Michael Scot was an astrologer, alchemist, and translator of Arabic and Hebrew works into Latin. Born in Scotland late in the twelfth century, he spent most of his active life in Toledo, Palermo, and mainland Italy—perhaps at Rome. He first appears with any degree of certainty at Toledo in 1217, when he finished a translation of alBitrogi’s (Alpetragius’s) Liber Astronomiae (On the spheres).
The next certain date is 1220, when he is reported to have completed a Latin translation of Aristotle’s Historia Animalium, probably at Toledo. Michael Scot seems to have become favorably known at the papal court, for he was offered the archbishopric of Cashel in Ireland in 1225.
Michael Scot refused the office because of his ignorance of Gaelic. Probably during this period he produced the translation of Aristotle’s De Caelo et Mundo, along with several other physical works of Aristotle with their Arabic commentaries by Averroes.
|Emperor Frederick II|
It was these commentaries that were to be so influential among the Schoolmen for the next several generations. About 1228, as nearly as can be judged, Scot entered the service of Emperor Frederick II in Sicily, or at his court at Palermo, as his official astrologer.
While there, he wrote his compendious Liber Introductorius, a general survey of the whole science of astrology, and the Liber Particularis, similar in content but much briefer, intended for popular use. Michael Scot also composed a Physiognomia, a general handbook of physiological science. All three works were dedicated to the emperor and brought Scot a wide reputation.
From this second, Sicilian period of his life comes the Abbreviatio Avicenne de Animalibus, probably done in 1231, in answer to Frederick’s request for more scientific information about the animal kingdom. It was also during this period that Michael Scot wrote De Arte Alchemie in which he reported having witnessed and himself verified alchemical experiments performed by Arabs, Jews, Spaniards, and north Africans.
|Abbreviatio Avicenne de Animalibus|
Because of his renown many other works have been ascribed to him, such as a commentary on John of Holywood (Sacrobosco) titled De Sphera and a Latin translation of Maimonides’ Guide of the Perplexed, but these attributions lack any proof or, indeed, likelihood.
Scot’s great contribution remains his work of translation from Arabic and Hebrew sources of Aristotle’s zoological works, the work of al-Bitrogi, the commentaries of Averroes on Aristotle, and the zoological work of Avicenna. Dante Alighieri consigns him to hell as a magician.