Does this word have a familiar ring to it? A tale come round once again?

It’s a riverrun of a word, a liquid motion. The four rings rolling past o o o o make me think of the Lazy River, a waterpark feature that runs in a never-ending ring; you grab an inner tube and hop in and ride it, around and back to where you started and, if you so wish, around and around again, like an Escher staircase. Everything is downstream from everything else, and upstream from it too.

Well, yes, I’m referring as much to the sense as to the form. The word does seem as though it could start and end in other places – souroboro, osourobor, rosourobo, orosourob, borosouro, oborosour, roborosou, uroboroso – and it would be equally inscrutable, but it is the endless, self-feeding ring that it names that truly comes to mind: the Greek source is οὐροβόρος, ‘devouring its tail’, and it refers to a serpent that eats its own tail.

But this is no omphaloskepsis. This is not stasis but a self-contained universe. Yes, yes, in the real world a snake that devours its tail cinches up smaller and smaller as the tail goes farther and farther in until it’s looped around several times inside itself and too tightly to go any farther. Shut up. This isn’t a real snake, OK? It’s the universe an’ stuff. OK, it’s just the universe, no additional stuff, because there is no additional stuff. That’s the point. It feeds itself. It is a closed system, eternally returning. It is the hand that grasps itself. It is the beginning and the end together.

Beginning and end? Alpha and omega then, no? Well, let’s see: the small alpha is α, like a rope (or snake) with the ends crossed. A closed circuit but with dangling ends. A large omega (omega actually means ‘large o’, but I mean the capital form of it) is Ω, which is like the same thing only turned 90 degrees and with the crossed ends broken away so they don’t cross anymore: the end, turned off. (The small omega is ω, which is like someone grabbed the ends of the rotated α and pulled till it spronged. The large alpha is A, which is like some clever architect’s conception of a new way of making people see α, though actually the small came from the large.)

Anyway, the point of the ouroboros is really that the end is in the beginning and the beginning is in the end. The big crunch is the big bang and vice versa; the conclusion of every phase is the opening of another; it’s the never-ending story.

Never-ending story? A familiar tale? A tail told by a madman, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing? Well, what’s nothing? 0, of course, or O if you wish. There we go. The shape of a halo, the shape of a ring – on a planet, on a finger, on a space shuttle, of an onion or squid – or a button or a hole or the shape of some people’s sense of logic. It’s always something, but nothing compares to it, and it has an empty heart. It’s that familiar ring, going round and round and round and round again. The experience of being buttonholed by a never-ending tale-teller is suggested by the old-style English spelling (by way of Latin, as opposed to the more directly Greek version we prefer now): uroboros, “you’re a bore us.”

Oh, sorry, no, the accent is on the second syllable. “You rob or us.” Really? What roborant has so empowered the antepenult to rob the rhythm? Even the ou version is said by the dictionaries to be “oo rob or us.” This in spite of the accent you can clearly see on οὐροβόρος: the long syllable is the third one. (The mark over the ὐ simply means “no heavy breathing.”) We seem to be ringing the prosodic changes; perhaps in future ages they will put the stress on the first syllable, and then on the last (which would match the motif of the opening movement of Beethoven’s fifth symphony).

But all of this doesn’t happen of its own little lonesome. The reason anything happens is that there are things to happen with and by and to, a multiplicity of things, differences. Countless atoms with their little ring-like systems cooperating to make molecules that make organelles that make cells that make organs that make bodies and so on. Just as we have time so everything doesn’t happen at once, we have difference so everything’s not the same. We need cooperation; we can’t have stories unless there is a hearer as well as a teller, and we can’t have truth unless two people corroborate each other’s tale.

Corroborate? Co-ouroboros. Couroboration.


Couroboroation. Based on a character outline in the (PostScript Type 1) “Fnord Hodge-Podge Discordian fonts version 2” by toa267

Thanks to @mededitor for getting this started. As it were.

3 responses to “ouroboros

  1. Reblogged this on Sighild's Lair and commented:
    Quite complex but a very interesting article 🙂

  2. I loved circularity of this article, from words to images. Perfection.

  3. Pingback: simulacrum | Sesquiotica

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