THE NUMBERS RACKET

 

Numerology is often a factor in English Renaissance poetry. Below are some of the more common associations with numbers, 1-12, with an added observation on numerology in Spenser's "Epithalamion."

A word of caution, though: like many literary devices (and economic statistics) these numbers can be manipulated to "prove" almost anything, no matter how silly; be very sure a numbers game is being played, then, before making an argument for it.

1 = unity; the Godhead

2 = division; the hypostatic union (i.e., Christ = God and man); the female marriage number

3 = Trinity; the male marriage number

4 = mankind; earth; the elements; the seasons; the winds

5 = marriage number (3+2); five senses

6 = first perfect number (as sum of 1, 2, & 3); also a marriage number (3x2)

7 = a figure of time (as is 4, as is 12); joining of 3 & 4, therefore joining of mankind and God; a procreation and consummation number, indicates spiritual betrothal, and therefore spiritual rebirth

8 = eternal providence (2x2x2); a baptism number, therefore it suggests all kinds of transitions such as that from the Old Dispensation to the New Sacrament; it is also Hera/Juno's number, the number therefore of married women; because of its associations with marriage (and perhaps because 4x2 = 8), it is also a fertility (procreation) number

9 = a holy number, as the sum 3 + 3 + 3; muses; music of the spheres

10 = completion (3x3 + 1)

12= a time number; nocturnal hours

 

Evidence that Spenser plays the numbers racket:

365 "long" lines

24 stanzas, 16 of day, 8 of night

"middle" stanzas (#12, 13) = ceremony at the church altar

stanzas 1 & 24 = frame stanzas, summoning of gods & address to dedicatee (bride)

therefore, stanzas break down also as 1-10-2-10-1

 

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