Si­cily’s go- to scholar

The Scot who be­came Fred­er­ick II’s brain trust

BBC History Magazine - - Sicily And Britain -

In 1198 Fred­er­ick II was crowned king of Si­cily. His court at Palermo was a cul­tural and philo­soph­i­cal hot­house of the Mid­dles Ages, at­tract­ing some of the bright­est minds in the world – in­clud­ing a near name­sake of mine, Michael Scot.

Scot was born around 1175, pos­si­bly on the Eng­land– Scot­land bor­der. He be­came an or­dained priest as well as a philoso­pher, math­e­ma­ti­cian and astrologer. Study­ing in Durham, Ox­ford, Paris and Bologna, Scot also learned Ara­bic. At­tracted to the poly­glot court, Scot – then aged around 50 – worked with oth­ers to trans­late Ara­bic ver­sions of, and com­men­taries on, Aristotle’s works into Latin. He was also Fred­er­ick’s go-to scholar for ques­tions on sub­jects rang­ing from ge­og­ra­phy to the lo­ca­tions of hell, pur­ga­tory and heaven, as well as stud­ies of the soul.

Scot pub­lished on alchemy, astrol­ogy and phys­iog­nomy, and also gained a rep­u­ta­tion as a man of magic – sup­pos­edly turn­ing to stone a group of witches. This pop­u­lar rep­u­ta­tion earned him a place in Dante’s In­ferno in the eighth cir­cle of hell (his pa­tron, Fred­er­ick II, man­aged only the sixth).

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