Galileo’s Dialogue

Frontispiece of Galileo Galilei's Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems,1632

Frontispiece of Galileo Galilei’s Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems,1632.

Galileo’s Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems was first published in 1632, and the following year he was suspected of heresy by the Inquisition and sentenced to house arrest for the remainder of his life. He was ordered to recite Psalms each week for three years and, of course, to forget the notion that the sun was the center of the solar system. His book was placed on a forbidden list until 1835, and it took 300 years for the Roman Catholic Church to admit he was correct and clear his name.

Human progress and the expansion of knowledge still face such obstacles around the world from religious dogma, political and economic interests, and willful ignorance. Recently, however, the scientific community and the interested world at large were rewarded when proof finally came that gravitational waves, predicted a hundred years ago by Albert Einstein in his general theory of relativity, actually exist. So, with this new knowledge, Galileo, considered by Einstein to be the father of modern physics and science in general, is once more vindicated.

The following section of Galileo’s Dialogue is taken from The World’s Greatest Books, Vol. XV, Science edited by Arthur Mee and J.A. Hammerton, published 1910. The dialogue is between three men, with Salviatus acting as the voice of Galileo himself who explains the solar system to his two colleagues.

Does the Earth Move

Salviatus: Now, let Simplicius propound those doubts which dissuade him from believing that the earth may move, as the other planets, round a fixed centre.

Simplicius: The first and greatest difficulty is that it is impossible both to be in a centre and to be far from it. If the earth move in a circle it cannot remain in the centre of the zodiac; but Aristotle, Ptolemy and others have proved that it is in the centre of the zodiac.

Salviatus: There is no question that the earth cannot be in the centre of a circle round whose circumference it moves. But tell me what centre do you mean?

Simplicius: I mean the centre of the universe, of the whole world, of the starry sphere.

Salviatus: No one has ever proved that the universe is finite and figurative; but granting that it is finite and spherical, and has therefore a centre, we have still to give reasons why we should believe that the earth is at its centre.

Simplicius: Aristotle has proved in a hundred ways that the universe is finite and spherical.

Salviatus: Aristotle’s proof that the universe was finite and spherical was derived essentially from the consideration that it moved; and seeing that centre and figure were inferred by Aristotle from its mobility, it will be reasonable if we endeavour to find from the circular motions of mundane bodies the centre’s proper place. Aristotle himself came to the conclusion that all the celestial spheres revolve round the earth, which is placed at the centre of the universe. But tell me, Simplicius, supposing Aristotle found that one of the two propositions must be false, and that either the celestial spheres do not revolve or that the earth is not the centre round which they revolve, which proposition would he prefer to give up?

Simplicius: I believe that the Peripatetics——

Salviatus: I do not ask the Peripatetics, I ask Aristotle. As for the Peripatetics, they, as humble vassals of Aristotle, would deny all the experiments and all the observations in the world; nay, would also refuse to see them, and would say that the universe is as Aristotle writeth, and not as Nature will have it; for, deprived of the shield of his authority, with what do you think they would appear in the field? Tell me, therefore, what Aristotle himself would do.

Simplicius: To tell you the truth, I do not know how to decide which is the lesser inconvenience.

Salviatus: Seeing you do not know, let us examine which would be the more rational choice, and let us assume that Aristotle would have chosen so. Granting with Aristotle that the universe has a spherical figure and moveth circularly round a centre, it is reasonable to believe that the starry orbs move round the centre of the universe or round some separate centre?

Simplicius: I would say that it were much more reasonable to believe that they move with the universe round the centre of the universe.

Salviatus: But they move round the sun and not round the earth; therefore the sun and not the earth is the centre of the universe.

Simplicius: Whence, then, do you argue that it is the sun and not the earth that is the centre of the planetary revolutions?

Salviatus: I infer that the earth is not the centre of the planetary revolutions because the planets are at different times at very different distances from the earth. For instance, Venus, when it is farthest off, is six times more remote from us than when it is nearest, and Mars rises almost eight times as high at one time as at another.

Simplicius: And what are the signs that the planets revolve round the sun as centre?

Salviatus: We find that the three superior planets—Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn—are always nearest to the earth when they are in opposition to the sun, and always farthest off when they are in conjunction; and so great is this approximation and recession that Mars, when near, appears very nearly sixty times greater than when remote. Venus and Mercury also certainly revolve round the sun, since they never move far from it, and appear now above and now below it.

Sagredus: I expect that more wonderful things depend on the annual revolution than upon the diurnal rotation of the earth.

Salviatus: YOU do not err therein. The effect of the diurnal rotation of the earth is to make the universe seem to rotate in the opposite direction; but the annual motion complicates the particular motions of all the planets. But to return to my proposition. I affirm that the centre of the celestial convolutions of the five planets—Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus, and Mercury, and likewise of the earth—is the sun.

As for the moon, it goes round the earth, and yet does not cease to go round the sun with the earth. It being true, then, that the five planets do move about the sun as a centre, rest seems with so much more reason to belong to the said sun than to the earth, inasmuch as in a movable sphere it is more reasonable that the centre stand still than any place remote from the centre.

To the earth, therefore, may a yearly revolution be assigned, leaving the sun at rest. And if that be so, it follows that the diurnal motion likewise belongs to the earth; for if the sun stood still and the earth did not rotate, the year would consist of six months of day and six months of night. You may consider, likewise, how, in conformity with this scheme, the precipitate motion of twenty-four hours is taken away from the universe; and how the fixed stars, which are so many suns, are made, like our sun, to enjoy perpetual rest.

Sagredus: The scheme is simple and satisfactory; but, tell me, how is it that Pythagoras and Copernicus, who first brought it forward, could make so few converts?

Salviatus: If you know what frivolous reasons serve to make the vulgar, contumacious and indisposed to hearken, you would not wonder at the paucity of converts. The number of thick skulls is infinite, and we need neither record their follies nor endeavour to interest them in subtle and sublime ideas. No demonstrations can enlighten stupid brains.

My wonder, Sagredus, is different from yours. You wonder that so few are believers in the Pythagorean hypothesis; I wonder that there are any to embrace it. Nor can I sufficiently admire the super-eminence of those men’s wits that have received and held it to be true, and with the sprightliness of their judgments have offered such violence to their senses that they have been able to prefer that which their reason asserted to that which sensible experience manifested. I cannot find any bounds for my admiration how that reason was able, in Aristarchus and Copernicus, to commit such a rape upon their senses, as in despite thereof to make herself mistress of their credulity.

Sagredus: Will there still be strong opposition to the Copernican system?

Salviatus: Undoubtedly; for there are evident and sensible facts to oppose it, requiring a sense more sublime than the common and vulgar senses to assist reason.

Sagredus: Let us, then, join battle with those antagonistic facts.

Salviatus: I am ready. In the first place, Mars himself charges hotly against the truth of the Copernican system. According to the Copernican system, that planet should appear sixty times as large when at its nearest as when at its farthest; but this diversity of magnitude is not to be seen. The same difficulty is seen in the case of Venus. Further, if Venus be dark, and shine only with reflected light, like the moon, it should show lunar phases; but these do not appear.

Further, again, the moon prevents the whole order of the Copernican system by revolving round the earth instead of round the sun. And there are other serious and curious difficulties admitted by Copernicus himself. But even the three great difficulties I have named are not real. As a matter of fact, Mars and Venus do vary in magnitude as required by theory, and Venus does change its shape exactly like the moon.

Sagredus: But how came this to be concealed from Copernicus and revealed to you?

Portrait of Galileo Galilei by Justus Sustermans (1597–1681), oil on canvas,1636, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.

Portrait of Galileo Galilei by Justus Sustermans (1597–1681), oil on canvas,1636, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.

Further reading:
Galileo Galilei: When the World Stood Still by Atle Næss
Einstein: His Life & Universe by Walter Isaacson

 

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Bes

Bes_Nordisk_familjebok

Illustration of Bes from Nordisk_familjebok, 1907

 

One of the more unusual of Egyptian gods, Bes is an unlikely benevolent spirit. Sometimes linked to or confused with similar dwarf gods such as Aha, Bes is a waring deity and was very popular during the New Kingdom, but existed in ancient Egypt since the Old Kingdom.

He is a squat figure sometimes shown with a weapon, tale, or phallus, and a violent grin on his face. He often wears a top hat that looks much like the capital of a doric column. One of the more unusual characteristics of most depictions of Bes is that he is shown in full frontal portrait, while Egyptian deities were typically represented in profile. His demonic appearance, though more mischievous and curmudgeonly really, is sometimes thought to have influenced future depictions of the Christian devil.

Detail of Inferno from The Last Judgement by Fra Angelico, tempera on wood, 105 × 210 cm (41.3 × 82.7 in), circa 1431, Museo Nazionale di San Marco, Florence

Detail of Inferno from The Last Judgement by Fra Angelico, tempera on wood, 105 × 210 cm (41.3 × 82.7 in), circa 1431, Museo Nazionale di San Marco, Florence

Though Bes was a violent, destructive being who slayed all manner of evil beasts, he was known to the masses as a protector, particularly of households and childbirth. He was ferocious enough to have decorated the weapons of warriors, but could also be found adorning the bodies of servant girls in the form of tattoos. Couples might place his image in their private chambers for luck in bearing children.

Stela of the God Bes, limestone and paint, H. 38.7 cm (15 /14 in); w. 17.7 cm (6 15/16 in), Ptolemaic or Roman Period, 4th century B.C.–A.D. 1st century, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Stela of the God Bes, limestone and paint, H. 38.7 cm (15 /14 in); w. 17.7 cm (6 15/16 in), Ptolemaic or Roman Period, 4th century B.C.–A.D. 1st century, Metropolitan Museum of Art

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, terracotta figures like the one above, usually with an erect phallus (this one is missing), may have been placed in chambers where pilgrims came to sleep, so that they might receive “divinely inspired dreams.”

 

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Drinking Alone by Moonlight

Drinking Alone by Moonlight
By The Poet Li Po, also known as Li Bai (AD 701-762)
Translated by Arthur Waley in 1918

1.

A cup of wine, under the flowering-trees:
I drink alone, for no friend is near.
Raising my cup, I beckon the bright moon,
For he, with my shadow, will make three men.
The moon, alas! is no drinker of wine:
Listless, my shadow creeps about at my side.
Yet with the moon as friend and the shadow as slave
I must make merry before the Spring is spent.
To the songs I sing the moon flickers her beams;
In the dance I weave my shadow tangles and breaks.
While we were sober, three shared the fun;
Now we are drunk, each goes his way.
May we long share our odd, inanimate feast,
And meet at last on the Cloudy River of the Sky.

2.

In the third month the town of Hsien-yang
Is thick-spread with a carpet of fallen flowers.
Who in Spring can bear to grieve alone?
Who, sober, look on sights like these?
Riches and Poverty, long or short life,
By the Maker of Things are portioned and disposed.
But a cup of wine levels life and death
And a thousand things obstinately hard to prove.
When I am drunk, I lose Heaven and Earth;
Motionless, I cleave to my lonely bed.
At last I forget that I exist at all,
And at that moment my joy is great indeed.

3.

If High Heaven had no love for wine,
There would not be a Wine Star in the sky.
If Earth herself had no love for wine,
There would not be a city called Wine Springs.
Since Heaven and Earth both love wine,
I can love wine, without shame before God.
Clear wine was once called “a Saint;”
Thick wine was once called “a Sage.”
Of Saint and Sage I have long quaffed deep,
What need for me to study spirits and hsien?
At the third cup I penetrate the Great Way;
A full gallon–Nature and I are one….
But the things I feel when wine possesses my soul
I will never tell to those who are not drunk.

Moonlight by Edvard Munch, oil on canvas, 93 × 110 cm (36.6 × 43.3 in), 1895, National Gallery of Norway, Oslo

Moonlight by Edvard Munch, oil on canvas, 93 × 110 cm (36.6 × 43.3 in), 1895, National Gallery of Norway, Oslo

 

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Simon Bening’s Virgin and Child

Virgin and Child, Attributed to Simon Bening, Oil on wood, 10 x 8 1/4 in. (25.4 x 21 cm), ca. 1520, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Virgin and Child, Attributed to Simon Bening, Oil on wood, 10 x 8 1/4 in. (25.4 x 21 cm), ca. 1520, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Measuring at just under the size of a piece of letter paper, this magic little painting sits quietly and unassumingly in Gallery 640 in the European Paintings Department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The work is attributed to Simon Bening, the great Netherlandish miniaturist and son of illuminator, Alexander Bening. He is most widely known for creating books of hours for royal patrons and rulers.

One of the most remarkable qualities of this finely painted Virgin and Child is its plainness. Though her hair is golden, the mother is mostly unadorned. The child’s hair is also golden, but their are no halos. The scene is one of quiet, stillness, and knowing. The mother’s face, though somewhat idealized, is pensive, almost distracted, while the child turns his gaze outward with a glint of providence in his eye.

The landscape behind is meticulous and simple with each leaf singular and distinct. In the distance, a small cottage with its lone figure sits by a stream where two swans drift. The figures are seated on what could be a simple garden wall in any village.

The child extends his spoon toward us, and the accompanying text for the painting notes that…

…Mary is presented as the very model of a nurturing mother. A stream of milk flows from her breast to the lips of the Child, who turns toward the viewer and gestures with a spoon, linking physical nourishment with the spiritual nourishment he offers.

Other works by Simon Bening in the Met’s online collection can be found here…

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Sassetta’s Heretic

Stefano di Giovanni Sassetta, The Burning of a Heretic, tempera and gold leaf on wood panel, 24.6 x 38.7 cm, 1423-c. 1426, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Stefano di Giovanni Sassetta, The Burning of a Heretic, tempera and gold leaf on wood panel, 24.6 x 38.7 cm, 1423-c. 1426, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Stefano di Giovanni Sassetta’s Burning of a Heretic lives in the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, and I have never seen it in the flesh. I have, however, spent a lot of time admiring its image. Reproductions of paintings have always been important sources of inspiration for me, and now with so many institutions joining the open access movement and making high quality digital images available to anyone via the web, even more so.

sassetta-horseman-detail

Stefano di Giovanni Sassetta, The Burning of a Heretic, detail (horseman)

One of my favorite aspects of European painting in the early fifteenth century is how groupings of objects, figures, and elements of the landscape create clusters of form that become very abstract at times. Part of this is due to the overlapping of figures, for example, that serves as a mechanism for a sort of flattened suggestion of perspective. This is evident in much Northern European painting from the early Renaissance as well as Italian examples like Sassetta’s Sienese masterpiece. These visual clusters create new form and thus the potential for new meaning. I particularly like how the horseman seen from the rear on the left becomes almost unrecognizable as a figure.

The other soldiers on horse are the only figures to break the horizon with its cut-out like mountains and occasional tree. The curvy edge of those hills keep the people and most of the action embedded below, with the exception of what appears to be a lone demon swooping down from above. The flags of the horsemen to the right of center pierce the top edge of the panel, making a convenient formal divide in the picture.

 

Stefano di Giovanni Sassetta, The Burning of a Heretic, detail (priests)

Stefano di Giovanni Sassetta, The Burning of a Heretic, detail (priests)

The columnar priests in the right foreground are equal parts human and architecture, and they are the only figures with their backs turned to the burning man.

Somehow we are elevated but close by as we look on what should be a very gruesome (though the flat expressions of the faces in the crowd make everything seem rather casual) scene. The unfortunate heretic looks to the sky, and his is the most expressive face in the painting. He is resolute and calm. Together with the bundled twigs, the flames consuming him, and the faint spirals of smoke, the heretic takes on new form and is transcendent. Meanwhile, the golden-clad stoker remains faceless.

Stefano di Giovanni Sassetta, The Burning of a Heretic, detail (heretic)

Stefano di Giovanni Sassetta, The Burning of a Heretic, detail (heretic)

 

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Sutro Baths

 

A view of the Sutro Baths from above at Lands End, San Francisco, CA

A view of the Sutro Baths from above at Lands End, San Francisco, CA

The Sutro Baths are relatively young for ruins. They were destroyed in a fire in 1966, and since then have been a popular destination for tourists and locals alike. On a recent trip to San Francisco, we walked the trails on the cliffs above at Lands End.

View of the rocky coast and the Golden Gate Bridge from the cliff trails at Lands End

View of the rocky coast and the Golden Gate Bridge from the cliff trails at Lands End

The views from the trail are stunning, and the walk through the woods and down to the beach is pleasant and not too strenuous. Barring a couple of vertigo inducing moments at the highest points where there is little tree cover, it was easy going.

The beach cliffs at Lands End near the baths

The beach cliffs at Lands End near the baths

From the beaches below, the views of the cliffs are sublime, and yet the jagged curves of the shoreline give the space an enclosed feeling. It can almost feel small when you are standing at sea level.

The cave at Sutro Baths

The cave at Sutro Baths

View through the crevice inside the cave

View through the crevice inside the cave

Just to the right of the ruins is a cave that once housed the pump for the baths. It’s a short walk through to the other side which stops at the edge of the rocky shore. Halfway in, there is a small overlook where you can watch the sea crashing through a sharp crevice, and the sound it makes is thunderous.

The baths with the Cliff House Restaurant in the background

The baths with the Cliff House Restaurant in the background

The old walls of the bath house are relatively low and have a somewhat labyrinthine feeling. I couldn’t help thinking that the place was a bit haunted…maybe not, but it was easy to confuse the wind and the crashing of the waves with what the laughter and splashing of the bathers might have sounded like. Above and to the left of the baths is the Cliff House restaurant where we had drinks after the hike.

The “Shoot” at Sutro Baths c. 1898

The “Shoot” at Sutro Baths c. 1898


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Claude’s Sermon

Claude Lorrain  (1600 - 1682), The Sermon on the Mount, oil on canvas, 67 1/2 x 102 1/4 in. (171.5 x 259.7 cm), ca. 1656, The Frick Collection, New York

Claude Lorrain (1600 – 1682), The Sermon on the Mount, oil on canvas, 67 1/2 x 102 1/4 in. (171.5 x 259.7 cm), ca. 1656, The Frick Collection, New York

The mount, of course, is much more important in Claude’s painting than the sermon. The people, the sheep, and the narrative itself are merely props to bring attention to the shadowy edifice that divides the landscape behind it and blocks the sun.

 

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Monochord

Robert FluddA single stringed instrument used to scientifically measure pitched tones, the monochord was also considered by some to be an important alchemical tool. The 16th and 17th century paracelsian physician Robert Fludd (1574–1637) made use of what he called his mundane monochord to express not only his theories of music but also his esoteric ideas about divine cosmic harmonies.

Robert Fludd’s Monochord from 1617, engraving by Kaspar Rötel

Robert Fludd’s Monochord from 1617, engraving by Kaspar Rötel

Robert Fludd’s Monochord from 1624, engraving by Kaspar Rötel

Robert Fludd’s Monochord from 1624, engraving by Kaspar Rötel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An exhibition titled High Matter, Dark Language: The Philosophy of Robert Fludd was organized in 1984 at the Wellcome Library in London. The catalog for the exhibition states:

Fludd used the monochord mostly to depict the musical intervals and numerical
proportions, but he also went further than this and integrated other relationships such as
parts of the human body or the stars into the framework of the musical instrument… It is clear enough that Fludd meant to present in this way an ensemble of harmonies that was shown in its completest form in the Monochordum mundi. But he was never affected by the difference which exists for us between the harmony of an instrument and the symbolism of all the other harmonies.

Titlepage of Robert Fludd's "Utriusque cosmi maioris scilice, engraving by T. de Bry, 1617

Titlepage of Robert Fludd’s “Utriusque cosmi maioris scilice, engraving by T. de Bry, 1617

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Atkinson Grimshaw

Atkinson GrimshawBorn to a modest family in Leeds, John Atkinson Grimshaw (September 6, 1836 – October 13, 1893) left his railway job at twenty-four, against the wishes of his parents, to become a full-time painter. His early works, beginning about 1861, were highly detailed landscapes and still life paintings that show a strong Pre-Raphaelite influence. The paintings from this period, particularly the landscapes, were frequently exhibited and brought Grimshaw fast success. According to Alexander Robertson, who organized an exhibition of Grimshaw’s work in Leeds in 1979 and also  authored a monograph, “Grimshaw’s early success in these years has been seriously underrated, partly because, until recently, the 1860s paintings were relatively unknown.”

John Atkinson Grimshaw, Autumn Glory: The Old Mill, oil on canvas,  87.6 x 62.2 cm, 1869, Leeds Museums and Galleries, Leeds, UK

John Atkinson Grimshaw, Autumn Glory: The Old Mill, oil on canvas, 87.6 x 62.2 cm, 1869, Leeds Museums and Galleries, Leeds, UK

By 1868, he had begun to develop what are now referred to as his “Moonlights.” These paintings and later nighttime scenes of urban neighborhoods, often with lone figures cast in eerie glow and shadow, became Grimshaw’s most well-remembered works.

John Atkinson Grimshaw, At The Park Gate, oil on canvas,  51 × 61 cm, 1878, Private Collection

John Atkinson Grimshaw, At The Park Gate, oil on canvas, 51 × 61 cm, 1878, Private Collection

John Atkinson Grimshaw, November, oil on canvas,  76.2 × 62.9 cm, 1879, Private Collection

John Atkinson Grimshaw, November, oil on canvas, 76.2 × 62.9 cm, 1879, Private Collection

Atkinson Grimshaw, as he would eventually come to sign his paintings, was a popular artist during his career, but remained a mystery for many years, because most of his paintings were tucked away in private collections. More recently, however, there has been a renewed interest in his work, due in part to Robertson’s Leeds exhibition. In 2011 a retrospective exhibition was held at Mercer Art Gallery in Harrogate.

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Sylvanus Griswold Morley: Spy Among the Ruins

Sylvanus Griswold Morley

Sylvanus Griswold Morley

Sylvanus Griswold Morley (b. 1883) was an American archaeologist and pre-Columbian Mayan scholar. Some of his most important work included excavations of Chichen Itza on behalf of the Carnegie Institution and the study and publication of Mayan inscriptions. What is less known about Morley, is that he worked as a spy for the United States during World War I. Some time after his death, it became known that he had been employed by the Office of Naval Intelligence to track German and anti-U.S. Activities in Mexico. His cover as an archaeologist being a legitimate one, however, and despite new discoveries and re-evaluations of his work, his scholarly legacy remains intact. The following is an excerpt from his 1915 book, An Introduction to the Study of the Maya Hieroglyphs:

…there is encountered at the very outset in the study of these elements a condition which renders progress slow and results uncertain. In Egyptian texts of any given period the simple phonetic elements or signs are unchanging under all conditions of composition. Like the letters of our own alphabet, they never vary and may be recognized as unfailingly. On the other hand, in Maya texts each glyph is in itself a finished picture, dependent on no other for its meaning, and consequently the various elements entering into it undergo very considerable modifications in order that the resulting composite character may not only be a balanced and harmonious design, but also may exactly fill its allotted space. All such modifications probably in no way affect the meaning of the element thus mutilated.

Normal-form and head-variant glyphs, showing retention of essential element in each.

Normal-form and head-variant glyphs, showing retention of essential element in each.

Though Morley was an important figure in the study of Mayan culture and language, it seems that he devoted more time to his covert activities than to his archaeological research during the period of the Great War. During that time, it came to light that others in the field were also involved in espionage, and the practice of spying under the guise of science and exploration was, of course, controversial. In 1919, the well known anthropologist, Franz Boas, published a letter of protest in The Nation, stating:

…A person, however, who uses science as a cover for political spying, who demeans himself to pose before a foreign government as an investigator and asks for assistance in his alleged researches in order to carry on, under this cloak, his political machinations, prostitutes science in an unpardonable way and forfeits the right to be classed as a scientist.

Much of Morley’s work and his publications on the Maya are now outdated, however he is still highly regarded for his important restoration work on Mayan sites like Chichen Itza, as well as for initiating research programs for the Carnegie Institution for Science. He is remembered favorably as a voice for the Mayan people and culture. Sylvanus Griswold Morley died in 1948 at the age of 65 in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

From the title page of An Introduction to the Study of the Maya Hieroglyphs by Sylvanus Griswold Morley

From the title page of An Introduction to the Study of the Maya Hieroglyphs by Sylvanus Griswold Morley

 

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