How They Croaked

Galileo Galilei

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Who was Galileo?

Galileo Galilei was the first to ask the big questions and actually search for answers. He lived from 1564-1642 and believed the Earth revolved around the sun. Galileo was a mathematics professor for 20 years, and in that time period professors lived with their students. He would have them perform unusual experiments.

They've Got the Power

The Catholic Church had a lot of power during this time in history. The Holy Inquisition had the authority to hunt down people who believed something different from what the Church believed. They called these people heretics, and they usually were tortured or killed. When Galileo discovered that the Earth revolved around the Sun and not the other way around, he had to handle the situation carefully. The last person to suggest a sun-centered universe was burned at the stake by the church police.

Not only were there power crazy church officials running around, there was a surplus of disease and ignorant doctors. It was the 1500s after all, and the medical technology was nothing compared to what we have today. People usually only lived to be about 35 years old because of plagues, poxes, and other disorders that had unknown remedies. Sanitation was not a huge concern at the time either.

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How Many Problems Can One Man Have?

Galileo suffered from many things. He drank wine because it was safer to drink than water due to the fact that water wasn't able to be fully decontaminated yet. However, at this point in time, people were not aware of the fact that the lead flakes they used to flavor their food and drink would cause lead poisoning. This lead to kidney stones and gout, which deformed his hands into claws with lumpy knuckles, twisted fingers, and raw skin. There was a hole in his stomach muscle where his intestine bulged out, called a hernia. To plug the hole, he had to wear an iron truss every day. Galileo also suffered from glaucoma, which no one had yet been able to diagnose, let alone find a cure or treatment. Galileo ended up dying from kidney failure. He died on January 8, 1642. He had lived to be 77 years old, which was twice as long as most people lived during that time.

Galileo was Significant Because...

Galileo was the first to successfully discover and teach others that the Earth revolves around the Sun. Others had tried but were stopped by the Catholic Church. After Galileo published his book, "Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems," he was put on trial by the Inquisition. He was found guilty of heresy, or rejecting the beliefs of those in power, and was sentenced to death. He was smart enough to take back what he said and get his sentence reduced to house arrest. If he were dead he wouldn't be able to spread the truth, now would he?
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Modern Solutions

Today, a hernia would be treated in a similar way to what it was back then. The iron truss that Galileo wore has since been updated and made better. It is made of a strap and plug, but the materials used are soft, able to be better manipulated, and more comfortable. Another option for the hernia is surgery, which had not yet been available in Galileo's life time.

Kidney stones can be passed by drinking lots of water or taking pills. However, pills weren't really an option in the 1500s and water wasn't the cleanest thing to drink. More severe stones would need to be removed surgically; again, not available for Mr. Galilei.

Glaucoma can be treated with eye drops, pills, surgery, or a combination of the methods.


When Galileo died, the Inquisition did not allow him a ceremonial funeral. He was buried in a small closet in the Basilica of Santa Croce. It wasn't until 1992 that the church finally apologized for its mistreatment of Galileo, 350 years after he died.

Ninety-five years after Galileo had passed on, the world of science recognized Galileo's findings, and his remains were moved to a marble monument in the church. While he was being transported, some hardcore Galileo fans took a vertebra, a tooth, and three fingers from his right hand. Galileo's middle finger is on display at the Museum of the History of Science in Florence, Italy. The other two fingers and the tooth were kept by an Italian marquis, lost for about 100 years, and then sold at auction without any identification. The vertebra is at the University of Padua, Italy.

Important Events


Event~ Galileo got his first telescope

Significance~ This began his interest in astronomy


Event~ Galileo saw Jupiter's four moons and dark spots on the sun

Significance~ This is when he realized the Earth was moving


Event~ Galileo published his book, "Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems"

Significance~ The book was about his findings about the Earth revolving around the sun.


Event~ The Inquisition put Galileo on trial for heresy

Significance~ The Catholic Church was known for putting heretics to death, but Galileo was put on house arrest instead


Event~ Galileo died

Significance~ Galileo lived twice as long as the average person

Terms to Learn

Gout: An acute, recurrent disease characterized by painful inflammation of the joints, chiefly those in the hands and feet, especially in the great toe, and by an excess of uric acid in the blood.

Truss: A supportive device, usually a pad with a belt, worn to prevent an enlargement of a hernia or the return of a reduced hernia.

Glaucoma: Abnormally high fluid pressure in the eyes.

Heresy: Opinion/doctrine at variance with the orthodox or accepted doctrine.

House Arrest: Confinement of an arrested person to his or her residence or to a public place (hospital), instead of in a jail.