Ouroboros. The most ancient description of this symbol is contained in the work “Hieroglyphics”, a kind of explanation on Egyptian hieroglyphics. It arrived in Europe in 1422, thanks to a manuscript brought to Florence from the island of Andros by the Florentine traveller Christopher Buondelmonti.

The work was written in Greek, the “Hieroglyphica” appeared in the last Egyptian period of the fifth century BC, when the Egyptian civilization had already disappeared and with it the key for the comprehension of its writing system. The aim of the text was to give a purely symbolic interpretation to signs which had represented a sort of mystery for ages. It’s generally attributed to “Orapollo” who directed one of the last pagan schools, the one of Menouthis, in Alessandria. According to the author the Ouroboros is one of the way that Egyptian people had to represent eternity: “The Egyptians represented eternity just drawing the sun and the moon: in fact they are endless elements. Otherwise they can represent a snake with the tail covered under the rest of the body, called “ureo” in Egyptian, basilisk in Greek. In ancient Egypt, the ouroboros can represent the primordial snake, called Sata that surrounds the world, protecting it from the cosmic enemies. The Egyptian Book of the Dead quotes: “ I’m Sata, I die and I can be born every day, I’m Sata that lives in the most remote regions of the world”. This snake represents the time that reproduces itself continuously. It combines the idea of movement, of continuity, of self-fertilization and so of endless return. It was born ichnographically from the Egyptian culture, the snake eating its own tail became quickly the esoteric symbol, which was very much used in the ancient world. The Ouroboros’s iconographic and conceptual symbol will be successful in Neoplatonism and in European art, especially in Italy, where it would be used mainly from the renaissance painting to the funerary sculpture of the nineteenth century. In funerary art production this particular snake is often associated with other symbols of eternity, as the winged sphere, or other indicating the passage, the change of state, like the butterfly. It's obvious that this iconographic symbol so similar to the circle and so to the simple and immediate representation of eternity, could enjoy a great success in the cemeteries of Europe, particularly on the monuments of the first half of nineteenth century, when people admired classical art.

Click here to introduction at funerary symbols.

Traduzione a cura della classe 5 H del Liceo Scientifico “Augusto Righi” di Bologna, nell'ambito del progetto di scambio culturale con il Liceo "Europaschule" di Bornheim, Germania, maggio-ottobre 2014

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