1) It is well known that men of different times and nations have associated with particular numbers the idea of a peculiar significance and value. It is also well known that, of all numbers, there is no one which has excercised in this way a wider influence, no one which has commanded in a higher degree the esteem and reverence of mankind, than the number Seven. The mystic preëminence of this sacred number is as ancient as it is venerable. It belongs to the simple wisdom of a primitive age. It had its native home in the East, near the springs of light and of day. True, we find it also in later times, and upon occidental ground, pervading the mind and literature of modern Europe. But we must remember that an Oriental book, an Asiatic book, the Sacred Scripture of the Hebrew, has leavened--may we not add that it has sevened-- the mind and literature of modern Europe. But before this influence began, before a new religion coming into Europe from the East brought with it the Oriental feeling for the Seven, the case was widely different. Among the ancient Greeks and Romans, but little prominence upon the whole is given to this number. Let us look at the first great monuments of western literature, the poems of Homer. Here we find a number of sevens. Seven talents are more than once bestowed as a present. Seven tripods, seven women, and seven towns are among the gifts by which Agamemnon seeks to propitiate the enraged Achilles. Then there are seven ships of Philoctetes, seven brothers of Andromache, seven sons of Polyctor, seven gates of the Bœotian Thebes, seven layers of ox-hide in the impenetrable shield of Ajax, seven herds of cattle belonging to the sun-god Helios, seven roods of ground covered by the fallen war-god Ares. Seven years the murderer Ægisthus reigns upon the throne of Agamemnon; seven years Ulysses is kept a prisoner by the fondness of the nymph Calypso; seven years in his romancing story to Eumæus he professes to have spent in Egypt. In four instances in the Odyssey, some action is described as continuing for six days and terminating on the seventh in some critical event--a curious circumstance, in which we might almost be tempted to trace either a dawning of a vanishing of the week. This is the list of Homeric sevens, nearly complete: it may appear somewhat long; but there are quite as many tens in Homer, and of twelves almost twice as many. In the Greek mythology--and it is the mythology of a nation that most faithfully reflects its early thinking and feeling--the Seven is quite rare, and is nearly confined to the worship of Apollo; the Twelve again is greatly more important as a mythological number. From Greek philosophy, however, the Seven has received a more respectful attention. The Pythagoreans, who in general laid much stress upon the mystic properties of number, had a special regard for the Seven. Thus Philolaus, the contemporary of Socrates, and the first to set forth, in writing, an extended exposition of Pythagorean doctrine, says concerning God, the author and governor of all things, that "he is without variation, ever like himself and like no other, even as the number seven." But it will be recollected that Pythagoras, according to the general tradition, had travelled in the East, and was supposed to have drawn from thence, to a greater or less extent, the elements of his system. All have heard of the Seven Sages, or Wise Men of Greece; men who, about six centuries before Christ, were highly distinguished among their contemporaries for wisdom and experience; of whom the most celebrated were the Milesian Thales and the Athenian Solon. It may have been a philosopher who first conceived the idea of selecting out just seven such men to form the group. It is at any rate a philosopher--Plato, himself a traveller in the East--who first gives us the seven names, selected out and grouped together. But the Seven in this case does not seem to have taken very strong hold of the Greek mind, or to have possessed inviolable sanctity; for Dicæarchus substitutes ten sages for the seven, and Hermippus enumerates seventeen. Again, the idea of Seven Wonders of the World, which we find among the Greeks, appears to have originated in the East, with the Egyptian Greeks of Alexandria. One of the seven wonders belongs to Alexandria itself, the light-house in its bay. A second is also Egyptian, the pyramids. Of the remaining five, only one is European, the statue of Zeus at Olympia; while four are Asiatic--the Ephesian temple of Diana, the Mausoleum of Artemisia, the Colossus of Rhodes, and the hanging gardens of Babylon. The conquests of the Macedonians, and after them the Romans in the East, the wide dispersion of the Jews, and following that, the still wider diffusion of Christianity, all had the effect of acquainting the European mind more and more with Oriental ideas. And hence it comes that, in the centuries after Christ, we find a large number even of heathen writers who render homage to the sacredness and dignity of the Seven. We will not dwell upon them here; but will rather turn to lands where a veneration for the Seven appears unborrowed and original. We will look first to the far East, to the banks of the Indus and the Ganges, to the votaries of the Brahman religion.
2) According to the conceptions of the Indians, Mount Meru, the sacred mountain of the gods, is surrounded by the seven rocks called Cakravarta, rising in the mystic regions of the atmosphere. Indra, the great lord of the sky, governs by seven vice-kings the seven regions of the heaven. Agni, the god of fire, is thus addressed in one of the sacred books: "Seven are thy fuels, seven thy tongues, seven thy holy sages, seven thy favorite haunts, in seven ways thy worshippers adore thee, seven are thy sources; be graciously content with thy clarified butter!" The sun has his seven rays, which are themselves described as suns, and pour down their sevenfold heat on the torrid land of the Hindu. The earth itself has its seven Dvipas, seven islands encompassed by as many seas--the seas of milk, sugar, honey, salt, salt water, sour water, and butter. Over it blow the winds, Maruts, seven times seven in number. The earth is renewed every seven thousand years, or, as others hold, every seven times seven thousand. There are seven Apsaras, or nymphs of Paradise; seven Saktis, or incarnated attributes of the divinity; seven Rishis, or holy sages; seven Munis, or holy hermits. These last are not unknown to Christendom: at least, the name of holy recluses might be given with propriety to our old friends, the seven sleepers of Ephesus. All have heard the story: how, in the great persecution under Decius, seven Christian youths fled for refuge to a mountain near the city of Ephesus, and there hid themselves in a cave. They slept during the night without disturbance, and woke, as they supposed, on the following morning. Venturing out, after some time, to obtain provisions, they attracted notice by their uncouth garb and appearance. Having purchased what they wanted, they offered in payment some strange-looking antique coins. Suspicion was aroused, and they were brought before a magistrate. They then told their story, from which it appeared that the supposed night's sleep had lasted well-nigh two centuries. The bishop Martin was called in, and even the emperor Theodosius II., brought by express from Constantinople; in whose presence they repeated their narrative, and then, praising God, with the halo of sanctity visibly encircling them, gave up the ghost. The reader is not required to believe the story; Baronius, the famous church historian, though he swallows a wagon-load of marvels, is squeamish as to this one. It is indeed, almost as much a Mohammedan as as Christian tradition; the Koran is all but the earliest authority we can quote for it. Even at this day the Ottoman navy is under the especial guardianship of the Holy Seven Sleepers; and in sleepiness, if not in holiness, does credit to its sainted patrons. But again, the Brahman system has its seven paradises, and seven hells; these re-appear in the religion of the Moslim, who, however, adds another paradise, on the ground that God's mercy exceeds his vengeance. Nor are they unknown to Christendom. The celebrated Pico della Mirandola left among his manuscript remains a treatise on the seven heavens and the seven earths, and another on the seven places of hell. In a German poem of the middle ages (Wolkenstain), we find the couplet--
Das ist die Hell mit irem Slund,
Darin wol siben Kammer greulich sind erzund.
That is hell with its pit of woe,
Where in fearful flame seven chambers glow.
3) It would be easy to extend this enumeration of Indian sevens. But the specimens already given will suffice; especially as we are not in condition to determine how far they belong to the earlier forms of the Hindu religion, or what proportion they bear to other mythological numbers in the same system. Let us now turn westward to Central Asia, to the countries which formed the heart and strength of the ancient Persian empire. Here in ancient times the prevailing religion was that of Zoroaster, which owns the Zend-Avesta for its Bible, and is professed at the present day only by the scanty remnants of the Parsees. The two great divinities of this religion are Ormuzd (Ahura-mazda), the divinity of light and good, on the one hand; and, on the other, Ahriman (Angra-mainyus), the divinity of darkness and evil. Ormuzd is surrounded by his attendant spirits, the seven Amshaspands, who may be compared with the seven throne-angels, that, according to the book of Tobit, go in and out before the glory of the Holy One. Ahriman in like manner has his court, composed of seven arch-devs or demons, whom, as regards the number, we might compare with the seven that haunted Mary of Magdala, or with the seven more wicked than himself, whom the evil spirit, after his restless wandering through the desert, took back with him to his former habitation, which he found ready, swept, and garnished--"and the last end of that man was worse than the first."
4) The modern literature of Persia abounds in sevens. Native dictionaries enumerate above a hundred septenaries, groups of objects designated as the seven so-and-so. We will not undertake to name them. We could not say, what it would be most interesting to know about them, how far they have sprung out of the spontaneous feeling and invention of the Persian, or how far they are due to the Arabian influence, itself saturated with sevens, which entered Persia with the religion of Mohammed in the seventh century of our era.
5) But let us proceed to ground which has for us the double interest of more familiar acquaintance and more sacred associations. The preëminent importance of the number seven throughout the Bible is seen in the extraordinary frequency of its occurrence. It is found in the Old and New Testaments not less than three hundred and eighty-three times. This count includes the ordinal seventh, as well as the compound sevenfold; but does not include the higher numbers which contain a seven, such as seventeen, twenty-seven, seventy, seven hundred, and the like. If, now, we count the sixes in the same way, we find them to be one hundred and eighteen. The eights counted in the same way are fifty-eight. The sixes and the eights taken together amount only to one hundred and seventy-six, or less than one-half of the sevens.
6) The preëminence of the Seven is a fact which meets us at the threshold of the Bible, in the first chapter of Genesis, or in what should be the first chapter. It is well known that an unfortunate blunder in the division has deprived the opening chapter of three verses which justly belong to it. The real break is after the third verse of chapter ii.: for the fourth verse, so far from being connected with those before it, is the commencement of a distinct narrative, composed probably at a different time, and indeed, according to the opinion of many good Biblical scholars, composed by a different writer. Now the first account of creation, as we find it in the opening chapter with the first three verses of the second, represents to us a sevenfold process, which occupies the first week of world-history, and is made up of six successive acts of creation distributed through six successive days, and terminated like the Hebrew week by a day of rest. It is indeed conceivable that in this account the sevenfold arrangement may belong rather to the form and drapery of the narrative than to its veritable substance: and in fact we find no hint of it in the fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh verses of the second chapter, which also contain a separate account of the creation. Even thus it would remain true that a sevenfold arrangement was adopted for the more elaborate narrative which was to embody the great truth of an original divine creation; and this circumstance alone would be highly significant; it would demonstrate the preponderant value given by the Hebrew mind to the week and to its number the Seven. Or, again, we may suppose with others that an actual week was spent in this way; that, after an immeasurable past of geological mutations, of trilobites, ichthyosauri, and batrachians, when a new and nobler resident was to be introduced upon our planet, then its existing arrangements were thrown into temporary confusion, and a week was passed in fitting and furnishing it anew for the habitation of man. Such a view might perhaps be regarded as still more honorable to the Seven. Or, yet again, with others, we might swell days till they assume the dimension of ages--seven ages, each with its own separate record, written on the tablet of the earth, in characters which science has been able to decipher, and has found to be identical with the words of the Mosaic description. This view, it is clear, gives the highest exaltation to the Seven. For it makes geology a Seven, and so the mightiest of all sevens. It offers the crowning attestation of science to the secular predominance of this majestic number. It is a view adopted by very eminent scientific men; with whose judgment we could not think of matching our own in a question of this nature. Yet we must not seem to glorify our subject at the expense of honest dealing. The confession must be made, that with the best wishes we have not been able to satisfy ourselves in regard to that view; to be certain that it has a positive basis, that it is more than an ingenious and interesting speculation. If it were otherwise, if we could overcome our doubts on this head, then would we profess ourselves with a more unquestioning faith even than now, votaries of the world-regulating Seven.
7) But let us proceed with the Old-Testament sevens. The Seven bears an important part in ritual observances. In many sacrifices the sprinkling of the blood was to be repeated seven times; and in many we find seven mentioned as the number of the victims to be offered. But it is still more important in reference to holy times and seasons. Not only is the seventh day of the week honored as a Sabbath with perpetual remembrance, but the seventh week of the year brings its festival, the Pentecost or fiftieth day: for it is separated from the Passover by forty-nine days, a week of weeks, and is therefore sometimes called the feast of weeks. So the seventh month has its festival, the feast of tabernacles, and its solemn fast too upon the tenth day, the great day of atonement. Again, there is a week of years terminating in the seventh or Sabbatical year, when the land was to cease from labor and to lie untilled. And once more, after seven weeks of years, forty-nine years, came the great fiftieth or Year of Jubilee.
8) Returning to the book of Genesis, we find Noah commanded to receive clean beasts and fowls into the ark by sevens. Seven days after this command the rain begins. Wearied with long imprisonment, Noah sends forth a dove, which returns, having found no rest for the sole of her foot. After seven days he sends her forth again, and she returns with an olive-leaf in her mouth. After seven days more he sends her forth the third time, and she returns to him no more. The patriarch Jacob, in his protracted courtship, after serving seven years for the wife he did not want, was forced to serve another seven for the wife he wanted. In Pharaoh's dream interpreted by Joseph, there are seven fat kine and seven lean, the seven years of plenty and of famine. The one in Elisha's time lasts seven years, and among three alternative evils offered to David's option, one is a seven years' famine. The descendants of Jacob return at last to the land of their fathers, from which God had promised to drive out seven nations greater and mightier than they. In the siege of Jericho, the people for seven successive days march round the city, headed by seven priests blowing on seven rams' horns. Only on the seventh day they marched seven times round, and at the seventh time the priests blew, the people shouted, and the wall fell down flat. Samson, when he gave his riddle to the Philistines in Timnath, allowed them the seven days of his wedding feast to make out the solution. When the Philistines were endeavoring through Delilah to discover the secret of his prodigious strength, he first directed that they should bind him with seven green withs, and again that she should weave the seven locks of his head with the web. These methods were tried without success; but when at last the seven locks were quite shaved off, his strength went from him; in the well-known language of the hymn, he "shook his vain limbs with sad surprise, made feeble fight and lost his eyes." But it would be tedious to pursue this enumeration through the whole Bible. Let us pass on to notice a somewhat different class of cases.
9) In numerous instances the Seven appears to be used, as we say a score or a dozen, for a large indefinite number. The great prominence given to the Seven, and the great respect in which it was held, made it natural that it should be used in this way. Thus in Daniel, the fiery furnace was to be heated for the three recusant Hebrews "one seven times more than it was wont to be heated." In Proverbs we are told that a just man falleth seven times and riseth up again. The Psalmist says, "Seven times a day do I praise thee because of thy righteous judgments." Apparently this was not intended for an exact numerical statement; although being interpreted in that way it is relied upon as authority for the seven canonical hours of devotion; prima (or prime), matutina (matin), tertia, sexta, nona (noon), vespera (vesper), and completa. Lamech, who was, like Enoch, seventh from Adam, but in the line of Cain, says to his wives Adah and Zillah, "If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy and sevenfold." And our Lord, when asked by Peter, "how oft shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? till seven times?" replies, "I say not unto thee, until seven times, but until seventy times seven."
10) But of all the inspired books, the last in the series, the Apocalypse, is the one which displays most frequently and prominently the mystic sacredness of the number seven. At the outset John addresses himself to seven churches in Asia, greeting them from the Lord and from the seven spirits which are before his throne. He describes his vision on the isle of Patmos, when he saw one like unto the Son of Man, in the midst of seven golden candlesticks, and holding in his right hand seven stars. The golden candlesticks are explained as being the seven churches, and the seven stars the angels of those churches. In the following visions, a throne is set in heaven, and in the right hand of Him that sat on it is a book sealed with seven seals. Then a lamb with seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent forth into all the earth, takes the book and opens the seven seals one after another, the opening in each case being followed by different prodigies. When the seventh seal is opened, seven angels appear with seven trumpets, which they blow one after another, and the blowing is followed in each case by new prodigies. Before the seventh angel sounds, seven thunders utter their voices. Afterwards appears a dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns upon his heads: and anon a beast rising up out of the sea, also with seven heads and ten horns, but with ten crowns upon his horns. Again another sign in heaven great and marvellous, seven angels having the seven last plagues, who pour out one after another the seven vials of God's wrath upon the earth. Then is seen a woman seated on a scarlet colored beast which has seven heads, these being seven mountains on which the woman sitteth; and it is added, there are seven kings, of whom five are fallen, and one is, and one is yet to come. In the last vision, that of the heavenly Jerusalem, the prevailing number is not seven but twelve, derived evidently from the twelve tribes of Israel. But with this exception seven is everywhere the prevailing number of the book; so that, as Von Hammer-Purgstall observes, there are two sevens in the greeting, seven churches and seven spirits; and in the body of the work there are found besides two sevens of sevens: viz., first, seven candlesticks, stars, seals, horns, eyes, trumpets, thunders; and second, seven angels, heads, crowns, plagues, vials, mountains, kings.
11) Such being the rank and dignity of the number Seven throughout the Bible, it is not surprising that the nations of Christendom, with whom the Bible is at once the best known and most revered of all books, should have attached special importance to the number. Illustrations of this fact, drawn from the literature of modern Europe, might be multiplied to almost any extent. but I shall confine myself to a single author, one who may be regarded with more propriety than any other as the representative of modern European literature.
12) The following are specimens of the Shakspearian sevens. In the Merchant of Venice (II.9), the Prince of Arragon, who comes as a suitor for the hand of Portia, having unfortunately for himself made choice of the silver casket, reads this schedule:--
The fire seven times tried this;
Seven times tried that judgment is,
That did never choose amiss.
In Hamlet (IV.5), Ophelia appears fantastically drest, and cries:--
O heat, dry up my brains; tears seven times salt
Burn out the sense and virtue of mine eye.
Of Coriolanus (II.1) it is said: "He received in the repulse of Tarquin seven hurts in the body."
In Measure for Measure (II.1), we find an allusion to the seven mortal sins:--
Sure, it is no sin,
Of the deadly seven it is the least.
In Julius Cæsar (III.1), the servant of Octavius says of his master:--
He lies to-night within seven leagues of Rome.
So in Midsummer-Night's Dream (I.1), Lysander says:--
Hear me, Hermia;This may remind us of the famous seven-league boots, so long current in popular tradition, which, having now been vamped up with new art by the author of Peter Schlemihl's Wonderful History, may be expected to travel down to the remotest posterity.
I have a widow aunt, a dowager,
Of great revenue, and she hath no child:
From Athens is her house remote seven leagues.
13) In As You Like It (III.2), Rosalind, speaking of the progress of time, says, "Marry, he trots hard with a young maid between the contract of her marriage and the day it is solemnized; if the interim be but a sevennight, Time's pace is so hard, that it seems the length of seven years."
The designation "seven years" is very frequently repeated. Thus in Much Ado About Nothing (III.3), the Watchman says, "I know that Deformed; a' has been a vile thief this seven year."
In Coriolanus (II.1), Menenius says, "A letter for me? it gives me an estate of seven years' health." And again:--
If I could shake off but one seven years
From these old arms and legs, by the good gods,
I'd with thee every foot.
In Pericles (IV.6), Boult says, "Go to the wars, would ye, where a man may serve seven years for the loss of a leg, and have not money enough in the end to buy him a wooden one."
In King Lear (III.4), Edgar sings:--
But mice and rats and such small deer
Have been Tom's meat for seven long year.
In As You Like It (II.7), is found the celebrated passage:--
All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.
Then follow the seven--infant, school-boy, lover, soldier, justice, old age, and second childhood. Everybody knows the passage; but everybody does not know that this division of human life into seven ages is an idea prevalent long before the time of Shakspeare, as far back even as the Greek physician Hippocrates, more than four centuries before our era.
14) In the same play, we have the seven degrees of offence in affairs of honor. Touchstone says, "I have had four quarrels, and like to have fought one. Jacques. And how was that ta'en up? Touchstone. Faith, we met and found the quarrel was upon the seventh cause. Jacques. How did you find the quarrel on the seventh cause? Touchstone. Upon a lie seven times removed--as thus, Sir: I did dislike the cut of a certain courtier's beard; he sent me word, if I said his beard was not cut well, he was in the mind it was. This is called the Retort courteous. If I sent him word again, it was not well cut, he disabled my judgment. This is called the Reply churlish. If again it was not well cut, he would answer, I spake not true. This is called the Reproof valiant. If again it was not well cut, he would say, I lie. This is called the Counter-check quarrelsome: and so to the Lie circumstantial, and the Lie direct. Jacques. And how oft did you say his beard was not well cut? Touchstone. I durst go no further than the Lie circumstantial; nor he durst not give me the Lie direct, and so we measured swords and parted."
Further on in the same colloquy, Touchstone says, "I know when seven justices could not settle a quarrel, but when the parties were met themselves, one of them thought but of an If, as, If you said so, then I said so. And they shook hands and swore brothers. Your If is the only peacemaker: much virtue in If."
15) A word now in regard to the Mohammedans. The religion of the Koran, like that of the Old and New Testaments, made its first appearance among a Semitic people; The Israelite has, in race and tongue, no nearer kinsman than the Ishmaelite. The Koran, too, like the Old and New Testaments, has carried the ascendency of the number Seven over vast regions of the earth. Its preëminence in the Moslem scriptures, though less marked and conspicuous than in ours, is yet not to be mistaken. The sevens of the Koran counted up greatly outnumber the eights and sixes put together. It is possible that in this point Mohammed may have felt the influence of the Bible, with which, though unable to read it, he had certainly picked up some acquaintance. But it is more likely that he gave expression to a feeling which belonged already to his Arab fellow-countrymen, in common with their kindred of Palestine. The most venerated monument of their ante-Mohammedan literature, the collection of poems know as the Moallakat--poems written in golden letters, and suspended at the Holy Kaaba in Mecca--was the production of seven authors. At all events, it is certain that the Mohammedan Arabs have shown an extraordinary predilection for the Seven, not yielding in this respect either to Jews or Christians. They have discovered or imagined an immense number of septenary groups, in religion, history, art, philosophy, and indeed all branches of human knowledge. We shall not undertake to exhibit even specimens of these. They are collected to a great extent in a remarkable work, the Sukkerdan, or Sugar Box, as it is called, in which this confectionery of the Arab mind is sorted and stored in innumerable parcels of seven. It is the composition of an African scholar, Ibn Khojle, who wrote in the year of the Hejra 757 (a.d. 1356), and died in the year of the Hejra 776. We may suspect that in this last date a mistake has been made of one year, and that his life actually passed away in 777.
16) Ibn Khojle is not the only writer, nor is he by many centuries the earliest, who composed an elaborate work on the number seven. Among the voluminous writings of Philo Judæus--Philo, the learned Jew of Alexandria, a contemporary of our Saviour--we find a special dissertation, De Septenario, on the number seven; while in another work, on the Mosaic History of Creation, he dwells at length on the dignity and sacredness of the same number. Nor has the subject been overlooked by Christian writers. The Fathers have frequent allusions to it, though no one of them, so far as we know, has made it the theme of a separate treatise. But in modern times we find the work of Wurffbain which bears the following title: De numero septenario variarum lectionum collectionem hanc philologicam elaboravit Leonhartt Wurffbain Noribergensis Doctor, anno salutis 1630, ætatis suæ septies septimo. constat septeno quicquid in orbe fuit. Nirinbergæ, 1633--'This philological collection of various readings on the number seven that Leonhartt Wurffbain, of Nuremberg, Doctor, elaborated in the year of salvation the 1630th, of his own age the seven times seventh. Whatsoe'er on earth existeth, in a seven it consisteth. Nuremberg, 1633.' Within the last few years, Wurffbain has found among his own countrymen a more distinguished successor. The Wiener Jahrbücher for 1848 contain a series of articles on the number seven, the contribution of a veteran Orientalist, whose lamented death occurred about two years ago--the Baron Von Hammer-Purgstall. We have place his name at the head of our own remarks, and take pleasure in acknowledging that we are dependent to a great extent upon his learned labors. If any of our readers find their curiosity athirst for further details, we can refer them to his two hundred pages. Only a word of caution. We would advise our friends not to attempt those articles, unless consciously animated by a genuine interest in the subject, profoundly impressed by the mystic predominance of this venerable number; otherwise they may find Von Hammer-Purgstall's ocean-flood of septenary erudition somewhat too overwhelming for them, and may prefer to take up with the small specimen-phial which we have the honor of exhibiting.
17) It remains to say a word in regard to the cause or causes of the honor so early and so widely paid to the number seven. Arithmetical reasons have been assigned for it; we find them drawn out at length by Philo the Jew. If we take the ten primary numbers--that is, the series from 1 to 10 (leaving out of view the 1, which is regarded as the basis of all number, but hardly a number itself)--we shall find that some of them are produced by multiplication: as 4 by multiplying 2 and 2; 6 by 2 and 3; 8 by 2 and 4; 9 by 3 and 3; 10 by 2 and 5. Some again are not themselves produced by multiplication, but by their multiplication produce others of the series: thus 2 helps to produce 4 and 6 and 8 and 10; 3 helps to produce 6 and 9; 4 to produce 8, and 5 to produce 10. Thus we have the products of multiplication 4,6,8,9,10, and the producers 2,3,4,5. Seven alone belongs to neither class; it neither produces nor is produced; and is thus clearly distinguished from its fellows. Another property: if we start with unity, and go on doubling, we form the geometric series 1,2,4,8,16,32,64. In this series the seventh term 64 is at the same time an exact square number, and an exact cube number, its square root being 8, and its cube root 4. Now let us start again with unity and go on trebling: we form the series 1,3,9,27,81,243,729; and here again the seventh term 729 has the same remarkable property of being an exact square and cube number at the same time; its square root being 27 and its cube root 9. And so if we form our series by quadrupling or quintupling, or with any other ratio, the seventh term will still have the same property; which is easily accounted for by our algebra, the seventh term of such a series being the sixth power of the ratio, which is of course the square of the third power and the cube of the second power. It is evident, however, that these properties of the number seven will not explain the origin of the feeling under consideration: they are very far from being obvious; they would probably have passed without notice, or at all events without special attention, had not the established sacredness of the number set men upon the hunt to find out everything remarkable connected with it.
18) Others rely upon a chronological reason: they derive the veneration for the Seven from the early division of time into periods of seven days--that is, from the week. It is certainly probable that the week, if it did not give origin to the feeling, has contributed to give it strength and perpetuity. Even if we regard the week as at first a merely human division of time, suggested by the changes of the moon, though afterwards taken up with divine sanctions into the Mosaic economy, still it could hardly fail, when once established, to invest its number with peculiar interest and importance: just as the widely recognized distinction of the number twelve may be ascribed to the twelve months (mooneths), revolutions of the moon, which correspond nearly to a single revolution of the sun. Still more might this effect be looked for, if we regard the week as being from the beginning of the world a positive divine institution. But some who take the latter view feel prompted to go further, and to explain why this number should have been selected by the Deity as the number of the week, and thereby as the subject of peculiar dignity and reverence. Thus Bähr, in his Symbolism of the Mosaic Ritual, observes that the Seven is formed by the union of two symbolic numbers: namely, three, which symbolizes the divine, since Godhead is a trinity, and four, which symbolizes the cosmical, the created universe of space, this being all determined in situation by the four cardinal directions or points of the compass, North, South, East, and West. The Seven, therefore, is in the highest degree symbolic, representing the union of the divine and the cosmical, and especially representing that reunion of the world with God which is the great aim and crowning consummation of all true religion. Kurtz also, another learned and pious theologian of Germany, in the Studien und Kritiken for 1844, goes into an elaborate vindication of the same view. In like manner, the twelves of the new Jerusalem, which have been already referred to, are explained as being the symbolic product of the same symbolic numbers. We have spoken before of arithmetical and chronological reasons: we may describe this as a symbolical reason. Such views will be very differently received by different persons. The example of Bähr himself shows that minds of a high order can find interest and satisfaction in them. At the same time there will always be others, men of positive and critical minds, who will distrust them as wanting and objective basis, or think of them as thin but highly flavored soups, fitted to tickle or to tease the intellectual palate, but affording next to nothing of substantial nutriment.
19) Next the physiological reasons. It is well known that the importance of the Ten, as the universal numerating number of all languages and peoples--for all men count by tens, and tens of tens, and tens of tens of tens, and so on, not in figures only but in words, and not in words only but in conceptions: thought and language have always been decimal, though figures have not always been so--nobody doubts, we say, that his ascendency of the Ten depends upon a physiological reason, one which makes it natural and handy for all men to reckon thus; that our apprehension of number is more than figurative, it is really a taking hold of it with our ten fingers. The science of number appears to be of all others the least artificial; yet there is no art, not even the potter's, which shows more clearly the impress of man's hands. Now some would find similar reasons for the preëminence of the Seven. Thus we have the seven parts of the human body, the head, chest and loins, with the four limbs, upper and lower. So, too, we have the seven openings of the head, the three twin pairs of eyes, ears, and nostrils, with the monadic mouth to make the seventh. further, in many diseases, the seventh, fourteenth, twenty-first days are critical periods, and were so regarded by ancient physicians. To these anatomical and pathological seven Von Hammer-Purgstall seems inclined to give the foremost place, and to consider them as the most effective agents in creating a reverence for the Seven. To us, we confess, they do not appear very striking. We should ascribe a far earlier and more powerful influence to the astronomical sevens.
20) We need not say, that to the men of primitive times the spectacle of the nocturnal heavens was as impressive as it was constant. But in this spectacle there was no object, the moon alone excepted, so striking to the inhabitants of the north temperate zone--that is, to all the cultivated nations of antiquity-- as that group of seven splendid never-setting stars, in which the utilitarian imagination of the Yankee recognizes--a dipper. The ancient Greeks saw in it the great northern bear; the Romans, seven plough-oxen, septem triones; among Greeks and Romans both, an entire quarter of earth and sky received its name from this constellation. The stars composing it were called by the Persians heft ereng, the 'seven thrones,' seats for the monarchs of the sky. The celestial empire would thus seem to be, like Anglo-Saxon England, a Heptarchy. But while in this unequaled constellation the glory of the Seven is most conspicuously blazoned, there are other notable groups which hold forth the same skyey number: as the lesser bear, inferior in brightness to the other, but distinguished as containing that remarkable star, which amid all motions and revolutions of earth and heaven has kept through the ages the same fixed place, the unvarying guide of benighted mortals. Nor must we forget the sweet influence of the Pleiades, "glittering like a swarm of fire-flies tangled in a silver braid;" nor how "through scudding drifts the rainy Hyades vexed the dim sea." In a passage of the Iliad, Homer, describing the shield of Achilles, tells us that the divine artisan represented within its central circle--
the earth, the heaven, the sea;It is worthy of notice that, among the constellations here specified as most interesting to the Homeric Greeks, three out of the four present the septenary number.
The sun that rests not, and the moon full-orbed;
There also all the stars, that round about
As with a radiant frontlet bind the sky;
The Hyads, and the Pleiads, and the might
Of huge Orion, with him Ursa called,
Known also by his popular name the Wain.
21) But we have yet to mention the great planetary seven. Most of the heavenly bodies, though revolving daily round the earth, maintain the same position relative to each other. But there are seven which wander without resting through the stationary camp. Among these seven wanderers, or planets, are the two greater lights that rule the day and the night, and the two usher stars that herald the morning and the evening. Enumerated in the order of their distance from the earth, as determined by ancient astronomy, they are the Moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. From the earliest time they have been an object of wonder, of curiosity, of study, to star-gazing men. Their movements have been watched with the minutest observation, and every possible device adopted to unravel the mystery of their wayward courses. The feeling toward them is well illustrated by the Persian literature, in which a great variety of honorary titles are applied to them, such as the seven pearls, the seven golden corals, seven eyes of heaven, seven tapers or torches, seven peers, seven sultans, seven great ladies, seven green daughters, seven heart-breaking boys, and so on, and so on. Each of these bodies has his own heaven, or sphere in which he moves about the earth. Hence the idea of seven heavens, which, with the correlative seven hells, we have noticed already. For these seven heavens the Persians have an even greater redundancy of titular expressions, such as the seven buildings, the seven temples, the seven roofs, the seven domes, the seven vaults, the seven blue curtains, the seven watered-colored suns-screens, the seven castles of gilded enamel, the seven horse-mills or ass-mills (in which the stars go round and round, as the ass in the mill). But we need not multiply illustrations to show how profound, as well as early, were the impressions made by these seven planets upon the minds of men. It is true that science has been making wild work with this ancient and venerable seven. The peerage of England has been more than once menaced with degradation by a large addition of upstart nobles. Something like this has actually happened to the celestial peerage. But let not these parvenu planets--Dii minorum gentium--whether condemned to outer darkness like Uranus and Neptune, or huddled together like Astræa, Flora, and fifty more, as if to make up by collective numbers for individual insignificance--let them not suppose that they can take rank with the ancient nobility of the skies. There are the prerogatives of the original seven from which they are forever excluded. They can never preside over the revolving week. They can never be the arbiters and exponents of human destiny. For the seven planets are the great objects, not only of astronomy, but of astrology. They are the lords of life; by their endless relations to each other and to the fixed stars they determine the endless varieties of human character and fortune. We profess to disbelieve in astrology; our science is against it. Yet still, if anything particularly fortunate befalls us, we bless our stars for it. As Max Piccolomini says in Schiller's play:--
"Still doth the old instinct call back the old names,
-------------------------and even at this day
'Tis Jupiter who brings whate'er is great
And Venus who brings everything that's fair."
22) At all events, the days of the week still retain their old astrological designations, still own in name the mastery of the planetary seven. We have our Saturn-day, Sun-day, our Moon-day. And if, instead of having a Mars-day, Mercury-day, Jove-day, Venus-day, like the people of France, Italy, and Spain, we speak of Tuis'-day, and Woden's-day, and Thor's-day, and Freya's-day, it is a mere translation--the translations of Roman names by their supposed representatives in northern mythology.
And now, who will not admit that the veneration for the Seven is in literal truth a lesson of celestial teaching? In this respect, as in others, "night unto night showeth knowledge--no speech, no language--their voice is not heard--yet their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world."
* * * * * * *
* This essay may be found in Hadley's posthumously published Essays Philological and Critical (New York: Holt & Williams, 1873), page 325. Also recommended by Dr. Hadley, although with some admonitory remarks, are the articles by Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall: Über die Zahl Sieben (Wiener Jahrbücher der Literatur. 1848. CXXII.182-225. CXXIII.1-54. CXXIV.1-105.) (return to top)