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Wibold's Ludus Regularis, a 10th Century Board Game - Number Mysticism

Author(s): 
Richard Pulskamp (Xavier University) and Daniel Otero (Xavier University)

Wibold's Number Mysticism

The Pythagoreans believed that All is number. This idea was developed in the works of Greek, Roman, Jewish, Christian and Islamic philosophers and theologians through the medieval period. Numbers and a particular calculus of numbers, called arithmology, were seen to be the key to understanding the world. From arithmology arose a theology of arithmetic. Indeed, "medieval [Christian] theology was very largely concerned with attempts to establish the numerical relationships of the supermundane, ecclesiastical and temporal worlds" [11].

The Greek arithmetical tradition was passed to the West primarily through the De Institutione Arithmetica of Boethius (6th century) in which he investigated fundamental Pythagorean number theory (e.g. unity in multiplicity, evenness and oddness, deficient, perfect, and abundant numbers). This work was a simplification of the Introduction to Arithmetic of Nicomachus of Gerasa (2nd c.). Christian writers such as Augustine of Hippo (4th c.), Isidore of Seville (7th c.), and Rabanus Maurus (9th c.) incorporated the number theory of Boethius into a theological discourse. These mathematical concepts lent a mystical authority for identifying relationships amongst theological concepts.

In the next section of text, Wibold called on this tradition when he commented on his pairings of sums of dice rolls [2].

And let us respond through each individually:

  • Concerning the [sum] three, by virtue of the very one-ness of the first of these [things], shall we not designate the name of the Holy Trinity?
  • But what for [the sum] four if not the trumpets of the four Evangelists?
  • These likewise taken together demonstrate that most holy sevenfold grace, full of charismatic gifts. Indeed seven regarded twice, and added to three is 17, and to four 18. (Note in what manner 3, 7 and also 4 return to themselves.)
  • In addition we can ascribe to 10 the Ten Commandments, which work under the former law, and now under grace, and to 8 the eighth age, which is not yet come.

But it is fitting to keep in mind these three [numbers 3, 4, and 7] in a manner besides. Therefore, he, who on hearing the blare of the trumpets of the holy Gospels, venerates the Holy Trinity with most intimate love of his heart, and is eager to behold with sevenfold grace as far as the end [of time], he seeks to have

  • Charity, in which the whole law is fulfilled,
  • Faith, without which it is impossible to please God,
  • Continence, in order that he abstains himself from vices, by which he may prevail to hold fast virtues,
  • Humility, without which, he who gathers virtues is as if he carries dust in the wind;

let him busy himself to exercise his disposition charitably, faithfully, temperately, and humbly, if he seeks to arrive to an accumulation of the [virtues] (see note 6).

A number of paragraphs of text follow in which Wibold invoked similar number mysticism for the remaining pairs of sums of rolls of dice. Omitting any more of this, we return to Wibold's game mechanics: a description of the dice, the rules of play, and who wins the game.


Note

6. Wibold here referred to the virtues (Charity, Faith, Continence, and Humility) associated with rolls of 3, 4, 17 and 18.

Richard Pulskamp (Xavier University) and Daniel Otero (Xavier University), "Wibold's Ludus Regularis, a 10th Century Board Game - Number Mysticism," Loci (July 2014)

Dummy View - NOT TO BE DELETED