SCOT TRANSLATES AVERROËS

We have already noticed how the commentaries of Avicenna on Aristotle had
been translated into Latin at Toledo during the twelfth century, and how
Michael Scot had completed that work by his version of the books relating
to Natural History. Since the beginning of the thirteenth century,
however, another Arabian author of the first rank had become the object
of much curiosity in Europe. This was the famous Averroës of Cordova,
whose history might fill a volume, so full was it of romantic adventure
and literary interest.[153] He was but lately dead, having closed a long
and laborious life on the 10th of December 1198, at Morocco, where his
body was first laid to rest in the cemetery outside the gate of Tagazout.
Born at Cordova in 1126, his name was closely associated with that of
his native city, so that after three months had elapsed his corpse was
brought thither from Africa, and given honourable and final burial in the
tomb of his fathers at the cemetery of Ibn Abbas.

Two reasons combined to raise the fame of Averroës among the Latins, and
to inspire them with a high curiosity regarding his works. He was known
to have devoted his life to the study and exposition of Aristotle; then,
as for many ages, the idol of the Christian schools. His philosophy was
further understood to embody the strangest and most daring speculations
regarding the origin of the universe and the nature of the soul. For
these he had suffered severely at the hands of the Moslem orthodox. They
had proscribed his works and compelled him to leave his employment and
pass the most precious years of his life in exile.

These common impressions regarding Averroës were in the main correct.
His labours had appeared in three forms; a paraphrase, and a lesser and
greater commentary on the books of Aristotle, and the philosophy which
these writings contained was undoubtedly Manichæan, if not in a measure
Pantheistic. Like that of all the Arabian philosophers, to whose teaching
Averroës gave its final and most characteristic form, this doctrine was
really Greek: the Aristotelic scheme of the universe as it had been
conceived anew by Porphyry of Alexandria. At the foundation lay a mighty
Duality: that of the opposing powers of Good and Evil. With the notion
of exalting Him above the possibility of blame, God, the Centre of the
Universe, about whom all revolves, was declared to be the Absolute
and unconditional Being; while over against Him was set Matter, also
eternal, from which, in its stubborn resistance to the Divine Will, all
evil had arisen. Any direct action of Deity upon matter could not be
thought of; so the interval between them was conceived of as occupied by
several Emanations proceeding from God, among which we may notice those
of the Divine Wisdom and the Divine Power. This Wisdom was said to be
impersonal; one common to all intelligent creatures; the Light that
lighteneth every man that cometh into the world. This Power was regarded
as supreme, seated high above the spheres, and, through the _Primum
Mobile_, entering into touch with matter and deriving its force downward
from one heavenly circle to another till it reaches earth itself.

The origin of created beings was a problem which received much attention
from Averroës. His ideas on this subject will be seen when we come
to speak of the important digression he wrote under the title of
_Quaestiones Nicolai Peripatetici_.[154] In every man he perceived the
existence of a passive intellect or reason, in relation to which the
other Heavenly Intelligence, or Divine Wisdom, presented itself to him as
the Active Reason: that in whose motions Thought was always accompanied
by Power. The one was Impersonal and Eternal, the other individual and
perishable, yet Averroës taught that a close relation subsisted between
them, and a consequent sympathy and attraction, in which the passive
intelligence strove to unite itself with the active and thus achieve
eternity and immortality.[155]

This union was known as the _ittisal_: the supreme object of the wise
man’s desire, and in connection with it emerged for the first time a
distinction between Averroës and his predecessors. Ibn Badja, with
whom he held the closest relation, had proposed a course of moral
discipline as the best way of attaining the _ittisal_: the same ascetic
practice which Ibn Tofail so remarkably illustrated and commended in his
mystical romance _Hay Ibn Yokhdan_. Gazzali on the other hand, who was
the sceptic of these schools, boldly declared that the _ittisal_ was
only to be reached by an intellectual and spiritual confusion attained
in the _zikr_, or whirling dance of the Dervishes. It was left then for
Averroës to vindicate once more the validity of human reason, and this he
did by proclaiming that science, rightly understood, was the true way of
entering into intellectual communion with the Deity. All, however, agreed
in teaching that the soul of man was but an individual and temporary
manifestation of the Divine, from which it had proceeded, and into which
it would again be absorbed.

It is plain that the way to this consummation proposed by Averroës had
much in common with the ancient theories of the Alexandrian Gnosis.
The Albigenses and other sects of the time, especially that called the
Brotherhood of the Holy Ghost, had already done much to familiarise
the West with these essentially Eastern speculations. A taste for such
flights of the mind had been formed, and, as soon as it became known
that a new teacher had arisen to advocate a theory of this kind among
the Moors, Christianity too was alive with curiosity to know what the
doctrine of Averroës might be.

In these circumstances the anathema of the Church proved powerless to
restrain so strong an impulse of the human spirit. The Council of Paris
in 1209 had sounded the first note of warning and of censure. In 1215
Robert de Courçon published a statute in that university by which the
name of _Mauritius Hispanus_, understood by Renan to mean Averroës, was
associated with those of David of Dinant and Almaric of Bena the French
Pantheists of the day, and all men were warned to have nothing to do with
their writings under pain of censure. In spite of these enactments five
years had not passed since the date of the latter proclamation, before
the commentaries of Averroës were rendered into Latin and the secrets of
his remarkable philosophy laid open to the scholastic world.

The credit of this bold and successful enterprise belongs, it would be
hard to say in what proportions, to the Emperor Frederick II. and to
Michael Scot his faithful servant. Frederick had indeed every reason
to feel an interest in the works of Averroës. His mind was naturally
keen and of a speculative cast. He showed little inclination to subject
his curiosity to the restraints of custom or ecclesiastical authority,
and was thus at least as likely as any of the wise and noble of his
day to indulge his passion for what promised to be both original and
curious. We are to remember also that he stood in close relation with the
peculiar religious opinions already noticed, which were then so prevalent
both in south-eastern France and the adjoining parts of Spain. His
brother-in-law, who died so suddenly at Palermo, was Count of Provence,
and, whatever place the unfortunate Alphonso may have held with regard to
the heresy so common in his dominions, we may feel sure that among the
host of Provençal knights who formed his train when he came to Sicily
there must have been some at least who were adherents of the Albigensian
party. No religious opinion ever made so striking a progress among the
wealthy and noble as this, and none was ever commended in a way more
fit to win the sympathy and interest of a youthful monarch inclined to
letters and gallantry. The doctrine of the Albigenses was in fact a late
revival of the _Gnosis_ of Alexandria. It flattered the pride of those
who desired distinction even in their religion. Its representatives and
advocates were no repulsive monks or sour ascetics but men of birth and
breeding, who excelled in manly exercises, and were famous for their
success in the courts of love and in the _gay saber_. It would not have
been wonderful if Frederick himself had become an Albigensian. He is
known to have caught a taste for Provençal poetry if nothing more, and it
is certain that he remained, to the close of his life, and even beyond
it, a grateful and sympathetic figure among those who, after the great
persecution, still represented Albigensian doctrine.[156] Something of
this may have been due to the influence of his wife Constantia, whose
father, Don Pedro of Aragon, had fallen gallantly in 1213 under the walls
of Murel, during an expedition in which he led the Spanish chivalry to
aid the Counts of Toulouse and Foix the champions of the Albigensian
party.

The probability that the Emperor had early felt an interest in Averroës
is confirmed by a curious statement of Gilles de Rome,[157] who tells us
that the sons of the Moorish philosopher received a cordial welcome from
Frederick and lived in honour at his Court. Renan indeed finds reason
to doubt the truth of this statement,[158] yet we may remember that
the chronicler could not in any case have ventured upon it unless the
Emperor’s sympathy for Averroës had been matter of common knowledge.

As to Michael Scot we may feel sure that he was every whit as eager as
his master could be to honour the philosopher’s memory and to gain a
nearer acquaintance with his writings. The manuscript in the Laurentian
library to which we have already referred[159] speaks, it will be
remembered, of a visit paid by Scot to the city of Cordova. It is not
difficult to determine with a high degree of probability the reason
that may have led him thither. Had he lived three hundred years earlier
indeed, the fame of Cordova as a centre of learning might well have
proved a sufficient attraction to account for this journey. In the tenth
century that city shone as the seat of a great Jewish school: one of
those lately transferred to Spain from the eastern cities of Pombeditha
and Sura. The Caliph Hakim, under whose protection this change took
place, gave royal encouragement to the learned men who came to Cordova.
Thousands of students assembled in the great Mosque, and Hakim collected
for their use a magnificent library which was said to contain four
hundred thousand volumes. Al Mansour, however, who succeeded to Hakim’s
throne, fell under the influence of orthodox scruples. He burnt much
of the great library, and the rest perished at the disastrous sack of
Cordova in the following century. The ruin of the Rabbinical academies
was completed a little later by the cruel edict of Abd-el-Mumen, who
expelled the Jews from his realm. The most famous teachers of Cordova and
Lucena then betook themselves to Castile. Alphonso VII. received them
kindly and gave them liberty to settle in his capital. These events took
place before 1150, and from that date the ancient schools which had given
such fame to Cordova and Lucena became one of the chief attractions of
Toledo.

The sole glory which Cordova still retained in the days when Scot visited
it was the memory of departed greatness, and of Averroës, whose fame
must yet have endured as a living tradition in the place of his birth
and burial. We may therefore believe that it was as a pilgrim to the
shrine of that illustrious name that the traveller came hither. As he
wandered amid the countless columns of the great Mosque, or stayed his
steps by the tomb of Ibn Abbas, he must have found a melancholy pleasure
in recalling the mighty past, when these aisles were crowded with eager
students and when, still later, the last scion of the Cordovan schools
had appeared in the person of the Master whose writings were now the
object of so much curiosity. It is quite possible that something of a
practical purpose may have combined with these sentiments to determine
the direction of Scot’s journey. Twenty years had not passed, we must
remember, since the body of Averroës was laid in its last resting-place.
What if those who directed and composed the solemn funeral procession
from Morocco to Cordova had brought with them the books which the
philosopher was engaged in completing at the time of his death? The hope
of a great literary discovery could hardly have been absent from the mind
of Michael Scot as he travelled southward to seek the white walls of the
Moorish city.[160]

There is no reason to think that the story of the spell framed by Scot
at Cordova was literally and historically true; it seems to belong
rather to the department of his legendary fame as a necromancer. Yet,
read as a parable, this conjuration is not without interest and perhaps
importance. It professes to compel the appearance of spirits from the
nether deep, and to command an answer to any question the sage or
student might choose to ask. A slight effort of fancy will find here the
picturesque representation of Scot’s mental and physical state while at
Cordova, and especially under the stress of the illness from which we
are assured he then suffered.[161] What wonder if, in the vertigo of
fever, he felt prisoned with swimming brain in magic circles; or is it
strange that one so intent upon the doctrine of the departed Averroës
should, in the height of his delirium, have planned to force the grave
itself, and summon the dead philosopher to tell the secret of his lost
works? Something of the Greek δεινότης, something terrible, superhuman
almost, we discover in a spirit so fully roused and determined, and if
we have read rightly the mind of Scot, no wonder that he and the Emperor
were fully at one in regard to what they had to do. We have no means of
knowing which of the two first conceived the idea of translating the
works of Averroës: as master and servant they fairly share the fame of
that great enterprise. It was one which demanded, not only means, talent,
and unwearied labour, but high courage as well, considering the suspect
character of that philosophy and the censures under which it already
lay. In the event indeed this proved to be a matter highly creditable to
those who promoted it, but one which carried serious and far-reaching
consequences both for Michael Scot and for the Emperor himself in the
ecclesiastical and political sphere.

When Scot returned to Toledo it was not with the purpose of attempting
single-handed a task for which not only time, but the co-operation of
several scholars, was evidently necessary. There is reason to think that
the Emperors commission conveyed some instruction to this effect; for, as
a matter of fact, we know that at least two other hands were associated
with Scot in the translation of Averroës.

One of these was Gerard of Cremona, not of course the Cremonese who
died in 1187, but the younger scholar of the same name, perhaps a son
or nephew of the elder. He is distinguished as Gherardus _de Sabloneta_
Cremonensis. The Victorine manuscript[162] supplies evidence that he
contributed to the work in which Michael Scot was now engaged.

It is not impossible that Philip of Tripoli may have joined in the new
enterprise. His name does not indeed appear in any of the manuscripts
which contain the Latin Averroës, but we have seen that he was certainly
in Spain about this time and even at work with Gerard of Cremona.[163]
His intimate relation to Michael Scot is also beyond question, and, upon
the whole, it seems reasonable to suppose that the Emperor may have
engaged him to help in the work now going forward.

However this may have been as regards the exact details of time and
persons, we may regard it as a matter now for the first time brought to
light and established, that in the years between 1217 and 1223 there
existed a college of translators in Toledo just such as that which had
done so much excellent work there a century before. In the new school
Frederick II. held the honourable place of patron, as Archbishop Raymon
had done in his day, while Michael Scot and Gerard of Cremona aided each
other in completing the version of Averroës as Dominicus Gundisalvus had
lent his help to form that of Avicenna. This view of the matter should
be found very interesting, not only in itself, but with regard to the
conclusions arrived at by Jourdain, whose discoveries in the literary
history of the twelfth century it so remarkably repeats and extends to
the following age.

This correspondence between the earlier and later schools of Toledo is
even more close and exact than we have yet observed. It appears also in
the fact that a Jewish interpreter was attached to each, and rendered
important service as a member of the college. Under Don Raymon this place
was held by Johannes Avendeath, or Johannes Hispalensis as he is commonly
called, who worked along with the Archdeacon. ‘You have then,’ says
Avendeath, addressing the Archbishop, ‘the book which has been translated
from the Arabic according to your commands: I reading it word by word
into the vernacular (Spanish), and Dominic the Archdeacon rendering my
words one by one into Latin.’[164] The same division of labour seems
to have been followed in the new school which Frederick promoted.
The Emperor drew the attention of these learned men to Averroës, and
signified his desire that a version of this author should be prepared
like that which had been made from Avicenna. Michael Scot and Gerard of
Cremona were responsible, the former probably in a special sense, both
for the general conduct of the undertaking, and, in particular, for the
accuracy of the Latin. Now these scholars also, like their predecessors,
availed themselves of the help of a Jewish interpreter. This was one
Andrew Alphagirus, who seems to have taken the same part that Avendeath
had formerly done, by translating the Arabic of Averroës into current
Spanish, which Scot and his coadjutor then rendered into Latin.

Such at least appear to be the suggestions which offer themselves
naturally to one who peruses the colophon to the copy of the _De
Animalibus ad Caesarem_ preserved in the _Bibliotheca Angelica_ of Rome.
Thus it runs: ‘Here endeth the book of Aristotle concerning animals,
according to the abbreviation of Michael Scot Alphagirus.’ The form of
expression is curious, but may be exactly matched from the versions
produced by the earlier Toledan translators: that is, if we are to
believe Bartolocci. This author, in the first volume of his _Bibliotheca
Rabbinica_, mentions a manuscript of the Fondo Urbinate in the Vatican
which, he says, contains the four books of Avicenna on Physics translated
by ‘Johannes Gundisalvi.’ This name has evidently, like that of ‘Scoti
Alphagiri,’ been formed by composition from those of the two translators,
_Johannes_ Avendeath and Dominicus _Gundisalvi_ who aided each other in
the work.[165]

As to the personality of Alphagirus, the only ground of conjecture seems
to be that supplied by Romanus de Higuera, who, speaking of the learned
men assembled in 1218 at Toledo for the astronomical congress, mentions
that one of them was ‘el Conhesso Alfaquir’ of Toledo.[166] The place,
the date, and the similarity of name, are all in favour of our supposing
these two to be one and the same person. Nay further, as Alfaquir was
of Toledo, and did not need to be summoned thither in 1218, there is no
reason why he should not, as the ‘Alphagirus’ of 1209, have assisted
Michael Scot in producing the _De Animalibus_ for Frederick.

It is from a remark made by Roger Bacon that we know the first name of
the Toledan interpreter to have been Andrew, and that he was a Jew.
Bacon gives us this information in no kindly spirit, but in order to
lead up to the bitter conclusion that Scot’s work was not original,
but borrowed from one whose labours and just fame he had appropriated.
‘Michael Scot,’ he says, ‘was ignorant of languages and science alike.
Almost all that has appeared in his name was taken from a certain Jew
called Andrew.’[167]

A sufficient answer to this serious accusation may be found in what we
already know of the literary fashions of the day, and, in particular,
of the traditional methods of work pursued by the Toledan translators.
It was precisely thus that the Archdeacon Gundisalvus had used the
aid of Avendeath. A little later too, we find the same system adopted
in the translation of the Koran promoted by Peter the Venerable. That
ecclesiastic thus expresses himself in sending a copy of his book to St.
Bernard: ‘I had it translated by one skilled in both tongues; Master
Peter of Toledo; but since he was not as much at home in the Latin, and
did not know it as well as the Arabic, I appointed one to help him …
Brother Peter our Notary.’ To his Koran Peter the Venerable joined a
_Summa Brevis_ of the Christian controversy with the Mohammedans. This
work also came from the pen of Master Peter, and with regard to it he
makes the following remarks: ‘By giving elegance and order to what had
been rudely and confusedly stated by him (_i.e._ by Master Peter) he
(_i.e._ Brother Peter the Notary) has completed an epistle, or rather a
short treatise, which, as I believe, will be very useful to many.’[168]

This correspondence throws a clear light upon the case of Michael Scot in
regard to the charge of plagiarism. Like Master Peter, he was familiar
with both the Latin and the Arabic language. His weak point, however, we
may suppose to have made itself felt with regard to the latter, which he
probably knew better in its colloquial than its literary form, and this
must have been the reason why he availed himself of the aid of a Spanish
Jew to secure the accuracy of his work. Such collaboration seems to have
produced nearly all the previous versions which came from Toledo, and it
is obvious that the honour due to the various contributors who combined
in forming these translations can only be determined by those who have
it in their power to make a careful and unprejudiced valuation of their
individual labours in each case. We may gravely doubt whether this was
what Bacon did before he sat down to pen his sharp censure on Michael
Scot. Certainly such an estimate is now out of the question. We can only
affirm the undoubted fact that the critic was wrong when he said Scot did
not know Arabic. The contrary appears, not only from the probability we
have already drawn from his Sicilian residence, but by actual testimony
of a very honourable kind.[169] Nor must we forget to notice that the
openness with which this copartnery was carried on affords a proof that
no deceit could have been thought of in the matter. Considering the
past history of the Toledan School, it must have been taken for granted
that every version which came from thence under the name of a Christian
scholar owed something to the care of his Moorish scribe.

Even had we not been able to make such an appeal to the use and wont of
the times in vindication of Scot’s method of work, might not a little
consideration of what was natural and inevitable in such a task have
served to explain what Bacon found so objectionable? The scholars from
distant lands who came to Toledo could not, as a rule, afford to spend
much time there, and were anxious to use every moment of their stay to
the best advantage. They naturally therefore secured on their arrival the
services of a Jew or Moor for the purpose of learning Arabic. Needing a
knowledge of that tongue not so much in its colloquial as its literary
dialect, they must have been engaged from the first in the study of a
text rather than in conversing with their teachers. What then could have
been more suitable than that these scholars should begin by attacking
the very books of which they desired to furnish a Latin version? This
method had the merit of gaining two objects at once. The students learned
to read Arabic, following the text as it was translated to them by the
interpreter. Writing in Latin from his vernacular, and polishing as they
wrote, they engaged from the day of their arrival in the very work of
translation which had brought them to Spain. It is plain too that any
modification of this method which the case of Michael Scot might demand
would depend on the knowledge of Arabic he already possessed. It must
therefore have been such as left him more and not less credit in the
result of his labours than that which commonly belonged to the Christian
translators in Toledo.

The whole matter of these versions, and of the fame belonging to Michael
Scot in connection with them, seems to receive some further light
when we compare the Toledan practice with that which distinguished
the most famous schools of painting. It would surely be a strange
freak of criticism which should deny to any of the great masters his
well-earned fame because of the ground on which it was raised, or the
numerous scholars whom it attracted to his studio. Yet we know well what
this relation between the master and his school implied in the palmy
days of pictorial art. There were apprentices who stretched canvas,
mixed colours, and pricked and pounced designs. There were pupils, to
whom, according to their talents and proficiency, varied parts of the
execution were assigned. To the master alone belonged the oversight and
responsibility of the whole. Giving a general design, were it only in a
sketch from his hand, he watched the progress of the work with jealous
eye, and caught the decisive moment to interpose by executing with
his own pencil such parts of the painting as might give a distinctive
character, a _cachet_, to the whole. Not till he was satisfied that the
desired effect had been secured might the picture leave his studio, and
who shall say that he did wrong to sign his name to works produced in
such a way? Thus, at any rate, have the highest reputations in the world
of art risen into their deserved and enduring fame.

Now, as it is certain that the Toledan School pursued similar methods in
their literary labours, right requires that the reputation of its members
should be judged by the same canons of criticism which we apply without
hesitation to pictorial art. His own day unhesitatingly gave Scot the
chief credit in the version of Averroës without inquiring too curiously
what parts had been executed by the Cremonese, or other scholars, and
what share belonged to Andrew the Jew. It may make us the more ready
to accept this verdict and adopt it as our own when we remember the
intellectual qualities of the Emperor for whom this work was done. It is
certainly out of the question to suppose that a reputation in letters,
such as Michael Scot undoubtedly enjoyed at the court of Frederick II.,
could have been gained by any but legitimate and honourable means.

Coming to an examination then of the various versions which came from the
new Toledan School, we find that two of them expressly bear to have been
the work of Scot himself. The first of these is the treatise commencing
‘Maxima cognitio naturae et scientiae.’ It is the commentary of Averroës
on the _De Coelo et Mundo_ of Aristotle,[170] and Scot has prefaced it
by an introduction conceived as follows: ‘To thee, Stephen de Pruvino,
I, Michael Scot, specially commend this work, which I have rendered into
Latin from the sayings of Aristotle. And should Aristotle have delivered
somewhat in an incomplete form concerning the fabric of the world in
this book, thou mayest have what is wanting to complete it from that of
Alpetragius which I have likewise rendered into Latin; and, indeed, it is
one with which thou art well acquainted.’ As we know when the version of
Alpetrongi on the _Sphere_ was produced, this fortunate reference to that
previous work enables us to determine, at least approximately, that of
the _De Coelo et Mundo_, and hence of these translations of Averroës in
general. The year 1217 is the first limit, before which they cannot have
appeared, and 1223 is the last; for by that time Michael Scot had already
left Spain. Between these two dates then, and probably nearer the former
than the latter, must his labours and those of his coadjutors have been
devoted to this important work.

Stephanus de Provino has been happily identified by M. Bourquelot with
a somewhat notable ecclesiastic of the Church of Nôtre Dame du Val de
Provins, whose name occurs in various documents dated between the years
1211 and 1233. Renan conjectures that he may be the same as a certain
Etienne de Rheims, who, it seems, was born at Provins.[171] Perhaps he is
the _Stephanus Francigena_ of Guido Bonatti.[172] Scot’s friendship with
him, to which the dedication of the _De Coelo et Mundo_ bears witness,
was probably begun in their student days at Paris.

The second version bearing the name of Scot is that which commences with
the words: ‘Intendit per subtilitatem demonstrare;’ being the commentary
of Averroës on the _De Anima_ of Aristotle.[173] In the Victorine
manuscript this treatise offers a curious title: ‘Here beginneth the
Commentary of the Book of Aristotle the Philosopher concerning the Soul,
which Averroës commented on in _Greek_, and Michael Scot translated into
Latin.’

In the same manuscript the version of Averroës’s Commentary on the
various books which compose the _Parva Naturalia_ of Aristotle is
ascribed to Gerard of Cremona. Renan observes that this ascription does
not occur in any other copy, and supposes it to have been a mistake. He
seems influenced in this conclusion by the fact that Gerard of Cremona
died in 1187. It is curious to find such an eminent scholar forgetful
of the existence of a younger Cremonese; and he is not alone in this
error, for it has been repeated even of late years. Yet in 1851 Prince
Baldassare Boncompagni had distinguished well between the elder and
younger Gerard of Cremona in an excellent monograph on the subject.[174]
Even had this work not been published, the learned world had already
reason enough to suspect the truth. In a well-known passage of his
_Compendium Studii_,[175] Roger Bacon speaks of Gerard of Cremona
as a contemporary of Michael Scot, Alured of England, William the
Fleming, and Herman the German, adding that those who were still young
had nevertheless known Gerard, who was the eldest of this company of
scholars. Now the _Compendium Studii_ is commonly assigned to the year
1292, but even if we carry this passage back to 1267, when the most of
Bacon’s works were written, it still appears evidently impossible that
any one still young in that year could have seen a man who died in 1187.
Boncompagni, as we have said, explains the difficulty by acquainting
us with the younger Gerard, called _de Sabloneta_ Cremonensis. He was
undoubtedly a contemporary of Michael Scot, and the De Rossi manuscript,
already referred to,[176] shows that he was in Spain about this time.
There is therefore no reason to distrust the testimony of the Victorine
codex when it gives Gerard the honour of having translated Averroës on
the _Parva Naturalia_. In accomplishing this work he vindicated his right
to the place we have already ventured to assign him as a member of the
Toledan College.

The manuscript collections where the _De Coelo et Mundo_, the _De Anima_,
and the _Parva Naturalia_ of Averroës are found in a Latin dress, contain
also versions of several other commentaries by the same author: those
concerning the _De Generatione et Corruptione_, the four books of the
_Meteora_, the _De Substantia Orbis_, and the _Physica_ and _Metaphysica_
of Aristotle.[177] We may safely ascribe them to the Toledo College. They
were translated either by Michael Scot, Gerard of Cremona, or some other
scholar who worked under these masters.

Renan, relying on the authority of Haureau,[178] has shown good
reason to believe that at least the commentaries on the _Physica_ and
_Metaphysica_ in their Latin versions came from the pen of Scot. Albertus
Magnus, in a passage of high censure, delivers himself in the following
terms: ‘Vile opinions are to be found in the book called _Quaestiones
Nicolai Peripatetici_. I have been wont to say that the author of it
was not Nicholas but Michael Scot, who in very deed knew not natural
philosophy, nor rightly understood the books of Aristotle.’[179] The
doctrine thus condemned is undoubtedly that of Averroës on the _Physica_
and _Metaphysica_. A manuscript of the Paris library has a treatise
commencing thus: ‘Haec sunt extracta de libro Nicolai Peripatetici,’ and
it seems that a close correspondence exists between this and a certain
digression in the commentary by Averroës on the twelfth book of the
Metaphysics. This digression, says Renan, often occurs in the manuscripts
as a separate treatise called ‘Sermo de quaestionibus quas accepimus a
Nicolao et nos dicemus in his secundum nostrum posse.’ These words have
been omitted from the printed editions of the Commentaries of Averroës,
and thus the identity of this treatise with the book censured by Albertus
Magnus was not recognised till Haureau discovered it.

The only result then of this sharp criticism is to assure us that the
versions of the _Physica_ and _Metaphysica_ must also be reckoned to the
credit of Michael Scot. For undoubtedly the opinions to which Albert
took such exception were those of Averroës, and not of the translator.
But if so, then what becomes of the censure passed upon Scot? The truth
is that if he was more original than Bacon gave him credit for, on the
other hand he escapes the force of Albert’s blame by proving to have
been less original than the latter critic had supposed. His was indeed a
hard case. He could not form versions from the Arabic but either he was
accused of plagiarism or else held up to the indignation of Christianity
as if he had been the author of the opinions he rendered into Latin.
This steady determination to find fault overreaches itself. We begin to
discover in it the bitter fruit of some _odium philosophicum_, and of
that envy which even a just reputation seldom fails to excite.

Some curiosity may be felt with regard to the doctrine contained in
the _Quaestiones Nicolai Peripatetici_ which gave ground for such
adverse opinions. M. Renan’s _résumé_ of this treatise is clear and
sufficient,[180] and we may reproduce it here, as it will afford a useful
supplement to the account already given of the philosophy of Averroës.
‘As to the origin of the different kinds of being,’ says Averroës,
‘there are two exactly opposite opinions, as well as others occupying
an intermediate position. The one explains the world by a theory of
development, the other by creation. Those who hold the former say that
generation is nothing but the outcome and in a sense the multiplication
of being; the Agent, according to this hypothesis, doing no more than
extricate being from being and make a distinction between them,[181] so
that the Agent, thus conceived, has the function of a mere motive power.
As to those who hold the hypothesis of creation, they say that the Agent
produces being without having any recourse to pre-existent matter. This
is the view taken by our _Motecallemin_, and by the followers of the
Christian religion: for example, by Johannes Christianus (Philopon), who
asserts that the possibility of creation lies in the Agent alone.’

‘The intermediate views may be reduced to two only, though the first of
these admits several subdivisions which show considerable differences.
These opinions agree in affirming that generation is only a change of
substance; that all generation implies a subject; and that everything
begets in its own likeness. The first opinion asserts, however, that
the part of the Agent is to create form, and to impress it upon already
existent matter. Some of those who hold this view, as Ibn Sina,[182] make
an entire separation between matter in generation and the Agent, calling
the latter the _source of form_, while others, among whom we may notice
Themistius and perhaps Alfarabi, maintain that the Agent is in some cases
conjoined with matter, as when fire produces fire, or man begets man; and
in others separate from it, as in the generation of creeping things and
plants, _i.e._ those not produced from seed,[183] which all owe their
being to causes that are unlike themselves.’

‘The third theory is that of Aristotle, who holds that the Agent produces
at once both form and substance, by impressing motion on matter, and
begetting a change therein which rouses its latent powers to action. In
this way of thinking the function of the Agent is only to make active
that which already existed potentially, and to realise a union between
matter and form. Thus all creation is reduced to motion of which heat is
the principle. This heat, shed abroad in the waters and in the earth,
begets both the animals and the plants which are not produced by seed.
Nature puts forth all these both orderly and with perfection, just as if
guided by a controlling mind; though nature itself has no intelligence.
The proportions and productive power which the elements owe to the motion
of the sun and stars are what Plato called by the name of _Ideas_.
According to Aristotle the Agent cannot create forms, for in that case
something would be produced from nothing.

‘It is, in fact, the notion that forms could be created which has led
some philosophers to suppose that forms have a substantive existence of
their own, and that there is a separate source of these. The same error
has infected all the three religions of our day,[184] leading their
divines to assert that nothing can produce something. Starting from
this principle our theologians have supposed the existence of one Agent
producing without intermediary all kinds of creatures; an Agent whose
action proceeds by an infinity of opposite and contradictory acts done
simultaneously. In this way of thinking it is not fire that burns, nor
water that moistens; all proceeds by a direct act of the Creator. Nay
more, when a man throws a stone, these teachers attribute the consequent
motion not to the man but to the universal Agent, and thus deny any true
human activity.

‘There is even a more astounding corollary of this doctrine; for if God
can cause that which is not to enter into being, He can also reduce being
to nothing; destruction, like generation, is God’s work, and Death itself
has been created by Him. But in our way of thinking destruction is like
generation. Each created thing contains in itself its own corruption,
which is present with it potentially. In order to destroy, just as to
create, it is only necessary for the Agent to call this potentiality into
activity. We must in short maintain as co-ordinate principles both the
Agent and these potential powers. Were one of the two wanting, nothing
could exist at all, or else all being would reduce itself to action;
either of which consequences is as absurd as the other.’

We cannot wonder that Albertus Magnus, and all who held the Christian
faith, were alarmed by doctrine of this kind and fiercely opposed it.
The orthodox beliefs of Christians, Jews, and Mohammedans alike were
declared false by this bold writer, whom several expressions which we
have embodied in the above summary show clearly to have been Averroës,
and not Michael Scot. In one passage indeed we seem to discover what may
have suggested the widely spread fable that Frederick II., or Scot, or
some other of their company and party, had produced an atheistic work
called _De Tribus Impostoribus_. The imputation was a false one, yet most
natural were the feelings of prejudice which the publication of this
philosophy aroused against the great Emperor and Michael Scot who had
acted as his agent in the matter.

Pursuing our investigation of the works which came from the Toledan
College we discover that these were not confined to the books of
Aristotle already noticed, but that the translators took a wider range
in their labours. The Venice manuscript of Averroës,[185] besides the
_De Coelo et Mundo_, the _De Anima_, the _Meteora_, the _De Substantia
Orbis_, the _De Generatione et Corruptione_, and the _Parva Naturalia_,
contains several other treatises that deserve attention. Two of these
were compositions of Averroës; the one a commentary on the book of
Proclus, _De Causis_, then commonly ascribed to Aristotle,[186] and the
other an independent work, as it would seem, bearing the following title:
‘Qualiter intellectus naturalis conjungitur Intelligentiae abstractae,’
in short a treatise on the _ittisal_. The volume also contains the
Latin version of a book by the Rabbi Moses Maimonides, entitled ‘De Deo
Benedicto, quod non est Corpus, nec Virtus in Corpore.’[187] Maimonides,
like Averroës, was a native of Cordova, and hence no doubt arose the
interest that was felt in his works by the Toledan translators.

That the Venice manuscript is to be understood as a collection of the
versions which came from that school appears plainly in the dedication
to Stephen of Provins. This is generally prefixed to the _De Coelo et
Mundo_, thus forming an introduction to the versions which follow; but
here it has been placed at the end of the volume, occurring immediately
after the short article _De Vita Aristotelis_ which closes the whole
series. We may see in this fact a certain probability that some at
least of these additional versions may have been the work of Michael
Scot himself. Nor will the five years which he spent at Toledo appear
too scant a space of time for the production of the whole body of the
Latin Averroës and something more, when we remember the ample and able
assistance he enjoyed in the prosecution of his labours as a translator.

There is one other version of which we must speak before leaving the
subject which has engaged our attention so long. The library of St. Omer
contains a manuscript collection of the works of Aristotle in Latin
which was written during the thirteenth century.[188] The fly-leaf at
the commencement of this volume shows the same handwriting as the other
pages, and has proved upon examination to be the last relic of a work
which has unfortunately perished. What that work was may be seen from
the closing words, which are as follows: ‘Here end the _Nova Ethica_ of
Aristotle, which Master Michael Scot translated from the Greek language
into the Latin.’ This colophon opens a curious question. Are we to
consider that the scribe wrote _Greek_ when he should rather have said
_Arabic_? It was by a mistake of such a kind that the writer of the
Victorine manuscript asserted that Averroës had commented on the _De
Anima_ in _Greek_.[189] Taking it in this way the version of the _Nova
Ethica_ would fall into line with the others which Scot and Gerard of
Cremona composed at Toledo. But it deserves notice that none of the
manuscript collections usually considered to contain the work of that
school comprises among its contents the _Nova Ethica_. We know, further,
that a Latin version of the Ethics with the commentary of Averroës was
made from the Arabic by Hermannus Alemannus.[190] This work was completed
on the third of June 1240, and we can hardly suppose that it would have
been entered on if Michael Scot had already accomplished the same task
but twenty years earlier. These facts and considerations make it very
unlikely that the St. Omer fragment represents a version of the Arabic
text.

Assuming then the literal truth of this interesting colophon, we
are confirmed in the conclusion to which an examination of the _De
Partibus Animalium_ in the Florence manuscript has already inclined
our minds.[191] Michael Scot, it must now be held, did not confine
his studies altogether to the Arabian authors, but undertook to form
translations directly from the Greek. These two versions, and especially
that of the _Nova Ethica_, open up a new and striking view of the
scholar’s literary activity. When Aquinas moved Pope Urban to order a new
translation of Aristotle from the original, William of Moerbeka and those
others who presently entered upon this work were tilling no virgin soil,
but a familiar field in which the plough of Scot at least had left deep
furrows. Even the renowned Grostête, Bishop of Lincoln, who executed a
version of the _Ethica_ from the Greek about 1250, was but following in
the path which this earlier master had opened up. Michael Scot here takes
rank with Boëthius and Jacobus de Venetiis, who were among the first to
seek these pure and original sources of Aristotelic doctrine. He appears
as one who not only completed the knowledge of his time with regard to
the Arabian philosophy by translating Averroës, but who gave some help at
least to lay the foundation of a more exact acquaintance with the works
of Aristotle by opening a direct way to the Greek text. We may even see
a sign of this remarkable position in the place of honour given, perhaps
accidentally, to Scot’s version of the _Nova Ethica_ at the opening of
the St. Omer manuscript. He stands between two ages, and lays a hand of
power upon each.

It is hardly necessary to add that in this he shines all the more
brightly when compared with his great detractor. Roger Bacon, secure
in the consciousness of his commanding abilities, attacks with a rare
self-confidence, not Michael Scot alone, but all the scholars of his
time. Not four of them, he says, know Hebrew, Greek, and Arabic.[192]
Those who pretend to translate from these tongues are ignorant even
of Latin, not to speak of the sciences treated of in the books which
they pretend to render intelligible. Busy in penning these diatribes,
Bacon does not seem to have reflected that the best way of reproving
the imperfections of which he complained would have been to shame these
scholars to some purpose by producing better versions on his own account.
But the truth of the matter lies here, that Bacon was no linguist. This
appears plainly from the tale he tells against himself in the _Compendium
Studii_; how a hard word in Aristotle had baffled him till one day
there came some outlandish students to hear him lecture, who laughed at
his perplexity, telling him it was good Spanish for the plant called
Henbane.[193] ‘Hinc illae lachrymae’ then, and a plague on Michael Scot
and all his tribe, who know Spanish so well they will not put a plain
Latin word for the puzzled professor to understand. No wonder that to
Scot rather than to Bacon, for all his genius, that age owed the chief
part of the first translation of Aristotle and a good beginning of the
second.