Lately I've been reading through some of Edgar Allan Poe's works. I'm quite sure we're all familiar with his classics such as The Raven and The Cask of Amontillado, at least, those are the two most studied pieces in highschool.
Anyhow, I've come across a rather charming poem called Dreamland. I find it to be an intoxicating piece of literature. The imagery and rhythm bring back memories of texts on the shadowlands, Dante's adventures in the seven circles of Hades... pretty much anything to do with the underworld (which now brings to mind thoughts of The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis, of which I'm sure you are also familiar; remember the old BBC version of that? I shall take one moment of laughter. Merci).
As I was reading through this piece, I came across several (to be exact, two) terms that I was unfamiliar with. The first is eidolon and the second is thule. Are those even English? I thought they looked rather like Greek terms (in fact, I believe they are).
Being the way I am, I figured I'd discuss these two terms with you :P that is, if you don't mind (if you do, you can stop reading, ya know? :P).
First is eidolon. Poe uses this term in the third line, stating:
By a route obscure and lonely,From the context of the material, it's quite obvious that the term is referring to some sort of being -- taking into mind that we're discussing "NIGHT" (which is clearly not a real, tangible being...more of a personified idea), it appears that eidolon refers to some sort of ghost-like, inhuman concept that's somehow coalesced into reality upon the attainment of semi- or unconsciousness.
Haunted by ill angels only,
Where an Eidolon, named NIGHT,
On a black throne reigns upright,
According to the dictionary:
Eidolon (noun):...in Greek...
1. An idealized person or thing
2. A specter or phantom
(Greek εἴδωλον: "image, idol, double, apparition, phantom, ghost")Well the dictionary fleshes out this idea a fair bit, but I wanted more information on this, particularly if the term is Greek (which it is) then there's bound to be mythology behind it (which there also is).
Essentially, an eidolon is (and this is kinda creepy, o.O) the spirit-image of a living or dead person. BUT! Before we have a freak attack, thinking to a more familiar text, such as Bryan Davis's Echoes from the Edge series (*pause* ads;fljk I LOVE THAT SERIES SO MUCH!! *ahem* *resume*) we deal with characters capable of traversing the dream realm while still physically immobile on the Earth. Kinda sounds like an eidolon to me, minus the use of the term. All in all, we've got dreamers.
Another point is that this being-thingamabobber is a shade or phantom look-alike of the human form. That means it could be good or bad. It could accurately represent the real it or it could inaccurately represent the real it. Okie dokie.
Turning back to the text, we see we're dealing with dreamland, right? So it's not real. We've got ourselves a specter/phantom/crazy-thing called NIGHT sitting on his/her/its high-throne, which just happens to be black, above all the land (*let me interrupt a moment* doesn't this remind you of the evil Witch-King of Angmar? *shudder*). Secondly, NIGHT is not real, it's only a phantom of the real thing. Sooooo, what's the real thing then? I'm guessing it would be a literal "night" complete with darkness and the awakening of all lovely nocturnal beasts (like owls!), however I could be wrong.
The term comes up in several notable authors' literature (mainly Greek). For instance, Homer and Euripides discuss Helen of Troy's eidolon. Homer also uses this concept in the Odyssey. Walt Whitman also experimented with this concept in his poetry.
On a more amusing level, I'll point out that eidolon is also a genus of bat containing two species of fruit bats, both of which are located in Africa. I don't think there's much relation between the bats and the Greek concept though :P
Well, now perhaps you've read through all that and, as I have, become slightly more educated as to this Greek term...shall we turn to thule? Charge!!
Second is Thule. Poe uses this term in the sixth line, stating:
I have reached these lands but newlyUnlike eidolon, when I came across this word I had no clue what it was referring to -- best guess? A place of some sort. Surprisingly, my best guess was correct :P.
From an ultimate dim Thule-
From a wild clime that lieth, sublime,
Out of SPACE- out of TIME.
The term ultima Thule was coined by Virgil in Georgics, 1. 30, in reference to a land that was very far off...or symbolic of an unattainable goal.
Geminus of Rhodes (a 1st century Greek astronomer) stated it was referring to "the place where the sun goes to rest".
In classical European literature, the term referred to a place in the distant north. Some suggested it was Iceland, Greenland, Norway, the Orkney Islands, and so on. However, it has been made fairly clear that the ultima Thule refers to "beyond the borders of the known world".
While there are many interpretations of where Thule is or what it's symbolic of, I believe Poe is using the symbolic definition. It is hinted at this by the eighth line which states "Out of SPACE- out of TIME", thus essentially referring to an unattainable region. What is out of space and time that we can reach? Nothing, indeed...except dreams.
I originally had an issue with this interpretation, seeing as it appears the traveller is coming from the "ultimate dim Thule" to "these lands". However, upon checking the text out a bit further, it's becomes apparent that "these lands" refer to being awake. Reality. He's coming from dreamland to reality, and the greatest portion of the poem is spent giving body to where he's just been.
For those of you who dream (and we all do, it's just that some forget their dreams more often than others), we're quite familiar with the experience of an exceptionally realistic dream becoming more and more unreal as the day plods on. While you're in the middle of the dream, everything seems so real and you have no clue that it's not -- when you wake up, that sense of reality fades and morphs into a true sense of reality as you begin to come to terms with the fact that your dream was simply that: a dream.
Thule is beyond the borders of the real world. It's a place that is truly out of space and time. When we dream, we have no concept of space or time. I've had dreams where I've walked through walls and travelled the world (or galaxies even) in less than a blink of an eye. I've had dreams that seem to last for hours within a period of 15 minutes and I've had dreams that seem to last but a second over the period of 3 hours. Time and space don't obey rational rules in dreamland (aka. Thule). Thus, Thule is truly beyond the borders of reality. It's that place where anything can happen and, while it's happening, it'll make perfect sense...until you're jolted away from that place beyond the border of the world, back to real life.
It's very intriguing, is it not?
Here ends my discussion and personal thoughts on eidolon and thule, and Poe's poem Dreamland.
Signed with many sparkles (because they're so awesome),