Sunday, January 16, 2011

What Is An Eidolon?

I ask because the term cropped up in a very interesting article by Mary Beard (hereafter exerpted) and I have never heard of it.  There doesn't seem much information available online, but perhaps I am not searching correctly. I found this: 

An Eidolon is a ghoul or a phantom first written about in Greek Mythology. The word literally means “image of the ideal.”The Eidolons were ghostly women created by Zeus from light and mist.  From

Not very satisfactory as an explanation, but perhaps the only information available. The term came up in the context of Helen of Troy whom, Herodotus wrote, actually was sequestered in Egypt and it was her eidolon that went to Troy.  So, Paris had the hot itchies for the equivalent of a Doppelganger???  Hmmm.....

From The Times Online
A Don's Life
Mary Beard
January 15, 2011

The face of Paris -- and Cleopatra

The "Paris" grafiti, Temple at Luxor.
[Excerpt - Cleopatra portion omitted] The next bit of graffiti we have been chasing is the rather rough and ready image of Paris at the head of this post. It is scratched on a column in one of the main halls of the Egyptian Temple at Luxor. It is headed "Paris", though you can only just see a trace of this at the very top. And, so far as we can tell,it shows a statue (at least it's on a base) of the Trojan (anti-)hero, holding an apple in one hand and a quiver in the other.

We were looking for this in the temple (though -- fair dues -- it was the son who actually found it). One idea, according to some article I read, is that this is a Greco-Roman graffiti, which represents the famous lost statue of Paris by Euphranor. But, more than that, so the same article claims, it is also a reflection of the idea, made famous in Euripides' play Helen, that Helen of Troy did not actually go to Troy at all, but only an image of her (an eidolon).

How come? Well, this graffito has been scratched right next to a statue of Nefartari.  So here, the argument goes, the Roman scratcher has seen an image which he has interpreted as the eidolon of Helen and depicted Paris next to it.

It was the husband who pointed out that this doesn't quite add up. But something quite close to it does For starters, on the Euripidean version it was Helen who went to Egypt and the eidolon that went to Troy -- so logically this statue of Nefertari can't have been re-interpreted as the eidolon (it's the wrong place). The husband must be right to say that the graffiti artist saw the Egyptian statue (naked) as an image of Aphrodite.. which is why, as in the judgement of Paris, the graffiti figure is holding an apple in his hand, all ready to award it to the Goddess of Love. Still, it is a nice Roman re-interpretation of an Egyptian image, but probably no connection with Euripides.

See Wikipedia on Euripides' play "Helen" for further information.  Image, left:  Helen of Troy, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, oil 1863.  Who does she look like?  A younger Uma Thurman?  Kathryn Heigel?  Jessica Simpson?  That gorgeous and abundant golden wavy hair, the big blue eyes and those red, pouty lips - yeah, she was an icon of beauty then and she's an icon of beauty still. 


John Webb said...

There's a Greek vase showing three naked flying eidola here:

More stuff here:

Jung also wrote about this, and refers to it several times. It's very similar to Jung's idea about archetypes.

Jan said...

Thank you - very interesting information. The concept is so foreign to me; the closest analogy I can think of in modern terms is an "astral projection."

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