know your Italian art, Paulo. I will give you that!”

“Thank you, Contessa. Now please, follow me,” and he directed her to an inner room. “Look,” he said, pointing to a fresco high on the wall. She gazed up at it for a few moments, and then he said, “Turn around, look behind you.” She did so. He gave her a chance to absorb it. Then he queried, “Remind you of anything?”

“Yes, the good and bad angels in the Camposanto in Pisa.”

Va bene! It’s fabulous, isn’t it? It’s called the Allegory of Good and Bad Government. It’s by Lorenzeti. He painted it not long after Giotto painted the frescoes in Assisi. Unfortunately, the black plague got him in 1348. It wiped out a lot of people, about a third of Europe.”

She studied it for several minutes and suggested, “We should require all government officials to come look at this fresco.”

“Would that we could, would that we could. The point of this stop is to remind us of the world that enveloped Galileo when he lived in Siena. Somewhere within the walls of this city, he has provided us with a hint, a hint that will help us solve the riddle of the poem. Okay, next stop – the zebra cathedral!”

 

1588

 

Galileo climbed and climbed, eventually emerging onto the landing at the top of the Campo Clock Tower. There were several teenagers already encamped, waiting for the Palio to commence. Galileo detested large crowds, which is why he had picked The Clock Tower to view the race. This year they were supposed to have both buffalo and donkey races. The Contrade seemed to be going to greater and greater lengths to make the Palio into an enormous festival – anything to increase commerce within a failing city.

Once he came out into the cramped landing at the top, he realized that he had made a mistake. It was very difficult to see out, and it was nearly impossible to see the Campo below. He had to lean out over the brick facing and look straight down in order to see the Campo, from whence he could make out the peculiar shape of the pattern within the piazza. The view was indeed impressive, but the strain induced by stretching oneself out to gain such a view made it impossible to maintain such a position for very long.

He decided that it was not possible to see the Palio from this vantage point despite its lofty location. There was too little space and there were far too many people on the landing, thus forcing him to reluctantly descend the staircase. But as he descended below the landing he caught site of the clockworks of the enormous clock that was the center of Sienese commerce. Being incorrect much of the time, the clock had become infamous. He found himself remaining there for nearly an hour, examining every detail of the mechanism. It was obvious to him that the way that the weights were used to drive the arms on the clock would not produce a sufficiently steady circular motion of the arms. In his mind, this approach to keeping time was doomed to failure by its very design and should therefore be discarded. That revelation in turn made him wonder exactly what approach might be used to design a better mechanism for measuring time. It wasn’t exactly mathematics, but there might be the promise of money in the solution to that problem. He therefore resolved to look into it further when time permitted.

 

1997

 

Paul and Antonietta climbed the steps to the cathedral, at which point he inquired, “How well do you know the cathedral, Antonietta?”

“Well, let’s see,” she pondered for a moment, “We came here as school children several times. There’s plenty of art inside, very impressive, if that’s what you mean.”

“That’s what I thought when I visited it,” he replied knowingly. They entered the cathedral, but Paul was clearly too impatient to stay for long. “Come, you must follow me. We must visit the Museo del’Opera.”

“What is in there?” she responded with a puzzled expression.

“You’ll see,” he replied mysteriously.

Once inside, he immediately began climbing the stairs. After two flights, she was huffing uncontrollably. “Where are you taking me, Paulo? I’m tired of climbing. Everywhere we go, you make me climb!”

“Oh, we’ve a long way to go yet, Antonietta, so pace yourself.”

At this she tossed him a withering stare, but followed his lead in resignation. They crossed an open gallery overflowing with artworks and he led her to a small stairway that headed downwards.

“Follow me, and stay close,” he cajoled, immediately disappearing through a doorway.

Following him, she suddenly called out, “Paulo, where are you? I can’t see! It’s dark in here.”

“I’m right here, beside you,” he replied from a few feet ahead of her. “Just follow me. Now there is a spiral staircase here. We’re going up it.”

After what seemed an eternity they emerged on an open-air walkway, whereupon he once again darted into a second spiral staircase. Finally, they emerged a second time into the open air. They were standing on a narrow brick-lined walkway no more than five feet wide.

Gazing about, she blurted, “What the…where in heaven’s name are we, Professore?”

“Ha! I knew you’d say that, Antonietta. We are on top of the world! We are standing on what was intended to be the apse of the cathedral. Look over there. That’s the cathedral we were just in. But something is wrong – there is no transept. That’s because the nave that we were in was originally designed to be the transept. This structure below us was originally intended to be the entrance to the church, and all of that before us was intended to be the nave.”

Mio Dio! It would have been enormous!” she replied with wonder. “Why didn’t they finish it?”

“Your buddies, the Florentine’s defeated them in battle in the fifteenth century. Thereafter, they went into decline, and they were never able to find the resources to finish it. It would have been a challenge anyway due to that steep hill down there behind the cathedral. So their loss is our gain. This may be the only place on earth where you can go and see a medieval cathedral still under construction, just the way it was more than five hundred years ago.”

“Oh, my, this IS marvelous,” she replied surveying in every direction. “The view is incredible up here. And look, over there, you can see the Campo.”

“Yes,” he replied agreeably, but then he abruptly blurted, “Whoa! Hold on! I’ve got it!”

For her part, she could do no more than query, “You’ve got what, Professore?”

“I think I know what the Hell map is!” at which he danced a small jig, then pointed towards the Campo, “See the pattern in the stones within the Campo?”

“There’s some story about that. They look like slices of a pie, all emanating radially from the center. I think it represents the different Contrade.”

“You are correct, Contessa. What I would ask you to focus on is the geometry of the Campo.”

“Ah, well, I’d rather you’d just tell me, Professore, as I will most likely make a fool of myself if I try to unravel this problem with geometry,” and she said this last with mock profundity.

“Okay,” he responded, “I don’t know why I didn’t see it before, but I believe that instead of circles, we should be drawing radial lines!”

At this, Antonietta burst into uncontrollable laughter.

Staring at her in confusion, he mumbled, “What?”

Her laughter eventually attenuating, she said, “Here we are in Siena. The weather has turned perfect, and we are standing in what is likely one of the most beautiful spots in all of Italy, and you are talking about geometry!”

Tucking his hands within his pockets in an apparent admission of guilt, he admitted, “I see your point,” at which he stood sullenly for a moment but then retaliated with, “But you will see, Contessa, you will see!”

“I’m quite certain I shall,” she muttered to herself.

Paul suddenly turned to her and commanded brusquely, “Do you have a piece of paper?”

“Nooo,” she responded. “Why would I have a piece of paper?”

“Okay, do you have the translation of the poem with you?”

“Of course I do.”

“Good. Let me have it,” he replied. She handed it over, and he immediately began to draw on the back side. “Here,” he said, shoving the paper before her. “Look at this.”

 

 

Staring in confusion at his scribbling, she blurted, “What on earth is this, Paul?”

“It’s the same map I drew yesterday, but the lines are connected radially instead of by circles. It’s kind of like the pattern in the Campo, see?”

“Yes, I do see, but what is the point, Professore?”

“I think it goes this way, not the other way. I think it’s not the seven levels of Hell. I think it’s a geographic map. See, it’s laid out just like it should look on a map of Italy. The towns are right where they should be geographically.”

Examining it more closely, she replied, “Oh, I see what you mean. Perhaps you are onto something. I told you it wasn’t a map of Hell.”

Ignoring her dig, he commanded anxiously, “Come on, let’s go back down. I need to write down some notes.”

At this the pair hurried back to the narrow staircase and started their descent, but they immediately heard footsteps from below. It was someone ascending the narrow staircase, thereby forcing them to await their arrival. The ascending person momentarily coming into view, Paul and Antonietta gasped simultaneously as they recognized the man who had been following them.

Antonietta grasped her throat, frantically searching for a means of escape, but there was none.

The man was dressed in a somewhat rumpled black suit, and though he was not overly tall, he was dauntingly stout. Although he was huffing from the ascent, it was nevertheless apparent that he was not someone to be reckoned with. Emerging onto the balcony, he glanced first at Paul, thereafter toward Antonietta. Immediately recognizing the terrified looks on both their faces, he volunteered placidly, “I see that you recognize me from our previous encounters.”

Paul nodded, gulped visibly, but said nothing. For her part, Antonietta shrank incongruously backwards along the balcony despite the obvious fact that there was no means of escape.

“Allow me to introduce myself, Professore Woodbridge. I am Professore Luigi Bulgatti, from the Università di Roma,” at which he extended one hand toward Paul.

Instinctively taking the proffered hand within his own, Paul suddenly thought better of it and, retrieving it, exclaimed, “Wait, how do you know me?”

“That is an excellent question, Professore Woodbridge. Of course, I’ve been following you ever since your arrival in Italia. I wish to protect you – you and the Contessa,” at which he gestured towards Antonietta.

“What!” Paul croaked in evident fear, “Protect us! From what? From whom?”

“Signore, it is no coincidence that I have met you in this precise place,” and at this admission he glanced knowingly about him at the stark solitude of the balcony. “You are both of you in grave danger, and it is important to exercise extreme caution in all of your actions.”

At this, Antonietta’s mouth opened, and, grasping her throat yet again, she uttered a silent unintelligible word.

“Exactly, Contessa,” Professore Bulgatti replied. “Mafia – a particular sect called the Camorra,” and, pausing just long enough for the impact of his admission to take full effect, he continued with, “I must caution you, they are aware that you possess a certain document relating to Galileo Galilei.”

“Paulo, remember I told you so,” Antonietta now interjected, “The Camorra is the sect that my former husband belongs to. Somehow they have found out about the document.”

At this Bulgatti brightened with apparent anticipation, saying, “So you have it, then?”

Paul glared suspiciously at Bulgatti. For all he knew Bulgatti could himself be Mafioso, and as he certainly looked it to Paul, he responded noncommittally, “Let’s just say, we are aware of the existence of a document, Professore Bulgatti.”

“Excellent, Signore Woodbridge,” Professor Bulgatti responded with obvious satisfaction, “It is my sincere aim to help you in your quest for the document. If you will indulge me, I shall tell you what I know at this moment in time.”

Paul frowned toward Antonietta, but observing no response, he suggested, “Alright, please continue.”

“Yes, of course,” Bulgatti answered with businesslike precision. “To begin with, are you familiar with the Lincean Academy?”

“Yes, of course. Founded in the early seventeenth century, they were resurrected in the nineteenth century, eventually evolving into Italy’s modern day Academy of Science.”

“Excellent, Professore Woodbridge!” Bulgatti responded. “I would have expected nothing less from so distinguished an academic as you. However, your facts are slightly in error.”

At this pronouncement Paul arched one eyebrow in disbelief, but nevertheless responded, “Continue, please.”

Bulgatti now disclosed, “To begin with, the Lincean Academy was never disbanded. It was simply forced to go underground in the seventeenth century, as papal interference became more and more dangerous. The academy has in reality been active continuously since the time of Galileo. The ‘resurrected’ academy that you spoke of is a fraud perpetrated by the Vatican in the nineteenth century. The real Lincean Academy still exists in secret, and I, sir, am a distinguished member of that secret society.”

Ignoring Professor Bulgatti’s attempt at self-aggrandizement, Paul queried, “Why are you a secret society?”

“Signore, it is necessary. There are still to this day forces at work in Italia that would, among other things, bring about the downfall of Galileo were it possible to do so. Now it seems that you have in your possession a document written by Galileo. Am I correct about that, Professore Woodbridge?”

“Perhaps,” Paul replied.

“Well said, Professore. I would not trust me if I were you either. But you will, I assure you both, all in good time, you will trust me,” and at this he paused for effect. Continuing, he now said, “So it appears that the Camorra informed their moles in the Vatican of your possession of the document, and now both the Vatican and the Mafia are hot on your trail, as you Americans say in the movies.”

“What? Camorra moles[_?_] Surely you’re not serious!” Paul replied doubtfully.

“I assure you, I am quite serious!” Bulgatti expounded forcefully.

At this Antonietta interjected with apparent accord, “I told you, Paulo. Remember, I told you so.”

“So you did, Antonietta. So you did,” Paul replied forlornly.

Suddenly realizing the passage of time, Bulgatti glanced about fearfully as if he thought they might have been followed. Seeing no evidence of such, he continued, “So that is why I chose to meet you here on the balcony of the cathedral wall. They will assume that you do not know to this point that you are being followed, and they will certainly not come up here because they would be forced to expose their identities to you. However, now that we have met, they will most certainly know that I have informed you of their intent, and they will redouble their efforts to, shall we say, acquire the document.”

“To what end, Professore Bulgatti?” Paul asked.

“Undoubtedly, the Camorra will want to steal the document from you for its monetary value, which is enormous, as I’m sure you are already aware. And whatever the art collectors of the world would pay for it, the Vatican most assuredly will pay ten times as much.”

“But why?” Paul interjected, “I can understand someone wanting to steal it, but why would the Vatican be so interested in it? Pope John Paul II admitted their errors five years ago.”

“Careful, Professore,” Bulgatti replied. “The Pope admitted that errors were made in the trial, but the Church still has not pardoned Galileo. Nothing would make them happier than to discover a document that publically ensures Galileo’s guilt. After all this time, it would redeem the Holy See’s dubious role in the whole Galileo affair.”

“But I seriously doubt that Galileo would ever write such a confession,” Paul replied. “More likely, he would produce something that further implicates the Church.”

“Exactly,” Bulgatti replied knowingly. “And therein is an even greater reason for the Vatican to value the document – in order to protect their backsides!”

Scratching his chin in newfound thought, Paul replied, “Yes, I see…”

“So may I take it that you have a document, but that you do not know it’s meaning, Professore Woodbridge?” Bulgatti inquired.

Interrupting at this point, Antonietta announced, “We admit nothing, Professore Bulgatti.”

Bulgatti appeared to be disappointed at this interjection, but he nonetheless immediately brightened, saying, “No matter. I know that you have it, and that is what counts.”

Peering vehemently at him, Antonietta blurted, “And just how do you know, Professore?”

“Contessa, it is quite simple,” he replied, “The Camorra is not the only secret organization to infiltrate the Vatican.”

At this Antonietta’s eyes grew wide, “See Paulo, it’s just as I said – rotten – Italia is rotten to the core.”

“Oh, no Signora, I beg to disagree,” Bulgatti responded hastily, “We are not all rotten. The Linceans have for more than three hundred years worked tirelessly to protect the good name of science, and especially the name of our most famous member – Galileo. I assure you, we have worked indefatigably behind the scenes to restore his good name.” He paused for a moment, and then added, “The restoration of Galileo’s book Discorsi in the nineteenth century was in no small part due to our efforts. Similarly, the recent admissions by the Vatican were due at least in part to pressure brought to bear by my colleagues in the Academy.”

At this submission, Paul asked, “So just exactly how do you intend to go about protecting us, Professore Bulgatti?”

Allora, first and foremost, by informing you what we know that could be helpful to you.”

“Such as what?”

“For instance, when you visited the San Francesco Basilica in Ravenna, the monk you talked to passed the details of your conversation on to the Vatican.”

“Surely not!” Paul interjected incredulously.

“I would not make light, Signore,” Bulgatti replied. “You must take this seriously, Professore Woodbridge. And Padre Pietro, whom you met at the Abbey in Vallombrosa, also informed the Vatican of both your whereabouts and intentions.”

At this Paul glanced at Antonietta, then said, “But that was you following us at the Abbey.”

“It was merely a means of protection, Professore. I assure you, had I wished to conceal my presence from you, it would have been a simple matter to achieve. Those who would do you harm have up to this point in time managed to do just that – conceal themselves.” He then changed the subject, suggesting, “I presume that you have the document in a safe place?”

“Yes,” Antonietta interjected.

“And where would that be?” Bulgatti queried.

Paul proffered, “I’m afraid that our trust in you has not quite yet reached that point, Professore Bulgatti.”

Bulgatti smiled and replied, “That is good! You are beginning to understand the danger. But let me say this – the document must be removed from your villa, Contessa. And furthermore, you must never under any circumstances transport the document on your person! To do so would be to invite your own demise.”

Paling at this last implication, Antonietta retorted brusquely, “Oh, rest assured, we do not carry it with us, but why do you say that the villa is unsafe?”

“Surely I do not need to explain. The villa once belonged to the Count. The Count is Mafioso. Professore Woodbridge, there are spies everywhere. You must take care,” and at this, he turned on his heel, announcing, “And now, I must go, I have stayed too long with you,” at which he began to descend the stairs.

“Wait a minute. How can we find you, Professore Bulgatti?”

“I am in the phone book at the University, Professore. Just call my number,” he called out over his shoulder.

“That seems to be a waste of time,” Paul replied. “After all, you are not in your office. You are here.”

“Not to worry, Professore,” Bulgatti replied, “I will be nearby when you need me,” and with that he turned and disappeared down the staircase.

Paul and Antonietta followed at a brisk pace, but once they were back inside the museum he quickly halted, grabbing her arm to stop her as well. “We should perhaps wait a few minutes, Contessa. We would not want to be seen in public with that man.”

“What are you thinking?” she asked breathlessly.

“About what? Oh, you mean about our new-found friend? I don’t quite know what to make of him, to tell the truth. On the one hand, I am inclined to believe what he says about our being followed. But on the other hand, I can’t say that I trust him at all. What do you think?”

Antonietta stopped in front of a sculpture of a reclining child lying on a pillow, and commented surreptitiously, “Isn’t this just lovely, Paulo? It is just a fabulous sculpture.”

Halting to gaze at the sculpture, he commented, “Yes, I agree completely. I have always liked it very much,” but suddenly he bent down and attempted to move it.

“What on earth are you doing?” Antonietta blurted in horrified amazement.

“Hang on,” he replied. He squatted down and carefully thrust his arms around one corner of the sculpture. He slowly pushed upwards with all of his strength. Then he stopped and said, “Just as I thought. Give me the Hell map, Contessa.”

“What? What in heaven’s name are you doing, Paulo?” she queried in stupefaction.

“Do you have a better idea? We can’t risk having any of the documents with us when we get to Roma, and we certainly can’t put them in a bank. A museum is as safe a place as anywhere I can think of.”

Antonietta frowned doubtfully at him for a moment, but then her features changed markedly, and she complied with resignation, “I suppose you’re right. See if you can lift up one corner, and I will slide the map underneath it if possible.”

Paul squatted down again, subsequently thrusting upward with all his strength. Antonietta quickly slid the sheet of parchment under the edge, and it was all over in little more than an instant.

Paul subsequently stood up, slapped his hands together as if dusting them off, and said, “Voila! Safe as a bug in a rug.”

“I don’t even want to know what that means,” Antonietta replied. “It should be as safe here as anywhere else that I can think of, Professore.”

Paul stood pondering the sculpture a moment longer, then turned to her and said, “I always knew there was something about that sculpture.”

Ignoring the innuendo, she continued, “At any rate, I agree with you about Bulgatti. He – gives me the creeps – as you Americans say.”

“Right, well, we’d better do something about him and his invisible buddies, don’t you think, Antonietta?”

“Like what, Professore?” she replied inquisitively.

“Well, first off, we should get the original of the poem to a safe place.”

“Oh, that,” she replied matter-of-factly, “I’ve already taken care of that.”

Appearing hurt, he expounded, “What?”

“Oh, don’t be a big baby,” she smiled back at him, “I probably should have told you, but it didn’t seem important at the time. Now, of course, I’m glad that I did take precautions.”

“So exactly where is it, Contessa?”

“Giovanni has it. You remember, Giovanni Bazzocchi, in Ravenna,” she answered.

“Well, that’s a relief! At least, I think it is. You’re sure that it’s safe there, Antonietta?”

“Oh, yes, I’m quite certain. The Palazzo has a vault in a well-concealed cellar.”

“That’s good,” Paul scratched his chin in thought, “What did you tell Giovanni?”

“I had it in a sealed envelope. I told him it was my will, to be opened only in the event of my passing.”

“Oh, excellent! Now I have another motive to do away with you,” and his eyes crinkled into a wry smile.

Antonietta returned his smile but queried, “Another motive? What, are we keeping score? What is your first motive?”

“It’s a secret,” he replied with contrived humor.

She grabbed his sides and said perhaps a bit too loudly, “You tell me, Professore, or I will punch you in!”

“Out,” he corrected.

“What?”

“The correct euphemism is punch you out.”

“In, out…either way, you can bet it will hurt!”

“No! I told you, it’s a secret!” he responded, laughing, “You royalty are all alike. You think you can command, and we peasants must bow unto your will,” at which he covered himself as if to block the anticipated punch.

At that moment a museum employee poked his head into the room and said imperiously, “Silenzio! Shhhhh….”

Both Paul and Antonietta immediately straightened, ceased smiling, and Paul said, “So sorry. Scusi Signore,” and the pair departed the museum as quickly as they could, appearing all the while as if they were guilty of a major crime.

Once out on the street, Antonietta immediately doubled over in laughter. “Ha! You smart ass! One of these days your little boy tricks will get you into serious trouble, Professore!”

Paul was laughing too, but he managed to blurt out, “Too late for that, Contessa. Much too late,” and at that both realized the significance of his last statement, causing both of their smiles to slowly drain away. Each peered up and down the alleyway, searching for the imagined pursuers in every possible direction. But the alleyway was thankfully devoid of all passersby.

Antonietta abruptly commenced walking toward the Campo and, tugging Paul’s arm, she queried, “So, you tried to dodge my question, Professore.”

“What question,” Paul replied with feigned confusion.

“Don’t play with me, you little stronzo! The first reason – I command you – tell me the first reason!”

“Oh, that,” he responded, still attempting to maintain an air of innocence. “I dare say, any man would want to run away with you, Contessa.”

Run away? Run away? We were not speaking of run. You said DO away. There is a small but important difference, Professore.”

“You must have misunderstood me. I never said do away! Why that is a horrible thought,” he replied with feigned horror. “I much prefer the word run. Yes, I think that has a rather nice ring to it – run away with you. Yes, I like that,” and he was grinning that smug smile of his yet again.

“Right, whatever,” she smiled in frustration, “I can see that this is going nowhere.”

 

At Paul’s insistence, Paul and Antonietta dined that night at the Gallo Nero. Antonietta obviously viewed it as a tourist restaurant, but the two of them had to admit that the peasant style fare was interesting, and the boisterous crowd made for a festive evening that seemed to fit with the revelations they had discovered earlier in the day.

Toying with her dessert, Antonietta queried, “What other precautions do you think that we should take, Professore? Regarding the last of the documents, I mean?”

“Yes, I’ve been thinking about that ever since the visit by our ‘guardian’ Professore Bulgatti,” he responded. “I’ve had perhaps one too many glasses of wine this evening, but hopefully this will make sense nonetheless.”

He halted a moment to flash her a sheepish grin, but then proffered, “So we really have several different documents. We have the poem, of course. But we also have the drawing of The Leaning Tower. And let’s not forget the little strip of paper that was with the poem. These are the most important documents, but we also have the English translation of the poem, and we have several other copies of various items related to the originals. It seems to me that all of these should be stored in safe places, and not only that – all of them should be stored in separate places. And I’m not talking about separate places in your villa. I think that they should be stored in separate cities, possibly even separate countries.”

Pondering a moment, she replied, “Yes, I see what you mean.”

Paul continued, “The thing is, there is no telling how many people now know that we have something written by Galileo, but we are the only people who know that it is a poem, and that the solution to the puzzle hidden within the poem may be something significant. Furthermore, without the poem, no one else could know that there are two other documents. And it seems to me that without those two documents, it is impossible to solve the puzzle. So I suggest that we separate all of them.”

“Yes, I agree. What do you have in mind, Professore?”

“Let’s send all of the copies to my office in Cleveland. They are of no use to anyone without the originals, but they are quite essential to us. Besides, I have them fairly well memorized by now. But they may be of use later, so why don’t we do that?”

“Yes, that sounds good to me,” Antonietta replied. “We have all of them with us in the car. Let’s do that tomorrow,” at which she added, “What about The Leaning Tower drawing?”

“That is a very good question, Contessa. I’m afraid that I need to rely on your good judgment. I presume that, based on what you have previously told me, there is no ‘safe’ safe deposit box in the entire country of Italia.”

“That would be correct,” she replied grimly. “So what we need is a place that is safer. And I don’t think that we should mail it using the Italian postal service, as it is quite unreliable.”

“Do you have any other friends as reliable as Giovanni?” Paul queried.

“Well, there is Marco.”

“No, I’m afraid that is out of the question, Contessa,” he replied.

“Why?” she asked, looking hurt.

“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to make it appear that he is not trustworthy. Let’s just say that I’ve seen too many American movies. The bad guys more often than not do something like kidnap a family member to try and blackmail the person that they are after. It’s regrettable that Marco knows anything at all, but we must shield him from any further involvement for his own safety.”

Paling at this revelation, she expounded fearfully, “Surely not, Paulo. Surely his own father wouldn’t use him against me!”

“Stranger things have been known to happen. I’m not saying that he will, but better safe than sorry. So think of a safe place to put the other document, and let’s take care of that as soon as possible.”

Chapter 8

 

Roma

 

Rise thou up a little higher, if thou canst, my soul, as thou observest the great splendor of the sun, the beauty of the moon, the number and variety of the other luminaries, the wonderful harmony of the heavens and the delightful movement of the stars, consider this: what it will be to see God above the heavens, as it were a sun, swelling in the light which no man can approach!

 

Roberto Bellarmino (1542-1621), also quoting Timothy 6:14-16

 

Siena – 1997

 

Appearing refreshed, Paul sauntered into the hotel breakfast room.

Seeing him, Antonietta offered, “You must have slept well, Professore. You look much improved.”

“Yes, for the first time since my arrival, I am finally adjusted to the time change. As many times as I have made the crossing, I have never found it to grow easier. It always takes me a full week to adjust.”

“My, it has been a week already, hasn’t it,” she responded pensively. “Will you be missed at your university?”

“Oh, that. Well, I’ve taken care of it for the time being. Suffice it to say that our quest is far more important at the moment. I’m sure that everything will work out back home.”

“I see. Have some coffee, Paulo. Tis a glorious day. Look outside in the garden. Can you see? There is a glorious view of the Tuscan countryside.”

Paul stepped outside for a moment, gazed out beyond the garden wall, entranced by nothing more than the pleasure of sipping his coffee. After a few moments he returned, saying, “This may have become my most favorite place on Earth. I just love it here, Antonietta. I keep wanting to pinch myself over and over again!”

“It is quite a view, isn’t it,” she replied.

“Ha, what an understatement,” he replied appreciatively. “So, we are off to Roma today. Since we are on the subject of Tuscan scenery, dare I hope that we might avoid the autostrada. Would that be acceptable to you?”

“What exactly did you have in mind, Paulo?”

“I thought we could go via Montepulciano and Orvietto. The drive is gorgeous, you know.”

“Yes, I know it well. Shall we?”

“By all means. I’ll meet you in the parking lot in fifteen minutes.”

Before leaving Siena they mailed all of the copies to Cleveland. Accordingly, there remained but one document in their possession – the map of The Leaning Tower.

 

Montepulciano – 1611

 

Galileo gazed from the side window of the coach at the site of the approaching basilica. The coach drew to a stop adjacent to the Chapel and Galileo slowly descended. His legs ached, his back terribly sore from the jostling of the carriage over the sodden and bumpy roads, but he was desperate to see inside the chapel. He had stopped here once before, years ago, but at the time he had not properly appreciated its importance. Well aware that Brunelleschi had contributed to its design, he wanted to view the inside of the San Biagio once more in order to learn whatever there was to gain from it. Once inside, he gazed skyward, impressed by the lofty cupola. It was indeed quite soaring for such a modest chapel, and the harmony within the chapel was serene and breathtaking. Within these walls he felt truly close to God.

He began to walk forward and, gazing upwards as he did so, he suddenly stumbled and pitched forward to his knees. Gasping in pain, he discovered that he had torn his tights, bloodying his knee in the process. He sat for a moment and then brushed the dust off, slowly rising to his feet. There before him was a stone with a single corner raised ever so slightly. That had been all it had taken to cause his fall. Limping out into the cool morning air, he mumbled to himself, “I must take care, I am not a young man anymore.”

 

Departing Siena – 1997

 

Paul took the wheel of the Alfa for the drive to Montepulciano. Arriving there sometime later, they drove up the steep backside of the hill to just behind the main square and hiked the remaining distance to the pinnacle of the city, where they lunched on the main square. Afterwards Paul drove down the hillside to the San Biagio Chapel.

They parked and strode to the entrance, at which he whispered to Antonietta, “Have you been here before?”

“Yes, of course, once when I was young. It is lovely, non?”

As they stepped inside, he whispered, “I would say rather more than lovely.”

“In what way, Professore?”

“Well, there are some interesting ties to our pilgrimage thus far.”

“There are? Like what?”

“Well, first of all, it was designed from a plan by Brunelleschi. The Brunelleschi dome in Firenze is much older of course. This was built when Galileo was a boy; it was completed in 1580. Now, if you wouldn’t mind, could we step out the side door here? I would like to walk around a bit.”

She followed him silently as he walked outside and set off for a light post near the trees. At this point he turned away from her and, suddenly standing quite still, he stared at the ground.

“What is it, Paulo? Is something wrong?”

“No, no, it’s nothing. I’m sorry, I didn’t know that I would react this way, but there it is – I always do. I’m sorry, we shouldn’t have stopped here…”

“What IS it?” she queried emphatically.

“I suppose I cannot hide anything from you. This is where my mother and sister lie. My family scattered their ashes here six years ago.”

“Oh! My goodness, that IS something. That is quite something indeed, Paulo!” She slowly put her arm about his waist, offering, “I am so sorry, Paulo. Please accept my condolences.”

Wiping away a telltale teardrop, he responded, “Thank you. I always think I’m over it, but I suppose I never will be.”

“What happened to them?”

“My mother passed away, and my sister died of cancer within a few weeks of my mother’s death. We scattered their ashes here.” He gazed about at the serenity of the setting, subsequently adding one final thing, “Someday I will be here, too.”

At this admission Antonietta peered about yet again, this time with heightened interest. Momentarily, she replied, “I can think of no better place on Earth, my dear Professore.”

They stood silently a few more moments, and then Paul suddenly regained his composure. Turning towards the car, he suggested, “Come on, Contessa. Roma beckons!”

As the pair strode away, he opined, “I have always thought that Galileo must have stopped here on his journeys to and from Roma.”

“Really? Why?” she asked with sudden interest.

“Easy, he was a scientist, and the San Biagio was a famous engineering achievement, not to mention the religious significance of it. Furthermore, we know that the trips to Roma were very difficult for Galileo. The historical record indicates that his trips required him to take long periods of complete bed rest at their completion. So it seems reasonable that Galileo would have made frequent stops along the way to and from Roma, and Montepulciano is right on the old highway from Siena to Roma.”

“I see,” Antonietta replied in contemplation.

Since the shortest way back to the car was through the chapel, they now stepped back inside, in the process crossing to the opposite door.

Suddenly, Antonietta stumbled. “Oh!” she called out, Paul catching her before she fell to the ground. They stood silently for a moment in an embarrassed embrace. Then she said, drawing back from him, “Thank you, I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m so clumsy.”

“Are you alright?” he asked in evident concern.

“Yes,” she replied, peering down at the floor. “Look, Professore, it was that stone there. One corner is slightly raised. See?”

Paul leaned over and, examining the stone carefully, he observed, “Yes, I see…I’m going to fix it.”

“What! You can’t do that, it’s desecration of historical property!” she exclaimed.

“Once an engineer, always an engineer,” he replied contentedly, and glancing about, he added, “Besides, there’s no one around.” He then pulled a knife from his pocket and carefully scraped away the sand and soil between the edges of the stone and its neighbors. He subsequently pried the stone up, and laid it gingerly aside. Beneath it was a firm layer of packed sand. He got down on his knees and began to adjust the base material when he suddenly stopped.

“Wait a minute!” he blurted, “Contessa, do you have The Leaning Tower map?”

“Yes, of course,” she replied in bewilderment.

“Let me see it,” he replied.

At this she rummaged in her bag and found it and, handing it over, she announced, “Here it is.”

“Do we have something impermeable to wrap it in?”

“You’re not serious. You’re not going to place it in that hole, are you?” she replied incredulously.

“Do you have a better idea?” he shot back, “We certainly do NOT want to have this with us when we arrive in Roma in a couple of hours!”

Antonietta glared at him momentarily, and seeing his resolve, she rummaged around within her bag yet again. At length, she produced a large plastic bag in the way of an answer.

Voila!” Paul exclaimed and, sealing the map within the bag, he carefully placed it in the depression. He then covered it with sand, finally replacing the stone in its former place and scraping the excess material into the spaces between the surrounding stones.

Observing his handiwork, she observed, “I hope that you know what you’re doing, Professore.”

“I don’t want to have this with us when we get to Roma,” Paul replied, “This seems as good a place as any to store it for safe keeping for the time being. My mom will keep a close watch over it, I’m sure.”

“Not your sister, too?” she asked.

“No, just my mom. She always was a snoop. I’m sure she’s snooping on us at this very moment. My sister will be sitting along the sidelines smirking at her.” He stood up and brushed himself off, gazed about wistfully one last time, and said, “Come on, let’s go.”

Nearing the car, Paul suddenly halted in his tracks and exclaimed, “Hold it! Hold on, I’ve got it!”

“Not again…” Antonietta murmured under her breath, “Got what, Professore?”

“Galileo’s trips to Roma. It got me to thinking. He made stops along the way. He didn’t go straight to Roma from Firenze. That’s it!”

“Ok-kay…” she replied, but she clearly had no idea where he was going with this.

“Remember the map I drew yesterday – the one with the radial lines on it?”

“Yes, of course,” she responded vacantly.

“I think I got it wrong. It’s a small detail, but it could be important.” He rushed over to the car, pulled out a piece of paper and laid it on the hood of the car, hastily scribbling something on it. He subsequently held up the piece of paper for her to see.

 

 

“This is what I’m talking about, Antonietta. Yesterday I drew all of the lines radially from Firenze. But Galileo would not have drawn them that way, because he never actually went that way. In his time travel was slow and laborious, so he would not have thought of connecting Roma directly to Firenze, or Venezia either, for that matter. So this map would be much more likely to have been the way that Galileo would have drawn it in his time.”

Frowning dubiously, she inquired, “So what exactly does it mean, Professore?”

“Oh, that. Well…I suppose I don’t really know…”

At this revelation she simply snorted derisively.

For his part, he peered sheepishly at her and suggested, “Well, it seems important!” He glanced yet again at the paper and, doubt seeming to gather in his mind, he added, “Okay, well…maybe not. I don’t know.”

She studied the map for another moment, querying, “Why didn’t you put Montepulciano on the map, if he made stops along the way?”

“Simple, it’s not in the poem. Furthermore, he never lived in Montepulciano. Remember, the poem says ‘MS abodes’.”

“Oh, right. I forgot, genius,” she replied deprecatingly.

He smiled at this and, well aware that she was kidding, he posited, “Whatever. Perhaps we’ll find something else out in Roma. Let’s go see.”

“Sounds good to me,” she replied.

 

Roma – 1611

 

Galileo entered the sumptuous room, whereupon one member of the assembled group strode forward briskly and held out his hand in welcome, “Professore! Most illustrious Messenger of the Stars! Signore Galilei, allow me to present myself. I am Federico Cesi, the Founder of the Lyncean Academy. Welcome, sir, welcome. Please come in!”

Galileo shook his hand heartily, responding, “Thank you, Signore Cesi. Your reputation precedes you. I am most flattered to be invited to dine with you and your colleagues this evening.”

The two moved toward the remainder of the group, Cesi announcing with fanfare, “Gentlemen, as we had hoped, here is Professore Galilei in our very midst. Professore Galilei, these are my fellow scientists in the Academy. We are most honored to have you here in Roma.” Galileo shook each man’s hand vigorously, supplying greetings as he blended seamlessly with the small crowd.

“Gentlemen, let us all be seated for dinner. Signore Galilei, we have reserved the seat at the head of the table for you, sir. Please,” and he gestured to the appointed chair. The group seated themselves, small patters of conversation emanating from various factions within the group.

Wine was poured, and momentarily arising from his seat, Signore Cesi announced sonorously, “Gentlemen, a toast – to Signore Galilei – Italy’s foremost scientist! To the Starry Messenger!” and at this the group raised their glasses ceremoniously and saluted Galileo.

Dinner was a raucous affair, with repeated questions coming from various reaches of the group regarding pendulums, the face of the moon, the moons of Jupiter, sunspots, the horns of Venus, and most interestingly of all – the volume of Hell. Galileo was easily up for the challenge, always the showman, never at a loss for words where science was concerned.

At one point Galileo demonstrated his perspiculum, to the delight of all those in attendance on this auspicious occasion. One attendee, the Greek mathematician Giovanni Demisiani, exclaimed upon looking through the magnifying glass, “I shall call your invention a telescope in accordance with the ancient Greek language,” at which the group joined in boisterous applause.

After two hours of continuous intellectual engagement, Cesi arose once again and announced, “Gentlemen, silenzio per favore. Now we come to the purpose of our evening,” and at this he turned towards Galileo. “Professore Galilei, I confess that we have lured you here this evening under false pretenses,” at which the entire room broke into laughter. “Quiet, please,” Cesi said with good humor. His face then turning serious, he announced with due aplomb, “Signore Galilei, it is the unanimous vote of the Lyncean Academy that you be admitted as a distinguished lifetime member. I do not think that I need to tell you that we are the only scientific academy in the world. Thus, we take great care in determining who is to be admitted to the Lynx,” and at this he smiled broadly at Galileo, continuing with, “Sir, we find ourselves in a most unusual position this evening. We are proud of our status as members of the Lynx, but in your case, we are the ones who feel honored by your presence here, and we therefore ask humbly that you accept the honor that we bestow upon you as an even greater honor for each of us and The Academy.” At this moment the room grew completely silent, every eye focused on the Great Man.

Sensing the profundity of the moment, Galileo carefully set his wine glass down, cleared his throat, and slowly rose from his chair. The silence was deafening. Galileo recognized the opportunity he possessed with his captive audience, but he sensed even more so that this was not the time for extemporizing. Rising to his full stature, he proclaimed with humility for all to hear, “Gentlemen, science is the queen of all human endeavors. You, sirs, are to be commended for shepherding the queen, for guiding mankind in this most important challenge as we sail forward into unchartered waters. I am most humbled and honored by your generous offer. I therefore accept!” at which the room erupted in applause.

 

Nearing Roma – 1997

 

Paul felt the increasing stress as they approached the city on the autostrada. By the time they reached the ring road, the traffic was bumper to bumper. “Nothing has changed,” he said to himself, growing impatient with the congestion.

Stessa cosa, sempre.” Antonietta remarked pithily. “It’s Roma, Paulo. You love it – you hate it. There is no other way.”

“Right now I hate it,” he replied, frowning, “But I’m sure I will get over it once we arrive.”

They eventually reached the Appian Way, and, following it into the city, they passed Caracalla’s Baths, the Arch of Constantine, the Coliseum, and the Forum. They passed by the Monument to Vittorio Emmanuelle, and thenceforth to their hotel near the Compo Dei Fiori. By then Paul’s demeanor had become diametrically opposite to a mere half hour earlier. Now grinning from ear to ear, he volunteered, “Fantastico!”

“You know Roma quite well, Professore,” Antonietta praised, “You seem to know exactly where you are going.”

“Thank you. It hasn’t always been that way. Roma is one of the most difficult cities that I have ever had to drive in. They keep changing the directions of one way streets!”

“Yes, I agree,” Antonietta replied. After a moment, she cried out, “Stop! There is a parking place!”

Paul followed the direction of her pointing finger, and deftly wheeled into the spot. “Amazing! Do you know how hard it is to find a parking place in Roma?”

Certamente,” she replied succinctly. They grabbed their luggage and headed into the hotel. As they approached, Antonietta announced, “This is where Julius Caesar was assassinated.”

“Of course it is. Everyone knows that he was assassinated in Roma,” Paul replied with palpable condescension.

“I meant here – right here!” she replied as they approached the front door of the hotel. “He was stabbed to death in Pompeii’s Theatre, which we are standing in the middle of at this very moment. See the curve in the tall buildings around us? That’s the line of the old semicircular seating in the theatre. Inside the hotel we shall see the original stone foundation of the theatre.”

They found their rooms, dumped their luggage, and soon they were on the trail of Galileo’s clues. First, they made their way to the Vatican. The taxi dropped them across the street from the elliptical colonnade. “Where to first?” Antonietta asked.

“I need to see if we can get in to see the tomb of St. Peter. It’s by invitation only, and sometimes it can take several days to get in. Actually, most people can’t get in at all.”

“So what makes you special, Professore?”

“You know, I’m not really sure, but I’ve been down there twice, and both times, they seemed to be impressed by my command of the Italian language. But we’ll see.”

They approached the Swiss guards to the left of the main entrance to the basilica and Paul said briskly, “Vorremmo vedere gli scavi.”

Va bene,” the guard replied, and motioned for them to pass.

“Amazing! I never knew that you could pass by them. I thought they were actually guarding,” Antonietta said, looking back over her shoulder.

“They are, Contessa, I assure you – they are.”

“Well, that was far too easy, if you ask me,” she mumbled.

They passed under an archway and then rounded a curved portion of the basilica, coming to a small office on the right. Paul entered and stood in the back of a short line. Antonietta could hear the conversation further up the line, and it didn’t sound good at all. There was a brusque little man officiating, turning away each and every applicant who had come to see the scavi.

The line crept forward interminably. Eventually, Paul reached the head of the line, at which point he commenced to explain that he was a learned member of the academic community in the Stati Uniti and that he was writing a book on the methods of construction of Italian structures in The Middle Ages. The erstwhile curmudgeonly little man, who Antonietta thought looked amazingly like Michelangelo’s depiction of the Guard at the Gates to Hell in the Sistine Chapel, said simply, “Va bene, domani mattina alle nove. Due persone.”

“Mille grazie,” Paul replied pleasantly, and turned on his heel to leave the office.

Once outside, Antonietta exclaimed, “Amazing. Absolutely amazing! How do you pull these things off, Paulo?”

Paul winked at her and said incongruously, “I have no idea why it works for me. I just try to act like I know what I’m doing.”

“You do, Professore. Believe me, you do! You may not know it, but somehow you do!” she said with a smile, and then she continued, “So we have until tomorrow morning. What do we do now?”

“Right. I’ve been thinking about that. The last line of the eighth stanza refers to St. Peter, ergo, we need to see anything associated with St. Peter.”

“I know one place we could go,” Antonietta volunteered.

“Where might that be?” Paul queried.

“Well, for one, I’d like to visit the Mamertine Prison, where St. Peter was held before he was crucified.”

“You mean that still exists?” he asked in incredulity.

“Most certainly.”

“Where is it?” he queried.

“It’s actually in the Forum, right behind the Curia,” she responded. Thus, off they went to see that first. The prison was located beneath the San Giuseppe dei Falegnami, a small church adjacent to the Forum. Unfortunately, no clues presented themselves within.

Having completed that stop, Antonietta asked, “What next?”

“I’d also like to go see the ball court on the Palatine Hill,” Paul responded affably.

“Why do you want to see that?”

“Well, supposedly it looked something like Nero’s Circus, as did the Piazza Navona, for that matter.”

“So?”

“So St. Peter was crucified in Nero’s Circus. Maybe seeing a Roman structure that is similar to where St. Peter was crucified will give us some ideas.

“I see,” she responded with obvious doubt, “Sounds pretty far-fetched to me, but whatever. Anything else?”

“Right, just one more thing that I can think of,” Paul responded. “We need to go to the Basilica of San Pietro in Vincoli.”

“Ah, yes,” she replied knowingly, “The chains of St. Peter. That would make sense.”

“Can you think of anything else,” he asked.

“What? Me? You’re way ahead of me. But I can think of some good places to have dinner!”

“Excellent. We’ll let that be your province. Shall we go see the chains first?”

Va bene,” she replied, so he hailed a cab.

Inevitably, the chains of St. Peter revealed nothing, although Paul was tickled by the spirited argument that erupted between an American tourist and his wife over the meaning of the horns protruding from the head of Michelangelo’s sculpture of Moses. As is so often the case, the woman won, although Paul and Antonietta had no idea which side of the argument she was on.

“Let’s go up on the Palatine Hill and see the ball court. And on the way, we can stop and see where Romulus was buried. We can even see where Julius Caesar’s body was burned.”

“You’re joking,” Antonietta replied doubtfully.

“My, my, for an Italian you are strangely ignorant of your history, Contessa. I assure you, I am deadly serious,” he replied, starting down the steps into the Forum.

“I’m Italian, I’m not a Roman,” she replied imperiously.

“Ha, I’ve heard that one before. All Italians claim to be from some special portion of the country that makes them superior to all others.”

Hurrying to keep up, she rejoined, “And you Americans are different?”

“I’m not American, I’m a mixture of Welsh and Scottish, and of course, I’m also half Italian,” Paul replied with mock gravity.

“Hee hee…touché, as the French say,” she responded.

“Nobody said I’m not a hypocrite,” Paul shot back over his shoulder jovially. By now he had reached the bottom of the steps, coming to a stop before the Curia. “Here we are – the center of the universe – two thousand years ago!”

Paul escorted Antonietta right through the heart of the Forum, pointing out details one after the other. One would have thought that he had actually been an inhabitant of the city in ancient times. Eventually they wound their way up the Palatine Hill, whereupon Paul led her to the ball court. “Impressive, eh?” he said to her, standing at the railing looking down into the huge court.

“Of course,” she replied noncommittally, “We came here when I was in school, but you know how it is – sixth graders never listen to anything.”

“I remember the first time I came up on this hill, nearly thirty years ago. I was by myself. I had seen Ben-Hur when I was in grade school, and I thought that this was the Circus Maximus!”

“What’s that?” Antonietta queried.

“I take it you have not seen Ben-Hur,” he responded succinctly.

“No.”

“Suffice it to say, this is a puny little watering hole compared to the gargantuan size of the Circus Maximus. Come on, I’ll show it to you. He led her to the house of Augustus whereupon they wandered through a maze of walls to arrive at the posterior of the Palatine Hill, overlooking the enormous sunken field behind. “That, Antonietta, was the Circus Maximus.”

“Oh, my God! That is gigantic!”

“Yes, it was twice as large as the Coliseum was, and the Coliseum was twice as large as it is today.” He stood pondering the panorama before them, and finally he said, “Okay, enough playing around. I’m done for the day. I need a glass of vino. How about you?”

Exhausted from his overly enthusiastic tour, Antonietta could barely muster a compliant nod of her head.

That evening they dined at the Ristorante Grotte del Teatro di Pompeo. Unsurprisingly, Antonietta knew the owners quite well. Paul had dined there before, but he had never had the nerve to introduce himself to the adorable woman who waited on the tables. She had always selected his meals for him in her obtrusive way, and he secretly adored her because she had always been true to her word when she had selected some magnifico entrée for him.

Thus, when Antonietta had introduced her to him as Antonella, the wife of the owner Lino, and mother of Alessandro, Paul had been thrilled to finally make the acquaintance of someone that he had secretly worshipped for many years. And most amazingly of all, upon being introduced to him, Antonella had said, “Ah, but I know you! You have been here many times before, non, Professore?” At this, Paul had blushed with pride at having been picked out from the endless throng of turisti americani. There was no longer any doubt in Paul’s mind – traveling around in Italia with Antonietta was indeed an extraordinary adventure.

 

Roma – February 25, 1616

 

Galileo sat dejectedly in the piazza, gazing pensively at the Pantheon directly opposite his table. Only now, on his third glass of wine, was he beginning to calm down. To be threatened with prison! It was simply beyond belief. They were all idiots! Cremonini, Colombe, Caccini – all idiots! And the pope, Paul V, he was the worst of all. In the face of all of the evidence that Galileo had produced over the past few years supporting the Copernican system, how could anyone still deny that the Earth moves? Galileo was so disgusted by his meeting with Cardinal Bellarmino earlier that morning that he had been unable to even drag himself back to the Villa Medici, preferring to drink himself into a stupor.

That he had chosen to do so opposite the Pantheon only made matters worse. He had spent the first half hour reminding himself that he would have been completely exonerated under the rule of Roman law. Yet here he sat, about to be censored by the Inquisition.

He didn’t really blame Bellarmino. After all, he was only the intellectual voice of the Holy See. Actually, Cardinal Bellarmino had always been civil and respectful to him. Hadn’t he supported many of Galileo’s previous revelations openly? Indeed, Galileo had always felt that there was a measure of mutual respect between the two of them. Thus, Galileo had been greatly surprised when the cardinal had threatened him with imprisonment if he did not agree to forthwith refrain from defending the Copernican system. Bellarmino had clearly been ordered to such action directly by the Pope. But what had made his threat so terrifying had been the knowledge that Bellarmino had signed Bruno’s death warrant sixteen years earlier.

Suddenly Galileo slammed his wine glass down on the table so hard that he sloshed half of the wine onto the table top. All of his work had been for the betterment of mankind, and here a handful of jealous imbeciles had cast a stain upon his scientific reputation, indeed the very name of Galilei and all that it stood for. It was just impossible to bear. He grabbed the wine bottle and poured the remainder into his glass, immediately signaling to the waiter his desire for another bottle. Tomorrow he would go before the Inquisition to do their bidding. He would have some serious drinking to do before he could stoop to that level.

For some reason the portico of the Pantheon captured his attention. Another glass of wine, and it would have been too late for a stroll, but his state of inebriation was just sufficient to cause his creative juices to flow, but not so much so as to stunt his ability to saunter forth in the late afternoon sun. Gathering himself, he strolled across the Piazza della Rotonda, paused beneath the massive portico, wondering for what seemed the thousandth time how the Romans had managed to quarry such massive columns, and for that matter, where the columns had come from.

He continued to walk forward, entering into the temple. As always, his gaze was immediately attracted upwards. The late afternoon sunlight caused a glowing spot on the ceiling adjacent to the oculus, the geometric grid work of the ceiling standing out from the reflected light. For some reason, he felt a sense of déjà vu as he gazed upwards at the heavenly site. After a few moments he realized what it was. The ceiling bore an uncanny resemblance to the Copernican World System, the Sun standing proudly directly in the center. He frowned to himself for a moment. Here was a house of God literally pointing the way forward for science. Why could the Church not see this as well?

 

1997

 

Paul and Antonietta arrived for their tour of the Vatican excavations at the appointed time the following morning. The tour guide was fortunately not the little man that they had talked to the previous day. Instead, it was a young cleric whose English was impeccable, as was necessary for the remaining members of their tour group. Within moments the procession was descending underground, directly beneath St. Peter’s Basilica. Once below ground, Antonietta remarked to Paul that the Roman graveyard was reminiscent of the catacombs.

“Yes, although this cemetery was at one time above ground,” Paul replied. “When Constantine commissioned the construction of the first church on this site in the fourth century the Roman cemetery was laid out on a hillside that sloped downwards towards the river, in the direction of Bernini’s magnificent colonnade in front of the current Basilica. So as we progress further up the hill, you will notice that the ceiling height above us becomes lower and lower. That’s because they had to level the hillside before building the church on it. So they took soil from the higher end of the hill and used it to fill in the lower end of the hill, thus damaging the upper part of the cemetery that was beyond the current cupola. So that is about as far up the hill as we will be able to go – beneath the center of the cupola. But luckily, they planned well because that is exactly as far as we need to go in order to see the tomb of St. Peter.”

“And all of this disappeared beneath the original church?” Antonietta asked.

“Yes, but when they razed Constantine’s Cathedral in the late sixteenth century, workers punched through the ceilings of the Roman tombs here and there as they attempted to level the ground once again. So they were aware that something was still down here. I think that is at least a part of the reason that Pope Pius XII decided to start digging under the basilica in 1939.”

By this point the pair had fallen somewhat behind the remainder of the group, as Paul carried on with his own serendipitous tour. Suddenly, a man dressed in a black suit and decked out in one of those ear pieces in his left ear that are only worn by security personnel came around a corner and politely asked them to rejoin the tour group. Thinking nothing of it, Paul apologized and he and Antonietta hurried to catch up with the tour group. Behind them, the man was speaking in rapid-fire Italian into a hand held radio.

Within minutes the entire party was standing in front of the tomb of St. Peter, at which the tour guide announced, “Ladies and Gentlemen, this is reputed to be the tomb of St. Peter.”

One woman raised her hand and said, “Reputed? Is it not certain?”

The young cleric smiled and said, “Unfortunately, there is no way to ever be certain. However, here is the evidence supporting the contention that it is indeed the tomb of St. Peter. First, we have a description from the period shortly after St. Peter describing the small table with four legs that you see above the tomb. Second, the relics within the tomb were wrapped in purple cloth, the royal color of Constantine, when they were found in the 1940’s. Third, the bones within the tomb had no feet, which of course is consistent with how St. Peter was crucified. Extant documents indicate that his feet were severed from his body when he was taken down from the cross after he expired.”

“That seems pretty conclusive to me,” the woman volunteered.

“Perhaps,” the cleric replied, making it clear that he had been coached to refrain from speculation. “There is one more piece of evidence,” he continued, “The tomb before you is directly beneath the center of the cupola.”

At this, the woman said, “Oh my,” and the entire tour group gazed incongruously upwards in the low-hung space, imagining the dome and the cupola above it.

The tour quickly concluded thereafter, and as Paul and Antonietta emerged into the sunlight in front of the basilica, Paul asked, “What did you think of that, Contessa?”

She thought for a moment, then responded, “Very moving. Thank you for taking me down there. It is very reassuring to my faith.”

“Yes,” Paul replied agreeably, “It is quite overwhelming to realize that much of the underpinnings of our western heritage are more than legend.”

Antonietta stood for a moment gazing at the Egyptian obelisk in the center of the square, and then she said, “Did you see any clues down there?”

“No, none at all,” Paul replied, “But then, I didn’t really expect to. Our Galileo leads us to the solution in the most circuitous of ways, non?”

“That he most certainly does, Professore. Where to now?”

“We should go up to the top, to the cupola,” Paul said, rubbing his hands together in apparent glee.

“Oh, please, not that again,” Antonietta replied, as if she were already exhausted just from the thought of climbing all that way.

Paul chuckled and said, “Okay, whatever. The truth is, I just wanted to see your reaction. And it was worth it, so there.”

Antonietta broke into a somewhat lame smile, replying, “Whew! That’s a relief. But could we instead step inside the Basilica and see the Pieta?”

“Absolutely!” Paul exclaimed. “It’s one of my two favorite works by Michelangelo. Some days, it’s even my most favorite.”

“Which day is it today?” she asked derisively.

“Hmm…” he replied, rubbing his chin. He continued with false sincerity, “I think today it is number one.” He paused for a moment and then said, “Yes, definitely number one today.”

“And why is that?” Antonietta queried, expecting another one of his opinionated and inane soliloquies.

“I don’t know. It just seems like since we are in Roma, it ought to be my favorite, especially since the David is elsewhere.”

“Ha! I knew it. You’re just making it up as you go, Professore! All of this feigned intelligentsia is nothing but academic blabber!”

Paul laughed along with her, replying sheepishly, “That’s one for you,” and the pair entered the Basilica thereafter in an altogether jovial mood.

Once they had completed fighting the crowd for a view of the Pietà, they stepped back outside and strolled towards the obelisk in the center of Bernini’s colonnade. “The Pietà always takes my breath away,” Antonietta said.

“Yes, it is beyond comprehension. It just may be the most perfect piece of artwork in the history of this planet.”

“Okay, where to now?”

“Good question, Contessa. I’m at an impasse at the moment, so I suggest that we go see the Domus Aurea. Have you ever visited it?”

“No. Nero’s Golden House. I’d love to see it. Let’s go,” she replied, so off they went to hail a taxi.

Finally worn out from their tryst, the pair returned to the hotel by late afternoon. Paul entered his room to find it in complete disarray. It had clearly been ransacked. Backing out of the room in horror, he immediately knocked on Antonietta’s door.

She opened it and, a look of distress on her face, she asked breathlessly, “Yours, too?”

“Yes,” he replied and, his sense of concern mounting at an alarming pace, he added, “Frankly, I was half expecting it.”

“What? Why?” she responded.

“It was just a hunch, but do you remember the guard with the earpiece during the scavi tour this morning?”

“Yes,” she responded in confusion.

“Well, I can’t be sure, but I think I saw him at least two other times today. He was following us.”

“Ah,” she replied. “Now that you mention it, I had a queasy feeling about that same man.” She turned around, plodded back into her room, and said, “Please, come in.”

Paul followed her, saying, “Did they get anything?”

She turned to face him and replied, “How could they, there is nothing left for them to take. We either mailed or hid everything.”

Paul smiled the slightest bit and said, “Esattamente!”

Antonietta smiled for a moment, but then her smile faded completely, eliciting, “Let’s not get too enthusiastic. We may be ahead of them, but who knows how long that will last.”

Paul’s smile now fading as well, he agreed, “Right. Right you are. Let’s get some sleep and get back to Arcetri tomorrow morning. No telling what they’ll try next.”

The following morning Paul was startled awake by the ringing of his telephone. Grabbing the phone, he blurted into the receiver, “What the…Hello?”

“Paulo! Professore, it’s Antonietta,” the voice said, and there was clearly a sound of urgency in her voice.

“Yes, good morning. Is there a problem, Contessa?” he replied groggily.

Si! Yes! Yes, there is a big problem,” and she was speaking so rapidly in English that it sounded almost like Italian to him. “The villa has been robbed! We must go home. We must go to Arcetri as quickly as possible!”

Pulling the Alfa in between the gates a few hours later, they immediately observed two black vehicles with ‘Polizia’ painted on the sides parked in front of the villa. The gravel in the driveway crunched under their feet as they trudged up to the front door, but before they reached it, the door swung open and a short balding man stepped out.

He was slender, dressed in a gray suit, and Paul noticed his handlebar mustache in particular. He approached them rapidly, saying perfunctorily, “Ah, molto bene. The contessa is here. Contessa da Vinci, it is good to see you, despite the unhappy circumstances.”

The three entered the house, whereupon Marco joined them, embraced his mother, and the necessary introductions were made. Paul was introduced as Antonietta’s ‘friend’ from the United States, and Paul discovered that the diminutive gentleman was Inspector Bustamente, of the Polizia di Firenze.

“Contessa,” Inspector Bustamente said, “I am afraid that the intruders have made a mess of things. Such a terrible mess. Please, follow me, but be careful. Do not touch anything just yet, and – most importantly – be prepared for what you are about to see.”

Inspector Bustamente then led them into the study, where they were treated to an absolute disaster. Literally everything in the room was turned over. Chairs were broken, bookcases had been overturned, and the entire collection of several thousand books, some undoubtedly very valuable, was piled in an enormous heap in the middle of the room.

Antonietta halted in mid-stride, brought both of her hands to her face in sheer disbelief and uttered, “Mio dio!” Under the circumstances, it was all she could manage to say.

“Please, there is more, Contessa,” the inspector said after a few moments, “Please, follow me.” He led them to the sitting room, where much the same scene was repeated. The selfsame scene repeated itself in every room on the first floor of the villa, even including the kitchen.

After ten minutes of this process, Antonietta said, “Is it bad upstairs, Signore Bustamente?”

“Unfortunately, it is the same everywhere, Contessa,” he replied sadly.

“Oh, my,” was all she could say.

“I am so sorry, Contessa. I am so sorry to be so blunt in this time when you are clearly in pain, but I am afraid that I must ask you some questions. Please?”

Antonietta was staring out the window blankly. She suddenly turned toward the inspector and said, “What? Oh, yes, of course.” At which the four of them sat down among the scattered debris. Antonietta continued to look fretfully to and fro. Marco seemed resigned to the reality of the situation, but Paul could feel only empathy for the Contessa.

“Where to begin,” Inspector Bustamente commenced, “So Marco called us this morning. He had just returned from a road trip. I believe that we received the call around 7:30, is that right, Marco?”

“Yes, inspector, that is correct,” Marco replied tersely. “Of course, I called my mother before I called you. She instructed me to call the polizia immediately.”

“Right. I understand that you have not touched anything at this point, Signore Marco. Is that correct?”

“Yes, of course. I showered and changed clothes, and then drove into Firenze to have breakfast after your friends arrived, as I was told that I could not touch anything.”

“Yes, and you came back an hour ago.” At that he turned to Antonietta and said brusquely, “Contessa, do you have any idea why someone would perpetrate this heinous crime?”

“No, I’m sorry, I can’t imagine why. Of course, there are valuables within the villa. I do not know if some of them may have been taken.”

“Contessa, let’s not fool ourselves. This was not a random burglary. The intruders were obviously after a particular item or items, and it appears that they failed to find it from the look of things,” at which point he turned and surveyed the disaster surrounding them.

“Yes, I see what you mean,” she replied, but she nevertheless refrained from saying more.

Turning to Marco, the inspector said, “Can you think of anything important, Marco, anything that they might have been searching for?”

Marco stared at his mother, clearly expecting her to respond on his behalf. She in turn did not so much as flinch, but it was clear that something passed between the pair. “There is only one thing that I can think of, Inspector,” Marco replied.

“And what is that?” the inspector queried.

“We bought a credenza at auction about ten days ago. It is perhaps very valuable. I haven’t checked to see if it is still here.”

“Can you go check on that now?” Inspector Bustamente asked.

“Yes, of course,” Marco said, and, excusing himself, he hastily departed the room.

“What is the significance of this credenza, Contessa?” the inspector queried.

“It is reputed to have belonged to Galileo, Inspector,” Antonietta replied in apparent resignation.

“Ah, I see,” Inspector Bustamente replied with sudden interest. “And who knows about this credenza and that it may have belonged to Galileo, Contessa?”

“Well, no one except for my friend Professore Woodbridge here,” she replied pensively.

“And what is his connection to this matter, Contessa?” the inspector replied in Italian. For his part, Paul remained silent, curiously awaiting Antonietta’s reply.

Antonietta answered, “Oh, nothing. He’s just my friend.”

Inspector Bustamente eyed Paul for a moment, and then said presumptuously, “Ah, yes I see -your friend.”

At this inconsiderate remark, Antonietta glanced knowingly towards Paul and rolled her eyes upwards, but said nothing.

“And just how long has Professore Woodbridge been your friend, Contessa?”

“Why don’t you ask him yourself, Inspector. He speaks perfect Italian,” Antonietta replied caustically.

Mi scusi,” Inspector Bustamente blurted in shock, and his face began to redden noticeably, “Mi perdoni, Professore,” and he bowed slightly. And at this, he signaled that his questioning was at least for the moment completed. He handed a card to Antonietta and said, “Per favore, chiamami se si pensa di qualcosa,” and he departed somewhat hurriedly, obviously still embarrassed by his gaff.

After he had left the room, Paul immediately volunteered caustically, “Ha!”

Obviously distracted by the previous conversation, Antonietta blurted, “What?”

“Oh, nothing. I was just musing,” he replied with a sly grin.

“Do you think that he suspects something,” she replied.

Still musing, Paul responded, “Well, offhand I’d say that’s a dead certainty. It is his job to be suspicious, after all.”

“Oh, shut up,” she replied in sudden good humor. “Stop acting like an idiot. This is serious!” But she was beginning to get over the tension of the moment already, at least in part due to Paul’s inanely upbeat behavior.

After a few moments, Paul carefully announced, “Soooo…”

“So what?” Antonietta shot back, still trapped within the confusion of their current situation.

“Oh, nothing. Just soooo…,” Paul repeated with implacably good humor. By now he was slouched down on the sofa, one leg dangling nonchalantly over the arm bolster, clearly enjoying himself immensely.

“Oh, just shut the fricking up!” Antonietta replied distractedly.

At this Paul howled with laughter, but when she turned so fast that her hair swirled about and looked him square in the eye, he shut up immediately.

She stood with her hands on her hips staring ominously at him for a few moments, and then she suddenly said, “What? Go ahead, spit it out.”

He suppressed a smile and said, “I have nothing to fricking say,” and he almost laughed at his own silly joke, but her stern gaze deterred him from doing so.

“One of these days, smart ass…one of these days, I’m going to wipe that stupid smile right off your face, you ,you…you, Professore, you.”

Paul stood up and wandered over to her and, halting directly in front of her, he suggested boldly, “No time like the present, Contessa.”

Her eyes blazing at him, she summarily raised her arm and smacked him with her open hand, pulling her blow at the last second so that it made a tiny hollow sound, in the process doing no damage whatsoever. Paul raised his hand to his face, rubbing where she had struck him with feigned pain. Acting as though he were sulking, he pronounced with outthrust lower lip, “I knew that Italian women were hot blooded, but I had no idea that their bark was stronger than their bite.”

“So, am I now a dog?” she replied with a serious gaze and a haughty toss of her head.

Paul whispered, “No, my dear Contessa, you are much more than that, oh, so much more.”

The two then waded into a convivial embrace, And after a few moments they stepped back, moments before Marco reentered the room. Having failed to observe their innocent but nonetheless suggestive embrace, he blurted guilelessly, “The credenza is still there. But they found the hidden board where the message was stored. Mama, tell me that you didn’t put it back in there!”

As if insulted by his question, she replied, “No, of course I didn’t. Is the credenza destroyed?”

“No, actually, they seem to have taken great care with it, contrary to their treatment of some of our other items.”

“That’s the first good news I’ve had today. I really do love that credenza. It has sentimental value for me,” she responded to no one in particular.

“Where is the poem?” Marco asked pointedly. “Is it safe?”

“Oh, yes, it’s safe. I left it in Ravenna in a very safe place,” she replied. At this admission it was Paul’s turn to squirm, but he wisely said nothing.

That night the three of them dined in Firenze. Paul was not a particular fan of hotel dining rooms, but he had to admit that the food was fabulous, and when he offered to pay for dinner the concierge announced that it was on the house.

Once they were out on the street, he turned to Antonietta and said, “What was that – another friend, Contessa?”

“No, Professore,” Antonietta replied, laughing. “My former husband owns that restaurant. They feel obligated to feed us for free.”

“But you’re no longer married to him,” Paul replied.

Antonietta gestured towards Marco, and said surreptitiously, “La famiglia.”

Paul tilted his head to one side, glanced at Marco, and simply nodded his understanding.

Chapter 9

 

Padova

 

Entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity.

 

-William of Ockham (c. 1288-1347)

 

Padova – 1592

 

Although Galileo had only been in Padova for two months, he nonetheless felt that he was emerging as a man of substance. His initial lectures to the faculty had been well received, the students seemingly taking to him even more so than his colleagues. His most exciting achievement thus far had been to gain the confidence of Gianvincenzo Pinelli, who was perhaps Padova’s most influential patron.

On this occasion Galileo had been invited to a dinner party for intellectuals at Pinelli’s villa. Galileo arrived at the villa giddy with anticipation. Pinelli’s library was said to be one of the best in Italia, containing more than 80,000 volumes. Galileo shed his coat with the valet and entered the great hall, where at least two dozen of Pinelli’s acquaintances had been assembled. Pinelli immediately came forward and shook Galileo’s hand vigorously, thereby demonstrating to one and all his support for the young mathematician.

“Welcome, Professore Galilei, welcome! Please, come in. I want to introduce you to some of my friends. This is Tommaso Campanella, author of the famous book.” Campanella greeted Galileo. “And here is our very own Cesar Cremonini, the Bo’s most accomplished academic.”

Galileo halted to shake his hand in hopes of conversing with him, but Pinelli continued to drag him about the room, introducing him to the entire group one by one.

Eventually, he came to a rather serious looking man, who stared implacably at Galileo. “And this, Professore Galilei, is our prodigal son Giordano Bruno. Having traveled throughout much of Europe, he has returned home to give us the benefit of his wisdom. Signore Bruno, I present our newest member of the faculty at the Bo, Professore Galilei.” The two shook hands somewhat guardedly. Galileo had heard of Bruno, especially regarding his outrageous views on the universe.

Bruno chanced to break the engulfing silence first, saying, “Welcome to the Venetian Empire, Professore. It seems that you have taken the Bo by storm. Your colleagues speak well of you.”

Galileo immediately felt out of his element, as if he were in the presence of a man of superior intellect, perhaps even to himself. This feeling was entirely new to him. He replied with apparent discomfort, “Thank you, Signore Bruno. I am here to learn all that there is to learn at the Bo. I am truly humbled to be a part of this highly regarded institution.”

At this Bruno smiled, recognizing implicitly that Galileo was cowed by him, and responded, “We must discuss astronomy when you have the time, Professore. What is your position regarding Nicolaus Copernicus?”

At this query Galileo was completely at a loss, replying, “Sir, I have read Der Revolutionobus, but I must in all honesty say that I have as yet seen no evidence to support the theory contained within.”

At this Bruno arched one eyebrow skyward and replied brusquely, “Yes, Professore, I see that we must talk more on this subject when time permits.” Those who were nearby chuckled deprecatingly, thereby demonstrably embarrassing Galileo.

Galileo immediately resolved to himself that he would study this radical theory of Copernicus in much more detail in order to avoid such discomfort in future. This he in fact did over the next few months, but he never again came across Signore Bruno, the latter having been spirited away by the Inquisition a short time thereafter.

 

On the Road to Padova – 1997

 

Paul and Antonietta pulled out of the villa driveway in the morning sunshine, the pair focused intently on the drive ahead. Despite the previous day’s unseemly events, Antonietta was in a pleasant mood, accentuated by her remark, “What a gorgeous day, Professore!” Accordingly, she tugged off her hat and let her hair fall free for the long drive, feeling serenely happy for the first time in her recent memory. “I shall be so happy to see it again,” she continued absentmindedly.

“Again? You’ve been there often, I take it?” Paul queried.

“Oh, yes, I lived there when I was young,” she answered nonchalantly.

“You did?”

“Yes, I graduated from the University of Padova,” she replied matter-of-factly.

Surprised at this, he responded, “Oh! I had no idea. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I assumed that you were well educated, but I somehow didn’t think beyond that.”

“Yes, well, you’ve been distracted of late, so you are forgiven,” she cracked, “After all, you are undeniably self-obsessed.”

Ignoring her jibe, he inquired, “What did you major in?”

“Foreign languages,” she replied succinctly.

“Aha! Ergo, we have your near-perfect command of English. I wondered about that. But I do detect a hint of English accent now and then,” he added, as if to imply that ‘English’ English is inferior to ‘American’ English. He thought for a moment, and then added, “But this is marvelous. You can tell me all about Padova. It’s not my strong point, you know.”

“Yes, you told me that. I wonder how you managed to miss it, given your encyclopedic knowledge of Italy in general.”

“It was easy. I just didn’t go there. Well, I did go there once, but that’s all. Please, give me the benefit of your insight regarding Padova. Would you mind, Contessa?”

“Not at all, it’s a fabulous city,” she replied with a wistful smile. “Where do I begin? Let’s see, well, it’s the oldest city in Northern Italy, you know. The mythology is that it was founded by one of the soldiers from Troy. I forget his name, but that would have been around 1200 B.C.”

“Excellent!” Paul put in enthusiastically.

Ignoring him, she continued reflectively, “Unfortunately, Padova has no natural protections such as a hilltop. That is an unfortunate circumstance for most of the cities in the Po Valley, the alluvial flow from the Alps having created the only large mass of level land in all of Italia. So when the Romans succumbed to the Huns and the Visigoths from the fifth century onwards, Padova successively fell into the hands of one after another of the invaders.” She paused for a moment to pull her hair back yet again, and then she continued, “So you know what happened in The Middle Ages. Padova was passed from one empire to the next. There was plenty of fighting, death, and misery, just like everywhere else in Western Europe. But in 1387 John Hawkwood came to Padova. You know who he was, right?”

“Yes, of course, the English soldier of fortune,” Paul replied matter-of-factly.

“Right. So he led the Padovans to victory at the Battle of Castagnano. A few years later they were absorbed into the Venetian Empire, and there they remained until that nasty little General Napoleon came to Italy in 1797 and defeated the Venetians. So that’s a short history of the city.”

She stopped for a moment to gather her thoughts, and then she continued, “Now for the history of the University. It was founded in 1222, and the story goes that it was formed by a group of students and professors who revolted against the authorities at the University of Bologna, which is as I’m sure you know the oldest university in the world.”

“Yes, I know. The French and the English might take exception to that, but it’s a semantical issue based on how you define a university. The fact is that Bologna began issuing degrees nearly a century before they did so anywhere else on Earth.”

“Right, so you agree!”

“Yes, of course I do. Am I not half Italian?” he replied with a grin.

“Anyway,” she continued, “The Bo, as it is called, is I think the eighth oldest university in the world. We were studying in Padova nearly three hundred years before your continent was discovered.”

“Right, go ahead, rub it in,” he responded good-naturedly. “I knew that it was called the Bo, which means ox in English, but do you know how it got its nickname?”

“Yes, of course,” she replied, as if it should have been obvious to him, “Everyone knows that.”

“Please, go on.”

“Don’t rush me,” she replied, smiling. “I shall go at my own pace, despite the dizzying speed with which you set the pace when you are the Professore,” and she threw him a placating grin, obviously relishing playing the role of educator for a change. “Now, where was I? Oh yes – The Bo. When the group of professors and students broke away from Bologna and moved to Padova, they had no place to set up the institution. So they initially used an inn called ‘The Inn of the Bo’, or something to that effect. It is not lost on students at the university that the inn was also a tavern. Thus, the murky underpinnings of the university are rooted in a less than reputable setting.”

“Interesting. Not many institutions of higher education can claim such a colorful – and lengthy, I might add – history.”

“Yes,” Antonietta replied, “We in Italia are very proud of The Bo. Quite a few famous people either studied or taught there, you know – people like Dante Alighieri, Nicolaus Copernicus, Francis Walsingham, Casanova, and of course, our Galileo.”

“Wow! I didn’t know that about Casanova and Walsingham,” Paul replied. “My, Walsingham got around. I had no idea. You left out Cesare Cremonini, Antonietta.”

“Cremonini, who is that?”

“He was one of Galileo’s antagonists.”

“Ah, tell me about him, Professore.”

“Cremonini was what was called a peripatetic. That is a person who is a follower of the Aristotelian philosophy.”

“I take it you are not enamored with Aristotle?” she replied.

“Good question. Let me put it this way, I think that Aristotle was one of the great philosophers from antiquity, along with quite a few others, not the least of which were his predecessors Socrates and Plato. However, I think that he came up a bit short when it comes to science. And while it is not his fault, the somewhat mindless adulation that was heaped on Aristotle by the peripatetics during and after the Renaissance was regrettable, because it has come to reflect somewhat badly on both Aristotle and Galileo himself. As Galileo was heard to say on occasion, Aristotle himself would surely have been open to modification of his theories in the light of compelling evidence to the contrary.”

“Like what?” she queried.

“Well, the obvious examples, the ones that Galileo became obsessed with…let me see…I suppose that there were three. First, Aristotle said that heavy objects fall faster than light ones. Galileo disproved that conclusively using his inclined planes. Second, there was the Moon. Aristotle claimed that it was ‘a perfect disk’. Galileo showed that it was not in his publication The Starry Messenger, the one that made him world famous. As we know today, the Moon has mountains that are taller than any on Earth. Third, Aristotle said that the Earth was the center of the universe. This, of course, is the one that got Galileo into trouble because the Holy See was in agreement with Aristotle, and therefore also the peripatetics on this last issue due to several statements in The Bible, perhaps the most often cited is the line wherein Joshua, who had succeeded Moses as the leader of the Israelites, asked God to command the Sun and the Moon to stand still for a day so that the Israelites could defeat the Amorites at Gibeon.”

“I know that passage,” Antonietta replied. “It is a very powerful and important event described in the Old Testament.”

“Yes, and who knows whether it actually occurred or not,” Paul responded.

“Surely you don’t think that the Sun stood still?” she asked incredulously.

Paul glanced at her for a moment, contemplating how to answer her, and then he said, “Look, today we know that everything moves, when compared to something else. On the other hand, we could just as easily decide to claim that one object remains still, and everything else moves. As Einstein so aptly put it, ‘It’s all relative’.”

Antonietta just gazed at him for a moment, apparently encouraging him to continue, thus he did, adding, “Okay, here’s an example. See that Polizia car on the side of the road. Is it moving, or are we?”

“That’s obvious, It is sitting still. We are moving,” she replied impatiently.

“With respect to what?” Paul responded immediately.

She frowned at him, and then said, “I don’t understand…”

“Right,” he said brusquely, as if he knew how she would respond. “You automatically think that the police car is not moving because you are used to thinking of it as not moving with respect to the center of the Earth. But suppose we choose to measure its position with respect to the center of the Sun. Then both the police car and the Earth are moving.”

“Okay, but that would be stupid,” she answered.

“Perhaps from a physical standpoint you are correct. But what if it made the math easier? Then it might be better to do it that way, right?”

“Okay. Okay, maybe. So what is your point, Einstein?” she responded derisively.

Paul grinned at her and continued, “So that is more or less what happened. There was an astronomer named Ptolemy who wrote a fabulous book in the second century A.D. that used Aristotle’s Earth centered view to devise a mathematical model of the Solar System. Amazingly, it worked.”

“It worked? How could it work? That’s wrong!” she interjected.

“Actually, it wasn’t wrong, because everything is relative. We could in fact view the Earth as the center of the Solar System. And using Ptolemy’s math, the calculations all work out correctly. But here is the catch – it’s very complicated, and because of that it violates Ockham’s Razor.”

“Ockham’s Razor…what is that, some sort of cutting device?” she asked, completely mystified.

“In a manner of speaking, yes, Contessa. Ockham’s razor says essentially that if there are multiple solutions for a problem, the best solution is the easiest one that works. And that is why Copernicus’ book was so important, because it proposed a model for the Solar System that was not only as accurate as the Ptolemaic system, it was also dramatically simpler. I would go so far as to say that Newton would never have been able to come forth with his universal laws had he attempted to create them within the concepts embodied within the Ptolemaic Solar System.”

“Okay, I’m getting it now,” she responded. “So what you’re saying is that I was right when I said that the police car is sitting still.”

“Ha!” Paul crowed. He threw an admiring glance at Antonietta, and then said, “Touché, Contessa! You have captured the essence of relativity, perhaps even better than I, and you have at the same time proven your superior debating skills.”

Antonietta had by this time clearly grown tired of this line of discussion, thus Paul changed the subject, saying, “Could you tell me a little bit more about Padova?”

“Yes, of course. Let’s see, well, you may not know this. The city is sort of surrounded by various branches of the Bacchiglione River. They’re kind of a pain now, but in former times they were somewhat like a transportation network because the easiest way to travel was by water. Oh, and this is something that will interest you, Padova is filled with Roman bridges that cross the rivers and canals. I think that there are at least a half dozen of them. I don’t know their names, except the Ponte Molino, which is near where I lived.”

“Oh, that’s interesting!”

“I thought you would be interested, seeing as how you are obsessed with old things with cracks, Professore,” she replied, teasing him.

“I admit to being interested in old structures,” he responded with a smile. “What kind of shape are these bridges in?”

“Oh, they are all in excellent shape on account of the fact that they have all been rebuilt.”

“Oh, so they’re not original. Why is that, Antonietta?”

“Goodness, the pressure! Seriously, I don’t know. They were destroyed by the invading Huns or somebody. I’m not sure. Padova was more or less completely razed during The Middle Ages. That, of course, is the very reason that Venezia came into being. A lot of people moved to Venezia as a means of protection against the invaders. Since there were no hills in this part of Italy, they moved to the low lying salt flats off the coast. So as Padova declined, Venezia grew.”

“Right,” Paul replied knowingly. “This IS wonderful. I feel like I’ll be arriving in Padova much more knowledgeable about the city. You will be a fabulous tour guide, I’m sure.”

“It’s about time,” she replied insolently.

“Why?”

“You have no idea how deflating it is to be an Italian citizen being lectured in your own country by an alien!”

“Ha ha!” Paul chuckled uncontrollably.

“What’s so funny?” she answered sullenly.

“Oh, sorry, I wasn’t crowing. It’s just that, in the United States the word ‘alien’ means from another planet instead of from another country. It just sounded funny to me.”

Brightening, she responded, “Oh, okay. Well, that’s what I know about Padova, Professore. Besides, I’m not yet convinced that you aren’t from another planet.”

Ignoring her obvious jab, he volunteered, “Perhaps we could discuss our objective – the Basilica of San Antonio, as laid out in the poem. What do you know about it?”

“Not much, I’m afraid. I never paid much attention to it before now. It’s kind of strange to me. But then, most basilicas in this part of Italy are rather strange. They’re Byzantine.”

“So, I am given to understand that the relics of St. Antonio are within the Basilica. Is that correct, Antonietta?”

“I believe so. I think that construction of the church was begun immediately upon his death in, when was it, 1231?”

“Yes,” he replied, “And now, I believe that we are prepared for our visit to Padova.”

 

August 1609

 

Galileo strode down the street somewhat imperiously, impatient to see the progress that had been made on his lenses that day. His latest attempts to produce a usable perspiculum seemed to be going quite well. Up ahead he could see Padre Marco coming towards him along the street. “Buongiorno, Padre,” he said with good humor as the two converged.

Ah, buongiorno, Professore,” Padre Marco replied. “Como va?”

“Very well, thank you, Padre,” Galileo replied.

“Today is the Holy Day of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary! Have you forgotten?”

Galileo had indeed forgotten, he had been so absorbed in the development of the perspiculum, but he covered his error perfectly, replying, “Of course not, Padre. I was just on my way to service at the San Antonio.”

“Ah, then come along with me, Professore. I am just going to give a small oratory at the Scrovegni Chapel. Please, come along!”

Aware that there was no escape, Galileo fell into stride with the cleric and followed him into the chapel not far away. Once inside Padre Marco headed for the altar, and Galileo took a place among the throng that had gathered for the service. He was immediately taken by the paintings by Giotto on the walls. It had been more than a year since he had been inside the chapel despite the fact that it was so near to his house and The Bo. He had forgotten how beautiful the paintings were. Eventually his gaze went higher, to the ceiling above. Suddenly, he was transfixed. His mouth opened wide, and he said aloud, “The stars!” to no one in particular, but he spoke the two words so loudly that people around him all turned to see what the bustle was about.

Scuzate,” he said in response to the myriad of irritated stares, and he bounded from his seat into the street, thinking to himself, “The stars! Yes, that’s it. I have to train the perspiculum on the stars. God grant me a clear night tonight!”

 

1997

 

Antonietta guided Paul to the inn that she had selected for their overnight stay, and as usual, she had chosen well.

They began their tour with a short trek to the Basilica of San Antonio.

“Let’s go see San Antonio’s bones,” she suggested, and so saying, she hastened off to the entrance to the Basilica.

Once inside, Paul clapped his hands softly in surprise, exclaiming, “My, it’s lovely!”

“I hadn’t realized that you had not been inside before,” she replied.

“Nope. First time,” he allowed and, gazing about in wonder, he suggested, “It reminds me of the San Marco in Venezia, although better preserved.”

“Yes, the San Marco is quite a bit older, plus it’s been ravaged by the effects of centuries of flooding, unlike the San Antonio,” Antonietta replied.

“Look! The domes are fabulous. I’ll bet they used them like they did in the San Marco, as a means of projecting contrapuntal a cappella religious arias.”

“Yes, I’ve actually been here for a performance on one occasion,” she replied.

“Guido would be proud,” he said to himself.

“Guido?” she responded blankly.

“Guido d’Arezzo. He invented the modern musical scale in what – 1025? Something like that. He wrote a book called Micrologus.

“You are really nuts, you know that, Paulo?”

“Sorry, I’ll keep my comments to myself in future.”

“No! Please don’t stop! I am learning a great deal,” she replied with a smile, “Besides, I find it charming.”

“Oh, well…when you put it that way…” he replied, and he smiled back at her. “Come on, let’s go see San Antonio, lest we forget why we are here.”

The basilica turned out to be a veritable treasure trove of art, relics, and gorgeous architecture. But despite their best efforts they could find no clues. Finally, after an hour and a half, Antonietta, said pensively, “I’m beginning to think that our Galileo was a sadist, Professore.”

“I agree,” he replied. “The truth is – this ‘pilgrimage’ seems more and more like a wild goose chase.”

“And what, pray tell, is a wild goose chase?”

“That’s American vernacular for a waste of time,” he replied dejectedly. “Seriously, have we found one single clue from the sites mentioned in the poem, Antonietta?”

“Well, perhaps no, at least technically speaking. But think about it, Paulo. Everywhere we have gone, we have gotten just a little bit closer to solving the puzzle. So while the clues haven’t been obvious, like an inscription on a wall in a basilica, our sadistic poet Signore Galilei has nonetheless imparted some very important information to us thus far, don’t you think?”

“Well, perhaps you are right. However, I have drawn a blank in this basilica. So what do you say we tour some other spots in the city that may somehow be connected to the puzzle?”

Certamente,” Antonietta replied happily, “It’s been a while, and I do love this city.”

Together they visited the Scrovegni Chapel, as well as some of the Roman bridges that dot the city. Afterwards, they stopped in the main square for an aperitif. Paul sat quietly, his mind going over all of the things they had seen today.

“Now I understand why you said that Giotto is the Father of the Renaissance,” Antonietta said. “That chapel is amazing!”

“Don’t tell me you’ve never been in it before,” Paul replied incredulously.

“Well, er, yes, I have, once many years ago. But to be honest, I had no idea what I was looking at. When it is put in terms of the historical events of that time, it makes sense to me.”

“Ah, what did you like the most, Antonietta?”

“I suppose that it was the sense of harmony. The whole interior is laid out in an organized fashion, as if it was carefully planned out. Most of the art from that period seems to be placed somewhat haphazardly, and while the Basilica of San Francisco in Assisi is better than most, this one seems to be better still.”

“I agree,” Paul put in.

“And you know what tops it all off for me, Paulo, it’s the stars in the vaulted ceiling, those carefully placed golden stars on a background of velvety blue,” she said wistfully, as if she could see them at that moment.

Staring at her momentarily, that strange prescient look came over him. Abruptly jumping up and down in a small jig, he turned a complete circle and exclaimed somewhat redundantly, “That’s it!”

Antonietta simply glared at him disapprovingly and, glancing about to see if there were others nearby who had observed his juvenile behavior, she queried flatly, “What’s IT?” She of course recognized that this was his Padovan epiphany, but she nevertheless found his means of displaying it deplorable.

“The stars…that’s it,” he replied, “Yes, it has to be. Give me the copy of the un-Hell map that we made…no, give me the poem…no, just give me everything.”

“Okay, but you really should have at least two more glasses of wine before you try dancing again, Professore. You dance dreadfully.”

“Forget that. Just give me everything,” he repeated impatiently and, seeing her reticence, he offered, “Okay, I promise, no more dancing. Will that do it?”

She giggled hopelessly and said, “I was just kidding. Here,” at which she summarily handed the papers over to him.

He grasped them and began studying them, flipping from one to the other in rapid succession. “Ah, here it is,” he said, pointing with an outstretched finger. “Look at this,” and he shoved a sheet in front of her. It was the poem.

She took the paper and stared at it blankly, saying, “The poem…so what?”

He grabbed it back from her, glanced at it and immediately handed it back, commanding, “Fourth stanza, last line – read it.”

She counted down and then recited, “‘With semblance marked unto his sign’.” She looked up, glanced away for a moment, and then looked back at him questioningly, finally continuing, “I don’t get it, Paulo.”

“The stars! You said it – the stars! That’s it – it’s his sign in the stars, Antonietta!”

“Oh, my…” she replied, slowly absorbing the cryptic significance. “Oh, wait a minute…oh, I see. It has something to do with his astrological sign, right?”

“Exactly! The map is related to his astrological sign!”

“Whose sign?” she answered blankly.

“Read the line above it,” he replied.

‘Tracing out MS abodes’,” she read aloud. “It’s Galileo’s sign! When was he born, Paulo?”

“February 15, 1564. What astrological sign is that, Antonietta?”

“Uhm, it’s Aquarius, I’m pretty sure.”

“Excellent! Let’s go,” he chortled affably. She seemed to be about to ask where, but he was already out of his chair, striding rapidly away. “Come on!” he called to her over his shoulder.

She thought to herself, “Good thing he’s out of reach,” but then she thought better of it. “I’m coming,” she replied in apparent resignation. “Where are we going?”

“To the Bo, of course. I should have thought that would have been obvious,” and he was by now pacing so quickly that she could hardly keep up.

“Could you please slow down, Professore?”

“Oh…sorry,” he replied, momentarily slowing so that she could catch up. “I apologize. I’m just excited.”

“I can see that,” she answered, coming alongside him. “What are we going after at The Bo?”

“We need the library,” he proffered.

“Right. What do we need in the library, Paulo?”

“We need a map of the constellations, my dear contessa,” he responded patronizingly.

“I knew that,” she said, as if she really had known it. “Okay, this way – you’re going the wrong way, genius.”

“I thought we were going to The Bo,” he said impatiently.

“We are, but you were going to the old Bo. It’s gotten much bigger since Galileo’s time. There are 65,000 students at the University of Padova today. The university is spread all over the place, and the library is this way.”

“Got it,” he responded obediently, and turned to follow.

Once there, Antonietta knew exactly what to ask for at the information desk. Accordingly, within minutes they were perusing an astronomy book. “Ho, wow, look at that!” Paul said, examining a page with constellations on it. Antonietta leaned forward, and he pointed to Aquarius.

 

 

 

Antonietta stared at the constellation for a few seconds. Suddenly frowning, she inquired, “I’m confused, Paulo. Isn’t that the same picture you showed me yesterday in Roma?”

“Yes, but yes and no,” he replied enigmatically. “This is the map I showed you yesterday,” and so saying, he shoved a piece of paper towards her.

 

 

 

Her jaw dropping in amazement, she shrieked, “OH…MY…GOD!” Eventually, she blurted in confusion, “What is this? I don’t get it. This is ridiculous. This is a map of the places that Galileo lived. What has that got to do with Aquarius, Professore?”

“Exactly, Antonietta, exactly! What has that got to do with Aquarius!” he repeated with obvious elation.

“I asked first,” she shot back, realization slowly dawning on her. “This is crazy. Are you telling me that a map of the places that Galileo lived is identical to the star map of the constellation of Aquarius?”

“Yep, there it is, plain as day, I’m afraid,” he replied with conviction. “Not only that, Galileo was born in Aquarius.” He glanced at her, then looked back at the two drawings and whistled under his breath. “This just keeps getting stranger all the time.”

He then stared upward and said wistfully, “Galileo…you, you genius, you…you infernally incredibly intelligent son of a blankety-blank-blank something or other…what in heaven’s name are you trying to tell us?” He frowned piercingly at Antonietta and then imparted, “Damn, this is fun! This just might be the most fun I’ve ever had in my entire life!”

A smile slowly spreading across her face, she emitted a convivial chuckle, confessing, “I do not know the term blankety-blank-blank, and I suspect it is not English, but I can gather what you mean by it. I couldn’t agree more. At this moment I am probably more confused than I have been at any time since we found the poem, but I would rather be here than anywhere else on Earth.”

That night they dined in high spirits. Tomorrow would surely bring more confusion, of that they had no doubts. But now the confusion no longer seemed so totally confusing.

 

January 1610

 

Galileo pulled his eye away from his telescope for a moment, thereby giving himself time to recover. Gazing at the stars night after night was exhausting; he had to pace himself carefully. This night boded well, and because the Moon was in Aquarius, he was anxious to uncover new mysteries. And since he himself was born within the sign of Aquarius, he returned to his star gazing with considerable anticipation.

Scanning the sky, he decided to examine the planets. Focusing in on Jupiter, he pondered the enormous distance that Jupiter would have to be from the earth if Copernicus’ heliocentric theory was indeed correct. Squinting to help bring the image into focus, Galileo at first thought there was something wrong with the lenses on this occasion. There were three small objects encroaching on the view field, and they were strung out in a straight line emanating away from Jupiter. “Probably a reflection,” he said to himself, thus he cleaned the lenses and checked again – same thing. He carefully cast about to see if there were any extraneous lights in the city that could be interfering with his view. “No, nothing,” he muttered absentmindedly to himself. There they were, those three dots, just as before, and more importantly, he now realized that they were in the plane of the ecliptic! This was no aberration! Were these stars? He’d never noticed them before. He examined them for more than an hour. They appeared to be stationary, but since an idea was beginning to form in his mind, he drew a small sketch showing their locations and resolved to examine them again on the following evening.

 

1997

 

Paul awakened to pounding on his hotel room door, a muffled voice calling from without, “Paulo, wake up! It’s Antonietta. Wake up, Paulo!” He bounded from bed and grabbed the door without a thought, yanking it wide open. Antonietta gasped and, placing her hand over her mouth, she stood speechless at the sight of him.

Grinning absurdly, he blabbed, “What’s the matter? Haven’t you ever seen a man in his undershorts?” and so saying, he turned and grabbed the bedspread, summarily wrapping it about his torso. “Come on in, Contessa. What’s so important to make you pound on my door at the crack of dawn?”

Antonietta exclaimed, “Giovanni’s been robbed!”

It this improbable revelation Paul just frowned knowingly at her.

“Did you hear what I said?”

“Yes, I did,” at which he flopped dejectedly onto the bed, mumbling, “It’s my fault. I knew this was going to happen. I just didn’t want to believe that it might.”

“What are you talking about? You knew that Giovanni might be robbed? How?” at which she stared at him in disbelief.

Paul glanced up at Antonietta, dreading the approaching maelstrom. “Think about it, Antonietta…”

Antonietta stared at him for several moments, the forlorn look on his face speaking volumes. Her look slowly turned to realization, and then – denial. “No! It’s not possible, Professore!” she wailed between sobs.

Paul continued his silent stare, at which she slowly lowered herself into the lone chair in his room. She leaned forward and put her face in her hands, her muffled voice emitting, “Surely not, Paulo. Surely Marco can’t have done this to us. You don’t know him like I do.”

“I understand, Antonietta,” he replied, “But remember, I told you that this could happen. He may be the most honest person you know, but if the Mafiosi have something on him, then he is caught in their web and there is nothing he can do about it.”

He paused to contemplate, but subsequently added thoughtfully, “When you think about it, it is the only logical possibility. First, we meet Bulgatti, and then the villa is robbed. They must have known that when Bulgatti met us he would tip us off to the fact that they were following us. They must have been frantic to get the poem before we could get back to the villa and hide it, and Marco must have told them we had gone to Roma before returning to Arcetri. So they burgled the villa in the vain hope that the poem was still hidden there. When they realized it wasn’t there, they thought back over our previous journeys, and they were tipped off by Marco that we had left it in Ravenna. Marco was the only person who knew besides you, me and Giovanni. So it has to be Marco who tipped them off.”

Antonietta sobbed yet again, and peering desolately at Paul, she murmured, “Oh, Paulo…”

“Don’t convict your son just yet, Contessa. I’m sure that there is some explanation for his actions. Oh, that reminds me, is everything okay with Giovanni? Was anyone hurt?”

“No, they didn’t hurt them. Giovanni succeeded in convincing them that he had nothing of any importance. But he and his wife received a serious scare.”

“I assume that they did not get the poem, or that would have been the first thing out of your mouth. Am I right?” Paul queried.

Apparently recovering her senses, she agreed, “Yes, very perceptive, Professore.”

“We must go to Ravenna and retrieve the poem immediately,” she said.

“I shouldn’t think that would be a very good idea, Contessa,” he replied, but then thinking better of it, he contradicted himself, saying, “On second thought, I think you’re right. We need to remove the Bazzocchi family from harm’s way. It is our moral obligation. But you must understand that we will be placing ourselves in danger.”

“Yes, certamente,” Antonietta replied knowingly.

“Perhaps it is time to bring Inspector Bustamente into the loop on what has transpired, Antonietta,” Paul replied.

“No!” she answered vehemently.

Startled at her sudden forcefulness, Paul simply blurted, “Why not?”

“I told you a thousand times – rotten! They’re all rotten,” she wailed mournfully. “We simply cannot trust anyone, the polizia least of all. The mafia has infiltrated them like a cancer.”

“Okay, well, we should go. I think the sooner the better. There is just a possibility that they will have left Ravenna for the moment. So let’s drive there as quickly as possible. We can devise a plan in route.”

Va bene,” she replied, and without another word she turned to prepare for the journey. Two hours later they pulled the Alfa into the Palazzo courtyard, the drive through the Po valley having been accompanied by menacing clouds, roiling thundershowers, and blustering winds, weather perfectly designed to match their mutually gloomy demeanor.

Giovanni met them in the courtyard, silently offering them two umbrellas. The threatening weather seemed to have driven off all other signs of life within the normally bustling palazzo.

Buongiorno,” Giovanni blurted morosely, but it was obvious that he did not feel that it was a good day at all.

Paul replied briskly, “Yes, I wish that it were better circumstances, Giovanni.”

“Such-a is-a life-a,” Giovanni replied grimly. “Please-a, come-a inside-a.” And at this Paul and Antonietta followed, each avoiding the rainfall as best they could.

Once inside, Giovanni guided them to the kitchen, where Giovanna, Giovanni the younger, and Guido were all seated around the large wooden table, as if they had all been impatiently awaiting the pair’s arrival. Antonietta embraced each of them in turn and seated herself adjacent to Giovanna, after which the room was momentarily silent.

Seeming to sense that the floor was hers, Antonietta announced despondently, “I’m so sorry. This is all my fault. I shouldn’t have left the document with you, Giovanni,” at which she turned toward the elder Giovanni as a means of directing her contrition.

Giovanni smiled and parried, “Contessa, is-a no necessary. You-a are family to us-a, you know-a this-a.”

“Yes, I know that Giovanni. And it is precisely for that reason that I should have told you what you might be getting into. But the truth is, I didn’t know myself. Actually, I haven’t known myself just how much danger we are in until the last couple of days. And I made a mistake. I told someone that I shouldn’t have told that the document was in Ravenna, although I didn’t tell them that you had it.”

Giovanni stared doubtfully at her for a moment, but then queried, “Just-a what-a is it-a, Contessa? What-a is the document-a? What-a could-a be so important-a? Is-a drug-a money?”

“No, of course not!” she replied with emphatic denial. “You know me better than that, Giovanni!” She brushed her hair aside with one hand in obvious irritation and continued, “Look, for you own safety, I cannot tell you what it is. To know would place all of you in even greater danger. But let me reassure you – there is nothing illegal going on here. By force of circumstance I have come into possession of something that places my life and Paulo’s in danger. In fact, anyone who is in possession of it is in danger.” At this Antonietta halted and glanced piercingly at each person at the table. “So you see, it is imperative that we remove all of you from harm’s way immediately.”

Having been silent up to this point, Guido mumbled in confusion, “Why not just destroy it, Contessa? Nothing could be so valuable as to be worth jeopardizing the lives of six people!”

“I agree with you, Guido,” she replied, “But, I believe that I can speak for Professore Woodbridge when I say this – it is indeed worth it for the two of us,” and at this admission Paul silently nodded his concurrence.

Giovanni the younger now suggested, “How can we help you, Contessa?”

Antonietta turned to him and, smiling to show her gratitude, she exclaimed, “Thank you, Giovanni. Thank you!” Addressing the group as a whole, she now proffered, “Paulo and I have devised a plan. We are confident that it will both succeed in saving the document, and will also remove you from danger. However, we will need help from one of you. I am so sorry for asking this, but I am willing to reward you accordingly.”

At this the elder Giovanni interjected, “Of course, Contessa, we will do whatever we can for you. But please do not speak of money,” and it was clear that he was offended by her last remark.

Antonietta smiled apologetically and added, “I knew that you would say that, Giovanni, but I felt compelled to offer nevertheless. Please accept my apology. I meant no offense.”

At this Giovanni smiled dourly and replied, “Apology accepted. Now, let’s get down to resolving this little crisis.”

 

Three Hours Later

 

Paul and Antonietta pulled out of the courtyard, Venice having been agreed to be their intended destination. They headed towards the autostrada, all the while maintaining careful watch for anyone that might be following them. They hadn’t gotten far before they became aware of a black BMW 750i tailing them at close range. Within seconds they observed a second black car, this one a BMW 540i. Both vehicles were clearly following them, and it was obvious that they were not going to make it to the autostrada unimpeded.

As they had anticipated, at the next corner the lead car pulled rapidly to the other side of the road and cut them off, wedging the Alfa Romeo between the lead car and the trailing car, thereby bringing all three vehicles to an abrupt halt. Three men dressed in black suits subsequently emerged in apparent nonchalance from the first car, each slowly approaching the Alfa. None of them displayed a weapon, but then, they clearly had no need of doing so.

One of the men led the approach to the Alpha. He was a very large man with a shaved head, and he was adorned with dark sunglasses, thus providing the perfect embellishment to his thoroughly sinister goatee and mustache. Tapping gingerly on the window, he entreated politely, “Good day, Signore Woodbridge, would you be so kind as to roll down your window?”

Observing little alternative, Paul did as requested. The man immediately opened the locked car door from the inside and motioned for Paul to get out. Paul did as instructed.

“Hi,” the man said incongruously and, thrusting his hand forward incongruously, he proffered, “My name is Bruno. I am a friend of Contessa Antonietta,” at which Paul glanced at Antonietta, who nodded miserably in affirmation. Accordingly, Paul took the man’s hand and shook it reluctantly.

There was a brief pause, after which Bruno continued with incongruous politeness, “Please, would you be so kind as to join us in our car? You, too, Contessa, please!” and although his manner was absurdly polite, his eyes betrayed only menace. Paul could tell from Antonietta’s countenance that this was no time for sarcasm.

Observing this silent exchange, Bruno continued his oddly respectful ruse, “I am sorry to have to delay you from your holiday, Professore Woodbridge.” He smiled menacingly as they approached the lead vehicle and suggested, “Please sit in the back seat, as our guest.”

Antonietta climbed in in evident resignation, followed by Paul, and the pair found themselves sitting next to a man dressed in a fine business suit, a brown camel hair overcoat placed neatly across his shoulders. He had slicked back ebony hair, and he wore black sunglasses. Altogether, he painted an extremely sinister picture.

“Good afternoon, my dear,” he murmured softly to Antonietta, but it was clear that he did not say it with even the tiniest hint of adoration.

Antonietta glared back at him with a look of pure hatred on her face. Finally, if for no other reason than to break the tension, she said, “Buongiorno, Sandro.” At this Paul’s face flushed, but he said nothing.

“How have you been?” her former husband whispered with feigned interest and, studiously avoiding her glare, he continued without waiting for an answer, “If you will be so kind as to supply us with the document, we will be on our way, and with no harm done.”

Paul simply stared at him, carefully assessing the situation. Glancing at Paul, the Count continued smiling menacingly, eventually motioning for one of his friends to move into action. Paul watched as Bruno circled to his side of the car and opened the door on his side. Bruno smiled even more broadly and said, “I assure you, Professore, we mean you no harm. However, I imagine that you can tell that we are not the sort of persons to ‘play around with’, as you Americans say.”

Attempting to appear calm, he turned to Bruno and responded nonchalantly, “What exactly did you have in mind?”

Bruno hit him so fast he didn’t even see the blow coming. Paul slumped over in his seat, his nose bloodied.

“Stop it!” Antonietta screamed. “Stop it, Bruno! If you harm him, I will, I will…,” and her voice trailed off into nothingness.

At that moment the Count leaned over towards Antonietta, grabbed her by the neck, and kissed her viciously on the mouth. He pulled back and, shoving her forcefully away, he cooed between clenched teeth, “I’ve been wanting to do that for quite some time, my dear.”

He then smiled implacably, as if he were conversing with a small child, but suddenly he ceased smiling and whispered menacingly, “Now, give us the document, or we shall be forced to amplify our attentions.”

At this Paul staggered from the car, opened the trunk of the Alfa, and extracted a large envelope. He handed it reluctantly to Bruno, and in so doing he acknowledged, “I believe that this is what you want. Now, please let us go.”

Bruno strolled indifferently back to the BMW and handed the now blood-stained envelope to the Count, who wiped his hands and carefully opened the envelope. He subsequently removed the lone sheet of parchment and studied it for several moments.

At length he smiled broadly and observed, “Now see how easy that was, just a simple transaction among friends. Quite a fair trade, I should say. We have the document, and the only cost to you is your pride. Most equitable, if I do say so myself.” He smiled viciously once again, and, his smile disappearing instantaneously, he motioned to his colleagues to withdraw.

He then gestured for Paul and Antonietta to get out, adding pleasantly, “It has been a pleasure doing business with you both. Have a nice day!” The men immediately piled into the two vehicles and sped off.

Paul, his heart still racing, staggered back to the driver’s seat and slumped within.

Reaching toward him to apply pressure to his wound, Antonietta offered, “Here, let me help you. Lean your head back,” at which Paul did as instructed.

After several moments, he said grimly, “I must say, that went better than I expected. Are you okay, Antonietta?”

“Bruised lip, otherwise, no damage other than my pride,” she replied. “Sandro has been itching to get at me for years. He’s a born sadist. Frankly, if I’d known he would be with them, I’m not sure I would have had the nerve to go through with it. But it’s done, and we seem to both be in one piece, although you don’t look so hot, Professore.”

Futilely attempting a smile, Paul volunteered half-heartedly, “All in a day’s work.”

Antonietta stared at him empathetically and suggested morosely, “Well, now I know how to wipe that smug smile off your face. At least there is that!”

Paul grimaced in pain, and said, “Don’t DO that, Contessa. Don’t make me smile. It hurts like hell!”

“Ah, sorry,” she replied with genuine regret. “I’ll remember that in case I need to retaliate. Now, shouldn’t we be going before the polizia show up and start asking questions? Do you want me to drive?”

“No, I can do it,” Paul replied. “I’m just glad that’s over. Let’s get to Venice. Somehow, I’ll think that I will feel safer there, although I have no idea why.”

“How soon do you think they’ll figure it out, Paulo?” she queried.

“Good question,” Paul answered thoughtfully. “We may have the better of them. That parchment that Giovanni produced was a godsend. Most likely the only test they will do is on the parchment itself. If so, they’ll be fooled. I believe that it is from the seventeenth century. It’s just fortunate that the Bazzocchi’s own a seventeenth century villa, or they would in all likelihood not have been able to come up with the right kind of paper. The ink is another matter. There is no way to hide it, but they may not check it if they find the parchment acceptable. So we may have considerable time to sort things out. On the other hand, if they realize that it is a fake, then they will come after us, and the next time they won’t be in the mood to play patti-fingers.”

“What is patti-fingers?”

“It’s polite vernacular for foreplay, Contessa.”

At this Antonietta paled and, drawing her hand to her throat, she said, “Ah, yes, I see…”

 

A Short Time Later

 

Guido Bazzocchi sped northward on the autostrada in his Fiat Punto, confident that he had managed to make his getaway without being followed. The envelope rested safely in the glove compartment. He would drive all night, straight through to Zurich, stopping only at the border to obtain the obligatory Swiss autoroute pass. He gauged the time necessary to make it to Zurich. The drive would be several hours longer than in summertime, but he did not mind at all. Once his errand was completed he intended to stop over in Como and see one of his amores. His mind’s eye drew an image of the lake, shrouded in morning fog. Como was indeed lovely at this time of year.

The following morning he pulled into the parking garage in the Zurich city center and emerged with the envelope. He walked down the street a couple of blocks and, halting in front of a large multi-story building, he pulled a piece of paper from his pocket. He glanced down at the paper, looked at the sign on the side of the building, and entered through the large turnstile doors. The warmth of the interior struck him as he pushed into the lobby of the building. Once inside, he found the name plate of the bank and strolled nonchalantly across the lobby to the entrance. He pushed the door to the bank open, and as he did so, a young man in a suit approached him, saying, “Good morning, sir. Are you Mister Guido Bazzocchi?” in so doing mispronouncing his name badly.

Used to foreigners mispronouncing the family name, Guido responded affably, “Si.”

“Excellent,” the young man replied good-naturedly. “Welcome to Zurich, Mr. Bazzocchi. We’ve been waiting for you. I trust you had a pleasant drive?”

“Long, but otherwise uneventful,” Guido replied.

“Excellent,” the young man repeated. “If you will follow me this way, we shall take care of your package.”

Within minutes Guido was back out on the street, all evidence of the envelope having vanished completely. He emitted a small sigh of relief and headed for the nearest coffee shop for the purpose of drinking his drowsiness into submission. As he did so, he pulled a cellphone from his pocket and dialed a number. In accordance with his instructions, he allowed the phone to ring three times, after which he hung up.

Chapter 10

 

Venezia

 

You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him discover it in himself.

 

-Galileo Galilei (1564-1642)

 

Venezia – Late August 1609

 

Galileo stood impatiently by the railing of the small sloop, to all appearances a man of substance. Of medium height, he was powerful looking, belying his lifelong battle with debilitating ailments. His head cocked expectantly toward the wharf as the ship neared shore, a motion that was at once the mark of a man of acumen and self-importance.

The sloop pulled slowly into the dock adjacent to the Rialto Bridge, the occupants awaiting anxiously to disembark as promptly as possible. Though she had of late begun to show her age, Venezia was nevertheless a bustling metropolis of 150,000 inhabitants, most of them struggling to make ends meet in a very expensive city. What had begun in the Middle Ages as a refuge from the Huns on a series of small islands off the coast had grown into one of the wealthiest cities on Earth.

As the launch docked, the crowd began jostling and pressing forward, the entire mass exiting with astonishing haste. Ignoring the clamor, Galileo strode onto the landing and made his way directly for the Piazza San Marco. While it was indeed a gorgeous day, the mid-day sun offered no expectation of relief from the gathering afternoon heat. Were he not engaged in a mission of the utmost importance, it would have been a perfect day for languishing within this, his favorite city in all of Italia.

On this occasion he seemed to have an especially pointed demeanor in his stride. Dressed as he was and possessed of an air of supreme self-assurance, he presented an imposing persona to the passing masses. Indeed, many in the passing throng seemed to recognize him, whispering to their companions as he passed. But for him this was a day of great importance. He had no time to stop for idle chats, and it showed in his singular attitude. His manner, his dress, his pointed gaze, all seemed to say to the casual observer that here was someone not to be interrupted.

Arriving at the Doge’s palace, Galileo was immediately ushered into the waiting room. Presently, the Doge’s secretary opened the door, summarily motioning for Galileo to follow him. Upon entering the great hall Galileo found it filled with members of the Signoria. Although this filled him with pride, he was nevertheless daunted by the assemblage of power arrayed before him.

Clapping his hands together at the sight of Galileo, the Doge announced sonorously to the assemblage, “Ah, here he is! Come, Professore, come stand beside me, please. Signori, I believe that most of you already know our famous Professor Galileo Galilei, the Professor of Mathematics at the University of Padova. Today he is here to demonstrate his new invention, which he calls somewhat evasively a perspiculum. Professore, if you please, proceed.”

Galileo proceeded to demonstrate the use of the device, and all who were brave enough to peer through it immediately recoiled in amazement, completely astonished at the image within the small tube. And equally exciting for him, every one of them subsequently drew the device close to their eye a second time in order to refute the impossibility of what they had just observed through this curious device. As each viewer peered in stupefaction, the uproar in the room grew unremittingly more thunderous, developing within minutes into a staggering crescendo.

“Professore Galilei, this is most amazing!” the Doge shouted above the din for all to hear, an enormous grin spreading across his face. “You must tell us how it works!”

“Ah, that is a challenge, sir,” Galileo replied, adding mysteriously, “I am still working on that.”

Thoroughly unaffected by Galileo’s evasive admission, the Doge rejoined playfully, “And how may we use it to our advantage, Professore?”

“Sir, I have these past three weeks been thinking most ardently on that question,” Galileo replied thoughtfully, “I believe that the best answer that I can give you is by a further demonstration.”

The Doge regarded him inquisitively, suggesting, “And how, pray tell, may this demonstration be accomplished?”

“Sir, I must ask you to allow me to perform a further illustration at the top of the Campanile,” and before the Doge could deny this rather presumptuous request, he inserted cunningly, “Sir, I believe that you will see something that no person in Venezia has ever seen before.”

At this suggestion, the Doge clapped his hands in wonder, instantly exclaiming, “Ah, most wonderful! Excellent! Let us all accompany Professore Galilei to the top of the Campanile!”

While the climb was arduous for the older members of the group, each and every one achieved the objective, emerging amidst the open air of mid-day at the pinnacle of the grandest city on Earth. Once the boisterous cluster had assembled expectantly, the Doge, motioning with his hands for silence, commenced with, “And now, Professore Galilei promises us sights than no person has seen before,” and at this he rolled his eyes doubtfully, eliciting rowdy laughter from his followers. Then, holding his hands up once again, he turned towards Galileo and commanded, “Proceed, Signore Galilei!”

Without further fanfare Galileo proffered the device to the Doge, announcing simply, “Sir, the honor must go to you, the patron of the Empire. Please sir, I entreat you, hold the perspiculum in your hands just so and aim the device eastwards towards the entrance to the Lido from the Adriatic Sea.”

Thus entreated, the Doge accepted the tube and, grappling with it for a moment so as to gain the proper balance, he then slowly raised it to a horizontal position and sighted towards the entrance to the bay. Amidst a moment of anticipatory silence, the Doge examined the view within the glass for several seconds, as if searching. Suddenly he cried out, “Oh! Mio Dio! By all the saints, I can see ships! Wait a moment. No, I was wrong, I can see not only ships, I can see the flags on the ships. I can tell what the ships are carrying onboard, hours before they make port! This is incredible! Is such a thing even possible?”

He lowered the device in astonishment and opened his mouth in sheer amazement, unable to utter a single additional word. After a moment he suddenly raised the tube again and sighted out to sea. “Oh, Santa Maria, thank you! Thank you! On this day, August 21, 1609, I, Leonardo Donà, the Doge of Venezia, have seen what no man in history has seen!” He lowered the tube, smiled broadly, then added, “And now, you shall all have your chance to see the impossible, a truly once-in-a-lifetime invention. But remember, my friends, I was the first!” And at this announcement everyone bellowed loudly, jostling and shouting, pressing forward to have their chance to see this amazing new world invented by Galileo.

After each member of the signoria had taken their turns, the device was handed back to Galileo, who now strode to the north side of the tower and began to sight towards Murano, but for some reason he stopped, lowered the tube and sighted on The Clock Tower, curious to see the images on the face of the clock. He took a moment to adjust the focus, Aquarius coming into view, as if he were standing ten feet away from The Clock Tower.

For some unknown reason the image before him seemed an omen to him, thereby eliciting a silent promise to himself to take a look at the corresponding constellation in the sky that very night. After gazing a moment longer, he turned to the Doge and said, “Please sir, gaze upon the face of the clock in the piazza below.”

The doge peered carefully in the appointed direction, exclaiming gleefully, “Oh! That is amazing. It might be possible to see the time on The Clock Tower from Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore.” At this the others all turned and squinted incredulously in the opposite direction, each and every one wondering if such a preposterous assertion could possibly be correct.

Galileo cleared his throat as if to ask permission to speak, and, at the Doge’s assenting nod, he announced loudly to the entire group, “Signori, I am most honored to be permitted to demonstrate my perspiculum to you today. This device, which was invented by me, I now present to the Doge as a gift for his personal use,” and at this he handed the tube to the Doge.

The Doge clapped his hands together with glee yet again, fairly screaming with delight, “My dear Professore, you are altogether too kind!” but he nonetheless accepted the gift.

Three days later the Signoria passed a measure unanimously authorizing a doubling of Professore Galilei’s salary. Galileo had become an overnight celebrity, transcending the mere status of academic to the lofty prominence of brilliant inventor.

 

Nearing Venice – 1997

 

Paul pressed the Alfa relentlessly toward Venezia, an air of exhilaration coursing through his every fiber. By the time they turned onto the causeway that stretched from the mainland to the island, he was noticeably giddy with excitement.

“You are acting rather strangely,” Antonietta eventually observed pointedly.

“I can’t help it. Venezia always does this to me. There is no place else like it on Earth. I’m just happy, I suppose – elated to be back within her surreal grasp.”

“My, that is poetic,” Antonietta replied lightheartedly, “But in truth, I feel the same. Not only is it unique to the other people of the world, it is absolutely irreplaceable to Italians as well. How such a city came to be is just amazing in and of itself.”

They crossed the last small bridge and entered the parking garage at the Piazzale Roma – the only place in Venezia where automobiles are permitted. Once they left the Alfa they would be either pedestrians or prisoners of water taxis by necessity, just like everyone else on the magical archipelago. As they were traveling light, Paul suggested that they walk rather than take the normally crowded launch, to which Antonietta cheerfully agreed. Accordingly, the pair crossed the Piazzale Roma and passed over one of the small bridges surmounting the Rio Nuovo onto the south bank of the Grande Canal. “Which route do you prefer, Rialto or L’Accademia, Contessa?” Paul queried, glancing over his shoulder inquisitively in her direction.

“Rialto, per favore, Professore,” she replied, “After all, it’s such a gorgeous day.”

“Ha! My thoughts exactly,” he replied, now focused on maneuvering through the maze of passageways towards the Rialto bridge. After a brisk ten minute walk, punctuated by intermittent dodging of the endless stream of disoriented tourists, they arrived at the bustling market that comprised the surroundings of the Rialto Bridge. It was, as usual, crammed with such a claustrophobic arrangement of street vendors, shoppers and gawking sightseers, that their passage across the bridge was necessarily slowed to a snail’s pace. Despite the crush of humanity forestalling his objective, nothing could dim Paul’s good humor. “God, I love it,” Paul called out over his shoulder to Antonietta as he threaded his way through the throng.

Antonietta simply smiled her assent. Once on the far side of the bridge, Paul stopped in the small square. “Where exactly is the hotel from here, Contessa?”

“This way,” she replied. “It’s probably easiest to just take the Merceria directly to the Piazza San Marco and from there the hotel is a short walk.”

“Perfect,” Paul replied, “I was hoping to go via the Piazza.” It was apparent that his giddiness had in no way abated.

Once in the famous square, Paul stopped and dropped his bag, slowly turned full circle and took in the panoramic view before them. There was the Basilica di San Marco, The Clock Tower, and the Campanile that must forever be associated with Galileo. “To think,” he said aloud, “Five hundred years ago, this was at the very apex of this planet. Amazing!”

“True,” Antonietta replied, “And Venezia was no slouch even in the time of Galileo. Although her power had diminished somewhat by the early seventeenth century, Venezia was nonetheless still the most beautiful and cosmopolitan city in the world. Galileo was a truly blessed man in many ways.”

“Excellent point,” Paul replied, still circling slowly. But suddenly he halted and focused his gaze on something.

“What is it?” Antonietta queried.

“I’m just looking at the Campanile,” he replied. “That’s where he demonstrated his telescope to the Doge, you know.”

“Yes, of course. Everyone knows that.”

“We must go up it!”

“Oh, no, not again. Everywhere we go you make me climb something tall,” Antonietta responded in mock desolation .

“Ah, I take it you’ve not been up to the top of the Campanile,” Paul responded with a perceptive wink.

“No, of course not. What is there to see anyway?”

“You will be absolutely amazed, Contessa. It’s like a different world. You can never truly appreciate that Venezia is surrounded by water until you go to the top of the Campanile. And I have good news for you – there’s an elevator!”

Suddenly warming to the idea, she responded, “Well, that’s good news at least. I assume that we are going to drop our luggage at the hotel first, right?”

“Of course, there is no hurry,” he replied amiably.

“My dear professore, there is never no hurry with you!”

“Gee, I’m hurt,” Paul replied with an impish grin, “And there I thought that I had sufficiently impressed you with my ability to adapt to the leisurely Italian lifestyle.”

Frowning derisively, she opined, “I’m sure you are trying, but you have a long way to go yet, Professore.”

Throwing his head back in delight, Paul spewed forth a sonorous guffaw, immediately wincing from the pain it caused to his nose. He touched his nose gingerly, picked up his bag, and without another word, he set off for the hotel.

An hour later they were back in the square, hot on the trail of Galileo.

Paul insisted on ascending to the top of the Campanile first. Seeing his determination, Antonietta acquiesced, querying, “Why is it so important to you, Paulo?”

“I don’t know, I just think it may have some significance. After all, it is the scene of perhaps Galileo’s greatest triumph, so there may be a clue of some sort awaiting us at the top.”

They paid for their tickets and within minutes they were on their way to the top. Subsequently stepping out of the elevator into the enclosed portico, Antonietta was immediately struck with amazement. “Oh, my…Paulo…my! Now I understand what you meant. Everything is red – the red tile roofs – it’s a sea of red tile roofs, disrupted only by blue water, and here and there the dome of a basilica poking through.” She gazed in every direction, but quickly made her way to the east side. “Look, you can see the Lido! I never realized it was so close!”

“Yes, it’s only about three kilometers, but the interminably slow boat ride over makes it seem much farther, doesn’t it,” Paul replied. “Look over there, way over there,” and he pointed. “Can you see that?”

“Yes, that must be Burano, right?”

“Yes, and come around this way. Look over there to the northeast. See the island close in?”

“Yes, that must be Isola San Michele!”

“Right again – the cemetery island. And beyond that is Murano.” They both stood staring for several seconds, and then Paul added, “I don’t think that you can ever really understand Venezia until you’ve been up here.”

“I agree,” Antonietta replied. “I’ve been to Venezia so many times, but standing here, it’s like I’m seeing it for the first time. Thank you, Professore.”

Prego.

“So what are we looking for in the Campanile, Paulo?”

“Oh, we’ve already seen what we came to see in the Campanile – the view.”

“How can that help? I thought we’d be looking for clues within the tower.”

Impossibile!” Paul replied. “The tower collapsed in 1902. This is not the original tower.”

“Oh! I had no idea. Was anyone hurt?”

“No, an enormous crack started propagating from the ground up on one side of the wall, and it was noticed quickly enough that they were able to evacuate the area before it collapsed.”

“Perhaps God was watching over them,” she replied thoughtfully.

“Perhaps so,” Paul replied. “Anyway, they did completely rebuild it as close as possible to the original in appearance, but there would be no clues left behind by Galileo, if that’s what you were thinking.”

“Got it,” she replied tersely. “Shall we go down now?”

“Yes,” he replied.

When they reached the bottom, there was a long line of tourists waiting to enter the Basilica. “Let’s go in the Basilica next, although I don’t know why we should. It’ll be a waste of time,” Paul said. Nevertheless, they joined the line.

“Why? Doesn’t ‘the Lion to The Great’ refer to San Marco?” Antonietta asked, referring to the poem, but nonetheless perplexed by his admission.

“Yes, of course. Look at The Clock Tower over there. See the winged lion? The lion is the symbol of Venezia, and it’s because San Marco was the Lion to Jesus. But that’s not why I think we’ll be wasting our time in the Basilica. As we’ve discussed, it seems like in every one of the cities we’ve visited we’ve failed to obtain results from the precise clues in the poem. Yet, in every case we have come away a step closer to the solution. It’s as if Galileo is saying, ‘Look around you, because the clue is not what you think it is.’ Frankly, it’s a little bit irritating to me. I can’t tell whether he was trying to disguise his intentions from his scribe Viviani, or perhaps he was just toying with whoever happened to discover the poem, forcing them to pass a stringent examination in order to solve the puzzle. Or maybe he was just getting senile towards the end, although I doubt that very much. In any case, it seems to me that the clue, if there is one in Venezia, will most likely not be found within the Basilica.”

“Why do you say, ‘if there is one in Venezia’?”

“For the simple reason that Galileo did not actually live in Venezia. I find that really confusing. The distance to Padova is 40 kilometers, which was formidable in his time. He was apparently a real party animal up to the time he moved back to Firenze in 1610. So he may have stayed overnight often enough that he felt like he should include it in his list of ‘abodes’. Perhaps he even kept an apartment here, because the record shows that he came here often. After all, he met Marina Gamba, his paramour and the mother of his children, here in Venezia. She moved to Padova to be with him, but it stands to reason that she would have wanted to come back here quite often. I don’t know.”

“Why were they never married?” Antonietta queried pensively.

“That’s a very good question. No one seems to know for certain. What we do know is that there seems to have been a notion at that time that the pure academic was supposed to be celibate, or at least to maintain a veneer of celibacy in order to preserve the image of the scientist, nobly and unselfishly pursuing the loftiest of human ambitions – the pursuit of knowledge.”

“What do you think of that?” Antonietta asked with curiosity.

“I agree, of course,” Paul replied. “The quest for knowledge is the noblest of all pursuits.”

Antonietta laughed, and said, “That’s not what I meant, Professore.”

Paul glanced at her in confusion, and replied, “I’m sorry, what am I missing?”

Antonietta laughed yet again, responding, “I was just wondering what you thought of Galileo remaining a bachelor in order to preserve his image as the consummate academic.”

“Oh, that. Well, I think it’s ridiculous. But then, I didn’t live back then, so I can’t possibly know what he was dealing with. In my view he was quite egotistical, but then it is a very common trait for the highly gifted,” he replied thoughtfully.

“Tell me about it,” she responded knowingly, “And you?”

“And me what?” he answered, still obviously confused by her line of questioning.

“What is your position on academics marrying, you idiot!” she responded, more as an accusation than a question, clearly irritated by her perception that he was prevaricating.

“Hee hee,” he chuckled in realization of her line of thought, and, seeing her obtrusive glare, he added sheepishly, “I’m sorry, Antonietta. Forgive, me, I wasn’t trying to be evasive. I just didn’t understand your question.”

“Well?” she queried expectantly, her hands placed on her hips in obvious anticipation.

Seeing from her pose that she demanded a more substantive answer to her inquiry, Paul pondered for a moment, then replied cautiously, “Hmmm…Well, you’re asking the wrong person, because I have failed miserably at marriage, but if you ask me, Galileo was an idiot when it came to personal relationships. He should have married Marina Gamba. Had he done so, his daughters would not have been doomed to a life within the Sisterhood.”

As Antonietta continued to stare expectantly at him, he expounded, “Look Contessa, there is the brain, and there is the soul. Just because a person possesses a brain does not mean that they have less of a soul. In my view the soul is the more powerful of the two in our species, no matter how powerful the brain in any given person. Anyone who attempts to subjugate the soul to the mind is denying the nature of humankind. Men need women, women need men. Is there a more profound reality in all of humankind?”

Antonietta scowled at him a moment longer, then suddenly blurted, “Hmmph,” and, turning away from him in frustration, she strutted dismissively toward the Basilica.

”Anyway,” Paul retorted, attempting to divert the conversation elsewhere as he hurried to keep pace, “Let’s go inside and see the relics of San Marco.”

They proceeded to wait in the line, the silence engulfing both equally. Abruptly, a wistful look coming over him, Paul stammered, “Hold it…let me see the poem…”

Clearly nonplussed, she pulled the poem from her bag and handed it to him. He surveyed it for a few moments, apparently searching for a particular passage. He scratched his chin thoughtfully, muttering, “Hmmmm, this line seems to be significant. We’ve been standing in this line, and when we were up top there, we could see in a perfectly straight line, just as Galileo would have done when he demonstrated his telescope, so the word line kept buzzing around in my head. See here,” and he pointed to the last line of the eighth stanza – ‘When naught obstruct right line the stars’. The word line sticks out to me for some reason.”

“What does it mean, Professore?”

“No idea, but I think it’s important. I’ll have to think further about it.” At that moment the awaiting line of people reached the entrance to the Basilica.

After visiting the main floor Paul entreated Antonietta to follow him upstairs to a room within the second floor landing at the front of the basilica, whence he showed her four enormous bronze horses. “What the…weren’t these on the outside, above the front door to the basilica a few minutes ago?”

“Those are copies. These are the originals,” Paul replied. “These horses, believe it or not, are among the most prized possessions from antiquity. The Venetians carted them off during the sack of Constantinople in 1204 and eventually placed them out front on the balcony there. But you may not know that it is speculated that they were once on the Arch of Trajan in the Forum in Roma. And to make the story even more interesting, Napoleon stole them from the Venetians and took them to France when he defeated them in 1797, placing them on top of the Arc du Carousel in front of his palace – The Louvre!”

“I wouldn’t have wanted to be one of the people charged with moving them around back then. I’ll bet they weigh a ton!”

“Right,” Paul replied amicably.

“So, these are the originals, right?” Antonietta queried.

“Yes, absolutely.”

“Why aren’t they still in France?” she asked.

“The Venetians asked for them back after Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo, and the French were in no position to decline at that point. So here they are, and here they will stay until the next great conflagration takes them on another journey. You see, my dear, these bronze horses are immortal. There is really only one way to destroy a bronze statue, and that is to melt it down. Nobody in their right mind would do such a thing.”

“Why?”

“Because they are priceless. They are beyond priceless.”

“This is all very exciting, but what does it have to do with Galileo?” she asked.

“Good question,” replied Paul. “Actually, I brought you up here to show you The Clock Tower. There is a really good view of it from the balcony. So follow me, please.”

She followed him outside to the landing, where they were afforded an excellent view of the clock. Pointing toward the clock tower, Paul exclaimed, “That thing is perhaps even more fabulous than the bronze horses! It was built in something like 1498, and it’s been running ever since. Of course, they’ve had to repair it innumerable times, and they’ve replaced the mechanism several times as well. The original clock used weights, and as we now know, that was a quite inaccurate means of measuring time. So they had to have a full time employee to keep it running correctly, because in those days nobody had a watch, and Venezia, being the most expensive place in the world to live, it needed timekeeping to be accurate so that the frenetic tempo of commerce could stay on pace.

“So this clock was the center of the commercial enterprise in the Venetian Empire, and virtually all financial transactions occurred right in this square below us. They were collecting goods from the ships arriving from the east, and selling them to merchants who would transport them overland to the rest of Western Europe. And through it all, accurate time keeping was essential to the profitability of commerce.

“Remember that Galileo thought up the concept of the pendulum clock in Pisa. Well, eventually they installed a pendulum mechanism to run this clock. So Galileo is connected to this clock, although he wouldn’t have known that because the pendulum was not installed until well after his death.”

“I see,” Antonietta replied, racing to keep up with his rapid-fire explanation.

“Wait a minute. Wait one minute. Here we go,” Paul murmured to himself, still staring at the face of the clock. Then, turning towards her, he announced, “This could be it, this could be the clue from the poem. I’m not sure, because it’s a bit skimpy, but try this, Contessa.”

“Yes,” she replied expectantly, Please, go on…”

“Look at the face of the clock. What do the stars remind you of?” he queried.

“Oh, my…they remind me of the stars on the ceiling of the Scrovegni Chapel.”

“Exactly!” he replied with excitement. “And what did the stars in the Scrovegni remind us of?”

“Stars – a constellation – Aquarius!” She said, excitement now brimming in her voice as well.

“Right again! Now, look carefully at the clock face. What do you see, Contessa?”

She peered at the clock face, studying the golden figures within the numbered circle, “Those are constellations, Paulo!”

“Right again! This is something. We’re onto something. I’m not sure what it is, Antonietta, but we’re onto something here.”

“Why are there constellations on the clock face, Paulo?”

“That’s the way things were in Galileo’s time. The constellations were associated with the sun, and they were placed on clocks all over Europe to be commensurate with the time period that the sun was in those constellations. Despite their vehement denials, people, even highly religious ones, were deeply imbedded in a world of astrology. Thus, astrological signs were associated with time. I’m not sure what it means exactly, but this may be the clue that Galileo was sending us for Venezia. After all, he would certainly have had no way of knowing that the importance of the constellations would diminish by the time his poem was discovered.”

“What exactly are you saying, Paulo? What is the clue?”

“Give me the poem, Contessa.” She rummaged around in her bag and found the poem, handing it to him. For his part, he read, “Sixth stanza, first two lines-

 

The end result – a time

Placed squarely within his sign

 

That seems to point to a time, one related to Galileo’s sign – Aquarius. The clock merely points the way. And remember what I said a little while ago about the word line. It all seems to be connected in some way. Something is aligned, and it seems to be aligned both in space and time.”

“Like what, Professore?”

“No idea, Contessa, but I do believe that we are a step closer to solving the puzzle,” and at this he glanced towards her, his smile indicating an implied sense of success. “What do you say we have dinner in a nice ristorante and cogitate on it?” he queried in obvious satisfaction.

“I would very much prefer not to cogitate, if it means what I think it does,” she replied with confusion.

“It’s just a big word, for ‘think’, Contessa. What did you think that it meant?”

“Oh. I thought it meant something like chew or gnaw…” she replied in apparent sincerity.

At this Paul’s face lit up with humor. “My goodness. No wonder you didn’t want to ‘cogitate’!”

That evening they ate at a fabulous restaurant near L’Accademia. True to form, Antonietta knew the owner. Accordingly, they were rewarded with a quiet tavola on the second floor, away from the boisterous crowd. Somewhere near the end of their shared bottle of wine, Paul observed a sudden and ominous change in Antonietta’s mood. “What is it? What’s wrong, Contessa?” he asked with apprehension.

Antonietta was staring pointedly behind him, and, gesticulating in that general direction, she said, “Look behind you, Paulo.”

Paul turned quickly, by now assured of something unwelcoming. His suspicion was rewarded by its accuracy. Not ten feet away stood that annoying interloper Professore Bulgatti, and he seemed to be awaiting an invitation to approach them.

Sensing as much, Paul motioned with apparent resignation for him to join them. Upon his arrival, Paul said with discernible indignation, “I see that you are good for your word, Professore Bulgatti. After all, you did indicate at our last meeting that you would be around,” and, showing no intention of awaiting a reply, he continued, “Actually, I’m surprised we haven’t seen you sooner.”

At this Bulgatti responded simply, “May I sit? I will only be a few moments.”

Pointing noncommittally to a chair at their table, Antonietta replied, “Please.”

“Thank you, Contessa,” Bulgatti replied in apparent relief. Once seated he proceeded straight to the point, “Professore Woodbridge, please tell me that what appears to have happened earlier today did not in fact occur.”

“Meaning what?” Paul responded tersely.

“Oh, come now, Professore. Do not play me for a fool. I know that you were accosted by the Count’s pagliacci today.”

Paul almost laughed, but as his injured nose was still painful, he instead responded, “Clowns! They were more like goons, if you ask me.”

Bulgatti, surveying Paul’s noticeably swollen face, put in empathetically, “It appears that you are slightly injured, Professore. I hope that you are both alright.”

“We’re fine,” Paul replied dismissively.

Finally coming to the point of his uninvited visit, Bulgatti queried, “And the document?”

“Oh, they got it,” Antonietta cut in nonchalantly.

Eyes bulging furtively, Bulgatti responded, “What! I was afraid of that. I advised you to be careful!”

Paul glared dismissively at Bulgatti and replied, “So you did, and we appreciate it very much. However, there is no further need to protect us now that the document is no longer in our possession. So I suggest that you take your leave and go back to your lynx-eyed companions, Professore Bulgatti.”

At this Bulgatti’s eyes flashed and he abruptly rose from his seat. He frowned for a moment, then spat out effusively, “Don’t think that this is over yet, Contessa,” and at this he turned on his heel and bolted for the stairway.

Paul shrugged and glanced at Antonietta. Once it was clear that Bulgatti had really departed, he turned to her and said, “What was that all about do you suppose?”

Antonietta sat for a moment in contemplation, eventually replying, “Up until his last statement I had no idea, but now I suddenly have a splitting headache. It seems that as soon as we have shaken off one band of nasty scoundrels, we become attractive to another. Up until now I have been on the fence about our Lincean buddy, but now I am concerned that he may be just another one of the villains.”

Paul grimaced for a moment and then replied, “My thoughts exactly, I am sad to say.”

Accordingly, they resolved to make their exit from Venezia as early as possible the following morning.

Chapter 11

 

Roma

 

The Sun, with all the planets revolving around it, and depending on it, can still ripen a bunch of grapes as though it had nothing else in the Universe to do.

 

-Galileo Galilei (1564-1642)

 

On the Road to Roma – Winter 1633

 

Galileo emitted an audible gasp of pain as the carriage traversed a particularly deep rut within the badly maintained roadway. The coach crept southwards, the winter wind sending blasts of freezing air through the very fabric of the litter that the elderly man lay on within the carriage. Each rut, every lurch of the carriage, inflicted stabs of pain to his aching body. He wondered if he would even survive the arduous journey to Roma. He thought absently to himself, “I should not have delayed for three months. The weather would have been much preferable in October, but who could have known how adamant the Holy See would become?”

Now, in the dead of winter, he had been given the ultimatum that he would be brought to Roma in chains if he did not commence his journey immediately. The trip had been even worse than he could have imagined. Less than halfway to Roma a stench of death had begun to pervade the countryside. Here and there, rows of bodies had begun appearing alongside the roadway. The plague had returned to Italy, rampaging relentlessly across the countryside. Inevitably, Galileo had been quarantined for more than two weeks. The interminable wait had been agonizing, one part of him desperate for any possible delay, another fearing that he himself might become one of the victims.

Finally, more than a month into his journey, he was about to arrive at the Villa Medici, where his arduous trip would finally come to an end. But that would only be the beginning. He dreaded the possibilities. Surely the Holy See would not try him for heresy.

 

Arcetri – 1997

 

Paul observed as Antonietta pulled the Alfa through the gate and parked the car in front of the villa. Antonietta emerged from the car and yanked at the front door in obvious irritation, disappearing hastily within without so much as a word or a glance toward Paul.

Paul opened the trunk, grabbed their bags, and trudged up the steps disconsolately. Opening the villa door, he immediately overheard the altercation that was already underway within. “What!” he overheard Marco say loudly, and then he heard, “Don’t talk to me that way, Mama!”

Paul caught Antonietta’s muffled voice but could not quite make out the words, but it was apparent that she was more subdued than her son. Intent on staying as far away from it as possible, he ported the bags within, but his footsteps echoed in betrayal on the travertine floor.

Antonietta’s head momentarily thrust from the great room, at which she motioned to him, imploring, “Please, I need you here, Professore. Please, come in,” and her tone was one of supplication rather than command. Under the circumstances he felt powerless to refuse. Dropping the bags in the hallway, he reluctantly entered the room, whereupon he observed Marco standing near the windows, his hands grasped behind his back in palpable defiance. For her part, Antonietta had as yet progressed no further than a single step into the room, as if she somehow feared wading further into inevitable dispute.

There was a pregnant moment during which each person within the immense room glanced awkwardly at one another. Paul then offered, “Are you sure you want me here for this, Contessa?”

“Yes, please, Professore. You have been violated perhaps even more so than I.” She then turned towards Marco and accused vehemently, “We, the professore and I, were accosted most heinously by your father and his pagliacci in Padova yesterday, Marco.”

At this revelation, Marco’s look of indignation turned to one of discernible torment and regret, but he nonetheless maintained silence. Seeing that he intended no response, Antonietta continued, demanding, “Well, what have you to say for yourself?”

Marco glanced back at her for a moment, but he then turned and gazed dejectedly through the window.

Observing his obstinate silence, she screamed at him, “Say something, Marco!”

At this he turned and responded forlornly, “I’m sorry, Mama. I do not mean to ignore you. I was just trying to think of what to say.” There was another moment, during which Antonietta waited expectantly, and then Marco added, “Were you hurt?”

Antonietta frowned at him, “No, not seriously. But that doesn’t mean that we are safe at this moment.” Continuing to glare at him, she propounded emphatically, “Tell me, Marco. Tell me!”

“Tell you what?” he replied insolently.

“Don’t speak to me with that tone of voice, young man!” she retorted with rage. “Tell me what you told them. Tell me this instant!”

Glancing at her dismissively, he responded, “You know what I told them. I told them that you hid the document in Ravenna!”

At this, her eyes lighting up in fury, she broke into a brisk stride and, reaching her son, she struck him across the face. “Mafioso!” she cursed, “You are just like him. How could you do such a thing? My own son!” Having said this, she stepped back from him, drew her hands to her face, and began to sob.

Clearly fearing his mother in her current temperament, Marco silently grabbed his face, absently rubbing the rubicund hue rapidly spreading across his visage.

After a moment, during which Marco’s demeanor softened noticeably, he responded calmly, “Don’t do that, Mama. I am sorry. I did it for you.”

“You did it for me!” Antonietta replied vehemently, “We could have been killed, you stronzo!”

“That is exactly why I told them, Mama! They were threatening to kill all of us!” He plunged his hands into his pockets lamely, imploring, “I’m sorry, but I felt that I had no choice. I was afraid.”

She glared at him, a frown still etched on her face, but said nothing.

He glanced at her, and then peered through the window once again.

For her part, she continued glaring at him stonily.

Eventually, he queried hopefully, “Did they get the document?”

“Yes, thanks to you!” she croaked.

“Good!” he replied emphatically.

“What? Good?” she responded viciously, and for a moment Paul thought that she was going to strike her son yet again. But the moment passed, Antonietta continuing to maintain her silent glare.

Marco made a second attempt, this time commencing with, “Mama. As long as we had the document, our lives were in danger. Surely you could see that. Please understand. I had no choice.”

After a seeming eternity, she said to him, “You defiled your own mother, my son, and you very nearly got us killed. I can think of no greater sin that a son can commit against his own mother. If I didn’t fear a worse fate for you, I would tell you to leave this house at once and never come back. But if I did that, you would fall into your father’s hands. And that, my son, would make me no better than you. And still worse, you would grow to be no better than him!”

She now hurled the coup de grace, “Marco, I forbid you to leave this house. Now, I suggest that you think very carefully about how you want to live your life. Do you want to spend your time on Earth descending into Dante’s Inferno, or do you want to live a different sort of life? Now get out of my sight, and do not speak to me again until you have thought this through, until you are prepared to give me a satisfactory answer.”

“Yes, Mama,” Marco replied miserably and, still rubbing his face, he strode diffidently from the room.

Fearing to so much as move a single muscle, Paul stood rooted to his spot. Although he wanted desperately to say something, the power of the woman before him drained every ounce of energy from his body. Moments passed, but then Antonietta trudged slowly across the room and approached him. “Thank you, Paulo,” she said softly and, shoulders slumping, she clearly needed comfort. “I’m sorry you had to see that. It needed to be said. It has been coming for a long time, and I feared my ability to get it out without your reassuring presence.”

Staring at her, he realized that on this occasion there was nothing whatsoever to be said in reply. Slowly, ever so slowly, she inched forwards, nudging her face into his shoulder as the pair dissolved into an empathetic embrace.

 

The Following Morning

 

His head throbbing wildly, Paul awoke to the warmth of sunshine caressing his face. Realizing that he had slept late, he wasted little time in preparing to confront the aftermath of recent events.

He found her standing solemnly in the kitchen, sipping a cup of coffee in apparent contemplation, her appearance considerably less sunny than he had hoped for. Seeing her bloodshot eyes, he was convinced that she too had slept fitfully if at all.

Silently shoving a cup of coffee towards him, she avoided eye contact altogether, at which, his resolve instantly crumbling, he volunteered contritely, “I’m so sorry, Antonietta. I seem to have encroached on a family problem. Perhaps I should go home until things cool down here.”

She turned slowly and, taking a long drag on her coffee, she responded sternly, “You idiot.”

He stared at her penitently, gathering what strength he could and mumbled in dejection, “Yes, that I am, Contessa, that I am.”

She carefully placed her coffee cup on the table and, wrapping one arm around her waist, she commanded imperiously, “Just shut up, damn it. I have a terrible headache, and I think I’m coming down with a cold.”

Thinking to respond with some inane gesture of sympathy, he was curtailed by her abruptly upraised hand. Complying with her gesture, he stood silently, awaiting her next move. She took yet another long drag from her coffee, then announced, “Tis your fault, you idiot. I spent half the night trying to figure out our next move.”.”

Perception somehow escaping him, he blurted, “What the…you were thinking about the map?”

“Exactly!” she crowed in palpable triumph. “You idiot!” and at this she grabbed up her coffee and, taking another lingering sip, she eyed him silently over the rim of her cup.

Still confused, he uttered, “I don’t understand. Why?”

She simply glared at him in silent confirmation, but as he continued to show no signs of comprehending, she muttered, “It worked, didn’t it!”

Finally aware that he had been confused, he stammered in awe, “My God…I…I thought Marco was the source of your ill humor! You’re still wrapped up in our erstwhile friend Galileo!”

At this admission, she placed her coffee cup on the table, advanced slowly into his astonished embrace, repeating tenderly, “Esattamente!”

He returned her embrace, but then suddenly pushing her back, he queried in apparent shock, “Sooo, what’s our next step, Contessa?”

“Why don’t you tell me, Professore,” she suggested in feigned ignorance.

“Because I am at this moment absolutely certain that you have thought it through, and there is nothing whatsoever that I could do or say to dissuade you from your intended course of action,” he responded with certitude.

“At this she took another long drag from her cup and, eyeing him over the rim, she murmured self-assuredly, “Yes, well, there is that I suppose.”

“So spit it out, Antonietta – what’s next?” he queried in obvious resignation.

“All in good time, Paulo,” she responded and, slapping him convivially on the chest, she confessed, “I have a plan, but unfortunately I feel like hell at the moment.”

At this he chuckled, “Aw, Antonietta, anch’io – me, too! Suppose we take some time to recover,…”

“Yes, I quite agree, Professore. Tomorrow is another day. Now, would you care to share breakfast with me?”

 

The Following Day

 

Antonietta hired a team of local house cleaners to help, but as it nonetheless took two days to restore the villa to a semblance of normality, she and Paul joined in to help. She also hired two temporary guards to protect them from further intrusions.

Marco helped as well, but he and his mother continued to maintain a careful distance from one another. Only time could heal such deep and cavernous wounds.

Antonietta and Paul had reached a point in their quest that had left them both wary of venturing forth from the villa for fear of further confrontation by their pursuers. And to make matters worse, they were at a loss for the moment, having visited all of the places indicated in the long stanza of the poem.

As fate would have it, the inexorable tedium of cabin fever eventually raised its irresistible head to the forefront. Exhausted from two days of hard labor, they sat in the afternoon shade of the garden, gazing idly towards the Firenze skyline.

Paul abruptly observed, “After two weeks, we seem to be back to where we started from. Mind you, I’m not saying that I’m disappointed, Contessa. But I never dreamed that this would drag on this long.”

“I understand,” Antonietta replied apologetically. “So, you need to go home now. Is that what you’re leading up to?”

Sipping his glass of wine, Paul contradicted, “No, not at all. Actually, I think that we need to go back to Roma.”

“Don’t you have a job back home?” she replied incredulously.

“Why?” he answered, “Do you want me to leave?”

“I didn’t say that. I just don’t want you to get into trouble at your university because of me,” she responded evasively.

“Well, I don’t either, but the truth is – I probably already am. Besides, this is more important. No, that’s an understatement. This is very important. And if my hunch is right, the outcome will redeem me with the dean. At the moment I have arranged for someone else to pick up my classes.”

“Okay, forget it,” she replied in contemplation, “You have obviously thought this through. Of course, for my part I confess that I want you to stay. Frankly, I seriously doubt that I could solve the puzzle without you.”

“Thank you, Contessa,” he responded.

“So why do you think we need to go to Roma again?”

“Actually, I want to go to Capri, and Roma is on the way.” He paused a moment for effect, then added, “I’m just kidding. Somehow we forgot to visit the site of Galileo’s trial on our first trip to Roma. I think that we are very close to the solution. I can feel it, but I need one more clue. I’m hoping that if we visit the site of the trial something will come to me.”

“Where was his trial held?” she inquired.

“Well, that’s the interesting part. While most people think that there was an enormous drawn out trial, there really wasn’t. He arrived in Roma in February of 1633 after a protracted journey from Arcetri. Once he arrived he was allowed to stay at the Villa Medici for more than a month. That in itself was really unprecedented at that time. Normally, a person accused of disobedience, which amounted to heresy, would have been held, perhaps in chains, at the Castel Sant’Angelo, which was used by the Holy See as a prison. That had been the case with Giordano Bruno.”

“Yes, I know,” Antonietta responded morosely.

Paul continued with, “Anyway, getting back to my point – as was normally the case, it had already been decided by Pope Urban VIII that Galileo was guilty. Accordingly, there really was no trial at all. There was instead an interrogation which began in March. At that point in time Galileo was required to remain within the Vatican. From the descriptions, it seems that he was assigned to a sumptuous suite of three rooms not far from the Sistine Chapel. It may have even been in the Raffaelo rooms. He was even allowed to wander through much of the area that is today the Vatican Museum. During this period of time he was interrogated by Brother Vincenzo Maculano. Maculano was a stern and rigid person who had been steeled by a lifetime of Church authority. His sole aim in these interrogations was to induce Galileo to confess.”

“Confess to what?” Antonietta asked.

“Technically, they wanted him to confess that he had violated the terms of his probation set by Cardinal Bellarmino seventeen years earlier, but in reality they surely wanted to break him, so that he would confess to anything and everything at their whim.”

“That sounds dire,” she responded, “What happened next?”

“Galileo finally broke down shortly thereafter under the prolonged threat of torture, perhaps to be followed by burning at the stake. Of course, Galileo was aware that Giordano Bruno had been burned at the stake in 1600, so it’s no wonder that Galileo buckled under the pressure.” He halted momentarily, subsequently interjecting, “That reminds me, I want to go to Roma via San Gimignano.”

“Ooh, I love San Gimignano,” she replied, “Wait a minute, just exactly why do you want to go there?”

“Oh, I have a reason, and it’s definitely important. I’ll tell you when we get there.”

“Okay, whatever,” she replied, “What happened then, when Galileo buckled?”

“Another month dragged by, with Galileo growing more and more despondent. Finally, on June 21 Galileo was called to the Vatican to hear the judgment. First he was examined, and he was found to be sufficiently repentant to force a public abjuration. Of course, as we know, he was found guilty of heresy.

“On the following day he was brought before a large group of Cardinals and Black Friars at the Basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, where he was required to kneel publically. If his abjuration was deemed to be unrepentant in any way, it was implied that he would be considered to be a lapsed heretic, and he would suffer the fate of Bruno in the Campo dei Fiori. Under the circumstances Galileo did exactly as he was told, and in so doing he escaped certain death, which could well have been imposed on that very day. Because he confessed, his sentence was commuted to imprisonment for the remainder of his life.

“Whether it was more rage on the part of Pope Urban VIII at Galileo’s behavior, or fear that his continued antics might endanger the Church, we shall never know. For Galileo, the immediate danger was over, but now he had to deal with permanent imprisonment.”

“So I take it we need to visit the Vatican and the Santa Maria sopra Minerva?”

“Yes, I’m afraid so, Contessa. Otherwise, I am at a dead end.” At this he gazed despondently at the floor a moment, but then slowly, very slowly, a supercilious grin began spreading across his face.

Recognizing that grin, Antonietta demanded, “What? What is it?”

“That’s it! What a FOOL I’ve been! It’s sopra!”

Antonietta just stared at him, but since he just continued smiling inanely, she played her part, querying impatiently, “What’s sopra!”

“You know – above,” he replied proudly.

Visibly exasperated, she exclaimed, “Yes, you fool, as you so aptly put it, I know that sopra means ‘above’ in English. After all, Italian is my native language. So what!”

“Santa Maria sopra Minerva! That’s it! I completely missed it until now,” he responded excitedly.

“Right. The Basilica of Santa Maria is supposedly built on top of an old Roman temple to the Goddess Minerva. I know that, Professore,” she responded.

“Yes, let’s take a look at the poem, Contessa,” at which he rummaged around and, locating it, he read, “Ah, here it is, look -‘ And then above the utmost next’.”

Antonietta stared at it for a few moments, slowly taking it in. “Minerva…hmmmm…okay, my Greek history is not too good, but if memory serves me correctly Minerva was the Romans’ version of Athena, the goddess of wisdom, poetry, and several other things that I forget.”

Now grinning from ear to ear, he responded, “Precisely! Think about it, Antonietta. Galileo would have thought of her as ‘the utmost’. Poetry, wisdom, they are the two things that we are toiling with, two of the things that Galileo valued the most.”

“So, what are you saying? Are you saying that ‘above the utmost’ is not referring to St. Peter’s Basilica?”

“Yes.”

“So we went to the wrong place?” Antonietta replied diffidently.

“I’m afraid so. It wasn’t the first time, though. I believe I said that we need to go to Roma. I’ve changed my mind. Now I think that we must go to Roma, Contessa.”

 

On the Road to San Gimignano – 1637

 

Galileo glanced from the coach window. This was his first trip away from Arcetri since his imprisonment there more than two years earlier. And to think, he had managed to convince the Holy See to allow him to visit the magical city of San Gimignano! He had created an elaborate cover for his real reason for the trip, and it had worked perfectly. Now he would be able to meet with the French Count of Nouailles, who was in transit back to France after a visit to the Holy See. The Count would in turn secretly transport Galileo’s greatest work – Discourses on Two New Sciences – to his ardent admirer Elia Diodati in Paris.

Diodati had just the previous year commissioned a portrait of Galileo, which had been carried out by Justus Sustermans, and it had already been transported to Diodati for safekeeping. Galileo felt thusly assured that his manuscript would be safely passed into the hands of the publisher in Holland. Sadly, Galileo knew in his heart that this would be his last major scientific work, as his eyesight had begun to fail him.

Fortunately for him, his eyes continued to perform sufficiently well for the moment. As the coach rounded a curve, the beautiful towers of San Gimignano came into view. Despite the hardship that travel posed for him at his age, Galileo relished this rare journey with great anticipation.

A half hour later the carriage came to a halt in front of the city gates, and Galileo stepped down. There was a steady rain coming down, but Galileo was in a sunny mood. Little did he know, this was to be his last venture ever from Arcetri.

 

On the Road to San Gimignano – 1997

 

Antonietta took the wheel of the Alfa as they passed outward through the gates of the villa. The drive to San Gimignano was pleasant and unhurried, the countryside becoming more scenic the closer they came to the city. A scant few miles from their destination they rounded a curve, and there it was – San Gimignano – directly before them.

“That has to be one of the most panoramic views in all of Italy,” Paul gasped in recognition.

“Is this your first time to San Gimignano then?” Antonietta queried.

“No, no, I’ve been there quite a few times. But it never ceases to amaze me. Of course, there are only a few towers left today, but it’s still magnificent to see. We must go up the tallest one. Have you been up it, Contessa?”

“No, and why am I not surprised that you want to climb it? Is there an elevator?”

“Nope. But it’s an easy climb. Gets the blood flowing!”

“Whatever. Now, why did you bring me here today?”

“All in good time, Contessa. First, to the tower!” he chanted effusively, as if he were leading a crusade.

“Oh, all right, if we have to,” she replied submissively.

At that moment they arrived at the ticket window for the tower, thus Paul purchased two tickets. “Here we go,” he called over his shoulder with glee. And with that, he set off climbing the steps at a dizzying pace.

“Slow down, you maniac!” Antonietta called to his rapidly disappearing backside, which was already fifty feet ahead of her.

“Oh, come on…get your heart racing, Contessa. It’ll be good for you!” he called down to her from the open stairwell above.

“This is ridiculous,” she murmured to herself, and, resolving to ignore his insults, she proceeded at her own pace.

When she finally emerged from the tiny staircase at the pinnacle, he was awaiting her arrival, “Watch your head,” he said, “It’s a tight squeeze.”

She emerged into a small area that was divided into two halves by a large bell inside a cage. By that time he was looking out over the wall. “Look at that,” he said, pointing southwestwards, “That is the most beautiful view in all the world, Contessa!”

Following his finger, Antonietta took in the majestic scene before her. The effect on her was instantaneous and one of great pride, “It is chance to be born who we are. At this moment I feel very lucky to be Italian, Paulo. Non?”

“I would say that just about sums it up, Antonietta. I for one am most jealous. I would dearly love to have been born Italian.”

“Well said, my Professore,” she replied, “Well said.”

After they descended from the tower, they stopped for gelato in the Piazza della Cisterna, directly in the city center. “So, what did you have in mind, Professore?” Antonietta queried, for at least the third time.

“Right. I suppose that I can’t put it off any longer,” he replied doubtfully.

“That sounds ominous,” she replied, brushing back an errant strand of hair.

“I want to go to the torture museum. It’s right over there,” he said, pointing to the north side of the square.

“Oh, no, not on your life!” she responded emphatically. “I’ve heard about that horrible thing, and you will never get me anywhere near it.”

“You’re already near it, Contessa,” he replied with an impish smirk.

“That may be, but it was under false pretenses. I was duped!” she replied.

Paul responded, “I know. I’m sorry about that, but I was sure that you would refuse to even come to San Gimignano if I divulged my reason for wanting to come here.”

Touché, Professore. Your plan worked, at least up until this moment. You’re not getting me inside that museum!” she replied emphatically.

At this Paul decided to play his ace in the hole, “Please hear me out. I have a reason for wanting to see it, and I am hoping that you will join me. Can you just hear me out?”

At his supplicating entreaty she felt obliged to at least listen. Thus, she replied, “Go ahead. Tell me, what is so important inside there for me to see?”

“Okay, well, it’s pretty sickening, I’ll grant you that. Okay, maybe that’s understating. Frankly, to be honest, it’s just about the most horrible thing I’ve ever seen in my life, Contessa.”

“Then why on earth do you want to go in there again, Paulo?” she replied in apparent confusion.

“Look, Antonietta, we are on our way to Roma, just as Galileo was in the winter of 1633. He was in poor health, there was a plague, and he saw bodies stacked alongside the roadway on his journey. It was a very difficult time in Italy. And he was going to Roma to be subjected to the Inquisition!” He paused a moment for effect, and then he continued, “I don’t think I need tell you that he was aware that torture was a possibility as a part of his trial.”

“Yes, yes, I understand. But why do we need to go in there, Professore?”

“As I said, I’ve been in there, and I can assure you that you can never even begin to understand the horror that Galileo feared until you have been inside that museum.”

“Perhaps, but I do not see why I need to understand the horror that he felt. To what purpose does that serve, Professore?”

“Simple, Contessa – we need to get inside Galileo’s head in order to comprehend the deepest meaning of the poem; in order to understand what an egotistical blind man nearly eighty years old, a man who had suffered severely, would have felt compelled to tell the world at the end of his life.”

Antonietta paused, stood up, and walked over to the cisterna, turning her back to him in contemplation. Paul waited patiently, knowing that this was a difficult decision for her. After several minutes she came back to the table, showing no evident emotion that would give away her thoughts. She sat down, emitted an audible sigh, then added somberly, “I suppose you are right. I don’t want to do it, but I am afraid that I must do it. Come on. Let’s get it over with,” and with that she arose and headed for the museum.

Paul quickly joined her side, saying, “Thank you, Antonietta. I know how hard this must be for you. And I promise you, I will make sure that we only see the items that are cogent to Galileo’s trial. It won’t take long, not more than fifteen minutes.”

Va bene,” she replied tersely.

A short time later they exited into the sunlight, Antonietta appearing as if she were ill. She headed straight for the cisterna, whereupon she stopped and collapsed miserably on the apron of the well. She turned to Paul and emitted, “I had no idea. My God, Paulo, what on earth must it have been like to live through The Middle Ages? How could people do such things to other humans?”

“That, Contessa, is the fifty million dollar question,” he replied emphatically. “I seriously doubt that anyone living on this planet today could even begin to imagine what the world was like a mere four hundred years ago.”

“But the Church…” she said, almost gagging on the phrase, “The Church! How could they perpetrate such crimes in the name of Jesus. Does it not say in the Bible ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’?”

“I’m not a cleric, so I cannot say, Contessa. But it seems clear to me that there was an even greater fear at the time than the fear of violating God’s word.”

“What? What could cause greater fear than that, Paulo?”

“I can only guess – fear of eternal damnation? Really, I have no idea, my dear Contessa. But of one thing I am certain – Our Galileo’s fear amplified as he journeyed closer and closer to Roma, the realization closing in on him that he could well be treated as a convicted heretic. And heresy was the most heinous of all crimes in his day.”

“Alright, Professore, I have the picture in my mind. And if it’s any comfort to you, I doubt that what I’ve just seen can ever be erased from my consciousness,” she replied miserably.

“I understand, and I’m sorry that it was necessary,” he responded and, touching her shoulder in consolation, he recommended, “Now, shall we be off to Roma?”

 

[* The Vatican -June 21, 1633 *]

 

Galileo wandered the sumptuous hallway, here and there stopping to study one of the fabulous pieces of artwork that adorned the Vatican. On this day he spent quite a long time in the map room, studying with great interest the maps of Italia, examining carefully the depictions showing all of the places that he had lived in his lifetime, as if memorizing their geographic places within the universe. He found maps intriguing. How accurate were they when compared to reality? How could the process of creating them improve their accuracy? If one were stationed on the Moon pointing a telescope towards Earth, would Italia appear as it did in these maps?

As he wandered, his thoughts wandered as well. Despite his imprisonment, Galileo continued to feel optimistic that he would be completely exonerated. Had he not been given a sumptuous suite of three rooms? And had he not been allowed to wander through the hallways at his leisure? It seemed to him that there was little substance to the game that he had been drawn into. Indeed, in his first interrogation, he had scored several points, while the Inquisitor had failed on all counts to gain the upper hand. It was clear to all concerned that Galileo had been approved to write the book by The Holy See, and that he had not taken sides between the two world systems. And the backing of the Duke of Tuscany must surely have gained him further ground with Pope Urban VIII.

A member of the Swiss Guards approached unexpectedly, and Galileo turned to face him, realization coming over him that the guard was not simply a passerby. “Signore Galileo Galilei,” the guard announced formally, “I am sure that you are aware why you were summoned here today. The Holy Inquisitor wishes to see you at once. If you please, follow me, signore.”

At this revelation Galileo paled, but nonetheless fell into stride behind the guard as ordered. It was quite a distance to the interrogation room, and by the time they arrived Galileo was visibly distressed from the brisk walk. Stepping into the room, he bowed towards the Inquisitor, and huffed breathlessly, “Father Maculano, you sent for me?”

“Yes, I did, Professore Galilei. I am distressed to observe that you appear ill. Please sit down,” and he motioned to Galileo to be seated within the lone chair opposite the Inquisitor’s table. Galileo did as requested.

Vincenzo Maculano was a tall gaunt and thoroughly imposing clergyman who incited fear by his stern appearance. At the age of fifty-five, he was senior enough to be marked by the lines of age, thereby further enhancing his imposing visage and resulting air of unassailable authority. He sat motionless for several moments, allowing the silence to instill anxiety in Galileo. On this occasion he had decided to meet with Galileo without Father Sincero in attendance, the solitude providing a further opportunity to instill absolute trepidation in the rancorous prisoner before him.

Finally, seeing that Galileo had recovered his breath, Maculano commenced condescendingly, “Have you taken the opportunity to repent your failures since our last meeting, Signore Galilei?”

Looking somewhat surprised, Galileo replied, “My failures?” He contemplated for a moment in an attempt to discern the meaning of this unexpected query. Hoping to buy time, he continued evasively, “Why yes, Father. As all men are subject to failures, I confess that I have mine. And the time that The Holy See has so graciously afforded me within these most sacred walls has given me pause to consider my failings.” He sat back in his chair confidently, certain from the Inquisitor’s reaction that he had scored the first point.

Maculano quickly covered his surprise with a coolly dejected appearance. After a few moments, he responded with, “In our last meeting you did not appear to concede those failures, Signore Galilei. Will you now confess those shortcomings?”

Galileo sat up straight. He had been prepared for this approach. “Yes, Father, I do confess most humbly that I did perhaps overstate the defense of the theory of Copernicus in my recent book. I offer most humbly to alter the manuscript, appending an additional chapter denying in great detail the veracity of the sun-centered theory.”

At this, Maculano pounded his fist on the table, and exploded with rage, “Sir, you miss the point ENTIRELY!”

At this unexpected outburst Galileo cowered in fear, withdrawing as far as he could into his chair. He peered about, as if seeking help to come to his aide, but there was none. “Sir, I must apologize most sincerely. Please be so kind as to instruct me in the error of my thoughts that I may better serve you and the Holy Father.”

“Signore Galilei, do not pretend to play games with me. We are not engaged in a game of chance, or even a duel of words. We are here for the purpose of determining one and only one thing – the salvation of your soul. Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, Father,” Galileo replied contritely, a wave of terror now overcoming him. “Perhaps the Holy Father himself could instruct me personally in the error of my ways?”

At this Maculano exploded yet again in rage, “The Holy Father is at Castel Gandolfo. He is thoroughly disgusted with this entire episode. He wants the problem dispensed with immediately!”

Confused, Galileo replied somewhat stupidly, querying, “Problem? What problem, Father?”

“You, Professore! You are the problem!” and at this he pounded yet again on the table for effect.

Galileo was thoroughly undone by this unforeseen change of course. All hope of escape now abandoned, he could do nothing more than await the next move by the Inquisitor.

Maculano sat silently for a full minute, allowing fear to seep more deeply into every fiber of his arrogant transgressor. Finally, he spat out condescendingly, “Tell me about this character Simplicio, Professore Galilei.”

Still further confused, Galileo replied contritely, “He takes the side of the Earth centered universe in The Discourse, Father.”

Maculano raised his hand to pound once more, but this time he simply held his clinched fist aloft, as if preparing for the next blow to fall other than on the table. With his hand still raised, he screamed irately, “You have defiled the Holy Father, Signore Galilei. It is obvious to one and all, Simplicio plays the part of the Pope!”

At this Galileo grabbed his throat, fell to his knees, and screamed, “No Father!” Catching his own tenor, he murmured quietly, “I apologize most abjectly for my outburst, Father. It is just that it is completely false. I meant no harm to the Holy Father. I hold him in the highest possible regard. He has always treated me with great kindness. He is indeed worthy of his role as the Messenger of God. Please, I beg you, please inform him – this vicious rumor is completely false!”

Maculano gazed implacably at the now nearly prostrate man before him, sensing that the breaking point was near at hand. “Go on,” he said condescendingly.

Galileo glanced up at the Cardinal and replied, “Go on, Father?”

Maculano simply stared menacingly downward toward the recoiling offender before him.

Gathering his thoughts, Galileo summoned up one last line of defense, “Father, it was the peripatetic Cesare Cremonini. He was the model for Simplicio! I swear on my faith in God, the Holy Father was never in my mind as such. May God strike me down if I speak falsely, Father.”

Maculano stared a moment, and then said, “Even so, the Holy Father doubts your sincerity, Signore Galilei.”

Stunned by this revelation, having had no idea whatsoever that this was the source of his incarceration, Galileo now realized that it had been his old foes, the Jesuits. Clearly, they had gotten to the Holy Father. Dejectedly, he thought to himself, “The game is up.”

Maculano paused a few moments for further effect, then he carefully placed two devices on the table, at which Galileo’s eyes grew wide in fear and desperation. “Professore, do you know what these are?”

Unable to speak, Galileo immediately turned pale and clutched at his chest.

“I repeat, Signore Galilei – do you know what these are?” As Galileo could only move his mouth silently, the Inquisitor continued with a wry smile, “This one we call the nutcracker. It is sublimely satisfying to experience the change in demeanor of those who are awarded the opportunity to experience her tactful interrogation skills. While indeed no one has actually been rewarded with death as a result of her tender ministrations, her skill at extracting truth has never failed.”

Growing increasingly pallid by the moment, Galileo now hunched forward, desperation searing every fiber of his body.

Maculano placed the device back on the table, and gingerly lifted the other one. “Surely you know what this device is, Signore Galileo!” he said with an eerily macabre smile.

Galileo gazed solemnly upwards to the ceiling and, eyes bulging as big as saucers, he studiously avoided eye contact with the feared device.

Sensing the end game, Maculano continued, “This one is my favorite. It is actually the original, the one used on the heretic Bruno. Look here, see?” and, despite the fact that Galileo was so obviously looking elsewhere, he pointed to a part of the device. He then offered pleasantly, “This is the part that was used to clamp his jaw shut. And see these, they are spikes. One was driven through his tongue, the other through his palette, and both were attached to the clamp. Needless to say, Brother Bruno was utterly speechless at his immolation in the Campo dei Fiori.”

By this point Galileo was weeping and, soft sniffling emanating from him, he was at long last acutely aware that his fate rested on the whim of the ghastly person before him.

Maculano rose from his seat, slowly circumvented the table, and placing his hand ever so delicately on Galileo’s head, he whispered soothingly, “Now, my son, I must ask you to lay prostrate on the floor.” Galileo jerked and gagged, at which Maculano commanded softly, “Hush, my son. There, there, now do my bidding.”

Galileo slowly leaned forward, collapsing as if in slow motion face down on the floor.

The Inquisitor, satisfied with this acquiescence, thus returned to his place behind the table. He sat for several minutes in silence, allowing the totality of his authority to sink in. Finally, he said gently, “Signore Galileo, The Holy See has found you guilty. Your sentence will be similar to that of Brother Bruno.” Halting for several moments to enhance the gravity of the moment, he then suggested, “There is but one means of assuring your salvation from the Inferno. Shall I tell the Holy Father that you wish to avail yourself of such?”

There came a muffled sob, and the voice of Galileo, nearly unrecognizable, was heard to say, “Yes, Father. I do. I most humbly ask forgiveness of the Holy Father.”

“And?” Maculano prodded.

“And I confess my sins. I confess to everything, Father.”

 

1997

 

Antonietta and Paul stood as if transfixed in the Piazza della Minerva in downtown Roma. Eventually breaking the solitude, Antonietta asked, “So, where do we begin, Professore?”

 

He surveyed the impressive sight before him, saying, “Imagine if you can the sheer terror of Galileo on that fateful day of June 22, 1633, when he entered here and, forced to fall to his knees before the Cardinals and the Black Friars, he recited his abjuration. The Campo dei Fiori, the site for burning lapsed heretics at the stake, is only a few steps from here. The magnificence of this basilica, the omnipotence of the Holy See – it must have never seemed more powerful to him in his entire life than at that moment.”

At this Antonietta crossed herself, but said nothing. Eventually breaking their mutual introspection, she inquired, “What do you suppose we are looking for, Paulo?”

“I’m trying to relate to two things here. First, we have the poem. Second, there is the abjuration of Galileo. Let’s start with the poem. Suppose we see the crypt of Santa Caterina first. That is clearly related to the poem.”

“Yes, of course. She is this way, if I’m not mistaken.” Paul followed Antonietta, and they were quite taken by the solemn tomb. Unfortunately, the site brought nothing to mind for either of them.

Having failed in yet another basilica, he suggested, “Shall we move on to the next stop, Antonietta?”

“Of course,” she replied. “Where to now, professore?”

“The Pantheon, of course. Might as well, it’s right around the corner from here.”

“Yes, I’d like that,” she replied. “Why don’t we have lunch on the square before entering?”

“Excellent idea, Contessa. After all, it is a lovely sunny day in Roma.” They picked a spot at one of the outdoor ristorantes, sharing a delicious lunch. It felt and tasted to Paul like heaven on earth.

“So, what ideas did you get from the Santa Maria, Paulo?” Antonietta asked cheerily.

“None whatsoever, I’m afraid,” he replied with a forlorn smile.

“Then why so happy, Professore?”

“How can one not be happy in such a setting, Contessa?” he asked, more as a statement than a question. “Besides, it will come to me. Each time we make one of these ‘pilgrimages’, as our sadistic poet Galileo has put it, we stumble about, confused for a time, unable to ascertain anything at all from the clues within the poem, and then – voila! – something seemingly totally unrelated comes to one of us.” At this he smiled at her and continued, “So, not to worry, my dear Contessa. There will be a sign, of that I am quite certain. After all, one need endure.”

Briefly irritated by his air of superiority, she murmured as if to herself, “Says the world famous professor to his captive audience.”

“Ha! Nonsense, Antonietta. Surely you must know by now that this is THE experience of a lifetime! At least, it is for me.”

Surprised, she replied, “No, well actually, certainly it is for me as well, but I hadn’t assumed that it was that important in your case.”

Paul reached over, squeezed her hand amiably and offered, “My dear contessa, nothing evenly remotely this exciting has ever happened to me in my entire life. My goodness, I am sitting in front of the Pantheon, the most important Roman structure on earth, eating a fabulous lunch with a gorgeous contessa while discussing a long-lost poem written by Galileo. I ask you, is that not a dream of a lifetime?”

Antonietta smiled, pleased at his remarkable insight, not to mention the rather obvious flattery, and said, “Nice recovery. I am flattered, but I have a question – why did you say the Pantheon is the most important Roman structure? I thought that distinction was held by the Coliseum.”

“Right, well, it’s just an opinion.”

“No one will ever accuse you of failing to have an opinion, Professore. Please…continue.”

“Certainly. To begin with, you have to remember that I am an engineer. As I said, the building before us is in my view the most important structure ever built on Earth.”

“Really. Why?” she queried in apparent surprise.

“Well, there is the obvious reason that we already discussed. Brunelleschi came here in the early fifteenth century, and he studied the dome on the Pantheon before building the dome of the Santa Maria del Fiori – the dome that sparked the Renaissance. But there is more, much much more. First, look at the columns.”

“Yes?”

“Those columns are the largest set of granite columns on earth. They each weigh sixty tons, and guess where they came from.”

“No idea,” she replied, not knowing where this was going.

“Egypt – they were quarried at the Mons Claudianus in eastern Egypt and then carted down the Nile by barge, ported across the Mediterranean by ship, and then by barge from the port of Ostia to Roma. The building was commissioned by the Director of Public works, one Marcus Agrippa.” Pointing toward the entrance, he observed, “See the letters on the portico – ‘M Agrippa’!” He halted for a moment to allow her time to scrutinize, and then he continued with, “Marcus Agrippa was Octavian’s best buddy. And you know who Octavian was, right?”

“Yes, of course. Everybody knows that. He was Julius Caesar’s nephew, later to become Augustus, the first Emperor of Roma.”

“Right. Finished with your lunch, Contessa?” he queried, “I think it’s time to go inside.”

“Yes, I’m ready.”

At this Paul tossed some cash on the table and they set off across the square. Once inside, Paul immediately looked skywards and pointed, saying, “And that, Antonietta, is without a doubt the single most amazing engineering feat in history – the dome!”

 

 

“Yes, I do know that much,” she replied, “But why?”

“It’s made of concrete, and it is the largest unreinforced concrete dome ever built on Earth. Somebody must have had to carry a whole lot of concrete up there, not to mention the formwork.” He paused for a moment, staring upwards at the brilliant sunlight filtering through the oculus, the large circular opening in the center.

Suddenly, the look on his face changed, and Antonietta could immediately discern from recent experience that some amazing new revelation was about to be forthcoming.

“What is it? What is it, Paulo?”

“My god, it’s an epiphany, that’s what it is, Contessa! Look at that…just look at that!” and he was staring intently at the dome above them.

“Look at what?” she replied.

“The dome,” he stared upwards, “That’s it, the Sun! The grid-like pattern. That’s it. It’s a solar map! Firenze is the center, and the center is the Sun. It’s not the seven levels of Hell, it’s a solar map.”

Antonietta stared skyward, taking it in. “Yes…yes, I think I get it, Professore. Galileo’s map with the circles is a map of the solar system.”

“Exactly, Contessa – a Sun-centered solar system – the ultimate cause of Galileo’s demise at the hands of the Catholic Church.” Now obviously deep in thought, he continued staring at the dome for a few further moments. Then he turned to her and said, “This is it. We have it. Now I know what to do. We must go back to Arcetri. I have work to do. I must do some calculations.”

“Of course,” she replied, suppressing a grin. “Do we have time to stay overnight in Roma?”

“Certainly,” he replied pleasantly, “And tonight we celebrate the breaking of the code.”

Still uncertain as to exactly what they had discovered, she responded affably, “Absolutely!”

Chapter 12

 

Arcetri

 

To be blind is not miserable; not to be able to bear blindness, that is miserable.

 

-John Milton (1608-1674)

 

Arcetri – 1637

 

Galileo settled into his favorite chair within the garden and, carefully aligning his telescope, he began the tedious process of searching skyward. He had built a cradle to hold it in place because the object that he was searching for was quite small and distant. He ranged along the plane of the ecliptic, then focused in on the tiny speck, and, as expected, it was right where it should be. He had first sighted the object in 1611, and at the time he had not had the foresight to measure its exact location in the ecliptic. Fortunately, he had come across it later that summer, and he had taken measurements several nights during the month of July, establishing that it had perhaps moved, but only slightly. At the time he had thought that it must be a star despite its apparent movement. But over the course of time he had continued to follow it, and he was now certain that it was moving, most likely in some sort of orbit. And now, after more than twenty-five years, it had moved a great distance across the sky. Of course, it had to be a planet. There was no other possible explanation. He was now certain that there were indeed seven planets circling the Sun. Unfortunately, there appeared to be no way for him to divulge this information publically, as to do so would mean certain death at the hands of the Inquisition.

Fortunately, he had been thinking for some time on a means of divulging his recent discoveries to the world, and now that his textbook was in the hands of Diodati, he could turn all of his energies toward the problem of announcing his penultimate discoveries to the world. Sadly, these revelations would necessarily have to be posthumous, but had not Copernicus taken more or less the same approach? And had not his place in history been ensured by his magnificent text, a text published as he lay on his deathbed?

He drew his eye back from the telescope and pondered the poem that was beginning to take shape within his mind. After a few moments he recommenced his heavenward search. He decided for some reason to search above the ecliptic, something that he rarely did. He slowly swept across a small section of the night sky, encountering darkness. Suddenly a tiny object came into view that seemed unusual to him. “What could it be?” he thought to himself. It had a strange elongated shape, not unlike a comet, but it was too far away to be certain. Furthermore, it seemed to be somewhat shadowed, unlike the comets of 1607, 1618 and 1623. He resolved to observe it on subsequent occasions, weather permitting.

 

Arcetri – 1997

 

Paul studied the parchment with the concentric circles on it for what seemed the thousandth time, whereas Antonietta peered in exhaustion from the window, the picture of utter dejection. They had retrieved both drawings on their way back to Arcetri from Roma, but Paul had by now begun to suspect that he was slowly losing his mind.

And here they were, having completed the pilgrimage, following Galileo’s instructions, while not exactly in the intended order, at least as best they could. True, they had been able to decipher most of the details within the poem, but there remained some great mystery, of that Paul felt certain. The immortal Galileo would not have gone to such great lengths simply to predict the fall of The Leaning Tower and show that his homes and Aquarius aligned coincidentally. Something was still missing, something most assuredly profound…

Suddenly lunging from his chair, he exclaimed, “Wait a minute! Where is the smaller piece of paper we found in the credenza?”

Antonietta stared vacuously at him for a moment, but eventually catching his meaning, she rummaged around for a moment and said excitedly, “Got it! I had forgotten about it, but it was right here on the desk the entire time, stuffed between some pages in this stack of paper. Lucky for us the thieves didn’t know what it was when they ransacked the villa last week.”

Paul took it from her outstretched hand and placed it on the desktop next to the other pieces of paper. “Just as I remembered,” he mumbled to himself.

Also focused on the pieces before them, Antonietta inquired, “So, why did you want the smaller piece, Paulo?”

“Look, Antonietta,” and he placed it over the one with the concentric circles drawn on it. “I never noticed this before, but there is a pin hole in this little piece of paper. There also happens to be a pin hole in the larger one. Now, watch what happens when I line up the pin holes one on top of the other.” He placed the smaller piece over the larger piece of paper, and proudly stood back to ponder it.

Antonietta stared at it and, glancing blankly toward him, she eventually threw her hair back in that imperious way of hers and exclaimed tersely, “I don’t get it…”

“Do you have a straight pin? Get me a straight pin, please, and I will show you.”

She rummaged around once again, this time locating a pin inside the desk drawer, which she summarily handed over to Paul. He deftly inserted it through the smaller piece of paper, and then, threading it through the pinhole in the larger piece, he subsequently pinned both pieces to the desktop. He thenceforth stood back and announced in awe, “Our Galileo was a genius!”

Though she was still confused, she nonetheless held her composure, trying to make sense of it. Suddenly, she brightened and burst forth with, “Oh my goodness, it’s a circle-drawing thing, una bussola. What do you call it in English?”

“A compass! The old man obviously had no implements for drawing. He was blind, after all. Imagine him, slaving in the dark, perhaps even in the middle of the night, tracing out these concentric circles for the ages. It’s amazing, Antonietta!”

“But how do you know he drew it when he was blind, Paulo?” she asked.

“Look at the other drawing, the one of the Leaning Tower. By comparison, it is very neat and precise. And it is clearly a much more complicated drawing than the circular one. From that we can conclude that he drew the tower drawing before he went blind, and he obviously drew the one with the circles after he went blind. The extraneous blots and marks would seem to confirm that.”

Seeing his point, she gazed at the circular drawing with newfound admiration. “Look,” she said, pointing downward, “The ink-stained holes in the smaller piece line up with the circles. He must have carefully punched holes for each of the radii that he wanted to construct, and then used the paper, sort of like a string, to draw the circles.”

“Exactly,” Paul replied with evident satisfaction.

“Okay, that explains how he drew it,” she observed, “But I still have no idea why he drew it, Paulo.”

“My dear contessa, it’s the solar system! Remember the Pantheon yesterday?”

She stared at him, and then, glancing back toward the drawing, she blurted in confusion, “What the…but why? What?” She moved closer and, carefully examining the drawing, she blurted, “But wait, there are only seven circles! That doesn’t make any sense.” She thought for a moment, and then she added, “Wait, there shouldn’t be nine. There should be SIX! There should only be six circles, Paulo. Nobody knew about Uranus, Neptune and Pluto in Galileo’s time. What the…what are you talking about?”

At this observation Paul, now regarding her with bona fide admiration, posited, “My dear contessa, you are quite correct – no one on Earth knew about the seventh planet at that time save one person – our messenger, Professore Galileo, the Starry Messenger.”

“I don’t understand,” she replied blankly.

“There is no reason that you would know this, as few people do today, but our Galileo actually discovered Neptune. He observed it in 1611. It is a matter of record. Unfortunately, as far as anyone knows, he was never able to confirm his discovery, at least, not until now. It was more than two hundred years later that Urbain le Verrier and John Couch Adams received the credit for separately discovering Neptune. But if my hunch is correct, here we have proof that Galileo actually did discover Neptune. I will have to do some calculations, but I believe that this map of the solar system proves it.”

“So that’s what all of this has been about – the discovery of Neptune?” she murmured in obvious disappointment.

“Not at all, Antonietta,” he responded with a wry smile. “There is much more here than that.”

“Like what, Paulo?”

“Well, take a careful look at the marks on the circles next to the letters on the map. As we know, the marks are carefully drawn so as to cross each circle at a specific angular location. How a blind man managed to draw those marks exactly where he did, I’m afraid I do not know, but their locations are clearly important. Based on what we have learned thus far, everything, absolutely everything our Galileo included both in the poem and the drawings is of the utmost significance.”

Still visibly perplexed, she inquired, “Hmmm…any ideas?”

“Actually, yes, but I need some time to examine it further. Suppose we have dinner, and then I shall consider it in further detail.”

 

1638

 

Galileo was propped up in bed, playing his lute in harmony with a bird’s melodious song emanating from the garden. There came a soft knock at the door, at which Galileo commanded in a strong clear voice, “Enter!”

At his calling Vincenzo Viviani strode in and began padding his way closer to Galileo’s bed when the Great Man announced, “Ah, Vincenzo, good morning!”

Observing the blind man before him, Vincenzo replied, “There is no fooling you, Professore!”

“Simple, Vincenzo – I recognize your footsteps. It seems a fine day today, I believe that I can feel the sun shining. Am I right?”

“Yes, sir, a glorious day. But I fear it will be hot this afternoon,” Vincenzo replied.

“Well, we shall deal with that when it happens, eh, Vincenzo?”

Sensing that the Great Man was feeling better today, Vincenzo hazarded a question, “So, how are you feeling today, Professore? Has your pain subsided?”

“Yes, I believe that it is better today, but just to be safe, I believe that I shall stay here in bed for a while yet just to be certain.”

“Yes, sir. Shall I prepare something for you to eat, then?”

“Why yes, that would be nice, Vincenzo. And a cup of tea, if you please.”

“Yes, sir. Er, Professore, you have a visitor this morning.”

“A visitor? Is it my son?”

“No sir, an Englishman, his name is Milton – John Milton. He looks to be about thirty years of age. He says that he was educated at Cambridge.”

“Milton? Do I know him?”

“No sir, I believe not. He says that you have never met.”

“Hmmmm, does he have permission from the Holy See to visit me?”

“Yes, sir, he has a letter of transmittal from the Grand Duke.”

“Well then, he must be someone important. Otherwise, The Holy See would not permit it. I suppose that I must see him. Please, Vincenzo, bring him to me, and bring him some tea as well.”

Vincenzo returned a few minutes later carrying a tray, followed by a young man. As Galileo could hear dual footsteps, he thrust out his hands as the pair approached his bed and said in Latin, “Ah, so here we have Mr. John Milton. Sir, it is a great pleasure. I have of course heard of you.”

“Thank you,” Milton replied in perfect Italian. “Sir, the honor is mine. I am truly honored to meet The Starry Messenger, indeed the finest mind of our time,” and he cupped Galileo’s hands between his own, bowing as he did so.

At this supplication Galileo grinned broadly and, accepting the young man’s accolade pleasantly, he responded, “He has a firm grip, Vincenzo! And his Italian is perfect. We have a highly educated guest all the way from England. It is indeed a beautiful day! Come, Mr. Milton, please sit down.”

Milton did as instructed, saying, “Thank you, sir.”

“And what brings you to Italy, young man? Surely you did not come all this way to see this tired old man!” and he was smiling as he said this.

Milton smiled in return, responding, “I suppose I could say that, but I believe that would seem far-fetched. Let us say that my journey has many objectives, not the least of which is accomplished on this day.”

“Well said, my dear Mr. Milton. Spoken like a man of letters, perhaps even a philosopher, but I believe that I detect within the strong temper of your voice the sound of a poet. Tell me, do I strike close to the mark, Mr. Milton?”

“Why sir, that is remarkable. I should hope so. I should dearly hope to acquire that title someday, but for the time being, let us say that I am merely a young traveler seeking truth.”

“Ah, truth, there is a fickle talisman if ever there was one, my dear Mr. Milton.”

Milton smiled at Galileo, then becoming serious, he exclaimed, “Sir, may I say how sorry I am that fate has dealt you so unfairly, as your recent book, completed under the direst of circumstances, is indeed a beacon for the world to admire. Rest assured that in my country your achievements are greatly revered, and your unfair treatment reviled universally.”

Still smiling, Galileo now replied circumspectly, “Thank you, my son. Kinder words were never spoken to me. Your words flow over me like a salve that soothes the wounds of time. As I hasten towards the finale of my life, I have many personal regrets, but nary a one in the realm of science. It is comforting to know that someone, somewhere, appreciates my successes, however small.”

The two hit it off ever so convivially. The day was a joy for the Great Man, being perhaps the ultimate time in his life that he experienced the challenge of an intellect comparable to his own. Unfortunately, as is so often the case when one enjoys oneself, the time passes all too quickly. Such was the result on this occasion.

And when it came time for Milton to depart, wearied by the meeting, Galileo was nonetheless buoyed by the interaction, saying, “My dear Mr. Milton, I see great things in your future. I wish you well in your journey, and I hope that you shall remember this tired old man with happiness in future.”

“Sir, it has been a most profound day for me as well. And rest assured – the profit is all mine. I shall not only remember, but I shall revere our meeting so long as there is breathe within my soul.”

“And I, too, my son…I, too.”

Milton now arose, shook Galileo’s hand, and turned to depart. As he did so, Galileo could not resist one last comment. “Mr. Milton, I believe that I can entrust you with a great secret, can I not?”

“Most assuredly, sir, most assuredly,” the younger man replied.

“Then carry this within your heart – When naught obstruct right line the stars! And may God be with you, my son.” And with that, John Milton strode silently from the room.

 

1997

 

Antonietta found Paul ensconced within the study busily working away on some mathematical problem that was clearly quite complicated, as evidenced by the mass of crumpled and scattered pages spread randomly over the desk and adjacent floor.

Scrutinizing one of the pages, she observed, “My goodness, we have been busy, have we not, Professore?” and at this she examined the sheet of paper carefully, querying, “What on earth is this, Professore?”

 

 

“No, it’s not on Earth at all,” he replied vaguely.

Ignoring his apparent condescension, she asked, “What, pray tell, is it then?”

“It’s the orbital period of each of the planets,” he replied matter-of-factly, as if it should have been obvious to anyone. And without looking up, he continued studying his calculations.

“And do we have something to show for this gigantic mess, my dear Professore?”

Paul glanced up absently, gazed about him at the enormous disarray, and replied sheepishly, “Oh, sorry…,” punctuating his response with an apologetic grin. Scratching his unshaven face pensively, he announced, “I think that you will forgive me, Antonietta, when you hear what I have to say. But first, might I have a cup of your fabulous Italian coffee? Perhaps a double shot?”

Antonietta nodded her compliance and without a word she set off to fulfill his request. Returning minutes later, she found that he had mysteriously cleaned the mess away and now held a single sheet of paper, along with the pieces of Galileo’s puzzle.

“So, have you figured out the solar system, Professore?” she asked glibly.

“Yes, of course, Contessa,” he replied with a smile, “To put it in a nutshell, our Galileo seems to have forecast the end of time as we know it.”

Nearly dropping her coffee at this inconceivable revelation, she spluttered, “What?” But quickly regaining her composure, she asked in complete amazement, “What are you saying, Paulo? Was our Galileo out of his mind? Was he senile? Have we wasted our time with all of this?”

“No, not at all,” he replied sunnily. “His approach to the problem was quite scientific, and ingenious, if I may say so myself. And while his conclusion is suspect, it is nonetheless unsurprising given the enormity of his discovery.”

“And what might that be?”

“Well, it will take some explaining, but basically, using astronomy and astrology together, Galileo seems to have concluded that The Leaning Tower of Pisa will fall on the same day that the Universe will end. Or maybe it’s just the Galaxy, or maybe it’s only Earth itself, but I doubt that it makes the slightest difference to the inhabitants of this planet.”

Antonietta’s face drained of all color, and, grabbing her throat in fear, she appeared unable to utter a single word.

“Oh, I wouldn’t be too concerned,” Paul interjected, “The scientists in Galileo’s day all thought that they were prophets. Newton was the most outrageous of all. He predicted that the world would end in 2060. At any rate, we’ll either be dead or very old when the end comes, even if Galileo is correct.”

“When did he say the world would end?”

“July 25, 2034, at 8 P.M. GMT. Actually, I added the time of day. Nice touch, don’t you think?” he posited with a ludicrous grin.

Ignoring his absurd addendum, she stated with equal absurdity, “Well, I’m going on a cruise or something on that day, that is, if I’m still around then!”

They both laughed at this somewhat airy statement, Paul querying inanely, “Can I come with you?”

Ignoring the innuendo, Antonietta asked pensively, “So how did you come up with all of this, Professore?”

“It’s really very simple when you understand the message. It’s all in the poem, but it is somewhat intricate until you understand it.”

“So tell me, my Professore…tell me everything.”

“Alright. I was stumped, as you know, but last night I decided to read back over the poem carefully. I discovered that we had made an error in translation, or actually, we just misread Viviano’s handwriting. Our mistake is in the last line, ‘ Dear Lord embrace this lamb forsaken’. The key here is that the Italian for this lamb is ‘questo agnello’, whereas the Italian for these lambs is ‘questi agnelli’. The only difference is the letter o is changed to an i on the ending of both words. Now, look at the poem. Are those o’s, or are they i’s?”

“They look like o’s to me.”

“Look at the other i’s in the poem.”

“Oh, I see what you mean, Paulo. None of the i’s are dotted. Oh, my, I believe that you are right. These are i’s, not o’s. Ergo, the last line of the poem should read ‘Dear Lord embrace these lambs forsaken.” She stood back, the significance sinking in. “Dio mio, Paulo,, tis not a prayer for himself at the end of his life – tis a prophecy for all mankind!”

“Esattamente!” Paul exclaimed.

Suddenly, Antonietta could feel an enormous lump filling the back of her throat. It seemed to be caused by a mixture of excitement and fear. Either way, the anticipation was intoxicating. “Oh, my God, Paul. It’s a prophecy.” Continuing, she asked, “How on earth did you figure out the date?”

“That, my dear contessa, was a MAJOR challenge. That is why I haven’t slept much lately. You see, the words selfsame day kept buzzing around in my head. I kept thinking that the map was a prediction as well. And suddenly I realized that when I started relating it to stars I was much more correct than I had intended. The map is actually three things all connected together, and it’s explained in the poem. One only need read it carefully, very carefully. The fifth stanza says the following:

 

The end result – a time

Placed squarely within his sign

The time of Christ plus M signed twice

Add X’s three and I four more.

 

“The third and fourth lines clearly state MMXXXIIII, which is 2034, as we already know. Note that the first line says [_ ‘end result -a time'. ] So 2034 is the year he speaks of – the end of time. And it refers to both The Leaning Tower and the second event. Now carefully read the second line of the stanza – ‘_Placed squarely within his sign’. Who is it referring to when it says his, Antonietta?”

“Oh, my goodness, it refers to the last line of the previous stanza – ‘image of the blind’. The blind is clearly Galileo himself. Therefore, his sign must mean ‘Starry Messenger’s sign’!”

“Right-o!” Paul replied.

“It’s his astrological sign, isn’t it, Paulo!”

“Right again!”

“And we already know that his astrological sign is Aquarius,” she replied. “Weird,” she continued, “Isn’t this supposed to be the Age of Aquarius?”

“Good question. I’ve done a little bit of research on that, and it seems that most experts think that the Age of Aquarius started about twenty years ago, around 1976. But it’s a bit up in the air, so to speak.”

“Why, Paulo?”

“Well, it’s really just a definition of sorts – by astrological agreement the age for a particular constellation commences when the sun intersects that constellation at the vernal equinox. This occurs due to the Earth’s precession, or wobble on its axis, which has a period of about 26,000 years. Since all of the constellations lie more or less in the plane of the ecliptic, sooner or later, due to the earth’s precession, they all get their turn, and because there are twelve constellations each one gets somewhat more than two thousand years. So I suppose that we are now in the Age of Aquarius.”

“Why is there doubt about that?”

“Well, astrologers can’t seem to agree on whether or not to include the water pail in the constellation of Aquarius, and for that reason, there is some disagreement over when the Age of Aquarius is to begin. It’s all neither here nor there, because in the time of Galileo it was agreed that the Age of Aquarius would begin in the middle of the twentieth century, and, where the prediction is concerned, it’s his view that counts.”

“Go on,” she coaxed.

“Alright, here is the map of the constellation Aquarius that I showed you before.”

 

 

Antonietta stared at it for a few seconds, subsequently mumbling tersely, “I don’t get it.”

“There’s no reason that you should. I had more time to sort it out, but I had looked at Galileo’s map of the solar system longer, so I had the answer quickly. So look again at the solar system map.”

She did so, but she was still confused. Seeing her confusion, Paul now added, “Imagine it without the circles – just the X’s.”

“We already went through this. The stars look like a map of the places Galileo lived,” she replied.

We’re not talking about stars or cities now, Contessa. We’re talking about planets,” at which point he placed a sheet of paper before her.

 

 

Crossing herself in surprise, she exclaimed, “Mio Dio, what can it mean, Professore?”

“It means that Galileo expected the planets to align in the exact same configuration as the stars in Aquarius at some time in the future, and that time is projected by him to be in the year 2034. And note that the whole point of the long stanza was to provide the order in which to align the planets so as to match the order of the places that he lived.”

“Really, what a bizarre coincidence if it were true.”

“Oh, but it is! I assure you that it is, my dear. I stayed up the entire night doing the calculations. Our Galileo correctly predicted that the planets would be aligned this way in the year 2034, in the month of July more precisely. Actually, by my reckoning, exactly July 25 of the year 2034.”

“But how could he have known that, Paulo?”

“Oh, it wouldn’t have been that difficult for one so smart as Galileo. He knew from Tycho Brahe’s observations the time it took for each planet to revolve around the sun. He knew from his own observations where they all were at any given time, so all he had to do was extrapolate forward in time. Well, with one exception – Neptune. I have no idea how he did it, but he seems to have discovered Uranus instead of Neptune. Normally, that would seem to be quite impressive, but with what we have been informed by our Galileo in the last three weeks, it seems to be just one more small detail. You see, I thought that the seventh planet on the map was Neptune, which we know that he observed in 1611. But when I did the calculations, it didn’t fit. The planet that fits the calculations using the orbits listed on this piece of paper indicates that the seventh planet that he was referring to was Uranus. So, small wonder, our Galileo seems to have surreptitiously discovered the planet Uranus rather than the heretofore supposed Neptune. And he had to figure out the orbital period of Uranus completely on his own because he was the only person who was aware of its existence. He must have done all of this before he went blind, between 1634 and 1638. Furthermore, it is likely that he was following Uranus for several years, at least a decade I would say, because its orbit is quite slow, so it would have taken a fairly long time to establish its orbital period accurately, which he seems to have accomplished extremely well.

“So what we know is that the places that Galileo lived align with the planets on July 25, 2034, and that both align with the Constellation Aquarius in the Age of Aquarius on that date. We also know that Galileo predicted that the Leaning Tower would fall on the same day. That’s a quite unusual set of coincidences, perhaps enough to make Galileo think that something strange was going on. After all, the man did have a towering ego. So, is it so far-fetched for Galileo to have believed that he was a prophet, and that his prophesy was related to his own lifetime events?”

Shaking her head in disbelief, she replied, “This is way too much for me to handle all at once, Professore.”

Suppressing a wry grin, he agreed, “You’re telling me!”

“Is this it then? Is this the end of the puzzle, Professore?”

“Yes, I think so, except for one detail…yes, I think that this is it, the end of the game, Contessa.”

Antonietta stood, walked over to the window, gazed out at the garden for a moment, then asked absently, “What on earth are we to do with it, Professore?”

“That, Contessa,” he replied softly, “Is a very good question.”

“What is the small detail, Professore?”

“That would be the eighth stanza. I’ve been unable to sort it out, and I doubt that we ever will.”

“What have you discerned from it so far, Paulo?”

“Well, it clearly refers to John Milton, who as we know visited Galileo in 1638. Apparently, Galileo gave him a message, as evidenced by the line ‘Doth harbor one within the heart’. That seems pretty clear to me – Galileo gave Milton a message. The million dollar question is – what was it, and what did Milton do with it?”

 

London – 1673

 

John Milton sat quietly in his London library, listening to the pleasant noises penetrating from the street outside. The library was sumptuous and large, and it was decorated with thousands of books. Anyone who saw it would have expected just such a collection for a man of his renown. Unfortunately, his blindness had prohibited him from availing himself of its treasures for many years.

There came a soft knock at the door, at which Milton called sonorously, “Enter!”

The door opened and an elderly man dressed in a black suit entered. “Sir, you have a visitor.”

“A visitor? Was I expecting a visitor, Chalmers?” Milton replied.

“Well, sir, that is a good question. I believe that you were not expecting anyone at this exact moment. But it appears that you are indeed expecting this young man.”

“How so, Chalmers?”

“Sir, he says that he wrote to you a month back, and you responded to him, indicating that you would receive him when next he visited London. He says he is from Cambridge, sir,” Chalmers added surreptitiously.

“What did you say his name is, Chalmers?”

“Sir, his name is Newton…Isaac Newton.”

“Ah, yes! Now I recall. And so I did – I exchanged letters with a young man named Newton from Cambridge. How does he look to you, Chalmers?”

“Sir, er, I’m not quite sure how to respond. I would say quite interesting looking.”

“My, that is cryptic, Chalmers! Tell me more, please!”

“Sir, he is dressed in his academic robe. I’d say he’s about thirty years in age, and he is a bit disheveled. He has long reddish blonde hair that sort of flies outwards as if he were standing in a gale. And he seems in a great hurry, sir.”

“Well, then,” Milton replied with mirth, “Let us not keep the young man waiting! Please, usher him in straight away!”

“Yes, sir,” came the compliant reply, and Chalmers padded out of the room to carry out his command.

As he did so, Milton was struck by a thought. There was something about the circumstance that reminded him of another time, another place. He searched his mind for an event, something in the distant past, something….

His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the door opening before he could recover the memory he was searching for. Chalmers came in, followed by a young man. Milton arose from his chair and held out his hand, saying “Good morning, sir. Mr. Newton, if I am not mistaken!”

The young man approached, smiling, and grasped Milton’s hand, replying, “Sir, yes. My name is Isaac Newton. I wrote to you from Cambridge. Sir, it is a great honor to meet you.”

Milton smiled at the young man, but he was remembering many years ago, in another place. The roles had been reversed, and on that occasion he had been the visitor, the recipient of a cryptic phrase by the Great Man.

Chapter 13

 

The Starry Message

 

All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.

 

-Galileo Galilei (1564-1642)

 

Arcetri – 1997

 

Professor Bulgatti punched the villa doorbell. Shortly thereafter, he was ushered into the villa by the two guards.

On seeing Antonietta, Bulgatti motioned, “Surely your guards are not necessary.”

Dismissing the guards, a nonetheless surprised Antonietta said to them, “He’s okay. You can go.”

“Why am I not surprised!” Paul blurted out with genuine disgust on seeing him enter the study with Antonietta. “So, what brings you here, Bulgatti?”

At this the surly fellow sat without even asking for permission and blubbered perfunctorily, “So, I see that you still have the document. That is good,” and as he said this last he leaned back in his chair and placed his bridged hands on his chest in apparent self-satisfaction, as if to imply, “You can’t fool me!”

“What makes you think that?” Antonietta interjected.

“Don’t toy with me, Contessa. I have continued to observe your movements. It is obvious that you are still searching for clues. You have the document, or you would not still be attempting to find out its hidden meaning.” At this, Bulgatti raised one cupped hand and studied his fingernails, signaling his profound self-assurance that he was correct in his assessment.

In response Paul said nothing. He simply raised his wine glass and took a long slow sip. Antonietta stared at Paul, awaiting his next move. Time seemed to slow to a crawl.

Eventually, having by now evidently begun to grow doubtful of his certainty due to the lack of reaction from his prey, Bulgatti offered hopefully, “The time has come, Contessa. You must turn the document over to me. Otherwise, you will most certainly lose it when they make their second attempt. Only the Linceans can protect you and the document from your pursuers.”

Panic welling up within her, Antonietta replied, “Second attempt, what second attempt?”

Sensing that he had regained the upper hand, Bulgatti rose and continued with, “Contessa, surely you realize that they will discover that the document that you gave them is a forgery, a copy.”

Stunned by his disclosure, Antonietta responded, “What? How do you know that?”

At this Bulgatti smiled self-assuredly and responded, “It was obvious from the start. Why else would they have halted their pursuit of you? Besides, within twenty-four hours my informants in the Vatican told us that Count Floridiana was in possession of the document.

“At first we turned our attentions toward stealing the document from him, but when you continued searching for clues, it became clear that the document in the Count’s possession is a fake. You still have the original,” and Bulgatti said this last with complete self-assurance.

“Excellent deduction,” Paul replied. “Unfortunately, it is incorrect, Bulgatti.”

At this Bulgatti arched an eyebrow and uttered a single word of doubt, “Oh?”

Paul stared back at him, the two locked in a pose of mutual distrust. Finally, Bulgatti sat yet again and proffered, “I assure you, Professore Woodbridge, the Linceans mean you no harm. We want only what you want.”

“And exactly what is that?” Antonietta interjected.

At this Bulgatti smiled confidently, now outwardly certain that he had penetrated their hoax, “We want the document to see the light of day. We want the world to know that it exists. We are confident that anything that Galileo would leave to the world at the end of his life is most certainly to the good of mankind.”

Paul stared implacably at Bulgatti. Antonietta looked away and, subsequently glancing back towards Paul, she caught his eye as if to say, “What do we do now?”

Paul eventually broke the silence with, “Let’s suppose that we do not actually have the document. Let’s suppose, however, that we have an idea where it might be. What would you say to that, Bulgatti?”

Bulgatti placed his bridged hands within his lap, signifying that he was satisfied with progress up to that point. He stared at Paul for a moment, then, glancing sidelong towards Antonietta, he announced abruptly, “I believe that we can do business to your satisfaction, Contessa. We are, after all, your best hope.”

“What do you have in mind?” Antonietta asked carefully.

Bulgatti was obviously prepared for this line, as he immediately replied, “We are but one step away from resolving this impasse, Contessa. I am no fool. I realize that we must gain your trust in order to be of help to you. Given the circumstances, it is not surprising that you continue to mistrust me. So this is what I propose. I offer to arrange a secret meeting of the Linceans with you. I believe that you will find us to be worthy of your complete trust. What do you say to that, Contessa?”

Antonietta glanced toward Paul, unfortunately garnering nothing useful from his implacable facade. After a moment, he simply shrugged his acceptance of Bulgatti’s proposition if that was indeed her wish. Antonietta turned back towards Bulgatti and proffered, “I accept your offer. When can you arrange it?”

At this Bulgatti glanced at his wristwatch and said matter-of-factly, “As I am sure you know, time is of the essence. Allora, how about tonight? We can be in Roma in time for the Lincean assembly.”

At this Paul abruptly sat forward and announced, “You’re pretty sure of yourself, aren’t you, Bulgatti?”

Bulgatti shrugged and responded, “As I said to the contessa, you have no other options.”

At this Antonietta nodded her implicit agreement, and Paul rose to prepare for the drive back to Roma.

Bulgatti smiled at Antonietta and said, “Contessa, I will not disappoint, I promise you.”

Five hours later the three passed by the Porta San Pancrazio. Shortly thereafter they pulled up to a villa on the Janiculum Hill. The three emerged thenceforth, and Bulgatti inquired, “Do you know where we are, Professore?”

“If I am not mistaken, this is where the banquet was held. Am I correct?”

Bulgatti smiled knowingly and replied, “Excellent, Professore. I would have expected nothing less from you.” The two thenceforth made for the interior of the villa, followed by Antonietta.

Surging forward, Antonietta tugged at Paul’s sleeve and asked, “What banquet? What is this place, Paulo?”

Paul whispered a reply, “This is where Galileo was inducted into the Lincean Academy in 1611. At the time it was owned by a priest. I have no idea who it belongs to now.”

Overhearing their exchange, Bulgatti added, “The Linceans purchased the villa almost two hundred years ago. The members at that time felt it was only fitting for the academy to pay homage to their history, and what better place for ceremonial activities than the very place where the academy’s most famous member was inducted?”

Shortly thereafter the three entered into a large hallway, whereupon Bulgatti motioned for them to follow him down the dimly lit passageway. They arrived at a doorway, Bulgatti ceremonially pulling it open and gesturing for the pair to enter. Paul and Antonietta did so, but to their horror they were greeted from within by Bruno and his buddies. Bruno immediately grasped Antonietta by the wrists, securing them with a pair of handcuffs. Grappling with Paul, Bruno’s buddies managed to cuff him as well.

Bulgatti now grinned patronizingly at the two of them and announced with cruel satisfaction, “It has been an interesting chase, Professor Woodbridge! But unfortunately, it must now come to an end.” With this, he turned to Bruno and commanded, “I will take my reward now, as promised.”

Bruno smiled implacably at Bulgatti and responded politely, “Of course, Professore Bulgatti…boys?” and, turning to his fellow henchmen, he nodded a command of his own, at which Bulgatti was summarily shot to death before their eyes.

Both Paul and Antonietta lurched in fright, immediately glancing about frantically for some means of escape. At this, Bruno held up a single index finger, wagging it frenetically as if to say, “Not a chance.” He then said politely, “Let this be a sign to you both. We will not tolerate another deception by you. This time we want the real document, and if you do not supply it to us, a similar fate awaits the both of you.”

Paul stared at Antonietta, who in turn stared at him in obvious terror. She then inquired vacantly, “What do you want, Bruno?”

“Please do not toy with me, Contessa,” Bruno replied. “It is tiresome of you. Just tell us where it is, please.”

At this, Paul interrupted, murmuring, “Tell them, Antonietta, please. It’s not worth getting killed over it.”

“You fool! They’re going to kill us anyway!”

“What makes you say that?” he responded.

“Offhand, I’d say because we were just witnesses to a murder,” she replied matter-of-factly.

“Oh,” he answered lamely, “Well, all the same, I don’t see much of an alternative. We’re just going to have to trust them.”

“Right,” she responded doubtfully, “We’ll just promise our old friend Bruno that we won’t say anything. Right, Bruno?”

Staring implacably at her, Bruno offered, “I assure you, Contessa, Count Floridiana has instructed us to ensure that no harm comes to you.”

Realizing the implicit meaning behind his response, Antonietta’s eyes suddenly bulged in terror. “No!” she screamed, “We both live, or you get nothing!”

“Oh, come now, Contessa, you must know that we cannot do that!” Bruno exclaimed.

“You must! I order you! I will tell you where the document is, but only if you promise to spare Professore Woodbridge!” she spat back at him.

At this Bruno chuckled, subsequently muttering, “You? Order ME? Ha!”

“Listen to me,” she replied, “Tell Sandro that I will come back to him, but only if he agrees to let Professore Woodbridge go.”

“Why would he do that?” Bruno queried.

“Because he still loves me,” she responded.

At this, Bruno seemed to understand for a moment, but then he added, “But why would you do this for the Professore, Contessa?”

Glancing forlornly at Paul, she responded in misery, “Because only he knows the secrets contained within Galileo’s message, that’s why.”

“Hmmm, yes, I think I see,” Bruno responded pensively. “You would keep silent so that the professore could be persuaded to divulge the meaning behind the message. Yes, I see,” but then he glanced toward Paul, and, turning back toward her, he asked, “But why would the professore keep quiet as well, Contessa?”

“Because he is in love with me, you fool! If either of us were to tell, you would kill the other, right?” she responded to Bruno, once again glancing hopefully in Paul’s direction.

Bruno turned to Paul, queried, “Is it so, Professore? Are you in love with the contessa?”

At this, Paul silently nodded his concurrence, subsequently responding despondently, “Yes, God help me, yes, of course I am,” and at this admission he glanced toward Antonietta briefly in embarrassment, then, lowering his head, he stared in misery toward his feet.

Bruno scratched his chin thoughtfully for a moment, eventually murmuring, “Such a complicated mess,” but then said to his buddies, “Let me call the Boss, boys. I’ll be right back,” and at this he strode from the room.

He was back within moments, announcing, “Okay, here’s the thing, Contessa – we can do this deal, but it all hinges on the document. We gotta have the document before it’s a done deal. I’m sorry, but that’s the boss’s condition. Do we have a deal?”

“Yes,” she responded coldly, “We have a deal.”

“Okay, great,” he replied with obvious relief. “Here’s how it’s gonna go. The contessa goes with us. Meanwhile, the professore gets a free ticket to our secret dungeon until the contessa has turned over the document. Once that’s done, we let the professore go. He goes home to the United States, the contessa goes back to the boss, and the deal is done. Okay?” and at this announcement he scrutinized Antonietta for confirmation.

Apparently speechless with anguish, Antonietta simply nodded her acquiescence.

“Okay, boys, take him away,” Bruno commanded, at which two of his buddies grabbed Paul and ushered him ominously from the room.

Peering back over his shoulder, Paul thought to say some parting word to Antonietta, but there was nothing that he could think of that seemed to fit the circumstance.

 

Sometime Later

 

Paul felt himself floating, adrift on an ocean of nothingness, the waves slowly pushing him to and fro, to and fro. “Am I awake, or am I dreaming?” he murmured to himself. Continuing to rock to and fro, his thoughts carried him along, softly speaking to him thusly,

 

Tis said that dark must dull the mind,

But one man’s dark is bright as day.

Still, all too soon this light shall fade,

So pray these lines reveal the way-

The quill alight with fear and haste.

 

The end result shall lead to heaven

 

Suddenly he struggled to open his eyes. But there was only darkness. Was he in heaven? Or was he simply blind? Now awake, he realized that he had been dreaming, recounting within his dream the now perfectly memorized Galilean poem, but in some mysteriously jumbled fashion.

He was by now well aware that he wasn’t blind; realizing instead that he had been blindfolded. “Ah, now I remember,” he thought to himself, “They drugged me, just before we set off down the highway. Ah, yes, I remember. How long have I been out, and where am I now?”

He felt about himself for something, anything familiar. His grasp fell immediately on a spider web-

 

The sinuous web doth point the way-

Near circles crossing with the endings

Each tracing out MS abodes,

With semblance marked unto his sign.

 

Recoiling at the repulsive touch, he actually spoke aloud to himself, “What the…have I fallen into the Galilean poem? Am I now entrapped within the Great Man’s web?” Shaking his head to dispel the cobwebs within, he dragged himself fully awake from his drowsy state. In doing so, he realized that his left hand remained securely handcuffed, whereas the right cuff was attached to something. Unfortunately, the blindfold was attached too securely for him to remove it with his single free hand.

As his memory gradually returned, he began to recall the events that had led up to his current demise. Suddenly recalling events in their entirety, he lurched in the realization that time was of the essence. “Oh, my God,” he moaned to himself, “The promises, Bruno’s assurances – they’re worthless, completely worthless. Oh, God, I’ve got to get out of here. Oh, God, Antonietta!” With this forlorn pronouncement, he set to work in an attempt to solve his immediate problem – how to escape.

Gathering his senses, he lay in the darkness a few moments contemplating, still taken completely off guard by his temporary blindness. For some reason his mind wandered back to the poem, the words image of the blind drawing him to the similarity between his current demise and that of Galileo so long ago. His own obsession of late had been focused on a blind man, aged and incapacitated, who had somehow overcome an untenable situation. Therein lay Paul’s potential salvation – what Galileo had overcome, surely he could also surmount.

Feeling about, he discovered that he was lying upon an old iron bed. Aha! He would deploy Archimedes’ principal of the lever, ergo, working carefully and deliberately, he slowly wedged one leg of the bed between his left wrist and the handcuff, eventually managing to pry the cuff open, thereby freeing his hand. With his hands free, he was thus able to remove the blindfold, thereby restoring his sight. All good thus far, but that was simply the first step.

Next he carefully took in his surroundings in the dim light. As his eyes adjusted, he realized that he was trapped in an old stone cellar of some sort, and he was alone within. It was cluttered incongruously with what appeared to be ancient cannon balls, suggesting that it had at one time been used as an armory. He had no doubt that his captors were nearby, but at least he was alone to ponder his escape.

“Think, Woodbridge, think!” he pondered to himself. “What would Galileo do?” Precious time slipped by as he contemplated what to do. Noticing several lengthy boards lying on the floor, he suddenly felt the pull of Galileo’s spirit yet again. Disjointed passages danced within his mind, the poem calling to him,

 

The tilt shall be found in the way…

When naught obstruct right line the stars…

 

“Yes, that’s it! It’s the perfect opportunity for the inclined plane experiment!” he thought to himself. He immediately set to work building two long inclined planes, placing a row of cannon balls at the apex of each, each row of balls held in place by an extractable wedge.

Next, he arranged the two ramps so that they were tilted steeply directly above the entrance to the dungeon. He then painstakingly positioned himself within the rafters above in such a way as to be able to release each wedge at his discretion, thereby hopefully allowing the balls to commence rolling at his command down each inclined plane. He now had at his touch more than twenty projectiles, a sufficient number to do serious damage to any intruder that might enter into the room.

Now, as he prepared to enact his Galilean scheme, the poem danced within his head

 

So pray these lines reveal the way-

The quill alight with fear and haste.

 

Thus reassured, he commenced making sufficient noise to hopefully attract his captors, and, as expected, after several moments, the door opened, an inquisitive head poking itself into the room. The intruder, unable to locate Paul’s immediate whereabouts, entered the room in order to ascertain his captive’s location, at which point Paul released one of the two rows of cannon balls down its respective plane, the balls performing their intended task with such force as to knock the goon from his feet, from whence he struggled hardly a moment, collapsing immediately thereafter into oblivion.

The resulting commotion, thereby attracting the second goon, allowed Paul to repeat his ploy, with similar success, except that the second goon was not quite defeated, thus requiring Paul to leap from his perch and afford his prey a healthy kick in the head.

Observing that his quarry was defeated, Paul brushed his hands together in victory, his immediate mission accomplished. He then peered stealthily from the door, and, seeing that there was no one else about, he made his way hastily for the nearest accessible exit. Once out on the street, he realized that he had been transported from Roma to downtown Firenze, where he had been held in the cellar beneath the Brunelleschi Hotel, mere steps from the Brunelleschi Dome.

 

That Same Night

 

Antonietta spent the entire trip to Zurich forcibly blindfolded, her hands bound by the cuffs about them. For the first few minutes of the lengthy drive she had sobbed intermittently in grief, but eventually she began to recover sufficiently to focus on what she might do to overcome her captors. Of course, there were three of them – far too many for her to actually affect an escape. But she felt compelled to at least try something.

Asking herself, “What would the professore do?” she set to work searching her mind for possible solutions. As nothing came to mind, eventually she queried, “So what happens after we get to Zurich, Bruno?”

“Then you will recover the document for us, of course, Contessa.”

“And then you will release Paulo, right?”

“Yes. Yes, of course, we will honor our agreement, I promise you.”

Seeing from the tenor of his response that he was not to be trusted, she therefore spent the entire remainder of the twelve hour drive sleeplessly focused on how she might escape her captors on arrival in Zurich.

The following morning the BMW pulled up to the bank in Zurich, Bruno instructing her to follow him inside. Once there, they were invited to follow the bank clerk to the vault where the private boxes were held. Arriving in an ante-chamber, Antonietta was instructed to provide her credentials in order to enter the vault. This she did, and she was then informed that she might enter, at which point Bruno attempted to follow her within. A security guard summarily halted him, indicating that only she was allowed to enter the vault. Bruno shrugged his acquiescence, realizing that it made no difference, as there was only one way out.

Antonietta entered the vault, searching her way down three pristine box-lined aisles for the number of her security box. As she turned the appointed corner within the vault, she was shocked to come face-to-face with Inspector Bustamente, who signaled her silence via a single finger placed to his lips.

“Are you alright?” he whispered.

“Yes, I mean, no…Inspector, they have Paulo!” she responded with apparent exhaustion. Then, realizing something wasn’t quite right, she queried thoughtlessly, “Wait, how did you get here? How did you know I’d be here?”

“Your professore, your friend,” and at this pronouncement he rolled his eyes absurdly, adding, “He escaped his captors, Contessa.” A smile now spreading across his face, he continued, uttering, “Slick fellow, I might add – one worthy of your attentions, Contessa.” Then, realizing he was wasting precious time, he added, “Now, here is what you need to do. Open the box, remove the document, and give it to Count Floridiana’s goons.”

“What! I can’t do that!” she responded with horror. “Get me out of here!”

“Listen, the document is a fake. Your professor buddy made a fake.”

“No, that was the first one! Sandro already has that one, and he figured it out. This one is the real one, Inspector!”

“Trust me on this, Contessa, I have seen the real one, just a few hours ago. Your professore made two fakes, and the second one is really quite an excellent copy. Of course, he kept the original. He called me last night, told me the situation, and I caught a flight here, just barely in time to beat your buddy Bruno to the bank. So give them the document in the security box, but make sure you do it before you get into the car. We’ll get you out of there, but we’re going to let them get away.”

“Get away? Why?”

“Just trust me, Contessa. We’ve been after your former husband for quite some time, and today is the day we just might get him! If this plan works, he will never be a problem for you again.”

“But he’s not even here with them, Inspector!”

“Exactly, and that’s why we have to do it this way. Just do as I say, and trust me, it will all turn out just fine. Now get the document, or Bruno is going to get suspicious that you’re taking too long.”

Still confused, she responded, “Alright…” and as soon as she had the document, she retreated from the vault. As expected, Bruno was awaiting her in the antechamber.

“Got it?” he asked brusquely.

Si,” she replied, at which they headed for the car outside. Once they made it out onto the street, she handed the document to Bruno, exclaiming, “You were lying, weren’t you. You’re going to kill him, right?”

Bruno turned to face her, responding matter-of-factly, “Of course,” and as he said this, she kicked him as hard as she could in the groin. He doubled over in pain, and she ran back into the bank. From nearby a voice on the street commanded, “Halt! This is the police!”

At this Bruno lurched into the waiting BMW, and the three goons sped away.

 

Three days later – Roma

 

Paul and Antonietta arrived at the Lincean Academy at the appointed hour, whereupon they were greeted by a group of perhaps seventy-five men and women. Paul recognized several of those present, surging forward to shake hands with old friends and colleagues. Here and there he stopped to chat for a moment, never forgetting to introduce the Contessa Floridiana to old friends.

Eventually, the introductions completed, the entire group retired to an adjacent room arranged with a table on one side, and chairs placed in rows facing the table. Paul and Antonietta were invited to sit at the head table, along with a woman whom Paul knew slightly. Her name was Gina Pizzato, and, having been a faculty member at Politecnico Milano for her entire career, she was the most famous historical architect in Italia. She was in fact the President of the Lincean Academy.

Eventually, everyone having found a seat, the crowd grew silent. Professora Pizzato arose ceremoniously and announced, “Linceans, it is a pleasure to introduce the world’s most famous aficionado on our own Galileo Galilei – Professore Paul Woodbridge,” at which the room erupted in applause.

Professora Pizzato raised her hands and spread them horizontally, pressing downwards several times, signaling the applause to cease, and said, “I was about to say that Professore Woodbridge needs no introduction to this group, but I see that you beat me to it!” At this the room erupted a second time, but this time with simultaneous laughter and applause by the entire group.

After the crowd grew silent yet again, she continued, “And we are especially honored to have with us tonight the Contessa Antonietta Floridiana da Vinci, the discoverer of the long lost Galileo document!” At this, the room erupted in deafening applause, the members rising to give Antonietta a standing ovation.

Professora Pizzato now commenced for yet a third time, announcing, “Linceans, I ask you to think back in time, way back in time. Think back to the year 1611, when on an auspicious occasion, a banquet was held in this very room. On that night, indeed the most important night in the history of the Lincean Academy, our most famous member, Galileo Galilei demonstrated his telescope and was inducted into the Academy by Federico Cesi, the second Marquis of Monticelli, and the founding father of the Academy.

“Ladies, and gentlemen, colleagues, tonight is undoubtedly the second most important night in the history of the Linceans, exceeded only by that night long ago. On this night, I ask you to induct Professore Paul Woodbridge and Contessa Antonietta Floridiana into the Lincean Academy by acclamation!” At this the room immediately erupted into yet a third standing ovation.

Eventually, the pandemonium dying down once again, all eyes turned on the pair seated quietly at the head table. Paul realized with obvious embarrassment that everyone in the room was staring expectantly at him. He in turn glanced toward Antonietta, who was staring back at him, eyes glistening. She rewarded him with the slightest nod, and, understanding her signal, he arose to speak.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he commenced somewhat haltingly, “I am speechless. I don’t know what to say…” thereby inducing a twitter of laughter from the audience. Continuing, he sought for the right words, “I, well, I…” he said, and then suddenly gathering himself, he glanced towards Antonietta and spoke directly to her, “If you are sure, why then so am I.” As she accorded him just the slightest nod of assent, he turned to face the audience, then continued with, “I accept your generous offer wholeheartedly. Thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart!” He turned back to Antonietta and queried simply, “Contessa?”

Antonietta summarily pushed her chair back, stood halfway, and abruptly announced, “Anch’io! Mille grazie, anch’io!” At this pronouncement, offered appropriately in their native language, the crowd erupted yet again. Every member was slapping his or her neighbor on the back, the natural contagion of pure exhilaration swelling to proportions such as are seen only rarely in such formal settings.

Finally, after several minutes of unabated excitement, Professora Pizzato hushed the crowd a final time, saying, “Contessa Floridiana, we entreat you…please…tell us your story!”

Antonietta blushed with embarrassment, but nonetheless took the podium as requested. She paused for a moment, gathering her thoughts, then commenced with, “I’m sorry, I lost my speech on the way,” thus prompting still further laughter. “Let me just say this to all of you. It has been a long road to this point. We still do not have all of the answers, but we do know quite a lot already, thanks to Paulo’s, I mean, Professore Woodbridge’s brilliant efforts. Here is what we know thus far. First, the document is genuine. Second, it contains some amazing discoveries by our most famous Lincean Galileo Galilei. Third, we are very close to solving the riddle completely. Fourth, we will shortly make the document available to everyone, I mean, to all of humankind. And finally, I assure you, we do indeed have the document!” At this the crowd applauded exuberantly.

Antonietta sat down, and Professora Pizzato motioned to Paul, saying, “Professore Woodbridge, please, a few words from you?”

At this Paul arose, moved to the podium, and said, “Well, I believe that Contessa Floridiana covered just about everything.” He paused for a moment, struggling to think of what to say, and then he continued, “But let me add just one thing. Galileo was and is Italia’s greatest scientist of all time. This we in this room already know. We here tonight are also aware just how much he suffered. With the disclosure of this new document, I am confident that he will be elevated to his rightful place, not just as Italia’s greatest scientist of all time, but as Italia’s greatest person of all time!” At this, the crowd erupted one last time in applause, but this time it was for a man who had been dead for nearly four centuries.

 

The Following Day – Florence

 

Paul and Antonietta stopped briefly to watch the procession from their location in front of Galileo’s tomb. As is usually the case, there was quite a crowd moving through the Santa Croce. Directly across from them, in front of Michelangelo’s tomb, there was a tour group led by a diminutive elderly Italian gentleman who made his presence known by carrying an umbrella with a small Italian flag attached to it, naturally pointed skyward. Paul could hear him say as he pointed to the tomb in front of him, “Ladies and Gentlemen, before you is the tomb of Italy’s greatest man – Michelangelo. And next to it is the tomb of Dante Alighieri, although he is not in it.” He paused for effect, and then, almost as an afterthought, he said, “Oh, and in case you are interested, that tomb behind us is the tomb of Galileo.” The crowd turned to peer in the direction he pointed, but no one seemed interested, instead turning back in reverence to the tombs before them.

“It never ceases to amaze me,” Paul said, turning to gaze at the tomb of Galileo. There was no one else in front of it but Antonietta and himself.

Perplexed, she responded, “What never ceases to amaze you, Professore?”

Paul responded distantly, “I don’t know. I can see the reasons for the adoration of Michelangelo. And there is no question that Dante deserves great respect. But how in heaven’s name does Galileo get left out of that group? I see it over and over again, and it never ceases to amaze me. Galileo is one of the three or four most important scientists in history! His impact on the modern world is, well, frankly – incalculable.”

“I should think that the reason would be obvious,” Antonietta responded laconically.

“Oh?” he responded with arched brow, “How so, Contessa?”

“The great majority of people pretend to understand art, but when it comes to science, it is not possible to pretend.”

“I suppose you are right. Our Galileo may never receive his just reward, but in my mind at least, he is up there – way up there.”

“Mine, too, Professore, thanks in no small part to you.” She studied the magnificent tomb of Galileo momentarily, and then turned back to Paulo, querying, “Just exactly why did you bring me here today?”

“I wanted to say goodbye to you here, at the tomb of the man who became my, no our, obsession, the man who changed my life, the man who led me to you, and the man who saved both of our lives.”

“How so?”

“I wanted you to know, when I was imprisoned in the dungeon, with little hope remaining, I recalled all of the things that Galileo taught us, and as strange as it may sound, his own words provided the solution to our demise.”

Changing the subject, she asked, “Do you suppose that we shall ever know?”

“Know what, Antonietta?”

“The truth – did Milton pass along Galileo’s law to Newton?”

“I doubt that we will ever be certain of the answer to that, Contessa. I doubt it very much. We appear to have solved the entire puzzle except for the eighth stanza, and that is quite possibly the most important one of all. In reading back over the poem for the thousandth time I discovered a colon that I had been overlooking. The eighth stanza reads as follows:

 

Passed by the See not long ago

Heir poet to Verona bard,

Doth harbor one within the heart:

When naught obstruct right line the stars.

 

The colon at the end of the third line makes it clear that the message that Galileo gave to Milton was the last line of the stanza: When naught obstruct right line the stars. So that was the message. But we shall never know if Milton passed it on to Newton, or, for that matter, if Milton ever even met Newton. Such are the vagaries of history. As Napoleon once put it, ‘History is a set of lies agreed upon’.”

However, I believe that if you pull Newton’s Book Principia from the shelf and read the first page of his chapter entitled ‘Axioms or Laws of Motion’, you will find the following, and he pulled a piece of paper from his pocket and read aloud:

 

Law I

Every body continues in its state of rest, or in uniform motion of a right line, unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed upon it.

 

“It has long been known that Galileo stated the selfsame statement for bodies in an earthbound setting, but the notion that it might apply at all points in the universe is attributed to Newton. Now you and I know that Galileo also stated it for the stars, ergo as a universal law, as confirmed by the line

 

When naught obstruct right line the stars.

 

Note that Newton even uses the exact same phrase – ‘right line’. Thus, it appears that Galileo actually stated the first universal law before Newton did. And perhaps this is stretching it a bit – the wording seems to confirm that Milton did in fact pass Galileo’s message along to Newton.”

Antonietta stared at the poem for a moment longer and then said, “So there is no way to prove that Milton passed this along to Newton?”

“I’d say it is highly unlikely that such a possibility can be proven,” Paul replied. “But perhaps it doesn’t really matter. After all, we have all of Galileo’s revelations sorted out, or at least all save one. And they in themselves are enough to forever alter our view of Galileo.”

“Save one?” she responded, “What one?”

Paul stared doubtfully at her for a moment and admitted, “Ah, right, perhaps I shouldn’t have mentioned that. But, as we both know, I cannot keep anything from you, Contessa. You are my muse, my intellectual companion, indeed, without your clairvoyance, none of this would have been possible, for we would never have solved the riddle.”

She smiled distantly at his compliment, but, holding onto her thought, she asked, “And what is the missing revelation, pray tell?”

“Ah, yes,” he responded, “I suppose I must confess, I don’t exactly know the answer to that. You see, we have a date for the alignment of all of the celestial events – July 25, 2034 – but there appears to be no prediction in the poem as to the exact cause of our demise – the end of the world.”

“My, how could I have overlooked that. And such a small thing – the end of the world…” she murmured pensively.

“Right, well, I suppose we shall know soon enough, assuming we live that long!” he responded with obviously misplaced optimism. “In the meantime, we have a hint at least.”

“Oh, and what might that be?” she responded with arched brow.

“Read the first two lines of the last stanza.”

Antonietta peered at the poem, then read aloud, “The brightness shall call home the star

The journey ending from afar. What does it mean, Paulo?”

“There is no way to be certain, but if my guess is correct, the brightness means the Sun – the Sun shall call home the star. This, if my guess is correct, IS The Starry Message. I believe that, shortly before he went blind, incarcerated within Arcetri, our Galileo chanced upon a comet through the lens of his telescope. Having little else to do, he followed the path of this comet each night, carefully plotting out its path. Then, he calculated the size of the comet, and, using Kepler’s laws, he predicted the future path of the comet. If my guess is correct, he arrived at the conclusion that the Earth will be struck by a rather sizable comet on July 25, 2034.”

Realization striking her that the riddle was at last solved, she murmured, “Oh, my…”

“And to make matters worse, I’m afraid that the world may never know of Galileo’s last discovery.”

“Why?” she inquired, “We will make the poem available, as promised, won’t we?”

“Yes, of course we will,” Paul replied, “But I doubt that it will ever be solved completely by anyone but us.”

“Why? I don’t understand,” she responded in confusion.

“For the simple reason that they would need to have the two maps I stole from his telescope in the Science Museum, which would in all likelihood lead to my arrest were their whereabouts divulged to the public.”

“Oh, I see…” she replied, “Perhaps there is another way.”

Eyeing her wistfully, he responded, “I can think of none at the moment.”

She then turned her face towards his for the first time since their rescue, seemingly seeing her Professore once again, and asked pointedly, “So, you really did it. You solved the riddle. And, I have no idea how you did it, but you saved both of our lives as well.”

“Perhaps, but had you not suggested that I was in love with you, the ruse might never have worked, Contessa.”

“Ah, well, I do apologize for making up such an outrageous story, Paulo, but it did achieve its intended result. Can you forgive me for suggesting such a thing?”

At this he glared sternly at Antonietta and proffered, “Let me say this – one should not bandy about with such important issues as those of the heart, Contessa…”

“So I take it you won’t forgive me?” she queried with a sly grin.

“I didn’t say that, Contessa,” he replied, and he too was by this point smiling. “In retrospect, I think that I shall cogitate and get back to you on it.”

Obviously pleased with such well-placed prevarication, she posited, “Kudos, Professore. Now, are you going to tell me or not?”

Put off balance by her sudden change of subject, he blurted, “Tell you what?”

Her face yet again taking on a stern appearance, she asked pointedly, “Why did you do it, Professore? Why did you create a second fake poem?”

“Oh, that,” he replied with relief, and now there was even a note of hopefulness in his voice, “Well, it just seemed the perfect balance. I mean, I was thinking for some reason of Galileo’s bilancetta. Such a small thing, but the significance of a balance, of justice, of trust, somehow made me wonder what might happen if Bulgatti wasn’t trustworthy. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you, but my motives were honorable – to protect you, the rightful owner of the riddle.”

“And?”

“And what?”

Stronzo, you tell me, or I will punch you both in and out!” she replied, shocking him with her severe attitude.

Stammering in surprise, he responded, “But, I’ve told you everything.”

Crossing her arms, she demanded, “Where is it, you fool?”

At her final two words, he suddenly realized that she was up to her old tricks, playing at sincerity, the trap he had fallen into so many times. “I would have thought that would have been obvious, Antonietta,” he responded noncommittally.

She placed her hands on her hips and, glaring testily at him, she silently awaited his confession.

Now playing along, he inquired in mock fear, “Where would you like it to be, Contessa?”

“The only acceptable place is in my hands,” she responded in evident irritation.

“And so it is,” he said, and repeating himself, he added, “And so it is, Contessa.”

“What!” she responded and, a tiny smile suddenly spreading over her features, she exclaimed, “You didn’t!”

“Oh, but I did, I assure you, I did!” he replied. “It is right where it started – hidden within the credenza.”

At this, she waded into his awaiting embrace, murmuring as she did so, “You smart ass, you knew all the time – the only possible place you could put it that would appease me – exactly where you put it. And so you have, you idiot!”

He hugged her tenderly but, noticing a tear brimming from the corner of her eye, he reached forward and, sweeping it from her face, he murmured, “Then why the sadness, Antonietta?”

“Oh, I don’t know, Paulo. It seems so unfair to our Galileo. Or maybe it’s just the sadness that our quest has come to an end.”

Paul smiled and responded, “Our Galileo suffered. Oh, how he suffered. But in the end, his will was enforced, and as a result all of humankind has won. We have won freedom from autocratic oppression. As monumental as Galileo’s scientific accomplishments were, and they were undeniably enormous, his greatest gift to mankind is undoubtedly freedom of thought.”

Epilogue

 

[_ ...All knowledge of reality starts from experience and ends in it. Propositions arrived at by purely logical means are completely empty as regards reality. Because Galileo saw this, and particularly because he drummed it into the scientific world, he is the father of modern physics -- indeed, of modern science altogether. _]

 

-Albert Einstein (1879-1955)

 

2014

 

British Press Limited, London

 

Sunday, February 15

 

The long lost and now famous ‘Starry Message’ attributed to Galileo was today auctioned to an anonymous bidder at Christie’s in London for the stunning price of 9,400,000 euros. Galileo followers will note that February 15 is perhaps not coincidentally the 450th anniversary of Galileo’s birth.

Readers will recall that the initial discovery of the ‘Starry Message’ was announced to the world by the Count Sandro Floridiana in 1997. Unfortunately, that document turned out to be a forgery, thereby discrediting its owner. Count Floridiana was killed shortly thereafter in a fiery automobile accident while vacationing in Sicily.

The former wife of Count Floridiana, Contessa Antonietta Floridiana, announced the discovery of a second document in 1998. Since then an international team of scientists has conclusively authenticated the document to be the last known writing of Galileo. The team has now been studying the document more or less continuously for almost sixteen years. In a report published last year by the international team, it was concluded that the hidden meaning behind the famous message is unlikely to ever be discovered unless additional documents alluded to in Galileo’s poem are found. As is well known, the poem refers to documents hidden within one or more of Galileo’s telescopes. Subsequent to the discovery of the ‘Starry Message’, a thorough search of all of Galileo’s telescopes that are extant today revealed no trace of the additional documents alluded to in the famous poem. Thus, the hidden meaning behind the ‘Starry Message’ promises to remain one of the great mysteries of our time.

In another stunning development, Contessa Floridiana stipulated that the poem must be maintained by the owner in a national museum in Italy as a part of the agreement at sale. In keeping with this requirement, officials at Christie’s report that the document will soon go on public display at the Galileo Museum of Florence, where many of Galileo’s scientific instruments, in addition to his finger, can be found today. For those who wish to visit the Galileo Museum to see the ‘Starry Message’, be advised that the discovery of the message nearly two decades ago has created so much interest in Galileo that the Galileo Museum, renamed from the Science Museum in 2010, has become the sixth most popular museum in the world. There is currently a waiting list of more than two months for those interested in visiting the museum.

 

2015

 

American Press International, Los Angeles

 

August 25, 2015

 

Scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory today made the startling announcement that a large comet has been discovered in the outer reaches of the solar system. This comet is predicted to pass very near to the Earth in July of 2034. However, the team of scientists was quick to point out that the probability of such an object striking the Earth is extremely low.

Apparently, the comet was first noticed by a contributor to the world-wide Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Team. The member, whose report of the comet was made anonymously via the internet under the Italian codename Pontelegno, asked nothing more than that the comet be named after Galileo. Scientists with the team have postulated that this name was chosen because the comet has a very long orbital period, having last passed near the Sun and reached perigee in 1637, during the lifetime of Galileo.

Scientists are theorizing why the comet was not observed during its last voyage by the Sun. Comets normally are made of ice, and this is the source of the tails of comets that make them visible from Earth. However, some comets have essentially dispelled most of their ice, so that they cast little or no visible tail as they near the Sun. The scientific team has hypothesized that this may be the case with Galileo’s Comet. However, one member of the team theorized that the comet may in fact be composed at least partially of the same material as asteroids, making it much more durable and powerful on impact.

For the first nearly two hundred years since its last solar perigee the comet was moving away from the Sun, reaching deep into space, well beyond the far reaches of the solar system and far into the famous Oort Cloud. Over the past two centuries the comet has been making its way back towards the Sun. Scientists are currently attempting to focus the Hubble Telescope, which is now nearing the end of its twenty-five year journey through space, on Galileo’s Comet. According to one scientist on the team, “Galileo may soon be visible to mankind in the stars above.”

 

August, 2017 – Pasadena, California

 

Paul entered through the security door and took his seat among the assembled group, taking little heed of the numerous glances his way. Shortly thereafter, a man strode to the front of the room and announced, “Ahem, let’s get started everyone. I’m Jim Hensen, Director of JPL. I think we all know why we are here, with the possible exception of Professor Woodbridge, who has just flown in this morning. As you all know, Professor Woodbridge, together with the Contessa Antonietta Floridiana, discovered the hidden meaning lurking within Galileo’s lost message some eighteen years ago. Since that time Professor Woodbridge has been among a small group of scientists searching the heavens for the comet that Galileo observed shortly before his passing in 1642. And, as you all know, Professor Woodbridge’s vigilance has now paid off, the comet Galileo having now been observed and validated against recently discovered observations made by Galileo himself.

What we are here today to discuss is far more profound, I’m afraid – our orbital mechanics team has just within the last forty-eight hours confirmed that with an accuracy of 99.2%, our projections predict that the comet will strike the Earth on July 25, 2034. I might add that this is precisely as predicted by Galileo himself, making it the earliest validated prediction of a future event in the history of our planet.” At this pronouncement there was absolute silence within the room.

After several moments, during which the silence was not only broken, but murmurs grew to discussions, followed by cacophonous intercourse, he rejoined with, “Quiet please…quiet please!’ And, the cacophony having now abated, he added, “But not too worry, my fellow scientists, at least not just yet. Our Galileo seems to have gotten it mostly right, but not quite altogether. And here to explain is Professor Woodbridge…Professor?” And so saying, he motioned Paul to the front of the room.

Paul, somewhat taken aback by the assemblage of scientific talent before him, arose and strode timidly to the front of the room, halted momentarily and, seemingly gathering himself, commenced with, “Uhhhh, yes, well, uhm, I assume you all know the story, the story of Galileo’s lost message, so I shan’t bore you with that…” and his words drifting off, he suddenly regained his own train of thought and now recommenced with palpably enhanced self-assurance, “So, eighteen years ago I solved Galileo’s Lost Message, or at least I thought I had solved it. My solution remained to be proven. I have come to call it The Starry Message, and now you know why – because two years ago a team of JPL scientists and I rediscovered the comet originally discovered by Galileo in 1637. And here it gets quite interesting – using Kepler’s Laws Galileo was able to accurately predict the exact date of the return of the comet. And although he was not able to be certain, it appeared to him that the comet’s orbit would intersect with that of the Earth on its return from the Oort Cloud. So, sad to say, he predicted the end of the world as we know it.

“But here is the most interesting part of all, he made a mistake – a mistake that can actually be traced all the way to himself. As it turns out, modern science is going to save us from this catastrophe, and the science that will do it is the science of mechanics, a science that was originally detailed in Galileo’s last book – Two New Sciences, published in 1637, the same year that he observed the comet. What you may not know is that he also secreted a message from his villa where he was a captive to John Milton, and that message eventually made its way to one Isaac Newton, who is widely regarded as the greatest scientist of all time, he the author of Newton’s Laws of universal motion. As we now know, Newton was aided in the formulation of his laws via the message secreted to him by John Milton, and – happy to say – he subsequently published The Principia, which contains the basis for which our anticipated rescue from the comet Galileo will be provided.

“So what I can say to you today is this – not only did Galileo predict the potentially catastrophic event that lies in our future, he can also be said to be at least in part the source of our solution. As such, we may regard Galileo as the savior of humankind in its darkest hour.” Paul now stood back from the podium and momentarily retook his seat.

Mr. Hansen now approached the podium once again and announced, “So there you have it in a nutshell, ladies and gentlemen. Ever since Dr. Woodbridge’s team discovered the comet Galileo two years ago the team here at JPL has been focused on finding a means of avoiding the impending collision with the comet Galileo, and we are here today to discuss the various solutions that are currently under study. And let me be clear about this, ladies and gentlemen, our team has determined that, with a probability of 99.999%, we are confident that we will be able to successfully alter the course of the comet so that it does not impact the Earth, and this is by-in-large due to the fact that Galileo’s poem has given us ample time, utilizing Newtonian mechanics, to affect a solution to this problem.”

 

 

 

Postscript

 

There must be a beginning of any great matter, but the continuing unto the end until it is thoroughly finished yields the true glory.

 

-Sir Francis Drake (1540-96)

 

Historical Characters

 

Cesar Cremonini may have been one of the models for Galileo’s Simplicio in Dialogues Concerning the Two Chief World Systems. Although regarded as the most acclaimed philosopher of his time, his oeuvre has not stood the test of time. Cremonini, who died in 1631, is today remembered most often for the fact that he refused to look through Galileo’s telescope.

 

Federico Cesi’s life was tragically cut short prematurely in 1630. Although the initial incarnation of the Lincean Academy did not survive his death, The Lynxes are now considered to be the oldest extant scientific academy on Earth, thus ensuring Cesi’s place in history.

 

Galileo Galilei passed away at the age of 77 at Il Gioiello in Arcetri on January 8, 1642. He was blind, incontinent, and suffering from a number of maladies including a debilitating hernia at the time of his death. As he was a condemned heretic, there was no funeral. His body was stored in a small antechamber within the Santa Croce for nearly a century. His remains were moved to the magnificent tomb that he rests in today in the year 1737. Galileo’s Dialogues Concerning the Two Chief World Systems remained banned by the Catholic Church until 1835. Although Galileo has never been formally pardoned by the Catholic Church, in 1987 Pope John Paul II admitted that errors had been committed by the Catholic Church in the trial of Galileo.

 

Giordano Bruno remains to this day an enigmatic and largely misunderstood person in the history of Italia. His theories were perhaps too far ahead of his time. There is a statue of him today in the Campo dei Fiori in downtown Roma, the site where he was burned at the stake for heresy in 1600.

 

Maffeo Barberini (Pope Urban VIII), the pope who thought that he was the model for Simplicio in Dialogues Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, eventually forgave Galileo, sending papal blessings to Galileo in the final days of Galileo’s life. He outlived Galileo by only two and a half years, passing away on July 29, 1644. In the last years of his papacy he started wars, stole the bronze girders from the Pantheon to make the baldaquin in St. Peter’s Basilica, and increased the papal debt by more than a hundred percent. When he died the people of Roma rejoiced.

 

Michelangelo Galilei, Galileo’s younger brother, became a renowned composer and lutenist, but never managed to overcome his financial difficulties. He died destitute in 1631.

 

Roberto Bellarmino died in Roma on September 17, 1621. He was canonized in 1930 by Pope Pius XI. His remains are displayed within a glass case in the Church of St. Ignatius.

 

Vincenzo Galilei refused to accept the ancient musical theories of Pythagoras, performing his own experiments (together with his son Galileo) on the relation between tone, string length and tension. In so doing he created what is arguably the first nonlinear theory of physics in history. Vincenzo died in Firenze in 1591.

 

Vincenzo Maculano later rose to the rank of Cardinal, at least in part due to his stern handling of the Galileo Inquisition. He rose to become Camerlengo of the Sacred College of Cardinals in 1652. He died in 1667 and was buried in the Basilica of Santa Sabina at the Aventine.

 

John Milton became one of the greatest writers in the English language. Throughout his life he wrote passionately about personal freedom, referring often to Galileo. His greatest work, Paradise Lost, was composed after he went blind in 1654. He died in 1674 in London.

 

Isaac Newton spent his entire career at Cambridge. In 1687 he published the book Principia, considered by many to be the most important scientific book ever written. He was known to state that Galileo had been a great influence on him. Newton died in Kensington in 1727.

 

Vincenzo Viviani, Galileo’s aide at the time of his death, edited the first edition of Galileo’s collected works in 1656. In 1660 he and Giovanni Borelli measured the speed of sound. In 1661 he experimented with the rotation of pendulums, an experiment later perfected by Foucault. In 1666 he was appointed court mathematician to the Grand Duke of Tuscany. Viviani died in 1703 at the age of 81, ever faithful to his mentor. In 1737 the tomb of Galileo was built with funds provided by Viviani at his death. Vincenzo Viviani is today buried together with his beloved Professore Galileo Galilei in the magnificent tomb in the Santa Croce.

 

Fictional Characters

 

Contessa Antonietta Floridiana da Vinci wrote a travelogue for Italian tourists using her new-found knowledge of her country. She lives today at her villa in Arcetri.

 

Giovanni Bazzocchi (the elder) continues to live a garrulous existence in Ravenna, along with his wife and sons.

 

Inspector Bustamente, having disposed of one of the most notorious Mafia families in Italy, rose to the rank of Chief of Police of Firenze. He lives to this day in Firenze.

 

Marco Vincenzo da Vinci became the Count Floridiana after the death of his father. He subsequently moved to the United States, where he studied finance at the University of Cleveland. He lives today in Miami, Florida.

 

Paul Woodbridge subsequently wrote a historically based novel about the life of Galileo. Shortly after the reopening of the Leaning Tower of Pisa in December, 2001, Paul and Antonietta climbed it together.

 

***~~~***

 

 

Selected Readings

 

Dialogues Concerning The Chief World Systems by Galileo Galilei

 

Dialogues Concerning Two New Sciences by Galileo Galilei

 

Galileo by Stillman Drake

 

Galileo at Work by Stillman Drake

 

Galileo A Life by James Reston, Jr.

 

Principia by Isaac Newton

 

Renaissance Genius Galileo Galilei & His Legacy to Modern Science by David Whitehouse

 

The Man of Numbers Fibonacci’s Arithmetic Revolution by Keith Devlin

 

De Revolutionibus Orbium Caelestium by Nicolaus Copernicus

 

The Archimedes Codex: How a Medieval Prayer Book is Revealing the True Genius of

 

Antiquity’s Greatest Scientist by Revel Netz and William Noel

 

*Mysteries of the Middle Ages and the Beginning of the Modern Wo*rld by Thomas Cahill

 

Tycho and Kepler The Strange Partnership that Revolutionized Astronomy by Kitty Ferguson

 

The Book Nobody Read Chasing the Revolution of Nicolaus Copernicus by Owen Gingerich

 

A World Lit Only by Fire – The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance by William Manchester

 

Tilt – A Skewed History of the Tower of Pisa by Nicholas Shrady

 

Galileo’s Daughter by Dava Sobel

 

The Feud that Sparked the Renaissance by Paul Robert Walker

 

La Géométrie by Rene Descartes

 

Brunelleschi’s Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture by Ross King

 

Engineers and Engineering in the Renaissance by William Parsons

 

A History of Mechanics by Rene Dugas

 

The Great Physicists from Galileo to Einstein by George Gamow

 

Heavenly Intrigue by Joshua and Anne-Lee Gilder

 

A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking

 

History of the Strength of Materials by Stephen Timoshenko

 

Sprezzatura 50 Ways Italian Genius Shaped the World by Peter D’Epiro and Mary Desmond

 

How Mechanics Shaped the Modern World by David H. Allen

 

 

About the Author

 

D. Allen Henry is a freelance writer who is also the author of Hawk Banks, Those Who Fought for Us, My Father the God, Of War and Women, Enlisting Redemption and Finding Patience. The author welcomes comments regarding any of his novels. His website is located at http://dayhahaha.wix.com/dallenhenry, and his Facebook address is https://www.facebook.com/dallen.henry . You may provide feedback to the following e-mail address: [email protected] If you enjoyed Galileo’s Lost Message, please be so kind as to provide a review of it on the website from which you acquired this book.

 

Novels by

D. Allen Henry

*
p<{color:#000;}. Galileo’s Lost Message – © 2016

When Professor Paul Woodbridge receives a call from Contessa Antonietta Floridiana, she queries, “Suppose Galileo wrote a secret encoded message at the end of his life. Would the professor perhaps be able to decode it?” The quest for the solution to Galileo’s Lost Message will lead the pair on a search across Italy that is destined to profoundly alter the course of humankind.

https://www.Shakespir.com/books/view/155956

*
p<{color:#000;}. Hawk Banks – Founding Texas (revised edition) – © 2014

Pairing up with Texas frontiersman Hank MacElrae, the inimitable Bostonian Hawk Banks sets off in quest of adventure on the Plains of Texas. A distinctly incompatible pair, the two manage to make their unlikely friendship work and, enduring all manner of unlikely events, they succeed in finding their way into the heart of Texas, becoming founding fathers of a new nation.

https://www.Shakespir.com/books/view/448831

*
p<{color:#000;}. The Sutherland Saga

*
p<{color:#000;}. Part I: Those Who Fought for Us – © 2015

On the eve of World War I, Elizabeth Turnberry and her friend Margaret MacCreedy meet fellow students Robert Sutherland and Alastair Stewart in a pub in Edinburgh. And, although the future seems bright, the outbreak of war in the summer of 1914 will destroy all their hopes and dreams. Is there hope at all for those who fought for us?

https://www.Shakespir.com/books/view/535009

*
p<{color:#000;}. Part II: Of War and Women – © 2015

On the eve of the Battle of Britain a farewell party is held for the 93rd Squadron at Wharton Manor, and though World War II will subsequently intervene, events of that night will echo down through history, changing the lives of those present forever. Unfairly maligned, one woman will persevere, but for all her accomplishments, will Felicité succeed?

https://www.Shakespir.com/books/view/536530

*
p<{color:#000;}. Part III: Enlisting Redemption – © 2015

When twenty-one year old college student Trevor Sutherland enlists Rebecca Carey in a birthday party performance, it leads to a heinous crime. Her subsequent disappearance will ultimately send Trevor on a decade long quest for redemption, one fraught with intrigue, deception, and ultimately murder.

https://www.Shakespir.com/books/view/540538

*
p<{color:#000;}. Part IV: Finding Patience – © 2015

When Patience Walker is kidnapped on a cold winter’s night, her life is changed forever. Having met her on that very day, Brandt MacCauley takes on the challenge of finding her. Spanning fifteen years, his quest will not only change both of their lives, it will ultimately alter the course of history.

https://www.Shakespir.com/books/view/543390

*
p<{color:#000;}. My Father the God – © 2015 (sequel to Those Who Fought for Us)

Having completed his first year at Hanford University, Scotsman Sloan Stewart begins the summer of 1941 working at The Orchard Inn with his friends James, Isolde and Sabrina. But entanglements inevitably lead to a shocking event, one that will transform each of them irrevocably through war, peace, and ultimately, the remainder of their lives. Can they ever surmount the errors of their youth?

https://www.Shakespir.com/books/view/538259

 


Galileo's Lost Message

An intricate mystery for those who are interested in the history of science, Galileo’s Lost Message is the historically based story of how the aging genius Galileo finds a means of forewarning future generations of an event that may well mean the end of the world. Unfortunately, the only viable means of dissemination available to the blind and imprisoned scientist is to deposit an encoded message in a secret hiding place. The discovery of this message by the Contessa Antonietta Floridiana more than three centuries later initiates the search for the solution to the riddle. Enlisting the aid of American Professor Paul Woodbridge, she sets off with him on a journey across Italy in search of the solution to the cryptic message. Transporting the reader across space and time, the storyline moves seamlessly between seventeenth century and modern-day Italy in a series of events that increasingly intertwine the lives of Galileo, the professor and the contessa. As each discovery by the modern day pair builds on the previous one, they are increasingly drawn into a complex web of intrigue, danger, and mindboggling scientific revelations. Ultimately, time and space seem to blend together as the quest to solve Galileo’s riddle rushes to its shocking and fateful conclusion.

  • ISBN: 9781310882166
  • Author: D. Allen Henry
  • Published: 2016-03-20 19:35:41
  • Words: 93201
Galileo's Lost Message Galileo's Lost Message