Friday, October 03, 2008

Michael Scott of Balwearie

Once called "the most renowned and feared sorceror and alchemist of the 13th Century", Michael Scott was born in the borders in 1175. His life is the stuff of legend . He features in Dante's Inferno as one "who knew how the game of magic fraud was played." He also featured in Boccaccio's writing as one of "the greatest masters of necromancy." More recently Walter Scott featured him prominently in the 'Lay of the Last Minstrel.' Michael Scott is reputed to have split the Eildon Hills, ridden the back of a sea monster and, most helpfully, rid the land of plague by shutting the disease up in a secret room in Glenluce Castle.

The truth seems to be that he dabbled seriously in the occult and in areas of "light and suggestion"(hypnosis? ) but as a sideline. He was in fact a brilliant scholar. He studied in Oxford before going to the Sorbonne in Paris where he became known as Michael the Mathematician. He then travelled to Padua where one of his pupils was reputed to be Fibonacci, and then to Toledo where he learned to read Arabic and came into contact with the brilliant scholars of the Muslim world as well as writings of key figures like Aristotle which had been translated into Arabic but were still largely unknown to Christian Europeans. In Palermo he became Astrologer Royal in the Court of King Frederick 11 with whom he had a great friendship. Before leaving Palermo he predicted the date, time, place and manner of the Emperor's death, details which were later said to have been entirely accurate. After a few years in Germany he then returned to England and then to, it is said, one of the Cistercian monasteries of southern Scotland, possibly Melrose where the turbaned statue beside the tomb above is said to depict him.

Michael Scott of Balwearie

“Every great project in Scotland is said to be the work
of William Wallace, the Devil or Michael Scott
of Balwearie.”: Sir Walter Scott

After his death the legend grew.
When the light was jagged on the Eildon Hills,
a contrast of sun and black shadows,
and heaven seemed poised skewered
on the razor tips of mountains,
his horse, scattering bairns and silencing the bells,
was said to clatter down the road to Hell.
In his grave in seven silver books
were the secrets of light and alchemy
gathered from a journey round the world
on the back of a kelpie.

The truth is scarcely less fantastic.
He walked from Oxford to Palermo,
learned Arabic, found Aristotle,
out-argued the best brains of the day.
On his way home, bringing the Renaissance
to Melrose 200 years before the rest
of western Europe, he stopped in Toledo
to learn the secret of distillation,
of ‘aqua ardens’, (whisky to you and me ).
No wonder among the dubs and moss
and wet sheep, they thought he was magic.


hope said...

I always leave here feeling more educated than when I stopped in. That's what I love about your blog: both my intellect and soul get to sit at the table and fill up.

Nice job!

Rachel Fox said...

I thought it was a highway to hell...

shug said...

AC/DC. Great song. Have changed the second section a wee bit cos I thought it was too dense.

Susan said...

That poem is a magnificent tribute; I love it.

I've always wondered why history seems to forget such remarkable characters. It seems that folks have to find them by accident or not at all.

Melody-Jane Symonds said...
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