Sunday, January 8, 2012

That Mystical Needle

"I would," said the elder, " we had that mystical needle which mariners talk of, that points ever to the north, and enables them to keep their way on the waters, when there is neither cape nor headland, sun, moon, nor stars, nor any mark in heaven or earth, to tell them how to steer." 

"It would scarce avail us among these mountains," answered the youth; "for though that wonderful needle may keep its point to the northern Pole-star, when it is on a flat surface like the sea, it is not to be thought it would do so when the huge mountains arise like walls, betwixt the steel and the object of its sympathy." 

The mystical needle referred to in Walter Scott’s “Anne of Geierstein”, is the needle of the compass, which, as mentioned in notes to the text, is first mentioned in Europe in the 12th century.  The text note also mentions the supposition that the explorer Marco Polo introduced the compass to Europe in the year 1260, discounting that theory with the observation that some form of compass was in use in Norway at that time.  Marco Polo, by the way, died on January 8, 1320.

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