A Patchwork of Passages

On the Nature of Imitation in Galileo’s Alphabet and Painting Metaphors

  • Peter Kelly, PK National University of Ireland


In the Dialogo sopra i due massimi sistemi del mondo, Galileo states that he has a more authoritative book than those of Aristotle, one which is capable of representing a unified theory of nature; he calls it the alphabet. Galileo’s metaphor of the alphabet is adapted from Lucretius’ De rerum natura and indicates Galileo’s turning towards the primary constituents of the material world, ahead of the study of texts; he also compares the scientist to a painter capable of imitating the finest details of the physical world. Both these images emphasize the aesthetic nature of the scientist’s work. This paper argues that Galileo is responding to a series of aesthetic works on poetic imitation, while both metaphors link the activities of the scientist with that of the artist, where discovering and making tangible the underlying order of matter is fundamentally a creative activity, and where the scientist not only reveals, but invents the profound beauty in nature.


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Author Biography

Peter Kelly, PK, National University of Ireland

Dr. Peter Kelly is lecturer in Classics in the National University of Ireland, Galway. He has previously held the position of visiting research associate in the Classics department in the University of Oregon and visiting lecturer in Oregon State University. He has published extensively on the influence of Greek philosophy on Latin literature and especially on Ovid’s use of Platonic philosophy. His monograph on this topic, titled the Cosmic Text from Ovid to Plato, is currently under review.

How to Cite
Kelly, P. (2020). A Patchwork of Passages. Ciceroniana on Line, 4(1), 185-204. https://doi.org/10.13135/2532-5353/4675
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