Shade (mythology)

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In literature and poetry, a shade (translating Greek σκιά,[1] Latin umbra[2]) can be taken to mean the spirit or ghost of a dead person, residing in the underworld. The image of an underworld where the dead live in shadow is common to the Ancient Near East, in Biblical Hebrew expressed by the term tsalmaveth, literally "death-shadow".[3] The Witch of Endor in the First Book of Samuel notably conjures the ghost (owb[4]) of Samuel.

Only select individuals are exempt from the fate of dwelling in shadow after death, ascending to the divine sphere. This is the apotheosis aspired to by kings claiming divinity, and reflected in the veneration of heroes. Plutarch relates how Alexander the Great was inconsolable after the death of Hephaistion up to the moment he received an oracle of Ammon confirming that the deceased was a hero, i.e. enjoyed the status of a divinity.[5]

Shades appear in Homer's the Odyssey, when Odysseus experiences a vision of Hades, and in the Aeneid, when Aeneas travels to the underworld. In the Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, many of the dead are similarly referred to as shades (Italian ombra), including Dante's guide, Virgil.

The phrase 'peace to the/thy/her gentle shade' (and endless rest) is sometimes seen in epitaphs, and was used by Alexander Pope in his epitaph for Nicholas Rowe.

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References[edit]

  1. ^ Liddell & Scott entry
  2. ^ Lewis & Short
  3. ^ Gesenius
  4. ^ Gesenius
  5. ^ "Alexander's grief for him exceeded all reasonable measure. He ordered the manes of all the horses and mules to be cut off in sign of mourning, he struck off the battlements of all the neighbouring cities, crucified the unhappy physician, and would not permit the flute or any other musical instrument to be played throughout his camp, until a response came from the oracle of Ammon bidding him honour Hephæstion and offer sacrifice to him as to a hero." Parallel Lives, 72.