Ouroburos and Autocannibalism

Ouroburos... the serpent that eats its own tail, a creepy but elegant image symbolizing eternal recurrance or the endless cycle of life and death. An ancient mythological symbol found in many cultures, it's a favorite of Goths and New Agers alike. Sort of yin-yangy, but not really, because it's a closed circuit, a single unit.

(drawing of Ouroburos from the 1700's)

The ouroburos is engaged in an act of auto-cannibalism, or self-consumption—a completely irreconcilable idea, as we eat in order to live, but if we eat ourselves, of course we destroy the very body we feed. Painting below of a human auto-cannibal by Bartolemeo Passerotti (who also did some not quite as creepy paintings of butcher shops).

Man Eating His Arm (16th c.)
Another ouroburus, somewhat more mammilian—
what with the ears (3?) and that foxy looking tuft of a beard...
Apparently from an illuminated ms. Sadly, no other info available

An interesting Wiki discussion on Ouroburos (including how to form the plural of that word) can be found here.

RELATED POST: James Ensor's "Skeletons Fighting Over a Smoked Herring" (1891)


  1. That's interesting. Somehow the serpent looks "normal" or maybe magical -- whereas the human looks insane.

  2. I know what you mean. Partly I think it's just the formal quality of the serpent—the tail/mouth connection forms a circle, which has such potent symbolism, whereas the human is just randomly gnawing his bicep. awkward.

  3. It's not random to the human who's gnawing it.

    What an image. I've never seen anything like it.

    It's that particular spot that's vexing him. His hand is supporting the need with expertise, with accidental elegance.

    He's alerted to the intrusion of the viewer. It's the viewing of this moment, by us, the 'other', that makes this private moment creepier than it might actually be.

    Don't we all eat ourselves in some way or another?

    Maybe he suffers from psoriasis or excema. Nothing gets at it like the teeth.

    He's like a dog biting at a sore. Something best done by humans behind closed doors.

  4. Well, you're absolutely right. I hadn't seen it that way before. His eyes perfectly convey that sense of being "alerted to the intrusion of the viewer"—that being caught in the act but ain't about to stop now feeling. And in a way that's the real center—the real power of the image. More so even than the site of dermatological drama... Thanks for your comment.


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