Arthritis is a chronic inflammatory condition with no known etiology. While the synovial membranes of joints are mainly prone to damage, it can also lead to extra-articular tissues in the eye, skin, lungs, heart and peripheral nerves. Arthritis
has been closely correlated with the incidence of eye conditions like inflammation of the uvea (uveitis) and inflammation of the sclera of the eye (scleritis).
The famous Italian astronomer, physicist and philosopher Galileo Galilei presented
several correlated disorders in his lifetime of which chronic arthritic pain
and bilateral blindness were most significant.
‘The famous Italian astronomer, physicist and philosopher Galileo Galilei suffered from recurrent bouts of arthritis which eventually turned to uveitis and bilateral blindness.’
Italian researchers Zanatta, Zampieri, Bonati, Liessi, Barbieri et al,
conducted a series of anthropological and radiographic analyzes on the fifth lumbar vertebra of Galileo
owned by Padua University. The objective was to achieve a new diagnostic hypothesis of correlation between reactive arthritis and uveitis.
The researchers used multimodal materials and methods to advance their hypothesis. Using Galileo's letters and other personal and historical documents, they hypothesized that he must have been suffering from reactive arthritis. A study of his fifth lumbar vertebra provided information on the
pathologies he suffered in his lifetime. Researchers used osteological measurements to confirm their hypothesis.
Measurements indicated that the vertebra was normal without any significant disease from an anthropological point of view. Digital radiography and computed tomography
indicated mild arthrosis
correlated with a small osteophytosis (outgrowths of bone tissue). In Galileo's case, the immune rheumatic disease or reactive arthritis led to bilateral blindness due to a pannus (abnormal layer of fibrovascular tissue) restricting the pupils (uveitis).
The above findings indicate that Galileo was suffering from reactive arthritis
Galileo used to suffer from recurrent bouts of arthritis which eventually turned to uveitis and
During his lifetime, Galileo led a merry life. He was a big eater,
drinker and sexually active. When he was 29 years of age, he suffered from a
severe illness which he held responsible for his subsequent ill-health. In the
early summer of 1593, Galileo and his friends spent a weekend in a villa of
Costozza near Vicenza of Count Camillo Trento. After a meal and wine with
friends, he slept in a room known as "Sala dei Venti" or wind room. This room
was constantly cooled by air circulating through large ventiducts from the
nearby caves. Galileo and his friends woke up with high fever, cramps, chills,
hemorrhages, headache and fatigue. Two of them died. Galileo survived but
remained deaf for almost a year.
It was from this incident onwards that Galileo suffered from arthritic
pains. His arthritic pains were confirmed by his son Vincenzio Galilei who
reported to Galileo's biographer Vincenzo Viviani that his father suffered from
recurrent arthritic pains which varied in intensity depending on the season.
Viviani traces Galileo's arthritic pains to the incident in the wind room.
When it comes to Galileo's blindness, he was diagnosed by a Roman surgeon Giovanni Trulio via a letter document. With the help of this document, the researchers were able to hypothesize uveitis and correlate it with his rheumatic disorder. The blindness
was evident from Galileo's signature which became uncertain and shaky.
The hypothesis of blindness due to uveitis is most plausible as it also explains the arthritic pains suffered by Galileo. This reactive arthritis is usually correlated to three inflammatory conditions: conjunctivitis
, urethritis and arthritis. The researchers also hypothesize that Galileo might have suffered urethritis due to venereal disease.
According to the researchers, this reactive arthritis could have been
triggered by a Chlamydia pneumonia infection during the illness episode in the
wind room. This evolved into chronic arthritis as it is evident by the frequent
and long episodes of joint pain
which Galileo often complained. Recurrent arthritis ultimately led to uveitis and bilateral blindness.
1. Thiene, G. & Basso, C. (2011). Galileo as a Patient. The Inspiration of Astronomical Phenomena VI ASP Conference Series
, Vol. 441 Enrico Maria Corsini, ed. Retrieved on 30
October 2015 from http://adsabs.harvard.edu/full/2011ASPC..441...73T
2. Rheumatoid Arthritis
Tufail M.D. Retrieved on 30 October 2015 from
3. Scleral Inflammations: An
(2013). Published by
All India Ophthalmological Society.
4. Zanatta, A., Zampieri, F., Bonati, R.M., Liessi, G., Barbieri. C et
al. (2015). New Interpretation of Galileo's Arthritis and Blindness. Advances in Anthropology
, 5, 39-49.
Published Online February 2015 in SciRes.