4.0482 More Responses on Numbers (2/53)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Thu, 13 Sep 90 16:41:35 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 4, No. 0482. Thursday, 13 Sep 1990.

(1) Date: Thu, 13 Sep 1990 8:33:35 GMT+0400 (36 lines)
From: Judy Koren <LBJUDY@VMSA.technion.ac.il>
Subject: Charles Ess's query on the number 20 in the Odyssey

(2) Date: Thu, 13 Sep 90 00:49:43 -1000 (17 lines)
From: stampe@uhccux.BITNET
Subject: 4.0479 Responses: Numerology

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Thu, 13 Sep 1990 8:33:35 GMT+0400
From: Judy Koren <LBJUDY@VMSA.technion.ac.il>
Subject: Charles Ess's query on the number 20 in the Odyssey

I don't know anything about the Odyssey, but I suspect an analogy with
the number 40 in writings from the early Arab period, and indeed in the
OT and therefore possibly continuously between the two periods. Larry
Conrad wrote an interesting paper a few years ago (I don't have the
reference handy but can supply it) showing that the number 40, and by
extension 400, 4000, 40,000 etc., in Early Arab literature, including
private letters and State correspondence, was used to mean "quite a
large (but indeterminate) number", "a very large number", "a huge army",
etc. etc. The basic unit was 40 and you added zeros according to the
size you wished to convey. This is interesting because in Roman and
Byzantine historical accounts around, say, the 3rd to 7th centuries AD
you also find similar numbers cropping up. Somebody mentioned Ulfila's
40 years of missionary work to the Goths, and scholars have been
wrangling ever since, because all calculations show that Ulfila was
actually there for only 37 or 38 years... Was this a Biblical parallel
of the "40 years in the wilderness" variety (itself an indeterminate use
of the number 40), or simply a way of saying that he dedicated a
commendably long time to his sacred calling? The Byzantine Emperor sent
4,000 soldiers to help the West fight the Goths (I haven't looked at
this material for a few years and am not going to quote names to all of
you who know better than I, without looking it up first!). Various
accounts of the Byzantine-Arab battles during the Arab conquest, 630s
AD, mention 40,000 soldiers fighting on each side (they also mention
other numbers, such as 100,000). The Caliph Mu'awiyah, in the mid-7th
C., complains about an importunate petitioner who has sent him 400
letters and 4,000 presents... etc.

I'd bet you a reasonable sum that your 20 in the Odyssey is something
along these lines (though I might end up, after everyone else has also
had their say, feeling lucky we couldn't shake hands on it!).

Judy Koren
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------22----
Date: Thu, 13 Sep 90 00:49:43 -1000
From: stampe@uhccux.BITNET
Subject: 4.0479 Responses: Numerology (2/38)

Twenty, as the sum of the fingers and toes, sometimes is named for the
whole person. I've found counting systems in Indian tribal languages
with one-hand `5', one-hand-one `6', one-hand-two `7', ..., two-hand
`10', one-foot `15' one-person `20', three-person-one-hand-one `66'.

There are numeral systems based on four (fingers counted with the
thumb), five (fingers and thumb), eight, ten, twelve (the three joints
of the four fingers counted with the thumb), and twenty. In Sora, a
Munda tribal language of India, the number bases are 12 and 20. 45 is
two-twenty-five, 55 is two-twenty-twelve-three. If I counted right!

David Stampe <stampe@uhccux.uhcc.hawaii.edu>, <stampe@uhccux.bitnet>
Dept. of Linguistics, Univ. of Hawaii/Manoa, Honolulu HI 96822