Episode 87: Numerical Mysteries: Nichomachus of Gerasa, Arithmology, and Second-Century Neopythagoreanism

In this episode we pick up some dangling threads from the Neopythagorean ‘tradition’ (which is more of an idea of a tradition than a tradition, but one which then became such a strong idea of a tradition that it became a tradition, if you see what we mean), discussing the intriguing first-century figures Eudorus of Alexandria and Moderatus of Gades.

We then move on to Nicomachus of Gerasa, and early-second-century writer on mathematics, harmonics, Pythagoras, and arithmology. Finally we discuss the fourth-century Theology of Arithmetic, a handbook on the numbers one through ten, a.k.a. the sacred Tetractys, which preserves much of Nicomachus’ lost arithmological work. Along the way we reflect a bit on number viewed from the perspectives of symbolism and metaphysical function, in other words, arithmology.

Recommended Reading:

  • John Dillon. The Middle Platonists: A Study of Platonism 80 BC to AD 220. Duckworth, London, 1977.
  • E. R. Dodds. ‘The Parmenides of Plato and the Neoplatonic One’. Classical Quarterly, 22:129–142, 1928.
  • M.L. D’Ooge, F. E. Robbins, and L.L. Karpinski. Nicomachus of Gerasa: Introduction to Arithmetic. Macmillan, New York, NY/London, 1926 [still the most thorough study].
  • D. O’Meara. Pythagoras Revived : Mathematics and Philosophy in Late Antiquity. Ox-
    ford University Press, Oxford, 1989.
  • F. E. Robbins. ‘The Tradition of Greek Arithmology’. Classical Philology, (16):97–123, 1921.
  • Robin Waterfield, editor. The Theology of Arithmetic. Phanes Press, Grand Rapids, MI, 1988.
  • John Whittaker. ‘Neopythagoreanism and Negative Theology’. Symbolae Osloenses, 44:109–125, 1969a.
  • Idem. ‘Epekeina Nou Kai Ousias’. Vigiliae Christianae, 23(2):91–104, Jun. 1969b.
  • Idem. ‘Neopythagoreanism and the Transcendent Absolute’. Symbolae Osloenses, (48):77–
    86, 1973.


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