2 a tiny fully formed individual that (according to the discredited theory of preformation) is supposed to be present in the sperm cell [also: homunculi (pl)]
- SAMPA: /%hoU."mVN.kju.l@s/
Nounhomunuculus m (Plural: homunculi)
The concept of a homunculus (Latin for "little man", plural "homunculi"; the diminutive of homo, "man") is often used to illustrate the functioning of a system. In the scientific sense of an unknowable prime actor, it can be viewed as an entity or agent.
“Preformationism,” a theory of heredity, claimed either the egg or the sperm (exactly which was a contentious issue) contained a complete preformed individual called a homunculus. Development was therefore a matter of enlarging this into a fully formed being. In the days of preformationism, genetic disease was variously interpreted: sometimes as a manifestation of the wrath of God or the mischief of demons and devils; sometimes as evidence of either an excess of or a deficit of the father's “seed”; sometimes as the result of “wicked thoughts” on the part of the mother during pregnancy..
Homunculus of alchemyIn Carl Jung's studies of Alchemy, he believed the first record of a homunculus in alchemical literature appeared in the Visions of Zosimos, written in the third century AD, although the actual word "homunculus" was never used. In the visions, Zosimos mentions encountering a man who impales him with a sword, and then undergoes "unendurable torment," his eyes become blood, he spews forth his flesh, and changes into "the opposite of himself, into a mutilated anthroparion, and he tore his flesh with his own teeth, and sank into himself," which is a rather grotesque personification of the ouroboros, the dragon that bites its own tail, which represents the dyophysite nature in alchemy: the balance of two principles. Zosimos later encounters several other homunculi, named as the Brazen Man, the Leaden Man, and so forth. Commonly, the homunculi "submit themselves to unendurable torment" and undergo alchemical transformation. Zosimos made no mention of actually creating an artificial human, but rather used the concept of personifying inanimate metals to further explore alchemy.
There are also variants cited by other alchemists. One such variant involved the use of the mandrake. Popular belief held that this plant grew where semen ejaculated by hanged men (during the last convulsive spasms before death) fell to the ground, and its roots vaguely resemble a human form to varying degrees. The root was to be picked before dawn on a Friday morning by a black dog, then washed and "fed" with milk and honey and, in some prescriptions, blood, whereupon it would fully develop into a miniature human which would guard and protect its owner. Yet a third method, cited by Dr. David Christianus at the University of Giessen during the 18th century, was to take an egg laid by a black hen, poke a tiny hole through the shell, replace a bean-sized portion of the white with human semen, seal the opening with virgin parchment, and bury the egg in dung on the first day of the March lunar cycle. A miniature humanoid would emerge from the egg after thirty days, which would help and protect its creator in return for a steady diet of lavender seeds and earthworms.
Homunculus of spermistsThe term homunculus was later used in the discussion of conception and birth. In 1694, Nicolas Hartsoeker discovered "animalcules" in the semen of humans and other animals. This was the beginning of spermists' theory, who held the belief that the sperm was in fact a "little man" (homunculus) that was placed inside a woman for growth into a child. This seemed to them to neatly explain many of the mysteries of conception. It was later pointed out that if the sperm was a homunculus, identical in all but size to an adult, then the homunculus may have sperm of its own. This led to a reductio ad absurdum, with a chain of homunculi "all the way down". This was not necessarily considered by spermists a fatal objection however, as it neatly explained how it was that "in Adam" all had sinned: the whole of humanity was already contained in his loins. The spermists' theory also failed to explain why children tend to resemble their mothers as well as their fathers, though some spermists believed that the growing homunculus assimilated maternal characteristics from the womb environment in which they grew.
Sensory and motor homunculi
The homunculus is also commonly used to describe the distorted human figure drawn to reflect the relative space our body parts occupy on the somatosensory cortex (sensory homunculus) and the motor cortex (motor homunculus). The lips, hands, feet and sex organs have more sensory neurons than other parts of the body, so the homunculus has correspondingly distortedly large lips, hands, feet, and genitals. Well known in the field of neurology, this is also commonly called 'the little man inside the brain.'
Homunculus argument or fallacy in the philosophy of mind
A Homunculus argument accounts for a phenomenon in terms of the very phenomenon that it is supposed to explain (Richard Gregory (1987)). Homunculus arguments are always fallacious. In the psychology and philosophy of mind 'homunculus arguments' are extremely useful for detecting where theories of mind fail or are incomplete.
Homunculus arguments are common in the theory of vision. Imagine a person watching a movie. He sees the images as something separate from himself, projected on the screen. How is this done? A simple theory might propose that the light from the screen forms an image on the retinas in the eyes and something in the brain looks at these as if they are the screen. The Homunculus Argument shows this is not a full explanation because all that has been done is to place an entire person, or homunculus, behind the eye who gazes at the retinas. A more sophisticated argument might propose that the images on the retinas are transferred to the visual cortex where it is scanned. Again this cannot be a full explanation because all that has been done is to place a little person in the brain behind the cortex. In the theory of vision the Homunculus Argument invalidates theories that do not explain 'projection', the experience that the viewing point is separate from the things that are seen. (Adapted from Gregory (1987), (1990)).
Very few people would propose that there actually is a little man in the brain looking at brain activity. However, this proposal has been used as a 'straw man' in theories of mind. Gilbert Ryle (1949) proposed that the human mind is known by its intelligent acts. (see Ryle's Regress). He argued that if there is an inner being inside the brain that could steer its own thoughts then this would lead to an absurd repetitive cycle or "regress" before a thought could occur:
"According to the legend, whenever an agent does anything intelligently, his act is preceded and steered by another internal act of considering a regulative proposition appropriate to his practical problem. . . . Must we then say that for the agent's . . . reflections how to act to be intelligent he must first reflect how best to reflect how to act? The endlessness of this implied regress shows that the application of the appropriateness does not entail the occurrence of a process of considering this criterion." Ryle 1949.
Ryle's theory is that intelligent acts cannot be a property of an inner being or mind, if such a thing were to exist.
The homunculus argument and the regress argument are often considered to be the same but this is not the case. The homunculus argument says that if there is a need for a 'little man' to complete a theory then the theory is false or incomplete. The regress argument says that an intelligent agent would need to think before it could have a thought.
Early literary representationsThe idea of the homunculus has proven to be fruitful inspiration. Homunculi can be found in centuries' worth of literature. These literary references have spawned references in modern times in film, animation, video and card games.
- I am not of Paracelsus minde that boldly delivers a receipt to make a man without conjunction. ..., (Part 1:36)
- In his source study of Englishwoman Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein, Prof. Radu Florescu notes that her father, William Godwin, and her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley were both quite familiar with the lives and works of alchemists like Paracelsus and others. Florescu also suggests that Johann Conrad Dippel, an alchemist born in Castle Frankenstein whom he believes may have been the inspiration for Dr. Frankenstein, was a student of Dr. David Christianus.
- In Laurence Sterne´s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, Volume I, Chapter II , there is a reference to the homunculus: "(...) the animal spirits, whose business it was to have escorted and gone hand-in-hand with the homunculus, and conducted him safe to the place destined for his reception."
- Writing on the purely superficial westernization of Russian intellectuals in his travel journalism Winter Notes on Summer Impressions, Dostoevsky writes: 'There is no soil, we say, and no people, nationality is nothing but a certain system of taxation, the soul is a tabula rasa, a small piece of wax out of which you can readily mould a real man, a world man or a homunculus – all that must be done is to apply the fruits of European civilisation and read two or three books’
Contemporary literary representations
- In the twentieth century Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum, has several references to a homunculus, particularly detailed in a chapter dealing with druidic rites performed at a party in the country estate (castle) of a wealthy Rosicrucian. After a series of sensually stimulating occult acts are played out for the small audience, several homunculi appear to be created, but the main character, Casaubon, cannot decide if they are wax or indeed authentic magic.
- German horror writer Hanns Heinz Ewers used the mandrake method for creating a homunculus as the inspiration for his 1911 novel Alraune, in which a prostitute is impregnated with semen from a hanged murderer to create a woman devoid of morals or conscience. Several cinematic adaptations of Alraune have been made over the years, the most recent in 1952 with Erich von Stroheim. The 1995 film Species also appears to draw some inspiration from this variation on the homunculus legend.
- In her tribute to the painter Jules Pascin, English poet Mina Loy penned the following stanza:
- The English 'Prince of Story Tellers' Dennis Wheatley's novel 'The Satanist' Hutchinson 1960. As part of the plot a Satanist using Homunculus as part of his Occult ritual to create air breathing creatures. The Homunculus were created and stored in large fluid filled jars from a previous ritual. The ultimate transformation required a 21-year-old virgin to be sacrificed and her blood fed to the Homunculus. The virgin had previously been christened to Satan at birth by her father for occult favours and riches, unknown to herself. This book reflects Dennis Wheatley's remarkable detail for Occult happenings which includes a warning for those who might dabble in this area.
- In English novelist Peter Ackroyd's novel The House of Doctor Dee, John Dee, the Elizabethean mathematician, astrologer, philosopher and magus, attempts and succeeds in creating a homunculus.
- American author David H. Keller, M.D., wrote two pieces featuring homunculi. One was a short story, "A Twentieth-Century Homunculus," published in Amazing Stories in 1930, which describes the creation of homunculi on an industrial scale by a pair of misogynists. In the other, a novel called The Homunculus, published in 1949 by Prime Press of Philadelphia, retired Colonel Horatio Bumble creates such a being.
- In Jane R Goodall's 2004 mystery novel "The Walkers" (Hodder Headline ISBN 0-7336-1897-9), ancient secrets pertaining to the creation of the alchemical homunculus are central to a plot involving murders based on Hogarth's prints and set in "Swinging London". The creation of homunculi, together with the search for the philosopher's stone, was a central aim of alchemy. Implicit in the novel is the uneasy speculation that the original experiment succeeded and this evil being may indeed move through history.
- In Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses "homunculus" is used to describe the cuchillero who tries to murder John Grady Cole in the prison.
- In Sean Williams' Books of the Cataclysm one of the central characters is a homunculus containing the consciousnesses of the Mirror Twins Seth & Hadrian Callisto.
- In "Doctor Illuminatus" (Alchemist's Son Trilogy) by Martin Booth, Pierre de Loudéac persists to create a homunculus and succeeds. Also mentioned in the sequel "Soul Stealer". Martin Booth passed away before the trilogy was completed.
- In Hugh Paxton's 2006 novel Homunculus (MacMillan New Writing ISBN-13: 978-0230007369), alchemy is harnessed for modern military purposes. Homunculi created from human body parts and powered by moonshine are used as bioweapons in war-torn Sierra Leone.
- In James P. Blaylock's novel Homunculus, published in 1986, a homunculus is much sought after by several of the book's characters because of its powerful magical abilities.
- In Judd Trichter's online story, "Praise Monkey," a homunculus literally and symbolically becomes the prime mover behind a government employee's career advancement.
Film and pop culture
Film, Television and Literature
- The homunculus' likely first appearance in film was the six-part 1916 German serial Homunculus.
- "Homunculus," a fictitious rapper, is mentioned in the NBC sitcom 30 Rock.
- In the classic horror film Bride of Frankenstein, Dr. Frankenstein's old teacher, Dr. Praetorius, shows him his own creations, a series of miniature humanoids kept in specimen jars, including a bishop, a king, a queen, a ballerina, a mermaid, and a devil. These are clearly intended to be homunculi, based on those creatures described by Emil Besetzny's Sphinx, as translated and presented in Franz Hartmann's Life of Paracelsus. Frankenstein's monster is technically the same type of Homunculi as Lillith from Animamundi.
- In the King of the Cats series of the alternative press comic book Finder, there appeared a monkey-like cartoon character named "Munky" whose name was short for "homunculus." Munky's cartoonishly distorted extremities were said to represent those of a cortical homunculus, thus making him educational for children.
- In Sylvia Plath's poem Cut she refers to a Homunculus as a cut thumb in the lines
- In the anime version of Fullmetal Alchemist, the main character Edward Elric battles supernatural enemies, the homunculi, who are created when an attempt is made to create/revive a human using Alchemy. Each homunculi shown in the series resembles one of the seven deadly sins. The manga version of Fullmetal Alchemist has the homunculi as artificial human beings, with the Philosopher's Stone for the core, instead of the heart. 'Father', the creator of the homunculi, controls them to carry out his various orders and to find 'suitable sacrifices'.
- Another anime that made use of the homunculus concept is Cyberteam in Akihabara. The homunculi are the first line of attack of Jun Goutokuji (in her guise of Blood Falcon) when she confronts Hibari Hanakoganei in the first episode.
- A homunculus named Roger is a supporting character in many of the Hellboy and B.P.R.D. comic books published by Dark Horse. However, Roger is human-sized, which is unusually large for a homunculus; other than the method by which he was created, he seems to have more in common with a golem. Roger's size is commented upon at length during B.P.R.D.: The Universal Machine, where Roger is described as one of only two man-sized homunculi ever created.
- In the 2005 comedy film The League of Gentlemen's Apocalypse a homunculus is created in a subplot called "The King's Evil." The character Geoff Tipps is reading the script of "The King's Evil" and asks, "What is a homunculus?" Later, after writing himself into the script, he is being interrogated, during which he is asked, "How do you know of the homunculus?" to which he responds in exasperation, "What IS a homunculus?"
- A homunculus linked up with the Quester Jet Over to wreak havoc and was piloted by the Ashu Questers on GoGo Sentai Boukenger.
- In the avant-garde anime Serial Experiments Lain, the main character, a 13-year old-girl named Lain Iwakura, is referred to as a "homunculus made out of artificial rhibozome" by Eiri Masami, a character that could be considered the series' villain, implying that she was artificially created, probably by Masami himself.
- The Homunculus is a false body that can be inhabited by a willing mind in Sean Williams' book series The Books of the Cataclysm, once a soul has entered the homunculus it will morph to appear as that person, but is stronger and more durable than a normal human body.
- Glen Phillips created a homunculus in the video for "Everything But You"
- In Season 1 Episode 8 of the Dilbert (TV series), The Little People, Dilbert's computer has been compromised by The Little People and one of the websites in the history of his computer is Hot Homunculi. He also receives a magazine in his mail called Hot Homonculi.
- In the manga Buso Renkin, a homunculus is an artificial life form that eats humans, created by the science of alchemy. Just as with Paracelsus's original recipe, most homunculi are created as human/animal (or occasionally human/plant) hybrids. In this case, the hybridization deranges the human's mind so that it more closely resembles the animal's.
Video Games, Board Games, and Trading Card Games
- In the Guilty Gear series of Fighting games, the character A.B.A. is a homunculus.
- The Homonculus is a monster in NetHack. In non-graphical versions, it appears as the symbol i (Imps and minor demons). The monster is low level, easy to defeat, and is classified as size tiny. If eaten, it (sometimes) grants the player an intrinsic poison resistance.
- In the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game, a spellcaster with the appropriate feats may create a special type of construct made of, among other things, a quart of the creator's blood dependant upon the type of Homunculus. The Artificer class (which focuses on magic item crafting and was introduced in the Eberron campaign setting) has the ability to make Homunculi from bonus feats and is a common creator of them. Wizards, Hexblades and Sorcerers or any character with the Obtain Familiar feat may summon a familiar which in past editions resembled a Homunculus but now owes more to the witches familiar.
- In the Magic: The Gathering card game, three creatures exist with "homunculus" in their name (one is also a Homunculus by classification; the two older ones are merely "Illusions"). All three are blue creatures, blue being the color of artificial creation and illusion, among other things.
- The homunculus appears in the card game Yu-Gi-Oh!. There are two creatures, one named "Homunculus The Alchemic Being", and one named "Golden Homunculus".
- RuneScape uses a homunculus in the quest "Tower of Life" when a group of alchemists incarnates a homunculus via magic, despising its existence it scares away the alchemists. (Post-Quest) It resides in the basement of the Tower.
- In World of Warcraft, Homunculi appear as small minion-like demons under the control of warlocks before the pulls of Illhoof in Karazhan.
- The Homunculus is an enemy creature in the video game Mysterium.
Unsorted uses of the term "Homunculus"
- The Homumculus appears occasionally in the folklore of Eastern Europe as a construct made from natural materials such as dirt, roots, insects, feces, and other substances. In these stories the creature is revived through incantation and acts as a vehicle for the astrally projected mind of a sorcerer.
- In the Nintendo DS game Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow, a Homonculus is portrayed as an aquatic, human-like creature with a greyish-greenish body and a purple face, and is attached to a pink umbilical cord. It is located in a laboratory-themed area, possibly connecting it to the artificial human theme. It attacks by flailing its arms around violently, and can be destroyed by attacking it after it shows its face. It can also be destroyed if you let it come after you and leave the screen (at this point the cord should break and it should eventually drown.) The power gained from its soul allows the player to throw a little Homonculus (based on the actual origins of the term, possibly) that damages enemies.
- In the computer game Diablo II (specifically the expansion pack Lord of Destruction), a Homunculus is a unique shield used by the Necromancer class of characters. It is a shrunken demon head and is the unique version of an "Hierophant Trophy", but no direct information concerning the relation of Homunculus the shield to the literal meaning of Homunculus is given.
- In the rare cult film Moonchild (1974), there is a homunculus who is a servant to a manager in a mission hotel, and a young art student is tormented by strange flashbacks and hallucinations. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0071855/
- In the Sam Keith comic book The Maxx, the small white and blue creatures called Isz (iz in the singular) are referred to as Homunculi by the villain Mr. Gone.
- The RPG Star Ocean: Till the End of Time has a mechanical ability where the players can create elemental based homunculus which can be worked into weapons to give the weapons that element. The game describes the homunculus as artificial, while the appearance is that of a fairy, giving "living" traits.
- In the Visual Novel name Animamundi: Dark Alchemist The character Bruno Glending created an army of Homunculus in secret by claiming they are clones, the main character Georik Zaberisk also creates one using pure water, semen, horse dung, and either his own or another character's blood.
- Laurie Schneider Adams, in "A History of Western Art", makes several references to a practice in the Middle Ages of depicting Christ as a homunculus. She states, "This depiction of Christ as a child-man, partly a reference to his miraculous nature, is a convention of Christian art before 1300". It is speculative, but Romanesque artists, often sculptors, may have been translating the infant Jesus in this way out of respect for his Divine nature, as a metaphor for his Divinity. Similarly, though stylistically very different, Michelangelo depicts David, the giant slayer, as a giant.
- In the video game Lands of Lore III (1999) by Westwood Studios, the main character Copper can acquire a cynistic, wise-cracking, female homunculus named Griselda as a familiar.
- The supernatural thriller Ghost Road Blues by Jonathan Maberry features a homunculus as a servant of the vampire overlord Ubel Griswold.
- They Might Be Giants have a song called "Homunculous."
- In the video game "Shadow of Destiny", The main character must go back in time to identify his killer and prevent various events from occurring in the future that would lead to his death. Once dead, the main character is brought to the "realm of the homunculus", The small, faint sounding man, the homunculus, helps the main character by offering advice.
- San Jose farcical/ironic comedy performers Xiu Xiu have a song called "Homonculus"
- In the 1998 computer game Quest for Glory V: Dragon Fire, Homonculi are winged monkey-esque creatures that can be fought in the wilderness.
- A Homunculus was formed in Gogo Sentai Boukenger when three Precious were merged in a fourth. This Homunculus, contrary to the idea of a homunculus, is a gorilla-like giant which could fire orange beams out of its mouth.
- In the game Guilty Gear, a character called A.B.A. is referred to as a homunculus by another character called Order Sol. A.B.A. is an artificial being created via science; she is human-like in appearance and is abnormally tall for a homunculus. She wields a key-shaped axe weapon called Paracelsus, after the alchemist who first used the term 'homunculus'.
- In the game Descent 3 on level 6 (Noctis Labryinthis), the player must battle the Homunculus, a boss robot constructed from scrap metal by the nomads of the planet.
- On the Queens Crap blog site, Congressman Joseph Crowley has been referred to as the Homunculus because of his appointment to his Congressional seat by his late predecessor and Queens County Boss, Thomas Manton.
- In Dr Ten's manga, Map of Tokyo Savage, Homunculi were artificial poltergeists.
- The music video for the song 'Dig', by the band Incubus, features a homunculus looking through the eyes of his host and falling in love with a woman, who later rescues him from the confines of the host's skull.
- In the 1985 text-adventure game "Brainscape!", by Lynne Ostergren and W. Jeffrey Wilson, in which the player must navigate his way out of his own brain, the Homonculus is a mischievous imp that occasionally interacts with the player.
- In the video game Grim Grimoire, Homunculi can be summoned as familiars as part of Alchemy magic.
- In the Playstation 2 video game Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3, an item called "Homunculus" is used to shield the main character from an instant death attack by sacrificing itself in the main character's place.
- In Sylvia Plath's 1962 poem "Cut," she refers to a homunculus inside her cut finger.
- In the 2006 book "Keeper of the Waters" the second book in the Daughter of Destiny Series, an enemy that the main character occurs is a homunculus.
- In her February 21, 2008 syndicated column, Ann Coulter referred to 2008 American presidential candidate Arizona Senator John McCain as the "the head homunculus."
- In a parody of a video released of Bill O'Reilly bursting out in an angry tirade at the set of Inside Edition, the show producer refers to O'Reilly at one point as a "troglodyte homunculus".
- Weiss JR, Burgess JB, Kaplan KJ. Fetiform teratoma (homunculus). Arch Pathol Lab Med 2006;130(10):1552-1556.
- Watson JD, Berry A. DNA: The Secret of Life. New York, NY: Random House; 2003.
- Abbott TM, Hermann WJ, Scully RE. Ovarian fetiform teratoma (homunculus) in a 9-year-old girl. Int J Gynecol Pathol 1984;2:392–402.
- Kuno N, Kadomatsu K, Nakamura M, Miwa-Fukuchi T, Hirabayashi N, Ishizuka T. Mature ovarian cystic teratoma with a highly differentiated homunculus: a case report. Birth Defects Res A Clin Mol Teratol 2004;70:40–46.
- In Search of Frankenstein
- Eye and Brain: The Psychology of Seeing
- The Oxford Companion to the Mind
- The Lore of the Homunculus
- The Concept of Mind
- The Hermetic and Alchemical Writings of Aureolus Philippus Theophrastus Bombast, of Hohenheim, Called Paracelsus the Great
homunculus in Czech: Homunkulus
homunculus in German: Homunculus
homunculus in Spanish: Homúnculo
homunculus in French: Homoncule (alchimie)
homunculus in Italian: Homunculus (alchimia)
homunculus in Georgian: ჰომუნკულუსი
homunculus in Hungarian: Homunkulusz
homunculus in Dutch: Homunculus (psychologie)
homunculus in Japanese: ホムンクルス
homunculus in Polish: Homunkulus
homunculus in Portuguese: Homunculus#Homunculus_na_Alquimia
homunculus in Russian: Гомункулус
homunculus in Finnish: Homunculus
homunculus in Chinese: 何蒙库鲁兹