Matila Ghyka

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Matila Ghyka
Matila Ghyka.jpg
Born(1881-09-13)13 September 1881
Died14 July 1965(1965-07-14) (aged 83)
London, England, UK
OccupationNaval officer, diplomat, writer, mathematician, aesthetician, historian
Spouse(s)Eileen O'Conor
ChildrenMaureen Ghyka (1920 – 1979)
Roderick Ghyka (1923 – 1978).
Parent(s)Matila Costiescu (father)
Maria Ghyka (mother)

Prince Matila Costiescu Ghyka, KCVO, M.C. (Romanian pronunciation: [maˈtila ˈɟika]; born Matila Costiescu; 13 September 1881 – 14 July 1965), was a Romanian novelist, mathematician, historian, philosopher, diplomat and Plenipotentiary Minister in the United Kingdom during the late 1930s and until 1940. His first name is sometimes written as Matyla.


He was born in Iași, the former capital of Moldavia, of the Ghica family of boyars. On his mother's side he was the great-grandson of Grigore Alexandru Ghica, last reigning Prince of Moldavia before the union of the Danubian Principalities.[1][2]

As a boy he lived in France studying first at the Salesian Order school in Paris, then a Jesuit college in Jersey where he became interested in mathematics. In his early teens he was a cadet at the French Naval Academy in Brest, and of the last generation in the old sailing ship Borda. He became a French Navy midshipman and made a cruise in a frigate to the Caribbean.[3] In later years he attended the High School of Electricity in Paris, and finally at the Faculty of Law of Université Libre de Bruxelles, where he took his doctorate magna cum laude.

Ghyka entered the Romanian Navy as a junior officer, serving mainly on the Danube. He was also involved in taking newly constructed river gunboats from the Thames Iron Works to Romania via European waterways. During the First World War he was Romanian Navy liaison officer on the Russian cruiser Rostislav, acting as a shore bombardment director along the Black Sea coast.[4] He had joined the diplomatic service in 1909, being stationed at the Romanian Legations in Rome, Berlin, London, Madrid, Paris, Vienna, Stockholm (as Minister Plenipotentiary) and twice again in London between 1936-1938 and between 1939 and 1940.[5]

In 1918, at the Brompton Oratory, he married Eileen O'Conor (1897-1963), daughter of the late Sir Nicholas Roderick O'Conor (d. 1908), the former British Ambassador to Istanbul and Saint Petersburg, and Minna Margaret Hope-Scott. Eileen belonged to a junior branch of the Ó Conchobhair Donn, who has anciently been Kings of Connacht. During his first diplomatic assignments in London and Paris, Prince Ghyka was introduced by Paul Morand and Prince Antoine Bibesco to the English and French literary circles. He became a friend of Marcel Proust and a "piéton de Paris" with the poet Léon-Paul Fargue. A frequent visitor of Natalie Clifford Barney's literary salon, he also met most of the American "exiled" writers of the 1920s, but his chief interest was always the synthesis of high mathematics and poetry.[5]

Matila Ghyka with family in 1935

After World War II, Ghyka fled Communist Romania, and was visiting professor of aesthetics in the United States, at the University of Southern California and at the Mary Washington College, Virginia. An unassuming scholar, he took a mild interest in politics. His memoirs, which were published in 1961 under the title The World Mine Oyster, concluded with a confident message on the indestructibility of humanism.[5][6] Prince Ghyka died in London and was survived by his son, Prince Roderick Ghyka, and daughter, Princess Maureen Ghyka. He was predeceased by his wife Eileen, who died on 10 February 1963. Both Prince Matila and Princess Eileen are buried in Gunnersbury Cemetery, London.[7] Their funeral monument was restored in 2010 by art historian Dr Radu Varia.[citation needed]


  • Esthétique des proportions dans la nature et dans les arts (1927) (printed in Italian, Russian, Spanish)
  • Le nombre d'or. Rites et rythmes pythagoriciens dans le development de la civilisation occidentale (1931) which ran into many editions and was prefaced by his friend and admirer Paul Valéry (translated into Italian, Czech, Spanish, Polish, English)
  • Pluie d'étoiles (1933) (English as Again One Day, 1936) - the only novel Ghyka wrote, printed also in Romanian
  • Essai sur le rythme (1938)
  • Sortilèges du verbe (1949), prefaced by Léon-Paul Fargue
  • A Documented Chronology of Roumanian History from Pre-historic Times to the Present Day (1941), printed also in Romanian
  • The Geometry of Art and Life (1946) (translated into Chinese)
  • Tour d'horizon philosophique (1946)
  • A Practical Handbook of Geometry and Design (1952)
  • Philosophie et Mystique du nombre (1952) (translated into Serbian, Spanish, Romanian)
  • Couleur du monde (1: Escales de ma jeunesse (1955), 2: Heureux qui comme Ulysse (1956)) (translated into Romanian)
  • The World Mine Oyster. London, Heinemann, 1961 (English version of "Couleur du monde")


  1. ^ Arbre généalogique de la famille Ghyka
  2. ^ GEN-ROYAL-L Archives,; accessed 20 March 2016.
  3. ^ Ghyka, Matila - The World Mine Oyster, Heinemann, 1961, pp. 7-36
  4. ^ Ghyka, Matila - The World Mine Oyster, Heinemann, 1961, pp. 184-204
  5. ^ a b c Matila Ghyka - The World Mine Oyster, Heinemann, 1961.
  6. ^ Mihai Sorin Rădulescu - Pe urmele lui Matila C. Ghyka - România literară 24-31 October 2008
  7. ^ Rădulescu, Mihai Sorin, Pe urmele lui Matila C.Ghyka la Londra. Ziarul Financiar, Ziarul de duminică,22 septembrie 2010