"Pupula Duplex" is said to be a rare condition in which a person has two irises and two pupils in one eye. But is this condition real or simply a myth?
About “Pupula Duplex”
The phrase “pupula duplex” can be traced back to Ovid, and other ancient writers referring to it as the “Evil Eye.”
This meaning of “pupula duplex” – from Latin, translated as “double pupil” – was visited in writings around the turn of the 20th century in attempts to determine if this “evil eye” was an actual physical condition, or merely symbolism used by these ancient writers. Walton Brooks McDaniel discussed the phrase in great detail in his essay, “The Pupula Duplex and Other Tokens of an “Evil Eye” in the Light of Ophthalmology.” McDaniel’s 1918 essay expands upon, and often refutes, an essay by Kirby Flower Smith’s entitled “Pupula Duplex” from 1902.
Smith concluded that “pupula duplex” could have meant double pupil but it could also be interpreted to mean multiple colored eyes. He also postulated that pupula duplex may have been merely symbolic, or could have been translated by authors “without knowing what the word really meant.”
McDaniel takes some of Smith’s assertions to task, and presents additional explanations for the “pupula duplex” references:
“In passing to the phenomenon of the pupula duplex, we may define the physical basis for the superstition much more narrowly and I hope quite convincingly. While it is probably a fact that there is no such thing among human beings as a double pupil, that is to say, as two real pupils, in one eye, each opening possessing a sphincter muscle enabling it to contract and dilate, there are appearances of the eye which would lead an ancient to discern two pupils where there existed only one real one, or to regard a twofold (duplex) enlargement of the normal opening as practically the equivalent of two.”
Although the term “pupula duplex” is practically non-existent in modern medical literature, a condition known as polycoria does exist. According to the Handbook of Pediatric Neuro-Ophthalmology (2006), polycoria can be described as “a condition in which there are many openings in the iris that result from local hypoplasia of the iris stroma and pigment epithelium. True polycoria actually is a condition in which there is more than one pupil and the multiple pupils all have a sphincter and the ability to contract.”
It is pointed out that “most cases of polycoria, however, are actually pseudopolycoria as only one of the pupils is the true pupil with an iris sphincter muscle. Therefore, in almost all clinical situations, the correct term is pseudopolycoria.”
There are also other eye disorders or eye injuries which can give the illusion of multiple pupils.
A wax statue of Liu Ch’ung exists in Ripley’s museums, such as the one in London. The statue contains the following caption:
The Double-Eyed Man
Believe it or not! Liu Ch’ung was born with double pupils in each eye. Despite his abnormality, he became Governor of Shansi, China, and Minster of State in 995 A.D. Later, through an affair with the Dowager Empress, he had his son proclaimed heir apparent of all China! Although Liu Ch’ung’s condition is extremely rare, other 4-eyed men have been recorded by medical science. In 1931, Robert Ripley personally met a double-eyed man named Henry Hawn living in Mills Kentucky!
Although wax statues such as the one at Ripley’s depict a man with double eyes – four irises and four pupils – this could merely be an artist’s concept, and possibly inaccurate. Could this be an erroneous depiction of polycoria?
“Pupula Duplex” is not a term used in modern ophthalmology. Its original ancient meaning is debated, and could have possibly included a number of explanations, including the modern definition of polycoria or any number of other eye conditions.
There is little evidence that multiple irises and pupils as depicted in the statue above are real. We reached out to an ophthalmologist to get his opinion on “pupula duplex” and he responded with a single word: “Hoax!”
- Kirby Flower Smith. “Pupula Duplex.” Studies in the Honor of Basil L. Gildersleeve (1902) 287-300.
- Walton Brooks McDaniel, “The Pupula Duplex and Other Tokens of an “Evil Eye” in the Light of Ophthalmology.” Classical Philology (1918), 335-346
- Kenneth Weston Wright, Peter H. Spiegel, Lisa S. Thompson. Handbook of Pediatric Neuro-Ophthamology (2006), 49-50.
- Niaz Islam,
Jodbhir S. Mehta,
Gordon T. Plant.
“True polycoria or pseudopolycoria?” Acta Ophthalmologica Scandinavica (2007), 805-806.