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Surv Ophthalmol. 2009 Sep-Oct;54(5):630-40. doi: 10.1016/j.survophthal.2009.03.002.

The enigma of Galileo's eyesight: some novel observations on Galileo Galilei's vision and his progression to blindness.

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Addenbrooke's University Hospital, Cambridge, and Moorfields Eye Hospital, London, England.


Galileo Galilei became blind. Before this happened he revealed that his left eye had always had less than perfect vision. A study of his written works, his handwriting, and the originals of the portraits undertaken during his lifetime indicate that this probably was the case. These portraits suggest that his left eye tended to lose fixation and that, at the age of 60, he suffered from a mucocoele of the right frontal sinus; but these conditions would not have caused blindness. Considering the systemic diseases from which he suffered over his lifetime, he could possibly have had a long standing uveitis with secondary pupillary block glaucoma, common in those with the group of conditions classified as sero-negative arthropathies. Posterior scleritis with secondary glaucoma is less likely. If either of these were the cause, then the disease was probably triggered by a well-documented, severe acute illness as a young adult, the inflammation being localized to the eye as a result of severe recurrent conjunctival infections in his youth. The intermittent nature of the visual loss, the normal appearance of the cornea and pupils in his portraits, the absence of any evidence of inflammatory joint disease, the presence of halos, and the severe nature of the pain-combined with the high level of visual acuity in between attacks and its persistence until the last few weeks of vision means that angle-closure glaucoma must also be considered. These suggestions might be confirmed or refuted by studying his remains. Application has been made for this to be done.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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