14th August

Michael Scott (2)

In Dante’s Divine Comedy Michael Scott is consigned, along with other seers, sorcerers and astrologers, to the fourth ditch of the eighth circle of Hell. In this terrible place the sufferers’ heads are twisted round on their bodies as a punishment for trying to look into the future, and as they walk backwards along the chasm their tears of agony run down into the clefts of their buttocks.

Dante, however, was mistaken when he identified Michael – ‘the one with the skinny legs’ – in the Inferno. While he was still on Earth, Michael heard a rumour that the Devil, seeking revenge for the humiliations the philosopher had heaped upon him, had prepared a special bed in anticipation of his arrival. So Michael used a spell to open a window into Hell, to see what to expect. One half of the bed was a block of ice, the other a blazing fire, and the whole was covered with sharp spikes. Deciding at once that he had better book himself a place in Heaven, the philosopher went to a priest, confessed his sins and renounced all his previous transactions with the Devil.

The priest was still doubtful as to whether a man of Michael’s reputation, even having received absolution, would be allowed to enter Heaven. ‘What little faith you have in your own office!’ Michael told him. ‘Well, so that you know the outcome, I will send you a message soon after I die. If a dove comes to your door, it will be a sign that I have reached Heaven. But if a raven appears, take that to mean that I have gone to the other place.’

Months later, word reached the priest that Michael Scott was dead. When he went out the next morning, he saw dozens of ravens perched in the surrounding trees. Well, he thought, the message could not be clearer. And he clapped his hands. The ravens rose, filling the sky with their flapping wings and angry cries, and departed in a black cloud.

As the priest watched them go, secretly pleased that the Devil had claimed Michael Scott for his own, a single white dove glided in and landed at his feet.

Reader: Iona Zajac
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
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