The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion
|"The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion"|
|Author||Edgar Allan Poe|
|Genre(s)||Science fiction short story|
|Published in||Burton's Gentleman's Magazine|
|Media type||Print (periodical)|
|Publication date||December, 1839|
Two people, who have been renamed Eiros and Charmion after death, discuss the manner in which the world ended. Eiros, who died in the apocalypse, explains the circumstances to Charmion, who died ten years previously:
A new comet is detected in the Solar System; comets are well understood by astronomers, who believe that, being very tenuous, they could have no effect on the Earth, and are not related to ancient prophecies of the destruction of the world. Astronomers calculate that the comet is approaching the Earth; as it does so, they study it, and people increasingly take an interest.
When it is almost upon Earth, people experience exhilaration, which is at first assumed to be relief that the comet has no harmful effects; but this is followed by pain and delirium; it is as though the ancient prophecies, once dismissed by astronomers, have been confirmed. This effect on people's behavior is discovered to be caused by the loss of nitrogen from the atmosphere, leaving pure oxygen, which finally bursts into flame when the comet nucleus hits.
Poe, writing this story in 1839, was capitalizing on the excitement in the 1830s caused by William Miller's predictions of the end of the world. He predicted in 1831 that the world would end in 1843.
In the early 19th century, several comets were seen; in particular, Halley's Comet returned in 1835, and there was interest in Encke's Comet, whose periodicity had recently been calculated; it appeared in 1838, and its return was expected in 1942. All this aroused people's interest; comets were traditionally associated with prophesies of the end of the world.
Eiros and Charmion are named after Cleopatra's attendants, Iras and Charmion (or Charmian); they are mentioned by the Roman historian Plutarch in his biography of Mark Antony (in his work Parallel Lives); they appear in Shakespeare's play Antony and Cleopatra, and John Dryden's play about Antony and Cleopatra, All for Love.
"The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion" was first published in the December 1839 issue of Burton's Gentleman's Magazine and was included that same month in the collection Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque.
- Campbell, Killis. "The Origins of Poe", The Mind of Poe and Other Studies. New York: Russell & Russell, Inc., 1962: 169.
- The conversation of Eiros and Charmion, by Thomas Ollive Mabbott The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore. Accessed Jan 2014.
- Sova, Dawn B. Edgar Allan Poe: A to Z. New York: Checkmark Books, 2001: 212. ISBN 0-8160-4161-X.