Mechanical Oroborous

25 February 2010

Los Angeles artist Karl Lautman’s 2001 sculpture Ouroborus


18 February 2010

The Ouroboros is a mythical serpent in the form of a circle, swallowing its own tail and thereby symbolising infinity or eternity.  Feeding on itself with no need of any other food, it is re-creating itself in a never-ending circularity.

line drawing of ouroboros - a snake eating its own tail
Plato described a self-eating circular being as the first living thing in the universe – an immortal, perfectly constructed animal:

“Of design he was created thus, his own waste providing his own food, and all that he did or suffered taking place in and by himself. For the Creator conceived that a being which was self-sufficient would be far more excellent than one which lacked anything… nor had he any need of feet, nor of the whole apparatus of walking; but the movement suited to his spherical form was assigned to him, being of all the seven that which is most appropriate to mind and intelligence; and he was made to move in the same manner and on the same spot, within his own limits revolving in a circle.”  (Plato, Timaeus, 33, translated by Benjamin Jowett)

mediaeval illuminated manuscipt picture of an ouroboros - a serpent eating its own tail

The notion of a serpent or dragon eating its own tail can be traced back to Ancient Egypt. In the Pyramid of Unas dated between 2375 BC and 2345 BC, hieroglyphs on the west wall gable of the Sarcophagus chamber can be read: “A serpent is entwined by a serpent” and “the male serpent is bitten by the female serpent, the female serpent is bitten by the male serpent, Heaven is enchanted, earth is enchanted, the male behind mankind is enchanted”.  (Pyramid Texts Online, no. 233)

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Link to Karl Lautman’s mechanical oroborous