"little human", plural is "homunculi"; the diminutive of
, "human") is, most generally, any representation of a
human being. It 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.
,” 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.
Homunculus of alchemy
In Carl Jung
's studies of alchemy
, he believed the first record of an
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
[a Greek alchemical concept of a
being somewhat similar to a golem
possessing a sense of will and intelligence], 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
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
In Islamic alchemy
( ) was a goal of certain
alchemists, notably Jabir ibn Hayyan
(later known as Geber
Europe). In the alchemical context, Takwin
refers to the
artificial creation of life in the laboratory
, up to and including human
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.
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 spermists
Homunculi in sperm as drawn by
The term homunculus was later used in the discussion of conception
and birth. In 1694, Nicolas
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
". 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
is also commonly used to describe
the distorted human figure drawn to reflect the relative space
human body parts occupy on the somatosensory cortex
homunculus) and the motor cortex
homunculus). The lips, hands, feet and sex organs have more sensory
neurons than other parts of the body, so the homunculus has
correspondingly 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 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
always fallacious. In the psychology and philosophy of mind
'homunculus arguments' are 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. They see the images as something separate
from themself, projected on the screen. How is this done? A simple
theory might propose that the light from the screen forms an image
on the retinae 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 retinae. A more sophisticated argument might propose that the
images on the retinae 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).
How a homunculus theory of mind
argument might be visualised
"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.
's Chinese Room
thought experiment, in which he
likens a computer translating Chinese into English to a man in a
room swapping symbols without truly understanding what the symbols
mean, is an example of the use of a homunculus to explain a concept
in the philosophy of mind.
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 representations
Homunculi can be found in centuries worth of literature.
- One of the very earliest literary references to the homunculus
which also hints of its origination occurs in Thomas Browne's Religio Medici (1643) in which the author
- I am not of Paracelsus minde that boldly delivers a receipt
to make a man without conjunction. ..., (Part
19th century engraving of Goethe's
Faust and Homunculus
- 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
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
- In her tribute to the painter Jules Pascin, English poet Mina
Loy penned the following stanza:
"Silence bleeds/from his slashed wrists/the dim
homunculus/within/cries for the unbirth"
- 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
examining the misogynistic tendencies of the creators of homunculi,
Swedish novelist Sven Delblanc lampoons both his homunculus'
creator and the Cold War industrial-military complexes of the
Union and NATO in his novel
The Homunculus: A Magic Tale.
- A homunculus called Twigleg is one of the main characters of
the 1997 children's novel Dragon
Rider by German author Cornelia
Funke. This homunculus is created by combining artificial
ingredients and a small living creature (probably a small insect or spider). He is also
referred to as a "manikin".
- In Jane R. Goodall's 2004 mystery novel "The Walker" (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
- In Hugh Paxton's 2006 novel Homunculus (MacMillan New
Writing ISBN 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
Film and pop culture
Film, television and literature
- The homunculus' likely first appearance in film was the
six-part 1916 German serial Homunculus.
- In the classic horror film
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.
- In the 2006 book Keeper of the Waters, the second book
in the Daughter of Destiny series, an enemy that the main
character encounters is a homunculus.
- In the
American film The
Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1974), the homunculus is
portrayed as a miniature winged gargoyle
creature who is the nemesis of Sinbad.
- 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?".
- Glen Phillips created a homunculus
in the video for "Everything But You"
- 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
- In The Talons of
Weng-Chiang, a 1977 serial from the British television
series Doctor Who, the Peking
homunculus is the proper name given to an animated ventriloquist's
dummy known as Mr. Sin. The dummy was really an android from the
future, with the cerebral cortex of a pig.
Manhattan (1979) Woody Allen's character refers to his
girlfriend's (Diane Keaton) ex-husband (Wallace Shawn): I thought
you said he was a ladies' man, he looks like a
- The supernatural thriller Ghost Road Blues by Jonathan Maberry features a homunculus as a
servant of the vampire overlord Ubel Griswold.
- In the film Pan's
Labyrinth, the little girl Ofelia nurses a mandrake type homunculus with two drops of her
blood each day in order to help her pregnant mother.
- In the remaining twenty-five episodes of The Life and Times of Juniper
Lee, Ray Ray Lee
(the main character Juniper's little brother) has his soul living
in a homunculus body that looks exactly like him after his original
body mutates into a massive creature.
- In the Babylon 5 spin off series
Crusade, Galen uses a telepresence device, referred to as Homunculus,
to explore the surface of a dangerous planet. When asked about its
name he said that it meant "a parallel version of one's self".
- In If
you're reading this, it's too late by Pseudonymous Bosch, the main characters,
Cass and Max-Ernest, pursue and eventually locate a
- In GoGo Sentai Boukenger,
the Questers create a
giant Homonculus, by placing three Precious into a special vessel.
- In 9, directed by Shane
Acker, the 'Stitchpunk' characters are literal homunculi, being
tiny human puppets with souls encased inside.
- In Meet Dave Eddie Murphy plays a homunculus, realized as a
tiny alien in a human-sized robotic mechanism with the appearance
of Eddie Murphy.
- In The Big Bang
Theory episode 303, Sheldon calls his roommate (Leonard) a
homonculus. This is later explained to be a perfectly formed
miniature human being.
- In Cory Doctorow's Makers , the Disney-In-A-Box
prototype is staffed and operated by homunculi. First appearance,
Part 49: 
Anime, manga and comic books
- 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 human transmutation. Each homunculus shown in the series
represents one of the seven deadly
sins. The manga version of Fullmetal
Alchemist, as well as the remake anime Fullmetal
Alchemist: Brotherhood, 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
Cyber Team 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 manga The Tarot Café
by Sang-Sun Park, the character Belial creates Homunculus-like
"Dolls" using pieces of a necklace of his that has magic powers. He
creates "Dolls" of people that the main character, Pamela, who is
immortal, knew as a child such as her mother, her lover, who was an
immortal dragon named Ash, and a monk named Victor who was in love
with her. He then sends these "Dolls" to Pamela in order to make
her believe she is going mad.
- 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.
- In the
Visual Novel named 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
- In the manga Buso Renkin, the main
characters, Kazuki Muto and Tokiko Tsumura, fight homunculi (plant
and animal-type first, then human-type) created through what seems
like advanced science. The first few are controlled by Koushaku
Chono/Papillon Mask, and the rest by Bakushaku Chono/Dr.
- The manga named Homunculus,
by Hideo Yamamoto, tells the story of
a homeless (Nakoshi) that undergoes a trepanation because a rich student is convinced
that this operation activates a sixth sense that allows Nakoshi to
see other people's homunculus, which are said to be their actual
- In the popular trading card game Yu-Gi-Oh! there is a monster named "Golden
Homunculus", as well as another called "Homunculus the Alchemic
- In the Ghost Hound Japanese Anime TV
series, the main characters, at various times have an out-of-body experience. Their "Astral
Bodies" resemble a form of homunculi and the Neuro-biological
theory of " the little man " is, several times, referenced upon by
side characters, psychologists and neuroscientists in the
- 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.
- In Dungeons and
Dragons, Homunculi are semi-living magical constructs
created by giving a portion of their creator's life to a composite
of materials, often including wood, clay, or metal. There are
several varieties, each created for a specific function, such as
item creation, ranged combat, message delivery, or spying.
- In the video game Shadow of Memories (also known as
Shadow of Destiny), Homonculus is the name of one of the
major characters, who is a true homunculus, with roots in the age
of the alchemists. As the game progresses, 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.
- In the Enix console role-playing game
the alchemist Lezard Valeth experiments with homonculi. Among them
are his minion Bellion, and numerous female forms kept in large
glass tubes. Lezard's homonculi were half-human/half-elves.
- 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
- The Hirameki sim novel for PC from
Japan Animamundi has the main
character researching how to create the perfect Homunculus host
body to save his sister Lillith's still living head.
- In the games Persona 3 and
Persona 4, a Homunculus is a
collectible item which will protect the game's protagonist against
the effects of an instant-death spell cast by an enemy. Once used,
it will disappear.
- In the game Diablo II,
Homunculus is a unique item only available to the necromancer
- In the MMORPG Ragnarok Online, Alchemists have access
to a system of pet-like creatures called homunculi that act as
secondary characters which will fight for the owner.
- 'Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow' contains an enemy inside the
Magician's Lab with this name, a clearish-blue humanoid hooked up
to a tube, while underwater. Once awakened, moves towards player,
and if it disconnects, drowns in a few seconds.
- In Warhammer 40,000, the
Dark Eldar medic/torturer is referred to
as a "Haemonculus". they are masters of pain and alchemy.
Haemonculus are renowned for their painful torture techniques, and
Miscellaneous uses of the term "Homunculus"
- The Homunculus 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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.