A Matter of Interpretation
By Elizabeth Mac Donald
It’s thirteenth-century Europe and young monk, Michael Scot, has been asked by the Holy Roman Emperor to translate the works of Aristotle and recover his ‘lost’ knowledge.
The Scot sets to his task, travelling from the Emperor’s Italian court to the translation schools of Toledo and from there to the Moorish library of Córdoba. But when the Pope deems the translations heretical, the Scot refuses to desist. So begins a battle for power between Church and State – one that shaped how we view the world today.
When I saw this book on NetGalley, I debated for a few minutes on whether I should request it or not because I had absolutely no knowledge of the setting or the historical events and if I am being honest I don’t have all the facts even now but I requested it. And I am glad to have read this because it really is such a good enjoyable book. I think I saw it being compared with The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco and if that book is anything like this then trust me, it’s on the way to my TBR.
So Michael Scot, Frederick II and others are real people that existed and though their lives might not have gone in exactly the same fashion as the author has written it. I genuinely enjoyed the way she wrote them. Historical facts when mixed with fiction have been known to have disastrous results but in this one, it isn’t so. I read up a bit on Michael Scot and that man sounds absolutely amazing and that there should be a book about him doesn’t seem so surprising after that.
The book has an interesting start, a stone falls from the ceiling of a Sicilian hermitage and from there, it’s a ride. As I read more and more, I came to understand a few things such as how Michael Scot of Scotland went to university in Paris and then tutored Frederick II of Sicily. It was at the instigation of the emperor that Scot went to Spain to translate Aristotle’s writings. This is where it gets really interesting and exciting.
The Church found the whole thing to be heretic and did not find Michael Scot or his deeds welcome. The translators seemed to be objectionable to the Church as well. It is true that if what Michael Scot wrote was any indication of where his studies and observations were taking him then the Church was never going to stand for it.
There is so much I should talk about but I will limit it to this. There’s a lot of political intrigue and accusations of heresy and necromancy. Yes, because anything factual or even remotely scientific in nature was allergic for the Church at the time.
If there were things that gave me pause while I was trying to rate it on GoodReads then it might be that the drama and intrigue could have been a bit more deftly handled and that there were a bit more emotionally invested moments, you know? I wasn’t super tense while I read it but there were moments where it could have really worked.
Overall, I did thoroughly enjoy it because the plot and the characters do make it impossible to put it down and I can’t wait to read more from the author because the level of research and details in this one shone through. It made for an interesting and enjoyable read when it could have easily been otherwise!
Fans of historical dramas filled with facts would enjoy this a lot, I think.