An Ancient Theory About A Spiritual Airborne Singularity

Euripides (c. 485-406 BCE), in his play, Helen, proposed a curious theological/spiritual theory that suggested when a person died, their individual soul dispersed and fused into a mysterious unity or singularity of conscious immortal atmosphere. This intriguing theory was stated in the play by the character Theonoe, who was presented in Euripides’ writing as an all-knowing prophetess from Egypt. Theonoe stated, “When they die, their individual mind does not live on, yet it has an immortal consciousness by merging with the immortal air” (Euripides, Helen, approximately lines 1013-1016). The statement has long baffled readers, and many different interpretations have been presented to explain Theonoe’s line. Some think it is a line with no meaning, and that it was merely written by Euripides as something that sounded convincingly profound for the prophetess character, Theonoe, to speak. Others, however, argue that the statement borrowed from or professed a real mystic religious belief. Alternatively, one could also suggest that, instead of a religious statement, Theonoe’s line could also have been a poetic description of something like a funeral pyre, where smoke and dust can be carried away by the wind. Whatever the case, Euripides would likely be pleased that his works continue to still be thought-provoking, inspiring critical thinking up to the modern day.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

Picture Attribution: (The Girl I Left Behind Me, painted by Eastman Johnson (c. 1824-1906), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the Smithsonian).



  • Euripides’ Helen, translated by James Morwood in Medea and Other Plays (Oxford University Press, 1997, 1998, 2008).

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