The concept of a homunculus (Latin for "little man", plural "homunculi"; the diminutive of homo, "human being") 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.
“Preformationism,” 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. In the days of preformationism, genetic disease was variously interpreted: sometimes as a manifestation of the wrath of God or the mischief of demons and devils; sometimes as evidence of either an excess of or a deficit of the father's “seed”; sometimes as the result of “wicked thoughts” on the part of the mother during pregnancy. On the premise that fetal malformation can result when a pregnant mother's desires are thwarted, Napoleon passed a law permitting expectant mothers to shoplift.
The term appears to have been first used by the alchemistParacelsus. He once claimed that he had created a false human being that he referred to as the homunculus. The creature was to have stood no more than 12 inches (300 mm) tall, and did the work usually associated with a golem. However, after a short time, the homunculus turned on its creator and ran away. The recipe consisted of a bag of bones, semen, skin fragments and hair from any animal, of which the chimeric homunculus would be a hybrid. This was to be laid in the ground surrounded by horse manure for forty days, at which point the embryo would form.
In Carl Jung's studies of Alchemy, he believed the first record of a 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, 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 nature in 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 explore alchemy.
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. Yet a 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
The term homunculus was later used in the discussion of conception and birth. In 1694, Nicolas Hartsoeker discovered "animalcules" 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 down". 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
Main article: Cortical homunculus
The homunculus is also commonly used to describe the distorted human figure drawn to reflect the relative space our body parts occupy on the somatosensory cortex (sensory homunculus) and the motor cortex (motor homunculus). The lips, hands, feet and sex organs have more sensory neurons than other parts of the body, so the homunculus has correspondingly distortedly large lips, hands, feet, and genitals. Well known in the field of neurology, this is also commonly called 'the little man inside the brain.'
The homunculus argument or fallacy 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 are always fallacious. In the psychology and philosophy of mind 'homunculus arguments' are extremely 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. He sees the images as something separate from himself, projected on the screen. How is this done? A simple theory might propose that the light from the screen forms an image on the retinas 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 retinas. A more sophisticated argument might propose that the images on the retinas 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)).
Very few people would propose that there actually is a little man in the brain looking at brain activity. However, this proposal has been used as a 'straw man' in theories of mind. Gilbert Ryle (1949) proposed that the human mind is known by its intelligent acts. (see Ryle's Regress). He argued that if there is an inner being inside the brain that could steer its own thoughts then this would lead to an absurd repetitive cycle or "regress" before a thought could occur:
"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.
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 wrong. The regress argument says that an intelligent agent would need to think before it could have a thought.
Early literary representations
The idea of the homunculus has proven to be fruitful inspiration. Homunculi can be found in centuries' worth of literature. These literary references have spawned references in modern times in film, animation, video and card games.
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 states-
I am not of Paracelsus minde that boldly delivers a receipt to make a man without conjunction. ..., (Part 1:36)
The alchemical connection also occurs in the German playwright Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's rendition of Faust, Part 2 which has that famed sorcerer's former student, Wagner, create a homunculus, who then carries out extended conversations with Mephistopheles.
In his source study of Englishwoman Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein, Prof. Radu Florescu notes that her father, William Godwin, and her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley were both quite familiar with the lives and works of alchemists like Paracelsus and others. Florescu also suggests that Johann Conrad Dippel, an alchemist born in Castle Frankenstein whom he believes may have been the inspiration for Dr. Frankenstein, was a student of Dr. David Christianus.
In Laurence Sterne´s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, Volume I, Chapter II , there is a reference to the homunculus: "(...) the animal spirits, whose business it was to have escorted and gone hand-in-hand with the homunculus, and conducted him safe to the place destined for his reception."
Contemporary literary representations
In the twentieth century Umberto Eco's Foucault's 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 homunculus legend.
In her tribute to the painter Jules Pascin, English poet Mina Loy penned the following stanza:
from his slashed wrists/
the dim homunculus/
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 W. Somerset Maugham's 1908 work The Magician, Oliver Haddo, a character based on British occultist Aleister Crowley, is obsessed with the creation of homunculi.
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 being.
Also 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 Soviet 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 also artificial; he is created by combining artificial ingredients and a small living creature (probably a small insect). In the book he's also referred to as a "manikin".
In Jane R Goodall's 2004 mystery novel "The Walkers" (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 completed.
In Hugh Paxton's 2006 novel Homunculus (MacMillan New Writing ISBN-13: 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 Nobel Prize winner Johannes Vilhelm Jensen's novel The Fall of the King (published in Danish 1900-01), a homunculus is featured. It is eventually burned at the stake.
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 abilities.
Film and pop culture
Film and Television
The homunculus' likely first appearance in film was the six-part 1916 German serial Homunculus.
"Homunculus," a fictitious rapper, is mentioned in the NBC sitcom 30 Rock.
In the classic horror film Bride of 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. Frankenstein's monster is technically the same type of Homunculi as Lillith from Animamundi.
In the King of the Cats series of the alternative press comic book Finder, there appeared a monkey-like cartoon character named "Munky" whose name was short for "homunculus." Munky's cartoonishly distorted extremities were said to represent those of a cortical homunculus, thus making him educational for children.
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.
A possible explanation of the character Kyle from the American television series Kyle XY is that he may be an advanced type of homunculus.
In the Doctor Who story The Talons of Weng-Chiang there was a homicidal cyborg from the 51st century with the cerebral cortex of a pig, called the Peking Homunculus.
In the anime version of Fullmetal Alchemist, the main character Edward Elric battles supernatural enemies claiming to be homunculi who are created when an attempt is made to create/revive a human using Alchemy.
In the manga version of Fullmetal Alchemist, the homunculi are 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 Cyberteam 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 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?"
A homunculus linked up with the Quester Jet Over to wreak havoc and was piloted by the Ashu Questers on GoGo Sentai Boukenger.
In the TV show "Everybody Loves Raymond" Ray's friend Andy asks, "Why do women look at me like I'm some kind of a homunculus?" in the episode "All I Want For Christmas".
Video Games, Board Games, and Trading Card Games
In the Game Boy Advance video game Fire Emblem: Rekka no Ken, the main villain Nergal uses henchmen of humanlike appearance but inhuman disposition and talent created by means of forbidden magic called morphs, whose means of creation resemble that of Homunculi.
The Homonculus is a monster in NetHack. In non-graphical versions, it appears as the symbol i (Imps and minor demons). The monster is low level, easy to defeat, and is classified as size tiny. If eaten, it (sometimes) grants the player an intrinsic poison resistance.
In the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game, a wizard can create a homunculus as a type of familiar. It is described as being made from clay, ashes, mandrake root, spring water, and the creator's blood, and is equipped with a mildly venomous bite.
In the Magic: The Gathering card game, three creatures exist with "homunculus" in their name (one is also a Homunculus by classification; the two older ones are merely "Illusions"). All three are blue creatures, blue being the color of artificial creation and illusion, among other things.
The homunculus appears in the card game Yu-Gi-Oh!. There are two creatures, one named "Homunculus The Alchemic Being", and one named "Golden Homunculus".
In Yu-Gi-Oh! GX, Lyman Banner (Daitokuji) created a homunculus in his own image as means of prolonging his life.
In the Enix console role-playing game Valkyrie Profile, 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.
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.
The Homunculus is a false body that can be inhabited by a willing mind in Sean Williams' book series The Books of the Cataclysm, once a soul has entered the homunculus it will morph to appear as that person, but is stronger and more durable than a normal human body.
In the MMORPG Ragnarok Online, a Homunculus is a creature that is created by Alchemist-class characters using various ingredients gathered from the fabled Yggdrasil Tree. Once raised by an Alchemist, the Homunculus follows and assists the player.
In the manga Buso Renkin, a homunculus is an artificial life form that eats humans, created by the science of alchemy. Just as with Paracelsus's original recipe, most homunculi are created as human/animal (or occasionally human/plant) hybrids. In this case, the hybridization deranges the human's mind so that it more closely resembles the animal's.
The Survival Horror game Haunting Ground by Capcom includes four homunculi as antagonists that relentlessly pursues the player character Fiona Belli.
Glen Phillips created a homunculus in the video for "Everything But You"
In Season 1 Episode 8 of the Dilbert (TV series), The Little People, Dilbert's computer has been compromised by The Little People and one of the websites in the history of his computer is Hot Homunculi. He also receives a magazine in his mail called Hot Homonculi.
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 Tower.
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 Harry Potter, Voldemort's new body is an alchemical Homunculus.
In Diablo II: Lord of Destruction the Homunculus is a sought after necromancer class specific item.
In World of Warcraft, Homunculi appear as small minion-like demons under the control of warlocks before the pulls of Illhoof in Karazhan.
Unsorted uses of the term "Homunculus"
Hideo Yamamoto's manga Homunculus is about a successful, maverick insurance analyst whose world plunged into chaos after he underwent trepanation.
In the video game Shadow of Memories (also known as Shadow of Destiny), Homunculus is the name of an entity that obviously has a great understanding of space and time, and he's helping the main character in the game to escape his death. He is a real homunculus, as his roots are in the age of the alchemists. Very little is known about his past. He also dresses dark, a reflection of his possible intentions. However, as the game progresses, the player will come to learn about both of these.
The Homumculus 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.
In the Nintendo DS game Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow, a Homonculus is portrayed as an aquatic, human-like creature with a greyish-greenish body and a purple face, and is attached to a pink umbilical cord. It is located in a laboratory-themed area, possibly connecting it to the artificial human theme. It attacks by flailing its arms around violently, and can be destroyed by attacking it after it shows its face. It can also be destroyed if you let it come after you and leave the screen (at this point the cord should break and it should eventually drown.) The power gained from its soul allows the player to throw a little Homonculus (based on the actual origins of the term, possibly) that damages enemies.
In the computer game Diablo II (specifically the expansion pack Lord of Destruction), a Homunculus is a unique shield used by the Necromancer class of characters. It is a shrunken demon head and is the unique version of an "Hierophant Trophy", but no direct information concerning the relation of Homunculus the shield to the literal meaning of Homunculus is given.
In the MMORPG Computer game Lineage II, The Homunculus is a unique mystics sword used commonly by Mages in the game, later in the game, Large, One Eyed monsters High level monsters named Homunculus, and given Monster Ranks.
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 hallucinations. 
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.
In the Sam Keith comic book The Maxx, the small white and blue creatures called Isz (iz in the singular) are referred to as Homunculi by the villain Mr. Gone.
In the film Manhattan, Woody Allen refers to his girlfriend's former lover as a homunculus.
The RPG Star Ocean: Till the End of Time has a mechanical ability where the players can create elemental based homunculus which can be worked into weapons to give the weapons that element. The game describes the homunculus as artificial, while the appearance is that of a fairy, giving "living" traits.
In the Visual Novel name 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 blood.
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 giant.
In the video game Lands of Lore III (1999) by Westwood Studios, the main character Copper can acquire a cynistic, wise-cracking, female homunculus named Griselda as a familiar.
Bibliometrics research has uncovered the "bibliohomunculus" within the word patterns of texts.
The supernatural thriller Ghost Road Blues by Jonathan Maberry features a homunculus as a servant of the vampire overlord Ubel Griswold.
They Might Be Giants have a song called "Homunculous."
In the video game "Shadow of Destiny", 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.
San Jose indie/experimental band Xiu Xiu have a song called "Homonculus"
In the 1998 computer game Quest for Glory V: Dragon Fire, Homonculi are winged monkey-esque creatures that can be fought in the wilderness.
A Homunculus was formed in Gogo Sentai Boukenger when three Precious were merged in a fourth. This Homunculus, contrary to the idea of a homunculus, is a gorilla-like giant which could fire orange beams out of its mouth.
In the game Guilty Gear, a character called A.B.A. is referred to as a homunculus by another character called Order Sol. A.B.A. is an artificial being created via science; she is human-like in appearance and is abnormally tall for a homunculus. She wields a key-shaped axe weapon called Paracelsus, after the alchemist who first used the term 'homunculus'.
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.
On the Queens Crap blog site, Congressman Joseph Crowley has been referred to as the Homunculus because of his appointment to his Congressional seat by his late predecessor and Queens County Boss, Thomas Manton.
In Dr Ten's manga, Map of Tokyo Savage, Homunculi were artificial poltergeists.
The music video for the song 'Dig', by the band Incubus, features a homunculus looking through the eyes of his host and falling in love with a woman, who later rescues him from the confines of the host's skull.
In the 1985 text-adventure game "Brainscape!", by Lynne Ostergren and W. Jeffrey Wilson, in which the player must navigate his way out of his own brain, the Homonculus is a mischievous imp that occasionally interacts with the player.
In the video game Grim Grimoire, Homunculi can be summoned as familiars as part of Alchemy magic.
In the Playstation 2 video game Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3, an item called "Homunculus" is used to shield the main character from an instant death attack by sacrificing itself in the main character's place.
In the manga Full Metal Alchemist, the enemy were homunculi.
In Sylvia Plath's 1962 poem "Cut," she refers to a homunculus inside her cut finger.
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16th Century Homunculus Lore Book written by Chasin The Great