There is a passage in the Partidas respecting the needle, which was written half a century before its supposed invention at Amalfi, and which I have never seen noticed by any writer upon the subject. It occurs in the form of a simile—the original words, in such cases as this ought always to be given.
E bien assi como los marineros se guian en la noche escura por el aguja, que les es medianera entre la piedra e la estrella, e les muestra por de vayan, tambien en los malos tiempos, como en los buenos; otrosi los que han de consejar al Rey, se deven siempre guiar por la justicia, que es medianera entre Dios e el mundo, en todo tiempo, para dar gualardon a los buenos, epena a los malos, a cada uno segund su merescimiento.
2. Partida. Tit. 9. Ley 28.
“And even as mariners guide themselves in the dark night by the needle, which is their connecting medium between the stone and the star, and shows them where they go alike in bad seasons as in good; so those who are to give counsel to the King, ought always to guide themselves by justice, which is the connecting medium between God and the world at all times, to give their guerdon to the good and their punishment to the wicked; to each according to his deserts.”
The compass must have been well known and in general use before it would thus be referred to as a familiar illustration. The Partidas were begun in 1250, and compleated in seven years.
It is deserving of notice that in the works of Pedro Nunez, the well known writer upon navigation who flourished early in the 16th century, the compass is called figura nautici instrumenti quod Hispanicum appellant.