Re: Magnetic Compass
- From: "Curt Emanuel" <cemanuel@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Wed, 2 Aug 2006 23:18:54 -0400
"Paul J Gans" <gans@xxxxxxxxx> wrote in message
Curt Emanuel <cemanuel@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:
"David Starr" <dstarrboston@xxxxxxxxxxxx> wrote in message
"The sailors moreover as they sail over the sea, when in cloudy weather
they can no longer profit by the light or when the world is wrapped in
darkness of the shades of night and they are ignorant to what part of
horizon the prow is directed, place the needle over the magnet which is
whirled round in a circle, until when the motion ceases; the point of it
[the needle] looks to the north."
Alexander Neckham 1187.
" Alexander Neckham, an English scholar monk was the first to record a
metal needle being magnetized by a lodestone and then used as a marine
compass. Alexander was born in 1157 on the same day as the future King
Richard I of England, Richard the Lion Heart. Alexander's mother suckled
both infants, Richard at her right breast and Alexander at the left.
Twenty three years later, Neckham was teaching at the University of
while his foster brother was refining the finer points of medieval
and mayhem in Aquitaine.
Neckham the scholar wrote two treatises typical of the time. De
Rerum was a treasure chest of legends and folk tales: the Man in the
the last song of the dying swan, the development of the goose from a
barnacle; the sharp eyed lynx what can see through nine walls; the
squirrel who crosses a river on a plank of wood holding up his tail as a
sail. De Utensilibus dealt with articles of everyday use.
In De Naturis Rerum he described how "the sailors, moreover, as they
sail over the sea, when in cloudy weather the can no longer profit by
light of the sun, or when the world is wrapped in the darkness of night,
and they are ignorant to what part of the horizon the prow is directed,
place the needle over the magnet which is whirled round in a circle,
until, when the motion ceases , the point of it [the needle] looks to
In De Utensilibus the compass needle is described as mounted on a
"thus making known to the sailors the route which they should hold while
the Little Bear is concealed from them by the vicissitudes of the
Neckham's dart has caused much head-scratching among academics: Was
dart a vertical dart meaning a pivoted compass needle? Or did he mean
needle was stuck through a dart or straw, thus making the needle float
a bowl of water?
Interesting. I have Urban Tigner Holmes Jr's, _Daily Living in the Twelfth
Century: Based on the Observations of Alexander Neckham in London and
ISBN: 0-299-00854-1 He quotes _De nominibus utensilium_ as saying; "He
should have a needle placed on a pivot; the needle will rotate and revolve
until the point looks toward the east, and thus sailors understand where
they should steer when the Little Bear constellation is hidden in the
although this constellation never sets because of the brevity of its
Some obvious differences in translation (not to mention the title of
Neckham's work). However Holmes appears certain that in this case the
compass points East and discusses why in some detail on page 50. In his
introduction Holmes states of this work, "which we translate." p16 In any
case, this description of a compass appears clearer. This was first
published in 1952.
What translation did Gurney use?
What you have there (I've used it as a text) isn't really a
translation. It is Holmes crafting a story into which a
large amount of Neckham's work is included.
My personal impression is that, as in a number of other
things unfamiliar to him, Neckham simply made an error.
To us, confusing east-west with north-south compasswise
is an evident error as we *know* about the earth's magnetism.
But Neckham would not necessarily have known, though seamen
clearly would. So if he heard that the compass always pointed
in one direction, he could easily have decided that the direction
was east. It would be natural for a compass to point to
Jerusalem, would it not?
It would be useful to have an edited edition of Neckham and a
discussion of the latin actually used. But I don't think that
---- Paul J. Gans
Yes - I did a quick Google and didn't see anything that had been placed
there. It's always nice when the Enlgish and Latin are placed opposite each
other. Of course Holmes isn't a complete translation - he just quotes
translated excerpts. And as you know, "translation for context" had its day
rather than translators being extremely rigorous.
However according to David, in De Naturis Rerum Neckham does speak of the
needle pointing North. I don't know which he wrote first, but if it was
Utensilium then maybe he learned a few things between the two works.
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