- An insubstantial appearance of a form or body, often seen as supernatural
- An ideal representation or model of something, such as a principle or quality
- A deception or false impression of someone or something
Most of us can remember a time when we saw something (at least we thought we did) that actually wasn't there. We might have been tossing and turning in bed when a dark shadow morphed into a terrifying being, or on our way to work we may have thought we saw the image of our relative crossing the street. These eidolons often come into view when we are tired or distracted, making their way from our minds to right in front of our eyes just in time to scare us or jolt us back to reality. Although some believe that an eidolon of one passed away is a spiritual being with an important message, rational thought deems them to be tricks of the mind, or the result of an undercooked burger!
The word eidolon often invokes feelings of fear, anxiety, or even curiosity, as it most commonly denotes a ghost or specter. That being said, the term carries neither the positive connotation of a helpful spirit nor the negative of a demonic entity; eidolon is not a respecter of [dead] persons. Though we usually think of these figures as people that have come back from the grave, an eidolon can also be an image of something, such as a distortion of reality. For example, when getting ready for trick-or-treating, your sister may have briefly seen her face turn green in the mirror due to the dim lighting. These images or spirits are formless, and sometimes invisible, for they come from another realm - or, more likely, the fantasies of our minds.
Another meaning of eidolon, which alludes to its supernatural usage, has to do with the ideal image of something. An eidolon in this sense refers to a standard of perfection that is being represented by something else. To many, a wealthy businessman may embody the principles of the American Dream, which is to say he is the eidolon of this ambition. Eidolons are often romanticized by others who look at their lives as the epitome of happiness, success, or perfection. However, these exemplars are not always as amazing as they appear.
Taking the example from the previous paragraph a bit further can show another use for the word eidolon. That tycoon might seem like the image of perfection, but once the illusion, or eidolon, of his wonderful life wears off, his admirers can see him for who he really is. For instance, behind this man's decadent façade might be marital strife and a crushed self-esteem, which he is able to hide exceedingly well behind his fortune. This third usage of the word denotes a delusion or misconception of something. Like a wraith that quickly vanishes, our eidola about certain people or ideas end up crumbling when they disappoint us.
Example: He dressed as an eidolon for Halloween with a white sheet over his head.
Example: To some, popular movie stars are the eidolons of fashion.
Example: George's eidolons about black cats melted when Mr. Whiskers sat on his lap.
The word eidolon is derived from the Greek eidos, meaning "shape" or "form." Since the 19th century, it has evolved into our modern definition of "phantom" or "ghost," as these supernatural entities have been thought to take the form of a person in many cases. Nearly one hundred years later, eidolon has expanded to denote an impression or appearance. It is interesting to note that each usage signifies someone or something that is "shapeless," such as an idea or an invisible creature.
From Edgar Allen Poe's "Dream-Land":
By a route obscure and lonely
Haunted by ill angels only,
Where an eidolon, named NIGHT,
On a black throne reigns upright,
I have reached these lands but newly
From an ultimate dim Thule --
From a wild, weird clime that lieth, sublime,
Out of SPACE, out of TIME.
In one of Poe's more haunting poems, he describes his journey into a mythical and dark land. The figure before his eyes is a demon king who rules over this dreary nightmare. Poe describes this apparition as an eidolon, focusing on its specter-like presence within his land of dreams.
From Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass:
I MET a Seer,
Passing the hues and objects of the world,
The fields of art and learning, pleasure, sense, To glean Eidólons.
Put in thy chants, said he,
No more the puzzling hour, nor day—nor segments, parts, put in,
Put first before the rest, as light for all, and entrance-song of all, That of Eidólons.
Here, Whitman remembers meeting a seer who told him of the true essence of life. The man tells Whitman to strive towards the purest form, or eidolon, of everything and to teach others to live according to these ideals. Instead of focusing on the "parts" of life that are insignificant, Whitman continues his poem looking at the heart of life.
- You'll look like an eidolon if you're covered in nylon!
- A semicolon can be an eidolon of the end of a sentence;
Bring out the linguist in you! What is your own interpretation of eidolon. Did you use eidolon in a game? Provide an example sentence or a literary quote.