Category: Ancient Learning > Deities

1 The meaning of daimōn (δαίμων)

The ancient Greek word daimōn has so many meanings that it almost seems meaningless to talk about daemons at all. But I believe that, when senses of the word that have some synonym are taken away, there still remain some senses which we can do no better than call ‘daemon’ in English.

First, a note on grammar: daimōn is an epicene word, meaning that it can be read as either masculine or feminine depending on context. Hē daimōn, for instance, means ‘the feminine daemon’, ho daimōn, ‘the masculine daemon’. But there are also two (very rare) feminine forms of the word, daimonis and daimonissa, an indication of the fact that epicene words were still understood as primarily masculine.

On to meaning (as far as I understand it):

  1. One usage common in poetry and literary prose is as a synonym of theos, meaning ‘god’.
  2. Another, not always distinguishable from the first, is Daimōn as ‘fortune’ of ‘fate’. It is from this sense that the name of the god Agathos Daimōn, ‘Good Fortune’, is derived. (Hence, he is often invoked together with Agathē Tychē, whose name means essentially the same thing.)
  3. The personal daemon, imagined as functioning not unlike a guardian angel, is essentially ‘personal fortune, fate, lot in life’.
  4. Sometimes, daimones are the dead, either those with special merit and a more divine status, or any of them, dwelling in the underworld or appearing to the living. There is some overlap between daimones in this sense and the concept of heroes, and the appropriate translation is often ‘ghost’ (as for eidōlon or phasma/phantasma).
  5. In other cases, daimōn refers to some harmful or avenging entity (potentially, but not necessarily, a ‘ghost’).
  6. Most uniquely, a daimōn is something less than a god, but more than human – one of the Greater Beings (kreittones) –, an attendant or companion (opados) of a god.

This article is about the latter two categories and their overlap. It will not concern itself with the gods, with fortune and fate, or with the dead, except insofar as they factor into ancient attempts to articulate what a daemon – as a unique kind of Greater Being – is.

2 Hesiod and Plato on daemons

[Work in Progress]

[Scholia Veron. -> fatale palladium?]