The Life of Galileo


Bertolt Brecht

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Fire Symbol Icon

Fire, flame, and burning are a constant presence within Life of Galileo. The reason is fairly obvious: Galileo fears being burned at the stake for his beliefs. Giordana Bruno (who is alluded to, but not named, in the text) had been burned at the stake fewer than ten years earlier for attempting (as Galileo does) to advance the teachings of Copernicus. Galileo reminds the Procurator of this, and in turn an old Cardinal reminds Galileo. Barberini alludes to it when he says “can one go upon hot coals, and his feet not be burned.” In that, he means that Galileo steps on dangerous ground in confronting the Church on Aristotle. Yet Brecht suggests a subtler meaning of fire in his poetic foreword to the final scene of Life of Galileo. He implores the audience to use science properly “lest it become a flame” that consumes everything. By this, Brecht suggests that Galileo’s questioning of Aristotle was both proper and productive, but that future generations need to question him as vigorously as he questioned his predecessors. Otherwise, contemporary science could become as blind and dogmatic as the authorities who threatened to burn Galileo at the stake for his beliefs.

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Fire Symbol Timeline in The Life of Galileo

The timeline below shows where the symbol Fire appears in The Life of Galileo. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Scene 1
Persecution Theme Icon
Work vs. Passion Theme Icon
...reminds the Procurator that it was the University that handed over Giordano Bruno to be burned at the stake for advocating for Copernicus. (full context)
Scene 3
Progress vs. Tradition Theme Icon
Persecution Theme Icon
...explanations, and he warns Galileo once again, this time mentioning Giordano Bruno, who was recently burned at the stake for advancing heretical astronomical views. (full context)
Progress vs. Tradition Theme Icon
Persecution Theme Icon
Ideas as Infection Theme Icon
Greatness Theme Icon within men. Sagredo contends that Galileo’s profession won’t matter to the Church, who will burn him for a heresy like that. They have, after all, done so to others—and in... (full context)
Scene 6
Progress vs. Tradition Theme Icon
Persecution Theme Icon
...human race and saying that he reminds the cardinal of a man that was just burned for heresy. He angrily begins reciting the lessons of Aristotle while pacing back and forth... (full context)
Scene 7
Progress vs. Tradition Theme Icon
Persecution Theme Icon
Greatness Theme Icon
...the exchange by asking “can one go upon hot coals, and his feet not be burned?” The conversation then turns to Galileo’s critique of Aristotle. Barberini suggests that the reason mathematics... (full context)