Michael Scott the Wizard
He was known in the 13th century as a great intellectual, a translator of 19 books of philosophy from Arabic into Latin, the teacher of Emperor Frederick II of the Holy Roman Empire, a mathematician, a physician and an inventor. He was one of the first men in Europe
to be worthy of the title scientist, yet he is known in modern folklore only as a magician, Michael Scott, the wizard of the north.
The reason for this is that the knowledge in the books he translated, the teachings of Aristotle, and the commentaries, on them of the great Arabic philosopher Averroes, seemed so extraordinary at the time that it gained the reputation of magic. It was believed that events on earth mirrored those in the heavens, a belief that found its expression in the study of astrology, and Scott wrote a treatise on the subject.
He also experimented extensively with alchemy.
He was born in the early 1180s near Roxburgh and was subsequently educated in Oxford, Paris and Bologna. A cleric, he did not obtain preferment in the Church, despite the recommendations of two popes, and eventually he returned to Scotland, where his reputation has lived on in many Border legends.
It is said in some of these legends that Scott conjured up a devil, who had to be put to work at once to keep him from destructive mischief. The first task Scott set him was to divide the Eildon Hills into three, a sight that can still be seen. The second task was to
build a stone barrier across the Tweed. These were quickly accomplished, and Scott could rid himself of the unwelcome presence only by setting the devil the impossible job of weaving a rope out of sand.
Scott is reputed to have once lived at Glenluce Abbey in Galloway, where he lured the plague with his spells, and then walled it up. Legend has it that his alchemical books are still buried there. A tomb in Melrose Abbey claims to be that of Michael Scott, but a writer in 1629 said he had found both his burial place and one of his books in the parish church of Burgh- under-Bowness, near Carlisle.
Sir Walter Scott, who claimed him as one of his ancestors, immortalised Michael Scott's reputation in
The Lay of the Last Minstrel:
A wizard, of such dreaded fame
That when, in Salamanca's cave
Him listed his magic wand to wave,
The bells would ring in Notre Dame!
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