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Drawing by Theodoros Pelecanos, in an alchemical tract attributed to Synesius (1478).

Alternative forms[edit]


From Ancient Greek οὐροβόρος (ourobóros, tail-devouring), a compound of οὐρά (ourá, tail) + -βόρος (-bóros, -devouring), which is derived from the verb βιβρώσκω (bibrṓskō, to eat up).


  • IPA(key): /uːˈrɒbəˌrɒs/, /ˌuːrəˈbɒrəs/
  • (file)
  • enPR: o͞o-rŏbʹə-rŏs, o͞o-rə-bŏrʹ-əs


ouroboros (plural ouroboroi or ouroboroses)

  1. (mythology) A serpent, dragon or worm that eats its own tail, a representation of the continuous cycle of life and death.
    • 1968 [1951], R. F. C. Hull, transl., Aion [] (The Collected Works of C. G. Jung), 2nd edition, volume 9.2, Princeton University Press, translation of original by C. G. Jung, →ISBN, page 264:
      The alchemists were fond of picturing their opus as a circulatory process, as a circular distillation or as the uroboros, the snake biting its own tail, and they made innumerable pictures of this process.
    • 1990, Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae, Yale University Press, →ISBN, page 41:
      Khepera eating his own seed is a model of Romantic creativity, where the self is isolated and sexually dual. Khepera bent over himself is a uroboros, the serpent eating its own tail, a magic circle of regeneration and rebirth. The uroboros is the prehistoric track of natural cycle, from which Judaism and Hellenism make a conceptual break.
    • 2004, Adrian Bejan et al., Porous and Complex Flow Structures in Modern Technologies, Springer Science & Business Media, →ISBN, page 121:
      One myth speaks of Ouroboros, a serpent-like creature that survived and regenerated itself by eating only its own tail. By neither taking from nor adding to its environment, this creature was said to be completely environmentally benign and self-sufficient.
    • 2013, Jackie DiSalvo, G. A. Rosso, Christopher Z. Hobson eds., Blake, Politics, and History, Routledge, →ISBN:
      First, the snake has not caught its tail—the ouroboros figure is uncompleted. Blake executed fully formed ouroboros figures for the verso of this Night Thoughts page and for a later passage (6:690-92), and was familiar with numerous full ouroboros figures from contemporary and earlier sources []
  2. (by extension) Anything of a circular or recursive nature.
    • 2019 March 6, Soraya Roberts, “Reality Bites Captured Gen X With Perfect Irony”, in The Atlantic[1]:
      Like an ouroboros, the story created and informed by the writer’s own experience suddenly flipped back on itself, Childress’s life now reflecting the story rather than the other way around.
    • 2021, Kate Crawford, chapter 4, in Atlas of AI [] , →ISBN:
      The result is a statistical ouroboros: a self-reinforcing discrimination machine that amplifies social inequalities under the guise of technical neutrality.


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