Galileo is an old man and Virginia about forty years old. He has been under house arrest by the Inquisition since the day of his trial, and is no longer allowed to research or write without his words being first approved by the monk who guards him. His writing, it seems, is entirely dictated to Virginia.
Virginia seems finally to have her wish. Her father has recanted his greatness for a more traditional life and avoided persecution in so doing. Yet, Galileo seems to have kept Virginia in the dark about his continued work.
A stranger has gifted the family a pair of fat geese, and Galileo requests that they be cooked with apples. When Virginia presents them to Galileo, however, he can’t see them, because his eyes have gotten so bad.
It’s never made clear who has gifted these geese to Galileo and Virginia. Probably they come from Andrea, but Brecht uses them mainly to reintroduce the apple symbol.
While Galileo is dictating a response to a clerical request for his opinion, Andrea (now middle-aged himself) appears at the door. He is leaving for Holland to conduct research, and his new employers have asked him to check on Galileo to see if he’s well. Galileo mentions that he’s heard some nations, not under the Church’s control, still pursue his research. Andrea chastises him, saying that when he recanted it set the entire world back. Even Descartes, he says, stopped his research on the nature of light. Galileo then asks about his pupils, whom he says he led into error. Federzoni resumed his career as a lens grinder. The Little Monk returned to the Church. And Andrea is forced to go to Holland, where he can be free to research.
As with Bruno earlier, dropping Descartes’ name here reminds readers that Galileo (as a great man who bucks tradition in the name of progress) is part of a much larger conversation. His failure to take up his part of that conversation endangers it and weakens it. Indeed, who knows if another Galileo would ever come along to replace what was lost when Galileo recanted? At any rate, infectious as his message was, the recantation seems to have cured it. His pupils, those most likely to pick up his work, have all instead scattered.
When Andrea goes to leave after only a short talk, Galileo asks him why he bothered to come in the first place. Galileo’s repentance has been going well, though he has occasional lapses into his former self. As an example, he mentions in an offhand way that he’s managed to finish his great work, The Discourses, that he began so long ago with his pupils.
Despite all the dramatic, over-the-top moments in Life of Galileo, such as the fainting old cardinal, there is little in the way of drama for this massively important revelation from Galileo. In fact, it comes almost as a second thought, catching Andrea completely off guard.
Andrea is amazed by this news and flabbergasted that this great work, which the entire world is clamoring for, is under the supervision of a monk in a small house in Florence. Galileo gives Andrea his transcript, so that he can take it with him to Holland and have it published. Andrea realizes that Galileo recanted because his work wasn’t done. He apologizes to his former mentor, who calls him a “brother in science.” Andrea departs in wonder at Galileo’s accomplishment.
In the end, house arrest is almost exactly what Galileo needed to complete his work. The conditions of his confinement make it impossible for him to be persecuted further while providing for him materially. And while he still must complete mundane tasks, doing so now improves rather than degrades the reputations of those above him. The cost (of his eyesight) was admittedly high, however.