A protecting spirit. The belief in such spirits existed both in Greece and at Rome. The Greeks called them δαίμονες (daimones) and appear to have believed in them from the earliest times, though Homer does not mention them. Hesiod1 speaks of δαίμονες, and says that they were 30,000 in number, and that they dwelled on earth unseen by mortals, as the ministers of Zeus, and as the guardians of men and of justice. He further conceives them to be the souls of the righteous men who lived in the golden age of the world.2
The Greek philosophers took up this idea, and developed a complete theory of daemons. Thus we read in Plato,3 that daemons are assigned to men at the moment of their birth, that thenceforward they accompany men through life, and that after death they conduct their souls to Hades. Pindar, in several passages, speaks of a γενέθλιος δαίμων (genethlios daimōn), that is, the spirit watching over the fate of man from the hour of his birth, which appears to be the same as the dii genitales of the Romans.4
The daemons are further described as the ministers and companions of the gods, who carry the prayers of men to the gods, and the gifts of the gods to men,5 and accordingly float in immense numbers in the space between heaven and earth. The daemons, however, who were exclusively the ministers of the gods, seem to have constituted a distinct class; thus, the Corybantes, Dactyls, and Cabeiri are called the ministering daemons of the great gods;6 Gigon, Tychon, and Orthages are the daemons of Aphrodite;7 Hadreus, the daemon of Demeter,8 and Acratus, the daemon of Dionysus.9
It should, however, be observed that all daemons were divided into two great classes, viz. good and evil daemons — eudaemons (εὐδαίμονες) and cacodaemons (κακοδαίμονες).
The works which contain most information on this interesting subject are Appuleius, De Deo Socratis, and Plutarch, De Genio Socratis and De Defectu Oraculorum. Later writers apply the term δαίμονες also to the souls of the departed.10
Socrates claimed that he had a lifelong daemon that he regarded as more trustworthy than omens. The daemon sounded warnings when things were about to go badly, but never gave orders as to what he should do.
- Works and Days, 235.
- Works and Days, 107; comp. Diogenes Laërtius, vii, 79.
- Phaedrus, p. 107.
- Olympian Odes viii, 16; xiii, 101; Pythian Odes iv, 167; comp. Aeschylus. Seven Against Thebes, 639.
- Plato. Symposium, p. 202; Apuleius. De Deo Socratis, 7.
- Strabo. Geography x, p. 472.
- Hesychius, s.v. Γιγνῶν; Tzetzes on Lycophron, 538.
- Etymologicum Magnum, s.v. Ἀδρεύς.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece i, 2.4.
- Lucian. The Passing of Peregrinus, 36; Dorville, on Chariton of Aphrodisias, i, 4.
- Smith, William. (1870). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London: Taylor, Walton, and Maberly.
This article incorporates text from Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (1870) by William Smith, which is in the public domain.