Since Galileo's writings cover a vast range of interests, subject matter and contents, it is hard to select an anthology of passages from his work. Hence his work will be considered here "only" in relation to language and style, as a stimulus to reflection on scientific writing, a field in which he reached the highest peaks of excellence. Glimpses of that "linguistic workshop frequented by Galileo no less diligently than the mechanical one" will appear as through a half-open door.
In the history of literary criticism, Galileo the Author has received much attention. According to Natalino Sapegno, his work, "for its wealth of human content and potent style, offered a shining example to be recorded in the future history of our prose as a cultural fact of the first order, arguably the most important after Machiavelli and before Manzoni".
Italo Calvino, echoing the opinion of Giacomo Leopardi expressed earlier in the Zibaldone, went so far as to call him "the greatest writer of any century in Italian literature". Even such a poet as Leopardi, in fact, had been influenced by the "distinct clarity" of his style, to the point of making him the quasi-hero of his anthology of Italian prose, the Crestomazia.
Galileo's stylistic traits were crucially important to the nascent field of scientific writing in the 17th century and, more generally, to the development of the Italian language itself. As noted by Maria Luisa Altieri Biagi, "Galileo was the first to combine mathematical genius and breadth of interests with the conviction that cultural propaganda activity can be conducted only on the literary plane and at a high artistic level."
This striving for clarity led him to use such everyday words as "bowl" and "round razor" as technical terms rather than to coin neologisms. It also led him to write in the vernacular rather than the Latin of the universities, and to employ empirical mechanical terminology with caution. On this subject, Altieri Biagi notes that "the works of Galileo provided the theoretical grounds for practical mechanics and its transformation into a science. This was a need urgently felt in the cultural circles of the 16th and 17th century, both in Italy and elsewhere."
Some traits typical of Galileo's style (the predominance of the nominal over the verbal, the consistent use of participles in place of verbal phrases, etc.) provide Galileo's scientific writing with "those means of linguistic cohesion that ensure the aptness of the relations between words, and thus the logical consistency of the text." In Galileo's literary works, a precise match between content and form can be seen. The Pisan scientist used language like a precision tool, just as sharp and exact as the tangible implements he invented.
The passages given here are grouped according to subject matter; each group is introduced by a brief quotation indicating its specific nature.