The Shade of Tiresias Appearing to Odysseus during the Sacrifice (c. 1780–85), painting by Johann Heinrich Füssli, showing a scene from Book Ten of the Odyssey

In poetry and literature, a shade (translating Greek σκιά,[1] Latin umbra[2]) is the spirit or ghost of a dead person, residing in the underworld.

An underworld where the dead live in shadow was common to beliefs in the ancient Near East. In Biblical Hebrew, it was called tsalmaveth (צַלמָוֶת: lit. "death-shadow", "shadow of death") as an alternate term for Sheol.[3][4] The Witch of Endor in the First Book of Samuel notably conjures the ghost (owb[5]) of Samuel.

Only select individuals were believed to be exempt from the fate of dwelling in shadow after death. They would instead ascend to the divine sphere, as is reflected in the veneration of heroes. Plutarch relates how Alexander the Great was inconsolable after the death of Hephaistion up to the moment he received an oracle of Ammon confirming that the deceased was a hero, i.e. enjoyed the status of a divinity.[6]

Shades appear in Book Eleven of Homer's Odyssey, when Odysseus descends into Hades, and in Book Six of Virgil's Aeneid, when Aeneas travels to the underworld. In the Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, many of the dead are similarly referred to as shades (Italian ombra), including Dante's guide, Virgil.

The phrase "peace to thy gentle shade [and endless rest]" is sometimes seen in epitaphs, and was used by Alexander Pope in his epitaph for Nicholas Rowe.

See also


  1. ^ Liddell & Scott entry
  2. ^ Lewis & Short
  3. ^ Gesenius
  4. ^ (edit.) Boustan, Ra'anan S. Reed, Annette Yoshiko. Heavenly Realms and Earthly Realities in Late Antique Religions. Cambridge University Press, 2004.
  5. ^ Gesenius
  6. ^ "Alexander's grief for him exceeded all reasonable measure. He ordered the manes of all the horses and mules to be cut off in sign of mourning, he struck off the battlements of all the neighbouring cities, crucified the unhappy physician, and would not permit the flute or any other musical instrument to be played throughout his camp, until a response came from the oracle of Ammon bidding him honour Hephæstion and offer sacrifice to him as to a hero." Parallel Lives, 72.