On the Tetractys
From the Mathematica, by Theon of Smyrna
tr. Thomas Taylor (Life of Pythagoras, 1818, “Additional Notes”)
The tetrad was called by the Pythagoreans every number, because it comprehends in itself all the numbers as far as to the decad, and the decad itself; for the sum of 1, 2, 3, and 4, is 10. Hence both the decad and the tetrad were said by them to be every number; the decad indeed in energy, but the tetrad in capacity. The sum likewise of these four numbers was said by them to constitute the tetractys, in which all harmonic ratios are included. For 4 to 1, which is a quadruple ratio, forms the symphony bisdiapason; the ratio of 3 to 2, which is sesquialter, forms the symphony diapente; 4 to 3, which is sesquitertian, the symphony diatessaron; and 2 to 1, which is a duple ratio, forms the diapason.
In consequence, however, of the great veneration paid to the tetractys by the Pythagoreans, it will be proper to give it a more ample discussion, and for this purpose to show from Theon of Smyrna,1 how many tetractys there are:
“The tetractys,” says he, “was not only principally honored by the Pythagoreans, because all symphonies are found to exist within it, but also because it appears to contain the nature of all things.”
Hence the following was their oath:
“Not by him who delivered to our soul the tetractys, which contains the fountain and root of everlasting nature.”
But by him who delivered the tetractys they mean Pythagoras; for the doctrine concerning it appears to have been his invention. The above-mentioned tetractys, therefore, is seen in the composition of the first numbers 1. 2. 3. 4. But the second tetractys arises from the increase by multiplication of even and odd numbers beginning from the monad.
Of these, the monad is assumed as the first, because, as we have before observed, it is the principle of all even, odd, and evenly-odd numbers, and the nature of it is simple. But the three successive numbers receive their composition according to the even and the odd; because every number is not alone even, nor alone odd. Hence the even and the odd receive two tetractys, according to multiplication; the even indeed, in a duple ration; for 2 is the first of even numbers, and increases from the monad by duplication. But the odd number is increased in a triple ratio; for 3 is the first of odd numbers, and is itself increased from the monad by triplication. Hence the monad is common to both these, being itself even and odd. The second number, however, in even and double numbers is 2; but in odd and triple numbers 3. The third among even numbers is 4; but among odd numbers is 9. And the fourth among even numbers is 8; but among odd numbers is 27.
1. 2. 4. 8.
1. 3. 9. 27.
In these numbers the more perfect ratios of symphonies are found; and in these also a tone is comprehended. The monad, however, contains the productive principle of a point. But the second numbers 2 and 3 contain the principle of a side, since they are incomposite, and first, are measured by the monad, and naturally measure a right line. The third terms are 4 and 9, which are in power a square superficies, since they are equally equal. And the fourth terms 8 and 27 being equally equal, are in power a cube. Hence from these numbers, and this tetractys, the increase takes place from a point to a solid. For a side follows after a point, a superficies after a side, and a solid after a superficies. In these numbers also, Plato in the Timæus constitutes the soul. But the last of these seven numbers, i.e. 27, is equal to all the numbers that precede it; for 1+2+3+4+8+9=27. There are, therefore, two tetractys of numbers, one of which subsists by addition, but the other by multiplication, and they comprehend musical, geometrical, and arithmetical ratios, from which also the harmony of the universe consists.
But the third tetractys is that which according to the same analogy or proportion comprehends the nature of all magnitude. For what the monad was in the former tetractys, that a point is in this. What the numbers 2 and 3, which are in power a side, were in the former tetractys, that the extended species of a line, the circular and the right, are in this; the right line indeed subsisting in conformity to the even number, since it is terminated2 by two points; but the circular in conformity to the odd number, because it is comprehended by one line which has no end. But what in the former tetractys the square numbers 4 and 9 were, that the two-fold species of planes, the rectilinear and the circular, are in this. And what the cube numbers 8 and 27 were in the former, the one being an even, but the other an odd number, that the two solids, one of which has a hollow superficies, as the sphere and the cylinder, but the other a plane superficies, as the cube and pyramid, are in this tetractys. Hence, this is the third tetractys, which gives completion to every magnitude, from a point, a line, a superficies, and a solid.
The fourth tetractys is of the simple bodies fire, air, water, and earth, which have an analogy according to numbers. For what the monad was in the first tetractys, that fire is in this. But the duad is air, the triad is water, and the tetrad is earth. For such is the nature of the elements according to tenuity and density of parts. Hence fire has to air the ratio of 1 to 2; but to water, the ratio of 1 to 3; and to earth, the ratio of 1 to 4. In other respects also they are analogous to each other.
The fifth tetractys is of the figures of the simple bodies. For the pyramid, indeed, is the figure of fire; the octaedron, of air; the icosaedron, of water; and the cube, of earth.
The sixth tetractys is of things rising into existence through the vegetative life. And the seed, indeed, is analogous to the monad and a point. But if it increases in length it is analogous to the duad and a line; if in breadth, to the triad and a superficies; but if in thickness, to the tetrad and a solid.
The seventh tetractys is of communities; of which the principle indeed, and as it were monad, is man; the duad is a house; the triad a street; and the tetrad a city. For a nation consists of these. And these indeed are the material and sensible tetractys.
The eighth tetractys consists of the powers which form a judgment of things material and sensible, and which are of a certain intelligible nature. And these are, intellect, science, opinion, and sense. And intellect, indeed, corresponds in its essence to the monad; but science to the duad; for science is the science of a certain thing. Opinion subsists between science and ignorance; but sense is as the tetrad. For the touch which is common to all the senses being fourfold, all the senses energize according to contact.
The ninth tetractys is that from which the animal is composed, the soul and the body. For the parts of the soul, indeed, are the rational, the irascible, and the epithymetic, or that which desires external good; and the fourth is the body in which the soul subsists.
The tenth tetractys is of the seasons of the year, through which all things rise into existence, viz. the spring, the summer, the autumn, and the winter.
And the eleventh is of the ages of man, viz. of the infant, the lad, the man, and the old man.
Hence there are eleven tetractys. The first is that which subsists according to the composition of numbers. The second, according to the multiplication of numbers. The third subsists according to magnitude. The fourth is of the simple bodies. The fifth is of figures. The sixth is of things rising into existence through the vegetative life. The seventh is of communities. The eighth is the judicial power. The ninth is of the parts of the animal. The tenth is of the seasons of the year. And the eleventh is of the ages of man. All of them however are proportional to each other. For what the monad is in the first and second tetractys, that a point is in the third; fire in the fourth; a pyramid in the fifth; seed in the sixth; man in the seventh; intellect in the eighth; and so of the rest. Thus, for instance, the first tetractys is 1. 2. 3. 4· The second is the monad, a side, a square, and a cube. The third is a point, a line, a superficies, and a solid. The fourth is fire, air, water, earth. The fifth the pyramid, the octaedron, the icosaedron, and the cube. The sixth, seed, length, breadth and depth. The seventh, man, a house, a street, a city. The eighth, intellect, science, opinion, sense. The ninth, the rational, the irascible, and the epithymetic parts, and the body. The tenth, the spring, summer, autumn, winter. The eleventh, the infant, the lad, the man, and the old man.
The world also, which is composed from these tetractys, is perfect, being elegantly arranged in geometrical, harmonical, and arithmetical proportion; comprehending every power, all the nature of number, every magnitude, and every simple and composite body. But it is perfect, because all things are the parts of it, but it is not itself the part of any thing. Hence, the Pythagoreans are said to have first used the beforementioned oath, and also the assertion that “all things are assimilated to number.”
1. In Mathemat. p. 147.
2. Instead of περιττόυται, it is necessary to read περατόυται; the necessity of which emendation, I wonder the learned Bullialdus did not observe.