The Golden Number Pythagorean Rites and Rhythms

Pythagoras is often referred to as the first pure mathematician. He was born on the island of Samos, Greece in 569 BC. Various writings place his death between 500 BC and 475 BC in Metapontum, Lucania, Italy. His father, Mnesarchus, was a gem merchant. His mother’s name was Pythais. Pythagoras had two or three brothers.

Pythagoras was well educated, and he played the lyre throughout his lifetime, knew poetry and recited Homer. He was interested in mathematics, philosophy, astronomy and music, and was greatly influenced by Pherekydes (philosophy), Thales (mathematics and astronomy) and Anaximander (philosophy, geometry).

Pythagoras left Samos for Egypt in about 535 B.C. to study with the priests in the temples. Many of the practices of the society he created later in Italy can be traced to the beliefs of Egyptian priests, such as the codes of secrecy, striving for purity, and refusal to eat beans or to wear animal skins as clothing. Fast forward many decades and he is interested in all things to do with numbers.

Pythagoras abandoned physics and switched to metaphysics, and his predilection for mathematical studies led him to trace the origin of all things to number, this theory being suggested, or at all events confirmed, by the observation of various numerical relations, or analogies to them, in the phenomena of the universe.

Pythagoreanism originated in the 6th century BC, based on the teachings and beliefs held by Pythagoras and his followers, the Pythagoreans, who were considerably influenced by mathematics and mysticism. Later revivals of Pythagorean doctrines led to what is now called Neopythagoreanism or Neoplatonism. Pythagorean ideas exercised a marked influence on Aristotle, and Plato, and through them, all of Western philosophy.

The Golden ratio is a special number found by dividing a line into two parts so that the longer part divided by the smaller part is also equal to the whole length divided by the longer part. It is often symbolized using phi, after the 21st letter of the Greek alphabet. In an equation form, it looks like this:

a/b = (a+b)/a = 1.6180339887498948420 …

The Golden Number

The Golden Number, or Phi (Φ), is a geometric ratio found throughout nature, often underlying the dimensions of objects considered especially beautiful. Simplified as 1.618 and symbolized by the Fibonacci sequence, the Golden Number represents the unique relationship within an object where the ratio of a larger part to a smaller part is the same as the ratio of the whole to the larger part. It appears in the proportions of the human face and body as well as in the proportions of animals, plants, and celestial bodies.

Called the divine proportion by the monk Fra Luca Pacioli, whose book on the subject was illustrated by Leonardo da Vinci, Phi’s use in art and architecture goes back at least to the mystical mathematics of Pythagoras and his followers in the sixth century BCE. The perfect synthesis of spiritual and material, it can be found in the measurements of the sacred temples of Egypt, Ancient Greece, and Medieval and Renaissance Europe. The asymptotic series of integers that define Phi represent the macrocosm and microcosm as portrayed in Plato’s concept of the world soul.

Presenting Matila Ghyka’s classic treatise on the Golden Number for the first time in English, this book reveals the many ways this ratio can be found not only in the organic forms of nature–such as in the spirals of shells or the number of petals on a flower–but also in the most beautiful and highest creations of humanity. One of the most important concepts of sacred geometry, its mysteries were passed down in an unbroken line of transmission from the Pythagorean brotherhoods through the medieval builders’ guilds to the secret societies of 18th-century Europe. Ghyka shows how the secrets of this divine proportion were not sought merely for their value in architecture, painting, and music, but also as a portal to a deeper understanding of the spiritual nature of beauty and the hidden harmonies that connect the whole of creation.