In following the course which Michael Scot held in his voyage to Spain,
we approach what was beyond all doubt the most important epoch in the
life of that scholar. Hitherto we have seen him as the student preparing
at Paris or Bologna for a brilliant future, or as the tutor of a youthful
monarch, essaying some literary ventures, which justified the position
he held in Sicily, and recommended him for future employment. But the
moment was now come which put him at last in possession of an opportunity
suitable to his training and talents. We are to see how he won in Spain
his greatest reputation in connection with the most important literary
enterprise of the age, and one which is indeed not the least remarkable
of all time.

The part which the Arabs took in the intellectual awakening of Europe
is a familiar theme of early mediæval history. That wonderful people,
drawn from what was then an unknown land of the East, and acted on
by the mighty sense of religion and nationality which Mohammed was
able to communicate, fell like a flood upon the weak remains of older
civilisations, and made huge inroads upon the Christian Empire of
the East. Having reached this point in their career of conquest they
became in their turn the conquered, not under force of arms indeed,
but as subdued by the still vital intellectual power possessed by those
whom they had in a material sense overcome. In their new seat by the
streams of the Euphrates they learned from their Syrian subjects, now
become their teachers, the treasures of Greek philosophy which had been
translated into the Aramaic tongue. Led captive as by a spell, the
Caliphs of the Abassid line, especially Al Mansour, Al Rachid, and Al
Mamoun, encouraged with civil honours and rewards the labours of these
learned men. Happy indeed was the Syrian who brought to life another
relic of the mighty dead, or who gave to such works a new immortality by
rendering them into the Arabic language.

Meanwhile the progress of the Ommiad arms, compelled to seek new
conquests by the defeat they had sustained in the East from the
victorious Abbassides, was carrying the Moors west and ever westward
along the northern provinces of Africa. Egypt and Tripoli and Tunis
successively fell before their victorious march; Algiers and Morocco
shared the same fate, and at last, crossing the Straits of Gibraltar, the
Moors overran Spain, making a new Arabia of that western peninsula, which
in position and physical features bore so great a likeness to the ancient
cradle of their race.

It is true indeed that long ere the period of which we write the Moorish
power in the West had received a severe check, and had, for at least a
century, entered on its period of decay. The battle of Tours, fought
in 732, had driven the infidels from France. The Christian kingdoms of
Spain itself had rallied their courage and their forces, and, in a scene
of chivalry, which inspired many a tale and song, had freed at least the
northern provinces of that country from the alien power. But weapons of
war, as we have already seen in the case of the Arabs themselves, are
not the only means of conquest. The surest title of the Moors to glory
lies in the prevailing intellectual influence they were able to exert
over that Christendom which, in a political sense, they had failed to
subdue and dispossess. The scene we have just witnessed in the East was
now repeated in Spain, but was repeated in an exactly opposite sense. The
mental impulse received from the remains of Greek literature at Bagdad
now became in its turn the motive power which not only sufficed to carry
these forgotten treasures westward in the course of Moorish conquest, but
succeeded, through that nation, in rousing the Latin races to a sense of
their excellence, and a generous ambition to become possessed of all the
culture and discipline they were capable of yielding.

The chief centre of this influence, as it was the chief scene of contact
between the two races, naturally lay in Spain. During the ages of Moorish
dominion the Christians of this country had lived in peace and prosperity
under the generous protection of their foreign rulers. To a considerable
extent indeed the Moors and Spaniards amalgamated by intermarriage. The
language of the conquerors was familiarly employed by their Spanish
subjects, and these frequented in numbers the famous schools of science
and literature established by the Moors at Cordova, and in other
cities of the kingdom. Proof of all this remains in the public acts of
the Castiles, which continued to be written in Arabic as late as the
fourteenth century, and were signed by Christian prelates in the same
characters;[78] in the present language of Spain which retains so many
words of eastern origin; but, above all, in the profound influence, now
chiefly engaging our attention, which has left its mark upon almost every
branch of our modern science, literature, and art.

This result was largely owing to a singular enterprise of the twelfth
century with which the learned researches of Jourdain have made us
familiar.[79] Scholars from other lands, such as Constantine, Gerbert,
afterwards Pope Sylvester II., Adelard of Bath, Hermann, and Alfred
and Daniel de Morlay, had indeed visited Spain during that age and
the one which preceded it, and had, as individuals, made a number of
translations from the Arabic, among which were various works in medicine
and mathematics, as well as the first version of the Koran. But in the
earlier half of the twelfth century, and precisely between the years
1130 and 1150, this desultory work was reduced to a system by the
establishment of a regular school of translation in Toledo. The credit
of this foundation, which did so much for mediæval science and letters,
belongs to Don Raymon, Archbishop of Toledo and Primate of Spain. This
enlightened and liberal churchman was by origin a French monk, born at
Agen, whom Bernard, a previous Primate, had brought southward in his
train, as he returned from a journey beyond the Pyrenees. Don Raymon
associated with himself his Archdeacon, Dominicus Gundisalvus, and a
converted Jew commonly known as Johannes Hispalensis or John of Seville,
whom Jourdain has identified with Johannes Avendeath: this latter being
in all probability his proper name. These formed the heads of the
Toledo school in its earliest period, and the enterprise was continued
throughout the latter half of the century by other scholars, of whom
Gherardus Cremonensis the elder was probably the chief. Versions of the
voluminous works of Avicenna, as well as of several treatises by Algazel
and Alpharabius, and of a number of medical writings, were the highly
prized contribution of the Toledo school to the growing library of
foreign authors now accessible in the Latin language.

It is probable that when Michael Scot left Sicily he did so with the
purpose of joining this important enterprise. His movements naturally
suggest such an idea, as he proceeded to Toledo, still the centre of
these studies, and won, during the years of his residence there, the name
by which he is best known in the world of letters, that of the chief
exponent of the Arabo-Aristotelic philosophy in the West.

The name and fame of Aristotle, never quite forgotten even in the darkest
age,[80] and now known and extolled among Moorish scholars, formed indeed
the ground of that immense reputation which Arabian philosophy enjoyed
in Europe. The Latin schools had long been familiar with the logical
writings of Aristotle, but the modern spirit, soon to show itself as it
were precociously in Bacon and Albertus Magnus, was already awake, and
under its influence men had begun to demand more than the mere training
of the mind in abstract reasoning. Even the application of dialectics to
evolve or support systems of doctrine drawn from Holy Scripture could not
content this new curiosity. Men were becoming alive to the larger book
of nature which lay open around them, and, confounded at first by the
complexity of unnumbered facts in sea and sky, in earth and air, they
began to long for help from the great master of philosophy which might
guide their first trembling footsteps in so strange and untrodden a realm
of knowledge. Nor was the hope of such aid denied them. There was still a
tradition concerning the lost works of Aristotle on physics. The Moors,
it was found, boasted their possession, and even claimed to have enriched
these priceless pages by comments which were still more precious than the
original text itself.

The mere hope that it might be so was enough to beget a new crusade,
when western scholars vied with each other in their efforts to recover
these lost treasures and restore to the schools of Europe the impulse
and guidance so eagerly desired. Such had, in fact, been the aim of
Archbishop Raymon and the successive translators of the Toledan school.
The important place they assigned to Avicenna among those whose works
they rendered into Latin was due to the fact that this author had come
to be regarded in the early part of the twelfth century as the chief
exponent of Aristotle, whose spirit he had inherited, and on whose works
he had founded his own.

The part of the Aristotelic writings to which Michael Scot first turned
his attention would seem to have been the history of animals. This, in
the Greek text, consisted of three distinct treatises: first the _De
Historiis Animalium_ in ten books; next the _De Partibus Animalium_ in
four books; and lastly, the _De Generatione Animalium_ in five books.
The Arabian scholars, however, who paid great attention to this part
of natural philosophy and made many curious observations in it, were
accustomed to group these three treatises under the general title _De
Animalibus_, and to number their books or chapters consecutively from one
to nineteen, probably for convenience in referring to them. As Scot’s
work consisted of a translation from Arabic texts it naturally followed
the form which had been sanctioned by the use and wont of the eastern

At least two versions of the _De Animalibus_ appeared from the pen of
Scot. These have sometimes been confounded with each other, but are
really quite distinct, representing the labours of two different Arabian
commentators on the text of Aristotle. We may best commence by examining
that of which least is known, the _De Animalibus ad Caesarem_, as it is
commonly called, and this the rather that there is good reason to suppose
it represents the first Arabian work on Natural History which came into
Scot’s hands.

Nothing is known certainly regarding the author of this commentary.
Jourdain and Steinschneider conclude with reason that the text must have
been an Arabic and not a Hebrew one, as Camus[81] and Wüstenfeld[82]
contend. No one, however, has hitherto ventured any suggestion throwing
light on the personality of the writer. The colophon to the copy of
Scot’s version in the _Bibliotheca Angelica_ of Rome contains the word
_Alphagiri_, which would seem to stand for the proper name Al Faquir. But
in all probability, as we shall presently show, this may be merely the
name of the Spanish Jew who aided Michael Scot in the work of translation.

The expression ‘secundum extractionem Michaelis Scoti,’ which is
used in the same colophon, would seem to indicate that this version,
voluminous as it is, was no more than a compend of the original. The
title of the manuscript too: ‘Incipit flos primi libri Aristotelis de
Animalibus’ agrees curiously with this, and with the word _Abbreviatio_
(_Avicennae_), used to describe Scot’s second version of the _De
Animalibus_ of which we are presently to speak. Are we then to suppose
that in each case the translator exercised his faculty of selection, and
that the form of these compends was due, not to Avicenna, nor to the
unknown author of the text called in Scot’s version the _De Animalibus ad
Caesarem_, but to Scot himself? The expressions just cited would seem to
open the way for such a conclusion.

The contents of the _De Animalibus ad Caesarem_ may be inferred from
the Prologue which is as follows: ‘In Nomine Domini Nostri Jesu Christi
Omnipotentis Misericordis et Pii, translatio tractatus primi libri quem
composuit Aristoteles in cognitione naturalium animalium, agrestium
et marinorum, et in illo est conjunctionis animalium modus et modus
generationis illorum cum coitu, cum partitione membrorum interiorum
et apparentium, et cum meditatione comparationum eorum, et actionum
eorum, et juvamentorum et nocumentorum eorum, et qualiter venantur,
et in quibus locis sunt, et quomodo moventur de loco ad locum propter
dispositionem presentis aetatis, aestatis et hiemis, et unde est vita
cuiuslibet eorum, scilicet modorum avium, et luporum, et piscium maris
et qui ambulant in eo.’ It seems tolerably certain that the substance
of this prologue came from the Arabic original, which must have
commenced with the ascription of praise to God so commonly employed by
Mohammedans: ‘Bi-smilláhi-r-rahhmáni-r-rahheém’ (In the Name of God, the
Compassionate; the Merciful).[83] The clumsiness of the Latin, which
here, as in the body of the work, seems to labour heavily in the track
of a foreign text,[84] adds force to this assumption. The hand of Scot
is seen, however, where the name of our Saviour has been substituted for
that of Allah, and also in the closing words, which ring with a strong
reminiscence of the eighth Psalm. The churchman betrays himself here
as in not a few other places which might be quoted from his different

By far the most interesting matter, however, which offers itself for
our consideration here, lies in the comparison we are now to make
between this book and a former work of Scot, the _De Physionomia_. This
comparison, which has never before been attempted, will throw light on
both these texts, but has a special value as it affords the means of
dating, at least approximately, the composition of Scot’s version of the
_De Animalibus ad Caesarem_.

We have already remarked that the last two chapters of the first book of
the _Physionomia_ suggest that in compiling them the author had before
him an Arabic treatise on Natural History. A natural conjecture leads
us further to suppose that this may have been the original from which
he translated the _De Animalibus ad Caesarem_, and this idea becomes a
certainty when we pursue the comparison a little more closely. Take for
example this curious passage from the _Physionomia_ (Book I. chap, ii.):
‘Incipiunt pili paulatim oriri in pectine unitas quorum dicitur femur
… item sibi vox mutatur.’ Its obscurity disappears when we confront it
with the corresponding words in the _De Animalibus ad Caesarem_, and thus
discover what was no doubt the original source from which Scot derived
it: ‘Incipiunt pili oriri in pectore _Kameon alkaratoki_, et in isto
tempore mutatur vox eius.’[85] There is no need to extend the comparison
any further than this significant passage. Doubt may arise regarding
the depth and accuracy of Scot’s knowledge of the Arabic tongue, the
nature of the text that lay before him, or the reason he may have had
for retaining foreign words in the one version which he translated in
the other; but surely this may be regarded as now clearly established,
that some part of the first book of the _Physionomia_ was derived by
compilation from the same text which appeared in a Latin dress as the _De
Animalibus ad Caesarem_, and that this source was an Arabic one.

This point settled, it becomes possible to establish another. One of the
copies of the _De Animalibus ad Caesarem_[86] has the following colophon:
‘Completus est liber Aristotelis de animalibus, translatus a magistro
michaele in tollecto de arabico in latinum.’ Now if the version was made
in Toledo, it was probably posterior in date to the _Physionomia_. This
indeed is no more than might have been asserted on the ground of common
likelihood; for, when a compilation and a complete version of one of
the sources from which it was derived are both found passing under the
name of the same author, it is but natural to suppose that the first was
made before the other, and that in the interval the author had conceived
the idea of producing in a fuller form a work he had already partially

Resuming then the results we have reached, it appears that Scot had met
with this Arabic commentary on the Natural History of Aristotle while he
was still in Sicily, and had made extracts from it for his _Physionomia_.
Coming to Spain he probably carried the manuscript with him, and as
his version of the _De Animalibus ad Caesarem_ seems to have been the
first complete translation he made from the Arabic, and to have been
published shortly after he came to the Castiles, he may possibly have
begun work upon it even before his arrival there. On every account,
there being no positive evidence to the contrary, we may conjecture that
the _De Animalibus ad Caesarem_, like the _Physionomia_, belongs to the
year 1209. If the latter work appeared at Palermo in time for the royal
marriage, which took place in spring, the former may well have been
completed and published towards the end of the same year, when Scot had
no doubt been already some time settled in Toledo.

The second form in which Michael Scot produced his work upon the Natural
History of Aristotle was that of a version called the _Abbreviatio
Avicennae_. The full title as it appears in the printed copy[87] is:
‘Avicenna de Animalibus per Magistrum Michaelem Scotum de Arabico in
Latinum translatus.’ Like the _De Animalibus ad Caesarem_ it consists of
nineteen books, thus comprehending the three Aristotelic treatises in one

The name of _Ibn Sina_ or Avicenna, the author of the Arabic original, is
significant, as it enables us to connect in a remarkable way the present
labours of Scot’s pen with those which had in a past age proceeded from
the school of translators at Toledo, and to place the _Abbreviatio_ in
its true relation with the system of versions which had been published
there nearly a century before. We have already remarked that Don Raymon
directed the attention of his translators to Avicenna as the best
representative, both of Aristotle himself and of the Arabian wisdom
which had gathered about his writings. A manuscript of great interest
preserved in the library of the Vatican[88] shows what the labours of
Gundisalvus, Avendeath, and their coadjutors had been, and how far they
had proceeded in the task of making this author accessible to Latin
students. From it we learn that the _Logic_, the _Physics_, the _De
Cœlo et Mundo_, the _Metaphysics_; the _De Anima_, called also _Liber
sextus de Naturalibus_; and the _De generatione Lapidum_ of Avicenna,
had come from the school of Toledo during the twelfth century in a
Latin dress. The last-named treatise was apparently a comment on the
_Meteora_ of Aristotle, and the whole belonged to that _Kitab Alchefâ_,
which was called by the Latins the _Assephae_, _Asschiphe_ or _Liber
Sufficientiae_. This collection was said to form but the first and
most common of the three bodies of philosophy composed by Avicenna. It
represented the teaching of Aristotle and the Peripatetics, while the
second expounded the system of Avicenna himself, and the third contained
the more esoteric and occult doctrines of natural philosophy.[89] Of
these the first alone had reached the Western schools.

It is plain then that until Michael Scot took the work in hand Toledo
had not completed the Latin version of Avicenna by translating that part
of the _Alchefâ_ which concerned the Natural History of Animals. The
_Abbreviatio Avicennae_ thus came to supply the defect and to crown the
labours of the ancient college of translators. This place of honour is
actually given to it in the Vatican manuscript just referred to, where
it follows the _De generatione Lapidum_, and forms the fitting close of
that remarkable series and volume. Thus, while the _De Animalibus ad
Caesarem_ connects itself with the _Physionomia_, and with Scot’s past
life in Sicily, the _Abbreviatio Avicennae_ joins him closely and in a
very remarkable way with the whole tradition of the Toledo school, of
which, by this translation, he at once became not the least distinguished

[Illustration: FROM M.S. FONDO VATICANO 4428, p. 158, _recto_]

The authority of this manuscript, now perhaps for the first time
appealed to, is sufficient not only to determine the relation of
Scot’s work to that of the earlier Toledan school, but even, by a most
fortunate circumstance, enables us to feel sure of the exact date when
the translation of the _Abbreviatio_ was made. For the colophon to the
Vatican manuscript, brief as it is, contains in one line a fact of the
utmost interest and importance to all students of the life of Scot.
It is as follows: ‘Explicit anno Domini mºcºcºx.’[90] The researches
of Jourdain had the merit of making public two colophons from the
manuscripts of Paris, containing the date of another and later work of
Scot,[91] but since the days of that savant no further addition of this
valuable kind has been made to our knowledge of the philosopher’s life.
The date just cited from the Vatican copy of the _Abbreviatio_ shows,
however, that further inquiry in this direction need not be abandoned as
useless. We now know accurately the time when this version was completed,
and find the date to be such as accords exactly with our idea that Scot
must have quitted Sicily soon after the marriage of Frederick; for the
year 1210 may be taken as a fixed point determining the time when he
first became definitely connected with the Toledo school. It will be
remembered that we anticipated this result of research so far as to use
it in our attempt to conjecture the date of Scot’s birth.[92]

Like the _De Animalibus ad Caesarem_, the _Abbreviatio Avicennae_
bears a dedication to Frederick conceived in the following terms: ‘_O
Frederick, Lord of the World and Emperor, receive with devotion this
book of Michael Scot, that it may be a grace unto thy head and a chain
about thy neck._’[93] It will always be matter of doubt whether in this
address Scot appealed to a taste for natural history already formed in
his pupil before he left Palermo, or whether the interest subsequently
shown by this monarch in studying the habits of animals was awakened by
the perusal of these two volumes. In any case they must have done not a
little to guide both his interest and his researches. The chroniclers
tell us of Frederick’s elephant, which was sent to Cremona, of the
cameleopard, the camels and dromedaries, the lions, leopards, panthers,
and rare birds which the royal menagerie contained, and of a white bear
which, being very uncommon, formed one of the gifts presented by the
Emperor on an important occasion. We hear too that Frederick, not content
with gathering such rarities under his own observation, entered upon more
than one curious experiment in this branch of science. Desiring to learn
the origin of language he had some children brought up, so Salimbene
tells us, beyond hearing of any spoken tongue. In the course of another
inquiry he caused the surgeon’s knife to be ruthlessly employed upon
living men that he might lay bare the secrets and study the process of
digestion. If these experiments do not present the moral character of the
Emperor in a very attractive light, they may at least serve to show how
keenly he was interested in the study of nature.

This interest indeed went so far as to lead Frederick to join the
number of royal authors by publishing a work on falconry.[94] In it he
ranges over all the species of birds then known, and insists on certain
rarities, such as a white cockatoo, which had been sent to him by the
Sultan from Cairo. He thus appears in his own pages, not merely as a keen
sportsman, but as one who took no narrow interest in natural history.
Clearly the dedication of the _De Animalibus_ and the _Abbreviatio
Avicennae_ was no empty compliment as it flowed from the pen of Scot.
He had directed his first labours from Toledo to one who could highly
appreciate them, and to these works must be ascribed, in no small
measure, the growth of the Emperor’s interest in a subject then very
novel and little understood.

As regards the _Abbreviatio Avicennae_ indeed, we have actual evidence of
the esteem in which Frederick held it. The book remained treasured in the
Imperial closet at Melfi for more than twenty years, and, when at last
the Emperor consented to its publication, so important was the moment
deemed, that a regular writ passed the seals giving warrant for its
transcription.[95] Master Henry of Colonia[96] was the person selected
by favour of Frederick for this work, and, as most of the manuscripts of
the _Abbreviatio_ now extant have a colophon referring in detail to this
transaction, we may assume that Henry’s copy, made from that belonging to
the Emperor, was the source from which all others have been derived.

This Imperial original would seem to be more nearly represented by
the Vatican copy[97] than by any other which remains in the libraries
of Europe. From it we discover that the Arabic names with which the
_Abbreviatio_ abounds were given in Latin in the margin of the original
manuscript, which Scot sent to the Emperor.[98] These hard words and
their explanations were afterwards gathered in a glossary, and inscribed
at the end of the treatise; an improvement which was probably due to
Henry of Colonia. The glossary has, however, been quite neglected
by later copyists, nor does it appear in the printed edition of the
_Abbreviatio Avicennae_. The completeness with which it is found in the
Vatican manuscript shows the close relation which that copy holds to the
one first made by the Emperor’s permission. The Chigi manuscript[99]
seems to be the only other in which the glossary is to be found. It
therefore ranks beside that of the Vatican, but is inferior to it as it
presents the glossary in a less complete form.

The originality of the Vatican text perhaps appears also in the curious
triplet with which it closes: ‘Liber iste inceptus est et expletus cum
adiutorio Jesu Christi qui vivit, etc.

Frenata penna, finito nunc Avicenna
Libro Caesario, gloria summa Deo
Dextera scriptoris careat gravitate doloris.’[100]

Several other copies of the _Abbreviatio_ have the first two lines, but
this alone contains the third. In the Chigi manuscript, the place of
these verses is occupied by a curious feat of language:—

latinum arabicum sclauonicum teutonicum arabicum
Felix el melic dober Friderich salemelich.[101]

To whatever period it belongs, the writer’s purpose was doubtless to
recall to the mind the four nations over which Frederick II. ruled, and
the splendid kingdoms of Sicily, Germany, and Jerusalem which he gathered
in one under his imperial power.

In the Laurentian Library there is a valuable manuscript, written during
the summer and autumn of 1266, for the monks of Santa Croce.[102] It
contains the _De Animalibus ad Caesarem_; the _Abbreviatio Avicennae_,
and, as a third and concluding article, an independent version of the
_Liber de Partibus Animalium_, corresponding, as has been said, to books
xi.-xiv. of the other versions which the volume contains. Bandini, in the
printed catalogue of the library, asserts that this third translation,
unlike the two which precede it, was made from the Greek. This is
probably correct, as it was only the Greek text which treated these
four chapters of the Natural History as a distinct work. He further
ascribes the version to Michael Scot, relying no doubt on the general
composition of the volume, for this particular translation does not seem
to contain any direct evidence of authorship. Thus the doubt expressed
by Jourdain in this matter[103] is not without reason, though the balance
of probability would seem to incline in favour of Bandini’s opinion; for
such a volume can scarcely be assumed to have been a mere miscellany
without clear evidence that the contents come from more than one author.
Taking it for granted then that the _De Partibus Animalium_ came from
Scot’s pen, then this is the third form in which his labours on the
Natural History of Aristotle appeared.

In any case, however, his chief merit in this department of study
belonged to Michael Scot as the exponent of the Arabian naturalists.
It is difficult for any one who has not read the books in question to
form an adequate idea of their contents, and still more of their style;
even from the most careful description. We are made to feel that the
task of the translator must have been a very difficult one. There is a
concentration combined with great wealth of detail, and withal a constant
nimble transition from one subject to another, seemingly remote, under
the suggestion of some subtle connection, which result in a style almost
baffling to one who sought to reproduce it in his comparatively slow and
clumsy Latin.

No greater contrast could be imagined than that which separates such
works from those which are the production of our modern writers on the
same subject. Nor does this difference depend, as one might suppose,
on the fact that a wider field of observation is open to us, and more
adequate collections of facts are at our disposal. Rather is it the case
that between ancients and moderns, between the eastern and western
world, there is an entirely different understanding of the whole subject.
A different principle of arrangement is at work, and results in the
wide diversity of manner which strikes us as soon as we open the _De
Animalibus_ or the _Abbreviatio_. We find ourselves in the presence of a
system of ideas, more or less abstract, which a wealth of facts derived
from keen and wide observation of the world of nature is employed to
illustrate. There is a finer division than with us. The unit in these
works is not the species nor even the individual, but some single
part or passion. This the author follows through all he knew of the
multitudinous maze of nature, comparing and discerning and recording with
a _bizarrerie_ which comes to resemble nothing so much as the fantastic
dance of form and colour in a kaleidoscope.

‘Birds,’ says Avicenna,[104] ‘have a way of life that is peculiar to
themselves. Those that are long-necked drink by the mouth, then lift
their head till the water runs down their neck. The reason of this is
that their neck is long and narrow, so that they cannot satisfy their
thirst by putting beak in water and straightway drinking. There is,
however, a great difference between different birds in their way of
drinking, and the mountain hog loveth roots to which his tusk helpeth,
wherewith he turneth up the ground and breaketh out the roots. Six days
or thereabout are proper for his fattening, wherein he drinketh not for
three, and there are some who feed their hogs and yet will not water them
for perchance seven days on end. And in their fattening all animals are
helped by moderate and gentle exercise, save the hog, who fatteneth lying
in the mud, and that mightily, for thereby his pores are shut upon him so
that he loseth nothing by evaporation. And the hog will fight with the
wolf, and that is his nature, and cows fatten on every windy thing, such
as vetches, beans, and barley, and if their horns be anointed with soft
wax, straightway, even while still upon the living animal, they become
soft, and if the horns of ox or cow be anointed with marrow, oil, or
pitch, this easeth them of the pain in their feet after a journey.’

In another place[105] he continues: ‘Some animals have teeth which serve
them not save for fighting, and not for the mastication of their food.
Such are the hog and the elephant, for the elephant’s tusks are of use
to him in this matter as we have said. And there are animals which make
no use of their teeth save for eating or fighting, nay, I believe that
every animal having teeth will fight with them upon occasion, and some
there are whose teeth are sharp and stand well apart, so that they are
therewith furnished to tear prey: such is the lion. And those animals
that have need to crop their food, as grass and the like, from the
ground, have level and regular teeth, and not long tusks or canines,
which would hinder them from cropping; and since in some kinds the males
are more apt to anger than the females, tusks have been given them that
they may defend the females, because these are weaker in themselves and
of a worse complexion, and this is true in a general way of all animals,
even in those kinds that eat no flesh, and need not their tusks for
eating, but only for defence, such as boars, and this is the reason why
they have the strength of which we have just spoken. It is the same
with the camel, and so we pass to speak of this general truth as it
appears with regard to all other means of defence. Hence hath the stag
his horn and not the hind; the ram and not the ewe; the he-goat and not
his female, and fish which eat not flesh have no need of teeth that are

The city where these strange writings were deciphered and translated into
Latin, being itself so strange and remote from the ways of modern life,
had a certain poetic fitness as the scene where Michael Scot undertook
his labours upon the Arabian authors. No passage of all their texts
was more bizarre and tortuous than the mass of intricate lanes which
formed then, as they form to-day, the thoroughfares of communication in
Toledo. No hidden jewel of knowledge and observation could surprise and
reward the translator in the midst of his tedious labours with a flash
of sudden light and glory more unexpectedly delicious than that felt by
the traveller, when, after long wandering in that maze and labyrinth, he
finds a wider air; a stronger light beats before him, beckoning, and in a
moment he stands in the full sunshine of the _plaza mayor_, with space to
see and light to show the wonders of mind and hand, and all the toil of
past ages in the fabric of the great cathedral.

Such as it now stands, the Cathedral of Toledo had not yet begun to rise
above ground when Michael Scot had his residence there, but enough of
the ancient city remains to show what Toledo must have been like in these
early days. The splendid and commanding site, swept about by the waves of
the Tagus; the famous bridge of Alcantara; the steep slope of approach
crowned by ancient fortifications; and above all the massed and massive
houses of the old town, so closely crowded together as hardly to give
room for streets that should rather be called lanes; all this, beneath
the unchanging sky of the south, recalls sufficiently what must have
been the surroundings of Scot’s life during ten laborious years. Even
yet, where white-wash peels and stucco fails, strange records of that
forgotten past reveal themselves in the walls and on the house fronts:
sculptured stones of every age; bas-reliefs, arabesques; windows in the
delicate Moorish manner of twin arches, and a central shaft with carved
cornices, long built up and forgotten till accident has revealed them.

Here then, perhaps in some house still standing, the scholar come from
Sicily made his home. The quiet courtyard is forgotten; the _azulejos_
have disappeared from walls and pavement; the rich wood-work of the
ceilings, still bearing dim traces of colour and gold, looks down on
the life of another age; even the curious cedar book-chest has crumbled
to dust, for all its delicate defence of ironwork spreading away like a
spider’s web from hinges and from lock. But the name and the fame endure,
and the years which Michael Scot spent in Toledo have left a deep mark
upon that and every succeeding age.

You may also like