Isopsephy is related to Gematria, the same practice using the Hebrew alphabet, and the ancient number systems of many other peoples (for the Arabic alphabet version, see Abjad numerals). A Gematria of Latin-script languages was also popular in Europe from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance and indeed its legacy remains in numerology and Masonic symbolism today (see arithmancy).
HistoryUntil Arabic numerals were adopted and adapted from Indian numerals in the 8th and 9th century AD, and promoted in Europe by Fibonacci of Pisa with his 1202 book Liber Abaci, numerals were predominantly alphabetical. For instance in Ancient Greece, Greek numerals used the alphabet. Indeed there is some evidence that from the very beginning the alphabet was designed in order to meet the needs of mathematics. It is just a short step from using letters of the alphabet in everyday arithmetic and mathematics to seeing numbers in words, and to writing with an awareness of the numerical dimension of words.
An early reference to isopsephy, albeit of more-than-usual sophistication (employing multiplication rather than addition), is from the mathematician Apollonius of Perga, writing in the 3rd century BC. He asks: "Given the verse: ΑΡΤΕΜΙΔΟΣ ΚΛΕΙΤΕ ΚΡΑΤΟΣ ΕΞΟΧΟΝ ΕΝΝΕΑ ΚΟΥΡΑΙ ('Nine maidens, praise the glorious power of Artemis'), what does the product of all its elements equal?" More conventional are the instances of isopsephy found in graffiti at Pompeii, dating from around 79 AD. One reads Φιλω ης αριθμος ϕμε, "I love her whose number is 545." Another says, "Amerimnus thought upon his lady Harmonia for good. The number of her honorable name is 45." Suetonius, writing in 121 AD, reports a political slogan that someone wrote on a wall in Rome:
- "Nero, Orestes, Alcmeon their mothers slew.
- A calculation new. Nero his mother slew"
- Θυει σοι τοδε γραμμα γενεθλιακαισιν εν ὡραις,
- Καισαρ, Νειλαιη Μουσα Λεωνιδεω.
- Καλλιοπης γαρ ακαπνον αει θυος· εις δε νεωτα
- Ην εθελῃς, θυσει τουδε περισσοτερα.
- Εἱς προς ἑνα ψηφοισιν ισαζεται, ου δυο δοιοις,
- Ου γαρ ετι στεργω την δολιχογραφιην.
A headstone found at the Temple of Artemis at Sparta Orthia is a 2nd-century AD example of isopsephic elegiac verse. It says:
- ΟΡΘΕΙΗ ΔΩΡΟΝ ΛΕΟΝΤΕΥΣ ΑΝΕΘΗΚΕ ΒΟΑΓΟΣ ΒΨΛ
- ΜΩΑΝ ΝΙΚΗΣΑΣ ΚΑΙ ΤΑΔΕ ΕΠΑΘΛΑ ΛΑΒΩΝ ΒΨΛ
- ΚΑΙ Μ ΕΣΤΕΨΕ ΠΑΤΗΡ ΕΙΣΑΡΙΘΜΟΙΣ ΕΠΕΣΙ ΒΨΛ
Letter values of the Greek alphabetIn Greek, each unit (1, 2, …, 9) was assigned a separate letter, each tens (10, 20, …, 90) a separate letter, and each hundreds (100, 200, …, 900) a separate letter. This requires 27 letters, so the 24-letter alphabet was extended by using three obsolete letters: digamma ϝ,(also used are stigma ϛ or, in modern Greek, στ) for 6, qoppa ϙ for 90, and sampi ϡ for 900.
This alphabetic system operates on the additive principle in which the numeric values of the letters are added together to form the total. For example, 241 is represented as σμα (200 + 40 + 1).
- Masonry and the Cabala – Gematria as a Key to the Secrets of Freemasonry and Masonic Codes
- Psychoyos, Dimitris K. (April 2005). "The forgotten art of isopsephy and the magic number KZ". Semiotica 154 (no. 1–4): 157–224. doi:10.1515/semi.2005.2005.154-1-4.157.
- Maurice H., Farbridge. Studies in Biblical and Semitic Symbolism. p. 94. ISBN 978-0-7661-3856-8.
- The Lives of the Twelve Caesars, Nero, 39:2 in wikisource The footnote to this reads: "See the reference to the Rh. Mus. in the textual note. The numerical value of the Greek letters in Nero's name (1005) is the same as that of the rest of the sentence; hence we have an equation, Nero = the slayer of one's own mother."
- The Revelation of St. John the Divine self-interpreted – Thomas Whittaker page 226
- The Greek Qabalah: Alphabetic Mysticism and Numerology in the Ancient World, Kieren Barry, Samuel Weiser, 1999. ISBN 1-57863-110-6