Ouroboros is one of the oldest known ancient symbols, whose name derived from the Greek words ‘Oura’ which means tail and ‘boros’ meaning eating, thus Ouroboros literally means ‘tail eating’. The creature is generally depicted as a snake or dragon that is eating its own tail and can be interpreted as the creature that devourers itself, for its own creation. The symbol has been seen used in many cultures, with each culture could have a different meaning. The most commonly known interpretations of the Ouroboros are rebirth, the cycle of life and infinity. The current mathematical symbol of infinity is said to have originated from this.
Ouroboros in different cultures:
Egyptian: The oldest known origin of the self consuming snake dates back to 1600 BC in Egypt and is seen on the tomb of the pharaoh Tutankhamun. The symbol here is seen a union of the Egyptian Sun god Ra and the Osiris, the god of the afterlife. The alchemist Cleopatra has also depicted a serpent consuming its own poison with another depiction of “All is one.” Again, this symbolizes the cycle of life.
China and Japan: In china, the dragon is said to be symbolic of power and energy. The Chinese version has a dragon eating into its own tail, depicting heaven and earth, with heaven above the Earth, similar to the Yin-yan which depicts existence of opposites. A similar dragon can also be seen in the Japanese culture.
German Chemist Friedrich August Kekulé: 1865, a German Chemist August Kekule who was working on the structure of benzene had a dream of atoms moving in a circular motion and forming a self eating snake. Kekule, woke up and immediately began to sketch his dream. On the 25th anniversary of the benzene structure discovery he revealed that the Ouroboros in his dreams was the inspiration to his discovery. Benzene surprisingly does contain cyclic carbon structures.
India: In ancient Hindu mythology, the world is said to be supported by 4 elephants that stand on the back of a tortoise. This tortoise in encircled by a snake.