[Numerology and Number Symbolism]

Pietro Bongo

Numerorum Mysteria.
Opus maximarum rerum doctrina, et copia refertum, in quo mirus in primis idemq[ue] perpetuus arithmeticae pythagoricae [...]


Appendix ad ea qvae de Nvmerorvm mysteriis egit

Bergamo: Comino Ventura, 1599.

$3,200   INQUIRE

Text in Latin. Two parts in one volume.
RARE outside Italy; WorldCat locates only 3 copies in the US.

A scarce, and, apparently, the most complete edition (with a new Appendix) of this fascinating and comprehensive Renaissance manual of numerology.

First printed in 1583-4 (also in Bergamo), Pietro Bongo's influential Numerorum mysteria was "THE MOST ELABORATE COMPILATION OF NUMERICAL SYMBOLISM [...] which appeared in progressively expanding editions, under various titles, beginning in 1583. The final expansion, entitled Numerorum mysteria (Bergamo, 1599), contain[ed] a 77-page appendix of additional material." (R. E. Kaske, et al. Medieval Christian Literary Imagery: A Guide to Interpretation, p.164)

In this monumental work, which was quite popular in its time, Pietro Bongo (d. 1601) was attempting to reconcile Pythagorean and Christian numerological doctrines. "Petrus Bungus composed an enormous encyclopedia, in which he claimed that without the knowledge of numerology it is simply impossible to understand why there are only 4 elements and only 7 planets. Bungus's work [...] offers a marvelous survey of the use of numbers, rich in quotations from classical, medieval European, and even Arab thinkers and astronomers. Plato, whom Bungus considers the "head and leader" of number mysticism, appears in this work as an "atticized Moses," for it was believed that the entire Egyptian, meaning ancient Oriental, numerological wisdom had been known to Moses before it reached Greece." (A. Schimmel, The Mystery of Numbers, p.23)

Bongo's Mysteries of Numbers "largely contributed to the establishment and legitimization of the cultural relevance of this topic [arithmology and numerology] within Western culture [and gave] number symbolism a wide intellectual appeal.

"A member of an ancient and noble family from Bergamo, as well as a canon of the local Sant'Alessandro Cathedral, the immensely erudite P. Bongo wrote a 700-page quarto tome on Pythagoreanism, drawing from every conceivable source available to him at the time, including magical, hermetic, alchemical, and esoteric writings (Pico, Ficino, Dee, etc.). Although he was sometimes criticized for the heterogeneous character of his book, which takes numbers into the hundreds of thousands and sometimes degenerates into a mere dictionary of the allegorical meanings of numbers (a lexicon which members of almost all artistic and intellectual trades could tap into), Bongo remained aware of certain theoretical issues of his time. The growing opposition between traditional thinking [...] and the modern thought, which attempted to read the world through the lenses of experience and of a quantitative, discursive mathematical language, was not lost on him. Bongo contrasted the Book of Nature with that of Scripture, and exhibited an understanding of Pythagoreanism as an intermediate hermeneutical device useful in the spiritual interpretation of the Bible, and of culture, with pastoral aims. Following this perspective, he naturally retained a mainly theological outlook, which included the allegorical use of numbers as a general key of the interpretation of reality." (S. Lawrence, M. McCartney, Mathematicians and their Gods, p.113)

"This is a mass of erudition, prolix and unscientific, relating to the mystery of numbers. [...] It includes all of the allusions to such matters as the mystic three that Bungus could find in ancient literature. He takes up the various numbers from one to ten in the same way, together with a few of the more interesting larger numbers. For students interested in popular number mysticism the book still remains the classic in its way. It is also of much value in showing the nature of the Roman numerals in use in the sixteenth century." (Smith, Rara Arithmetica, p.383)

A curious discussion on Bongo's book is found in Augustus De Morgan's A Budget of Paradoxes, Vol. I, pp.55-8

Physical description:

Two parts in one volume. Large thick Quarto; textblock measures 242 mm x 172 mm (wide margins). Bound in 18th-century quarter-vellum over thick pasteboards (with vellum corners); flat spine with gilt-lettered brown morocco title-label. Edges speckled blue. Marbled endpapers. Green silk bookmark attached.

Pagination: [224], 676 (i.e. 678), [2]; [8], 77, [3 (blank)] pages, including final blank. 2 parts in one volume.

Signatures: a-c8 *-***8 ****4 a-g8 h4 A10 B-Z8 Aa-Ss8 Tt10 π4 A-K4.
COLLATED AND COMPLETE, including the final blank K4.

Woodcut printer's device to both title-pages. Full-page woodcut arms of the dedicatee, Cardinal Ludovico Madruzzo; full-page engraved arms of Bongo family; numerous woodcut diagrams and tables in text. Numerous fine woodcut decorative initials, head- and tail-pieces. Text mostly in Italic letter (with some use of Greek and Hebrew); marginal notes printed in small Roman letter.

Preliminaries include dedicatory epistle by Bongo to cardinal Ludovico Madruzzo (1532 - 1600); numerous prefatory poems by various authors; preface Ad Benevolum Lectorem, an introductory essay on various transcription styles used for the roman numerals; the list of authors used for compiling this book; index of Biblical references. The 120 pages of Index Generalis (a-g8 h4), usually found at the end of the volume are here bound in front (after the preliminaries).

The "Appendix" has a separate dated title-page and pagination, and is preceded by its own dedication by Bongo to Paolo Mosconi archpresbyter of Soncino, dated 8 Oct. 1599.


Very Good antiquarian condition. Binding rubbed, somewhat soiled and slightly stained; some edgewear (top corners worn through); short, harmless split to vellum at foot of front joint, but binding solid and hinges intact. A few leaves with some early manuscript marginalia. Hand-written initials CR to inner margin of title; a few ownership inscriptions to front free end-paper. Textblock with occasional light-to-moderate browning or spotting, but generally, quite clean, wide-margined and solid example of this rare work.


18th-century ownership inscription of Dott. Ranuccio Luigi Scarpacci of Bergamo (on front free endpaper and front free fly-leaf.

Another Italian ownership inscription of Dott. Luigi Carrara, a physician (also from Bergamo).

An unidentified modern bookplate to front pastedown.

Bibliographic references:

Riccardi I, 202; Smith, Rara Arithmetica, 380-4; Thorndike VI, 458-9.

Please click on thumbnails below to see larger images.