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Some significant numbers from literature and literary criticism


Two aspects of language The metonymy (similarity) and the metaphor (continuity). "The Two Aspects of Language", Roman Jakobson (1956).
Two animals in the Bible that talked The serpent and Beulah's ass.
Three attributes of discourse (Roman) The compositio, the elegantia, and the dignitas.
Three fates Clotho (the spinner), Lachesis (the dispenser), and Atropos (the cutter).
Three "R"s Elementary school (reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic)
Three sons of Adam and Eve Cain, Abel, and Seth
Three wise men  Or three kings, three magi, etc. Balthazar, Caspar, and Melchior.
Three witches Shakespeare's three weird sisters in Macbeth.
Four ages of poetry  (Thomas Love Peacock) Iron, gold, silver, and brass
Four in hand Also coach and four. Horses hitched to a stagecoach.
Four levels of meaning (Dante) The literal meaning, the moral meaning, the allegorical meaning, and the anagogical meaning.
Four meanings of poetry (I. A. Richards) The sense, the feeling, the tone, and the intention.
Four divisions of a tragedy The protasis, the epitasis, the catastasis, and the catastrophe.
Four suits

Corresponding to social divisions: The nobles and military (spades), the church (hearts), commerce (diamonds), and the farmers/plebs (clubs).

Fourth estate

The press. The traditional three estates of the realm are the Lords Spiritual, the Lords Temporal, and the Commons.
Four rivers in the Garden of Eden Hiddikel, Pison, Gihon, and Phrath.
Five nails in Christ's cross Sador, Alador, Danet, Adera, and Rodas (cf Cirencester Square)
Five U. S. states named after (or in honor of) monarchs Georgia, Louisiana, Virginia, North and South Carolina
Six degrees of separation

Broadway play, subsequent movie. Everyone on the planet is acquainted with everyone else on the planet by no more than six degrees of separation.

For example, you know Sally, Sally knows Juan, Juan knows Vladimir, Vladimir knows Dae Chow, Dae Chow knows Luigi, and Luigi knows the Pope.

Six gates of Troy (Triolus and Cressida) Darden, Tymbria, Helias, Chetas, Troien, Antenorides.
Sixes and Sevens Each of the major London Livery Companies is ranked in order of precedence or seniority. The Merchant Tailors and the Skinners were in a lengthy competition for sixth place, often displacing each other to seventh place. Hence the term, "at sixes and sevens".
Six known quarks (subatomic particles): Beauty, Charmed, Down, Strange, Truth, and Up.
Six wives of Henry VIII Catherine x 3, Anne x 2, and Jane
Seven arts

Decomposed into two parts, the Quadrivium and Trivium. The Quadrivium was arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music.

The Trivium was grammar, logic, and rhetoric.

Seventh heaven The seven heavens are pure silver, gold, pearl, white gold, silver (yes, silver again), ruby, and divine light.
Seven deadly sins Pride, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony, avarice and sloth.
Seven league boots <in preparation>
Seven hills of Rome The Palatine, Capitoline, Aventine, Caeline, Esquiline, Viminal, and Colline.
Seven seas The Arctic, Antarctic, North Atlantic, South Atlantic, North Pacific, South Pacific, and Indian Oceans.
Seven sleepers of Ephesus Maximian, Malcus, Martinian, Dionysius, Seraphim, John, and Constantine.
Seven voyages Of Sinbad the Sailor: to the Indian Ocean; to the Valley of Diamonds; to the land of the cannibals; to the Cavern of the Dead; to the island of the Old Man of the Sea; to an unidentified land abounding in precious stones; and to the China Sea.
Seven wonders The Great Pyramid of Khufu, The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, The statue of Zeus (Phidias), The Temple of Artemis, The Mausoleum of Hellicarnassus, The Colossus of Rhodes, and The Pharos of Alexandria.
Eight kings The eight kings in Macbeth's vision (Act IV), the last of whom carries a mirror. The purpose of this vision is to show that the Stuart dynasty (i.e., Banquo's descendents) will rule Scotland.
Eightfold path Right views, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right-mindedness, and right contemplation.
Nine circles Of the Inferno: Limbo, Lust, Gluttony, Avarice, Wrath, Heresy, Violence, Fraud, and Treachery.
Nine lives Given to a cat. How a cat got to have nine lives lies somewhere in the murk of the dark ages. Shakespeare's character Tybalt (Romeo and Juliet) was a reference to a cat and hence Mercutio's ill fated, "…nothing but one of your nine lives…".
Nine points of the law

Possession is… (there is no record of what the other points were).

[John Cowan adds: "Nine points" is usually interpreted as "nine tenths". OTOH, my father the lawyer was fond of saying Possession is said to be nine points of the law, but that's not saying how many points the law may happen to have."]

Nine worthies

Pagan: Hector, Alexander, Julius Caesar.

Jewish: Joshua, David, Judas Maccabeus.

Christian: Arthur, Charlemagne, Godfrey of Bouilon.

Nine materials in the Tower of Babel Clay, water, wool, blood, wood, lime, pitch, linen, and bitumen.
Nine Muses Clio (history), Calliope (epic poetry), Erato (love poetry), Euterpe (lyric poetry), Melpomene (tragedy), Polyhymnia (songs to the gods), Terpsichore (dance), Thalia (comedy), and Urania (astronomy).
Nine principal passions Anger, decency, courage, admiration, love, hope, esteem, generosity, and joy.

Nine yards

There is no conclusive etymology for the expression, "the whole nine yards".

Theories offered thus far include:

The length of a machine gun belt;

The amount of cloth needed to make a suit;

The amount of cement that can fit in a cement truck;

An amount of ale (i.e., nine yards of ale) in a firkin, stein, etc.;

The length of the intestinal tract in an adult male (I hate his guts, all nine yards of them);

And other obscure references.

The senior literary reference for "yard" comes from the book of Genesis, "Ye shall circumcise the flesh of the furthermost part of your yard".

A similar reference occurs in Shakespeare's Love's Labor's Lost, "Loves her by the foot… He may not by the yard…"

The nines

Dressed to… Possibly a corruption of "dressed to the eyes…”

The ten commandments

Thou shalt not…

The eleven confederate states

Arkansas, Florida, Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Mississippi, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, and Virginia.

Twelve labors Of Hercules: flay the Nemean lion; kill the Lernaean Hydra; capture the Arcadian stag; capture the Erymanthian boar; cleanse the Augean stables; kill the Stymphalian birds; capture the Cretan bull; capture the mares of Diomedes; capture Hippolyta's girdle; capture Geryon's oxen; recover the apples from Hesperides; and bring Cerberus up from Hades.

Twelve Olympians

Zeus, Hera, Hephaestus, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Ares, Aphrodite, Hestia, Hermes, Demeter, and Poseidon.

Twelve knights of the round table Bors, Bedivere, Lancelot, Gareth, Torre, Perceval, Galahad, Tristan, Gawain, Lamorack, Kay, and Mordred.





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