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In ancient Greek literature, an eidolon (/ˈdlɒn/;[1] Ancient Greek: εἴδωλον 'image, idol, double, apparition, phantom, ghost'; plural: eidola or eidolons) is a spirit-image of a living or dead person; a shade or phantom look-alike of the human form.

Literary use[edit]

The concept of Helen of Troy's eidolon was explored both by Homer and Euripides. Homer uses the concept as a free-standing idea that gives Helen life after death. Euripides entangles it with the idea of kleos, the one being the product of the other.[2][3] Both Euripides and Stesichorus, in their works concerning the Trojan Horse, use the concept of the eidolon to claim that Helen was never physically present in the city at all.[4]

The concept of the eidola of the dead has been explored in literature regarding Penelope, who in later works was constantly laboring against the eidola of Clytemnestra and later of Helen herself.[2] Homer's use of eidola also extends to the Odyssey where, after the death of the suitors of Penelope, Theoclymenus notes that he sees the doorway of the court filled with them.[5]

In Dream-Land, an 1844 poem by Edgar Allan Poe, an Eidolon rules over a realm haunted by "ill angels only" and reserved for the ones whose "woes are legion" and who "walk in shadow".[citation needed]

Walt Whitman's poem by the same name in 1876 used a much broader understanding of the term, expanded and detailed in the poem. In Whitman's use of the term we can see the use broaden to include the concept of an oversoul composed of the individual souls of all life and expanding to include the Earth itself and the hierarchy of the planets, Sun, stars and galaxy.[6]

In Theosophy, the astral double or perispirit or kamarupa after death, before its disintegration, is identified with the eidolon.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bradley, Henry (1897). Murray, James A. H. (ed.). A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles. Vol. iii/ii. Oxford: Clarendon Press. p. 62.
  2. ^ a b Holmberg, Ingrid E. (Spring 1995). "Euripides' Helen: Most Noble and Most Chaste". The American Journal of Philology. The Johns Hopkins University Press. 116 (1): 19–42. doi:10.2307/295501. JSTOR 295501.
  3. ^ Meltzer, Gary S. (Oct 1994). "'Where Is the Glory of Troy?' 'Kleos' in Euripides' 'Helen'". Classical Antiquity. University of California Press. 13 (2): 234–255. doi:10.2307/25011015. JSTOR 25011015.
  4. ^ Papi, Donatella Galeotti (1987). "Victors and Sufferers in Euripides' Helen". The American Journal of Philology. The Johns Hopkins University Press. 108 (1): 27–40. doi:10.2307/294912. JSTOR 294912.
  5. ^ Barasch, Moshe (2005). "The Departing Soul: The Long Life of a Medieval Creation". Artibus et Historiae. IRSA s.c. 26 (52): 13–28. doi:10.2307/20067095. JSTOR 20067095.
  6. ^ Carpenter, Frederic I. (Mar 1942). "Walt Whitman's 'Eidolon'". College English. National Council of Teachers of English. 3 (6): 534–545. doi:10.2307/370944. JSTOR 370944.
  7. ^ Encyclopedic Theosophical Glossary: A Resource on Theosophy, G. de Purucker