Greek Onomancy: Determining a Winner with Pythmenes

After the last post on onomancy, I realized that there’s more to Greek letter and number divination involving names than simply determining whether a sick person will live or die.  Plus, there are far more ways to count the letters in a Greek word than straightforward isopsephia, and this time I’ll go over a slightly different method that can be used in a more straightforward fashion than looking things up in a complicated table or circular chart.  This is called the method of pythmenes, or “roots”, and is based more on the numbers 1 through 9 than anything else.  The source text for this is from Hippolytus’ Refutation of All Heresies (book IV, chapter 14), which is a fantastic resource of how everyone did things back in the day that were offensive to early Christian sensibilities, including a good chunk of occult knowledge.

For the system of pythmenes, instead of assigning each letter of the Greek alphabet a number 1 through 9 by ones, 10 through 90 by tens, and 100 through 900 by hundreds, we only assign a single digit value to each letter ignoring magnitude.  Thus, Alpha (1), Iota (10), and Rho (100) all have a pythmenic value of 1, even though their isopsephic values differ.  Here’s a full chart comparing the isopsephic and pythmenic values of the Greek alphabet:

Letter Isopsephy Pythmenes
Α 1 1
Β 2 2
Γ 3 3
Δ 4 4
Ε 5 5
Ζ 7 7
Η 8 8
Θ 9 9
Ι 10 1
Κ 20 2
Λ 30 3
Μ 40 4
Ν 50 5
Ξ 60 6
Ο 70 7
Π 80 8
Ρ 100 1
Σ 200 2
Τ 300 3
Υ 400 4
Φ 500 5
Χ 600 6
Ψ 700 7
Ω 800 8

Or, shown a simpler way based on the pythmenic value:

Pythmenes Letters
1 Α, Ι, Ρ
2 Β, Κ, Σ
3 Γ, Λ, Τ
4 Δ, Μ, Υ
5 Ε, Ν, Φ
6 Ξ, Χ
7 Ζ, Ο, Ψ
8 Η, Π, Ω
9 Θ

Alright, so we have our numbers for our letters.  And yes, note that 6 only has two letters assigned to it and 9 only has one; 6 would also be assigned the letter digamma, and 9 would be assigned qoppa and sampi, but these are all obsolete letters and thus unused in pythmenes.  So, how do we use these values?  Generally, the rule to form a pythmenic value of a name is similar to that of calculating an isopsephic value.  However, there’s a little more complexity involved:

  1. Find the pythmenic value of every letter in the name.
  2. If any letters are duplicated, count the duplicated letter only once.
  3. Add up the pythmenic values of all the remaining letters.
  4. Divide the pythmenic sum by nine and take the remainder.  This is the pythmenic value of the name.
  5. If the remainder is 0, then the pythmenic value of the name is 9.

Now, say you want to compare two people who are, say, in a fight, and you want to know who wins.  Take the pythmenic value of each name and compare them:

  • If one pythmenic value is odd and the other even, the larger number wins.
  • If the pythmenic values are both odd or both even but are different numbers, the smaller number wins.

So, what happens when both numbers are the same?  This is where things get a little hairy, and it all depends, but both can be considered equal in power, yet a winner must result.  Generally speaking, if both pythmenic values are the same and are both odd, then the “lesser” one wins; if both values are the same and are both even, the “greater” one wins.  “Lesser” and “greater” are terms I’m applying to the notion of the challenger (“lesser”) and the challenged (“greater”); the challenger is one who must prove their strength or supremacy, while the challenged is the one who has already proved it.  However, “lesser” and “greater” can also imply other criteria such as age, wealth, standing, or other factors depending on the contest or struggle at hand.  Going by old (and admittedly sexist) number symbolism, odd numbers are perceived as masculine and therefore aggressive (“challenging”), while even numbers are perceived as feminine and therefore passive (“challenged”); thus, if both numbers are the same, they fall in line with whichever side agrees with the value.

So, consider two people fighting each other, and let’s pick the names Hector (Εκτωρ) and Patroclus (Πατροκλος) from Homer’s Iliad to determine who wins the fight.  Hector’s name has the pythmenic value of 5 + 2 + 3 + 8 + 1 = 19 % 9 = 1.  Patroclus has a pythmenic value of 8 + 1 + 3 + 1 + 7 + 2 + 3 + ∅ + 2 (the second Ο is a duplicate, so we don’t count it, thus ∅) = 27 % 9 = 0 → 9 (nine divides evenly into 27, so although the remainder is 0, this is pythmenically equivalent to 9).  Both of these numbers are odd but are not equal to each other; thus, Hector, who has the smaller pythmenic value, wins, and indeed, Hector kills Patroclus in their fight.  However, we know that Achilles (Αχιλλευς) also fights Hector after this; the pythmenic value of Achilles is 1 + 6 + 1 + 3 + ∅ + 5 + 4 + 2 = 22 % 9 = 4.  The pythmenic value of Hector’s name is odd, while that of Achilles is even, and since Achilles’ number is larger, Achilles wins and kills Hector.

Instead of determining the winner of two parties in a fight, this same method can be used to find out whether one will live or die in an illness.  We can see the disease as a struggle between patient and illness, and we can use the pythmenic values of the person’s name as well as of the day letter as we did before with the Sphere of Democritus and the Circle of Petosiris.  In the case of both numbers having the same pythmenic value, we can consider the patient to be the “greater” and the illness the “lesser” or that which challenges the patient.  Of course, sometimes the rules also took into account days of the week or other numbers, which could shed a little more light into the situation.

So, let’s say it’s 200 AD, and my name is actually polyphanes (Πολυφανης), and it’s a few days before the full moon, say the 12th of the lunar month.  I suddenly get a fever and I decide to go to bed, and a healer-magician comes by and runs some tests.  The pythmenic value of my name is 8 + 7 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 1 + 5 + 8 + 2 = 43 % 9 = 7.  The pythmenic value of the day number is 12 % 9 = 3.  Bad news for me; both values are odd but not equal, and the day the disease took hold has the smaller value, so the disease wins and I lose, i.e. die.

What if we take into account the day of the week?  Marking Sunday as day 1 and Saturday as day 7, let’s say that the 12th day of the lunar month happened to fall on a Tuesday, which would have the value of 3.  If we add 3 to the day number 12, we get 3 +12 = 15, and 15 % 9 = 6.  The news isn’t so bad after all; now the date on which I fell ill is an even number, and my name has an odd number which is greater, so I’ll win out in the end after all.

A variant of this technique can be applied to the notion of rematches.  If the conflict between the two sides is the first time they’ve fought, then you use the whole names of both.  If, however, this is their second match, drop the first letter of each name before calculating their pythmenic values; if the third match, drop the first two letters; etc.  This process can be continued as long as there exists at least one letter in one of the names, at which point we might expect that to be the final match between the two parties.

And just to leave you with a bit of fun to toy around with, I should mention that there are plenty of variations to this rule, as there are with many Greek numerological traditions.  Some of them follow:

  • Don’t discount repeated letters.  (It’s possible that an earlier form of pythmenes didn’t discount them, but I prefer doing it.)
  • Discount a letter that is repeated twice and only twice.
  • Discount letters that repeat a pythmenic value, e.g. Ω and Η.
  • Divide the end result by 7 instead of 9 to obtain a remainder.
  • Separate the letters out into three groups (vowels, semivowels, and consonants) and apply the pythmenic winner method above to each group of letters in the two names.  Best of three “rounds” wins overall.

About polyphanes
I'm a software developer and Hermetic occultist living near Washington, DC, USA. I claim that I'm youthful, dashing, daring, and other things. I make things and chant stuff, and periodically write about them.

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