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Nine, five, and three are mystical numbers—the diapaʹson, diapente, and diatriʹon of the Greeks. Nine consists of a trinity of trinities. According to the Pythagorean numbers, man is a full chord, or eight notes, and deity comes next. Three, being the trinity, represents a perfect unity; twice three is the perfect dual; and thrice three is the perfect plural. This explains the use of nine as a mystical number, and also as an exhaustive plural, and consequently no definite number, but a simple representative of plural perfection. (See Diapason.)

(1) Nine indicating perfection or completion:

Deucalion’s ark, made by the advice of Promeʹtheus, was tossed about for nine days, when it stranded on the top of Mount Parnassus.

Rigged to the nines or Dressed up to the nines. To perfection from head to foot.

There are nine earths. Hela is goddess of the ninth. Milton speaks of “nine-enfolded spheres.” (Arcades.)

There are nine worlds in Niflheim.

There are nine heavens. (See Heavens.)

Gods. Macaulay makes Porsĕna swear by the nine gods. (See Nine Gods.)

There are nine orders of angels. (See Angels.)

There are the nine korrigan or fays of Armorica.

There were nine muses.

There were nine Gallicenæ or virgin priestesses of the ancient Gallic oracle. The serpents or Nagas of Southern Indian worship are nine in number.

There are nine worthies (q.v.); and nine worthies of London. (See Worthies.)

There were nine rivers of hell, according to classic mythology. Milton says the gates of hell are “thrice three-fold; three folds are brass, three iron, three of adamantine rock. They had nine folds, nine plates, and nine linings.” (Paradise Lost, ii. 645.)

Fallen angels. Milton says, when they were cast out of heaven, “Nine days they fell.” (Paradise Lost, vi. 871.)

Vulcan, when kicked out of heaven, was nine days falling, and then lighted on the island Lemnos.

(2) Examples of the use of nine as an exhaustive plural:

Nine tailors make a man does not mean the number nine in the ordinary acceptation, but simply the plural of tailor without relation to number. As a tailor is not so robust and powerful as the ordinary run of men, it requires more than one to match a man. (See Tailors.)

A nine daysʹ wonder is a wonder that lasts more than a day; here nine equals “several.”

A cat has nine livesi.e. a cat is popularly supposed to be more tenacious of life than animals in general.

Possession is nine points of the lawi.e. several points, or every advantage a person can have short of right.

There are nine crowns recognised in heraldry. (See Crowns.)

A fee asked a Norman peasant to change babes with her, but the peasant replied, “No, not if your child were nine times fairer than my own.” (Fairy Mythology, p. 473.)

(3) Nine as a mystic number. Examples of its superstitious use:—

The Abracadabra was worn nine days, and then flung into a river.

Cadency. There are nine marks of cadency.

Cat. The whip for punishing evildoers was a cat-oʹ-nine-tails, from the superstitious notion that a flogging by a “trinity of trinities” would be both more sacred and more efficacious.

Diamonds. (SeeDiamond Jousts,” under the word Diamond.)

Fairies. In order to see the fairies, a person is directed to put “nine grains of wheat on a four-leaved clover.”

Hel has dominion over nine worlds.

Hydra. The hydra had nine heads. (See Hydra.)

Leases used to be granted for 999 years, that is three times three-three-three. Even now they run for ninetynine years, the dual of a trinity of trinities. Some leases run to 9,999 years.

At the Lemuʹria, held by the Romans on the 9th, 11th, and 13th of May, persons haunted threw black beans over their heads, pronouncing nine times the words: “Avaunt, ye spectres from this house!” and the exorcism was complete. (See Ovid’s Fasti.)

Magpies. To see nine magpies is most unlucky. (See Magpie.)

Odin’s ring dropped eight other rings every ninth night.

Ordeals. In the ordeal by fire, nine hot ploughshares were laid lengthwise at unequal distances.

Peas. If a servant finds nine green peas in a peascod, she lays it on the lintel of the kitchen door, and the first man that enters in is to be her cavalier.

Seal. The people of Feroes say that the seal casts off its skin every ninth month, and assumes a human form to sport about the land. (Thiele, iii. 51.)

Styx encompassed the infernal regions in nine circles.

Toast. We drink a Three-times-three to those most highly honoured.

Witches. The weird sisters in Macbeth sang, as they danced round the cauldron, “Thrice to thine, and thrice to mine, and thrice again to make up nine;” and then declared “the charm wound up.”

Wresting thread. Nine knots are made on black wool as a charm for a sprained ankle.

(4) Promiscuous examples

Niobe’s children lay nine days in their blood before they were buried.

Nine buttons of official rank in China.

Nine of Diamonds (q.v.). The curse of Scotland.

There are nine mandarins (q.v.).

Planets. The nine are: (1) Mercury, (2) Venus, (3) Earth, (4) Mars, (5) the Planetoids, (6) Jupiter, (7) Saturn, (8) Urănus, (9) Neptune.

According to the Ptolemaic system, there were seven planets, the Firmament or the Fixt, and the Crystalline. Above these nine came the Primum Mobile or First Moved, and the Empyrean or abode of Deity

The followers of Jaiʹna, a heterodox sect of the Hindus, believe all objects are classed under nine categories. (See Jainas.)

Shakespeare speaks of the “ninth part of a hair.”

“Iʹll cavil on the ninth part of a hair.”

1 Hen. IV., iii 1


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Entry taken from Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, edited by the Rev. E. Cobham Brewer, LL.D. and revised in 1895.

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Nil Admirari
Nil Desperandum
Nilica or Sephalica
Nimble as a Cat on a hot Bakestone
Nimble as Ninepence
Nimini Pimini
Nine Crosses
Nine Crowns
Nine Days Wonder (A)
Nine Gods (The)
Nine Points of the Law
Nine Spheres (The)
Nine Worthies

Linking here:

Cat has nine Lives (A)
Cat Proverbs
Climacteric Years
Worthies (The Nine)