The early ninth-century Hiberno-Latin Nauigatio Sancti Brendani (“The Voyage of Saint Brendan”) is a text teeming with references to the Scriptures. The text is simply a loose, but allegorized, retelling of a supposed seven-year voyage from Ireland to find a terra repromissionis sanctorum (“Promised Land of the Saints”) somewhere in the vast ocean by the sixth-century abbot Brendan and a number of followers. The text achieves its purpose, which is the promulgation of an ideal model of ascetic life during a time of ecclesial reform throughout the island, by employing a number of literary motifs, including the doubling of a number as symbol of a concept, particularly biblical in nature. Although a number is a convenient representative of the count of an entity or entities in conversation, it can also be used to symbolize a truth. Thus, number symbolism is a literary motif which can be used by biblical exegetes to unlock the mysteries of Scriptures that are concealed by an analysis of the sacred texts if perceived merely through their literal aspect.
The anonymous author of the text, whether in the form as we know it or by a hypothesized, lost original version written in Ireland during the eighth century, has the idea of number symbolism in mind, particularly his consideration of the late antique and early medieval patristic writers, as he constructs his story about the seafaring of an Irish abbot. The objective of this thesis is to demonstrate that number symbolism as a literary motif is used in the tradition of the patristic writers and early medieval Irish and Hiberno-Latin writers to emphasize the abundance of spiritual rewards which come to those who emulate the author’s ideal monastic life that is subtly described through the voyage of Brendan.
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