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On the road

   When the yellow's on the broom
   When the yellow's on the broom
   I'll tak' ye on the road again
   When the yellow's on the broom

                           Adam McNaughtan

The original Travelling Scholars went on their journeys at a time when, in the words of historian Morris Bishop, 'everyone was on the roads'. In the twelfth century there was a renaissance of knowledge in Europe, stimulated by a flow of ideas from from Muslim world, particularly through Moorish Spain.

"There was one fundamental difference between this earlier renaissance and the later, more famous, one," writes the historian Jean Gimpel. "While the latter was primarily concerned with literature and art, the twelfth-century renaissance was primarily taken up with philosophy and science."

Technology was to the fore, with water mills, tidal mills and wind mills. The introduction of the cam into machinery enabled the rotary action of a mill to be translated into hammering, for iron, cloth, and – in the thirteenth century – paper.

The new industries generated traffic on the roads, as did the activities of the medieval church, with its promotion of the pilgrimage – 'intended to be a microcosm of the journey through life', according to the cultural historian Christopher Frayling. But also on the roads were the scholars, travelling to access the writings of the Greeks and Romans which were emerging from the Muslim world, along with the texts of Muslim scholars.

"Scholars all over Europe were desperate to make all known scientific and technical books available in translation," writes Jean Gimpel. "At Toledo, in Spain, translators were organized into teams that included Christians, Jews, and Moslems They produced Latin translations not only of Greek works but also of original works by Arab scholars, particularly in the fields of medicine, astronomy, arithmetic, algebra, and trigonometry."

"I hastened there to listen to the teachings of the wisest philosophers of this world," wrote one scholar of the time, Daniel de Morley. Among the travellers to Toledo was a young Scot called Michael, who had studied at Durham, Oxford and Paris. At Toledo he translated some of the works of Aristotle into Latin, and enabled them to be brought back again into circulation after a period of many hundreds of years. Michael Scot (as he was known) had a reputation in his native land for wizardry, and appears in Scottish Borders legends as the man who cleft the Eildon Hills in three. But part of the wizardry that he took back from Toledo was the system of formal logic of Aristotle.

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