Palmer, at the Morgan Library, said in an interview that he accepted Wilding’s findings that the 1607 letter was not genuine Galileo, and that the library would update its index to note that it was “previously attributed to Galileo”.
Exposing the forgeries does not fundamentally change Galileo’s discovery, which is documented at length. However, it eliminates what appeared to be a straightforward and intriguing first draft of the discovery that seemed to show the world grappling with real time its observations. Some scholars have struggled to understand exactly what Galileo was plotting in the Michigan Document; Now that the forgery has been announced, it seems that any mystery might stem from the confusion of the forger, not the scientist. “We’re left with a simpler, clearer arithmetic,” Wilding said. “There is no distraction from having to explain this completely inappropriate argument.”
Now Michigan librarians are studying ways to use the object to examine the methods and motivations behind the forgeries, which could make it the focus of a future exhibition or symposium.
“The counterfeiting is really good,” Hayward said. “The discovery in some ways makes this item even more fascinating.”
In his search for Nicotra, Wilding learned that the Italian had begun selling fake letters and music scripts in support of seven mistresses. An investigation of a questionable manuscript of Mozart led to police raiding his Milan apartment in 1934, finding a hypothetical “counterfeiting factory,” Wilding says, with torn papers from old and fake books by Lorenzo de’ Medici, Christopher Columbus, and other historical figures.
Scientists warn that there may be other fake documents in the collections waiting to be discovered.
“There are certainly more forgeries,” said Hannah Marcus, an associate professor in Harvard’s Department of History of Science who is writing a book on Galileo’s Correspondence, with Paula Wendlin of Stanford University. She commends Wilding for the work he’s done in spotting counterfeit products. She said, “Not everything should be read with an air of skepticism, but everything needs to be read carefully.”
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