The Meaning of the Tetractys – Musical Symbolism in Pythagorean Arithmology

Tetractys titlepageThe Tetractys  symbol is an exquisite example of how a simple visual pattern can have multi-varied meanings and ‘levels’ of interpretive significance. The famous Pythagorean oath refers to the Tetractys, praising it as the source “which contains the fount and root of eternal nature”. A profusion of insights can be derived from the image, concepts which are relevant to arithmetic (number relations), harmonics (musical tuning theory), and geometry (number relations in space). Only a pitifully small amount of ancient commentary has been perserved; but the study of the above disciplines uncovers more and more relevance for the symbol. In this short paper, I will briefly review some historical interpretations and offer a few insights of my own that come from extensive work in harmonics and sacred geometry.

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