NECKHAM, ALEXANDER (OR NEQUAM)(1157–1217). Alexander was abbot of Cirencester, a scholastic theologian, and a poet.
Alexander was born in St. Albans in England where he received his basic education. His mother, Hodierna, whose elegy he included in the Suppletio (supplement) to the poem Laus sapiente divine (Praise of Divine Wisdom), was *Richard the Lionheart’s nurse. Around 1175, he went to Paris where he studied theology, medicine, and law in the school of Adam of Petit Pont, *John of Salisbury’s teacher. While there, he wrote De nominibus utensilium (The Names of Objects), a vocabulary book for beginning Latin students, which describes items needed for traveling, farming, and running a large household. This work includes the earliest reference to a magnetic compass outside of China. By 1182, Alexander was a schoolmaster at Dunstable and a year later moved to the same post at St. Albans. From there, he went to Oxford where he became a master of theology and was teaching by 1190. His works from this period include sermons and scholastic disputations. He became a supporter of the recently introduced Feast of the Immaculate Conception after repeatedly being struck ill when he ignored the feast and attempted to lecture as if it were an ordinary day. Sometime between 1197 and 1202, he became an Augustinian canon in Cirencester where he was elected abbot in 1213. In 1215, he attended the Fourth Lateran Council. He died in 1217 and is buried in Worcester Cathedral.
Although Alexander was not a particularly original thinker, his works, most written at Cirencester, provide our leading evidence for trends of scientific and philosophical thought in the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. He was enthusiastic about Aristotle, several of whose works he placed on his list of books every student should read. He wrote biblical commentaries and hymns, many to the Virgin and Mary Magdalene, who also feature prominently in Super mulierem fortem (About the Brave Woman), a commentary on Proverbs 31:10–31. His major theological work, Speculumspeculationum(Mirror of Specula-