Monday, May 25, 2009

The Mythology of Numbers

The Mythology of Numbers


Do you have a lucky number, and do you always avoid the number 13 when picking your lottery numbers? We take a closer look at eight supposedly lucky, unlucky or otherwise special numbers. Why eight numbers? Read on…

In Japanese, the pronunciation for the number four is "shi", very similar to that of the word for "death", giving this number unfortunate associations. For this reason, it is the custom not to give items in fours as gifts, and hotels and hospitals may not have floors or rooms numbered four.



Seven is an important number in Christian and other religious traditions. It is the Sabbath, the day on which God rested. There are also believed to be seven virtues and seven deadly sins, and in Japanese mythology, there are seven gods of good fortune.

It's no coincidence that the scheduled start time for the 2008 Beijing Olympics is 8 o'clock on August 8—the eighth day of the eighth month—2008. Eight is an auspicious number in China, its pronunciation being similar to that for "prosper". For this reason, license plates, bank accounts, addresses and telephone numbers featuring the number are highly popular.



The number 13 is commonly associated with bad luck, and there is even a name for the fear of the number 13: triskaidekaphobia. The belief that 13 is unlucky can be linked to the Last Supper, attended by 13, including Judas.

In Italy, it is the number 17 that has unlucky connotations. This is a superstition with Classical roots—17 spelt out in Roman numerals is XVII, which can be rearranged to spell "VIXI", the Latin for "I have lived" and, consequently, I am now no longer living, or I am dead.



Fans of David Beckham and Michael Jordan have reason to be keen on the number 23, sported on the shirts of their heroes. However, they are probably unaware that followers of Discordianism, a self-styled religion that began in the 1950s, believe that the number 23 is holy. American writer William S. Burroughs became obsessed with the number, keeping a scrapbook of events connected to it, and it has spawned a number of books and films, including The Number 23, starring Jim Carrey as a man fixated on the number.



Linked to triskaidekaphobia, in Australian cricket a score of 87 is seen as unlucky. Known as the devil's number—and you thought that was 666—87 is 13 runs short of a century and so deemed to be bad luck. And England did win the Ashes in 1987.



On the other side of the world, in English cricket a score of 111 is known as a "Nelson", in supposed but inaccurate reference to Nelson, prior to his death, losing an eye, an arm and a leg. Three stumps relieved of their bails would look like the number 111 and the tradition of jumping off the ground to avoid bad luck when this score is reached has been carried on in style by umpire David Shepherd.


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