Today, modern physicists try to unravel the mystery of time. Was there a beginning of time, and will there be end of time? The riddle of time has fascinated our ancestors as well. Many ancient civilizations believed in the concept of infinity and they had different ideas how to explain the nature of infinity.
The earliest recorded idea of infinity comes from Anaximander, a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher who lived in Miletus. He used the word apeiron which means infinite or limitless
Examination of ancient texts reveals that many people had one ancient symbol in common to express the thought of infinity – the Ouroboros.
Ouroboros is an ancient infinity symbol which has been used widely in many different cultures throughout the world during the course of history. The symbol is depicted as a snake eating its own tail. The term ouroboros is derived from two words in ancient Greek language. The first word is “oura” which means “the tail” while the second word being “boros” which means “eating”.
Drawing by Theodoros Pelecanos, in a 1478 copy of a lost alchemical tract by Synesius.
The first known appearance of the ouroboros motif is in the Enigmatic Book of the Netherworld, an ancient Egyptian funerary text in KV62, the tomb of Tutankhamun, in the 14th century BC.
When it was used around 1600 B.C. by the Egyptians for the first time in the history the Ouroboros was considered as the symbol of the sun and it was believed to have represented Aten’s travels (Aten is the sun disk in the Egyptian mythology). Through Egyptians it was passed on to the Phoenician culture and through their relations with Phoenicians it was moved to the culture of Ancient Greek people, who named the infinity symbol in their language as it is used in the present day. Plato described the ouroboros as the first living thing; a self-eating, circular being. Plato considered the universe to be an immortal, mythologically constructed entity.
The origin of the ouroboros symbol is not entirely clear. It is possible the serpent represents the cycle of life and death that the Universe maintains or it can also symbolize a rebirth of the dead.
Ancient alchemists used the Ouroboros symbol as a representation of the element of mercury, which is known to run through any kind of matter. In the Middle East, the god Mithra who was believed to be reborn was sometimes depicted with an Ouroboros around his waist or encircling his whole body.
In ancient India, the Ouroboros symbol was used to depict an animal halo often in the form of a snake or lizard god or goddess. Shiva, who represents the duality of creation and destruction and thus the birth of life through opposites, is often represented within a circle. The circle is s symbol of the circular nature of the universe and time: death-rebirth, creation-destruction, love-hate, spring-winter; the eternal dance of the cosmos.
Shiva, who represents the duality of creation and destruction and thus the birth of life through opposites, is often represented within a circle.
In ancient China, it was believed that the Universe was created by the union of the two opposites, the Earth and the Heaven. As two powerful realms, the Earth and the Heaven united to deliver the creation of the universe
In Norse mythology, the Ouroboros appears as the serpent Jörmungandr, one of the three children of Loki and Angrboda, which grew so large that it could encircle the world and grasp its tail in its teeth.
In the North American culture, the infinity symbol was seen in some carvings in the ruins left behind by the Aztecs. Quetzalcoatl, “the feathered serpent God” of the ancient North American culture, was sometimes depicted as a serpent devouring its own tail.
We encounter the infinity symbol Ouroboros is almost every ancient culture. It has been suggested that that the Milky Way galaxy was the source of inspiration for the infinity symbol. In mythology, the myths regarding the infinity symbol tells us that a serpent of light that lives in the Heaven. The Milky Way galaxy, which has the shape of a circle, was considered to be this serpent in these myths. Time has always fascinated humans and cosmologists have long sought to discover whether infinity exists in our physical universe.