Kepler famously remarked of his great Florentine friend that he could never keep sufficiently straight a man whose first name so resembled his last: Galileo Galilei. Others have labored under (or benefited from) this duality, and this third essay of my series tells a tale of the most obscure, yet highly significant, character that I have ever encountered from the early history of our science: the Neapolitan scholar (1461–1523) who called himself Alessandro ab Alessandro, or Alexander de Alexander, or Alessandro degli Alessandro—all meaning (roughly) Alexander from the family of Alexander.

In writing my 300 sequential popular essays for Natural...

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