Different things are called alter ego. On the one hand, the concept can describe a very intense relationship between two people when one person has become an identification figure and thus becomes a part of one’s own identity. On the other hand, in some countries people who have great power (for example, they can decide life and death) are referred to as alter ego. In the literature, the term means either the language pipe of an author in the literary text or the second ego of a figure (Doppelgänger, Spiegelbild, Schatten etc.).
The word sequence has a Latin origin and can be translated with other I. This translation also refers to why the conceptuality is used so differently. For whenever there is talk of another ego – whether in a psychological, creative or philosophical moment – the term “alter ego” is quickly adopted. The origin is at Cicero.
Cicero, a Roman politician, a lawyer as well as a philosopher, wrote in 44 BC, His work Laelius de amicitia. This was dedicated to his friend Titus Pomponius Atticus, and, as the title suggests, deals with friendship, which is discussed in a kind of dialogue. There is the following passage:
[…] verus amicus numquam reperietur; est enim is qui est tamquam alter idem.
Translation: […] so there will never be a true friend; for this is, as it were, our second self.
The statement was taken up by Seneca, also a Roman philosopher, and used for the first time in the form known today (alter ego), from which the winged word derived. This was then used in different contexts, which is why it is sometimes difficult to give an exact definition of the concept: it is only clear that the ego is always cloaked.
Alter ego in literature and art
The term can mean the intense relationship of two people. And then when the one becomes the identity figure for the other. Thus this becomes part of one’s own identity. However, this can also mean a second ego that lives in the body of a single person.
This phenomenon is referred to as a split personality in psychology. Here the ego, ie, the actual ego, and the alter ego, the other ego, are in a contradiction. This contradiction causes the person to have two sides, two lives, and thus unite two personalities: there are numerous examples in the literature.
Some are morbid, such as Mr. Hyde in the novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson or the comic figure Hulk. Both examples are spontaneously transformed into the corresponding alter ego. Others are themselves chosen, such as Batman or Superman, who perform normal activities, but lead a double as a superhero.
Posters to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Poster: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1885)
The novel tells the story of the distinguished Dr. Jekyll, who succeeds in brewing a potion that separates good from evil in man. At first he enjoys the possibility to transform himself into the unscrupulous Hyde by means of the drink. He quickly finds that he loses control. Suddenly the protagonist changes to Hyde, although he does not touch the potion.
More and more frequently, he takes over the evil, he needs more and more of his potion to turn back to Jekyll. The malicious alter ego of the doctor now breaks out of him ill and chaotic and can no longer be controlled. Another example can be found in Gottfried Keller’s clothes, but the alter ego is not ill, but nevertheless involuntary.
The point is that Wenzel Strapinski, a young tailoring apprentice in the rich town of Goldach, is looking for a job. On the way to the city he is surprised by the rain, which is why a coachman takes him. When he reaches the city and climbs out of the carriage, he makes for all sorts of looks. As he is dressed very elegantly and rises from the stately vehicle, the citizens consider him a count.
Wenzel, who is too shy to break this belief, gives himself up to the role, dines and plays with the most important persons from Goldach, and can only be exposed at the end. Nevertheless, the double role Wenzel Strapinski gives himself can be regarded as the alter ego of the poor tailor, that is, as another ego.
A modern example is James Cameron’s science fiction film Avatar. This plays in the year 2154 on the planet Pandora. There is a raw material that is to be plundered by the people. To win the confidence of Na’vi, the natives of the planet, the former US Navy Jake Sully, who has been fighting since