Flavio Gioja or Gioia (c. 1300) was reputed to be an Italian mariner and inventor, supposedly a marine pilot, and has traditionally been credited with perfecting the sailor's compass by suspending its needle over a fleur-de-lis design, which pointed North, also enclosing the needle in a little box with a glass cover. However, the sailor's compass had long been in use by Mediterranean navigators, and recent research has demonstrated that Gioia is a mythical figure who never actually lived.
The historical misunderstanding may be the result of a simple error in syntax: the Italian historian Flavio Biondo wrote that the compass was invented by Amalfitans. This attribution was then passed on as a Flavio dicitur, i.e. "to Amalfitans, as reported by Flavio". An interposition of a comma by mistake would then read a Flavio, dicutur, changing the meaning to "to the Amalfitan, Flavio, so they say." Later, Lilio Gregorio Giraldi attributes (in his De Re Nautica from 1540) the invention of the compass to this "Flavio of Amalfi." A later historian, Scipione Mazzella, a Neapolitan, claimed (about the year 1600) that Flavio was from Gioia, a town in Apulia, explaining his use of the name Gioia.
The Italian historian Chiara Frugon has published detailed research claiming to end all doubt, demonstrating that Flavio Gioia never lived. This study was cited and confirmed by the historian Alessandro Barbero in a popular Italian scientific TV program, Superquark (broadcast on 7 August 2008).
- Si trattò soltanto di un errore dovuto ad una virgola (It was just a mistake caused by a comma) (found at sapere.it, stored at archive.org)
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