Demon - Daimon / Daemon; Greek Word of The Day Lost in Translation.

Nymphs and Satyr,  William-Adolphe Bouguereau, 1873
Nymphs and Satyr,
 William-Adolphe Bouguereau, 1873

What is a demon, or, in Greek, a daimon?

You are probably thinking; a malevolent being, something rather devilish, something negative.

Am I right?

Sorry folks, but, you’re wrong!

You can be forgiven for thinking this, as, today, that is exactly how we see demons, or daimons, but, it was not always so.

In ancient Greece the word daimon (I’ll use the Greek form), derived from the Greek verb “Daiesthai”, meaning to divide, or to distribute, had very positive overtones.

Daimons, in ancient Greece, were considered divine powers, fates, guardian spirits, or angels, who gave guidance and protection.

The Guardian Angel William Russell Flint
The Guardian Angel
William Russell Flint
Daimons scarcely figure in Ancient Greek art or mythology, their presence was felt, rather than seen.

There were two types of daimons in ancient Greece, Satyrs, or shaggy goats, more mischievous than evil, in the style of the pipe-playing, Greek God Pan, or Shakespeare’s Puck, from “A Midsummer night’s dream”

Pan - by Marc Debauch
Pan Marc Debauch
"In Greek mythology, a 
satyr (Greek: σάτυρος satyros), pronounced sátyros is one of a troop of ithyphallic male companions of Dionysus with goat-like features and often permanent erection. Early artistic representations sometimes include horse-like legs, but in 6th-century BC black-figure pottery human legs are the most common. In Roman Mythology there is a concept similar to satyrs, with goat-like features: the faun, being half-man, half-goat, who roamed the woods and mountains. In myths they are often associated with pipe-playing."

The other daimons were the divine ones, of “The law”, or “The word”, the rules by which one lived their life.

The daimon “Nomos” (Divine law), was married to the daimon “Eusebia”( Piety), their daughter was “’Dike”(Justice)

The “Good” daimons were referred to as “Eudaimon”( Eudaimonia), or, “Agathodaimon”, noble spirits.

The not so good ones, resembling the jinns, or genies of Arab folklore, were called “Kakodaimon”, such as the “Keres”, daughters of Nyx (Goddess of night) and Erebus  (The personification of shadows), who escaped from the box, opened by Pandora.

Pandora John William Waterhouse
John William Waterhouse

The Greek idea of daimon, first appeared in ancient Greece, through the works of Plato, (Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, student of Socrates).

  We see, in Plato's masterpiece, Symposium, how Diotima, a female philosopher, teaches Socrates, how love (Eros), is a great daimon, and that;

"Everything daemonic is between divine and mortal"

Diotima goes on to describe daimons as;

"Interpreting and transporting human things to the gods and divine things to men; entreaties and sacrifices from below, and ordinances and requitals from above..."

In other words, daimons are demi-Gods, with divine power, existing between heaven and earth, playing the role of intermediaries, between humans and gods.

  Diotima of Mantinea. Ancient Greece.  Mentioned by Plato in his Symposium
Diotima of Mantinea. Ancient Greece.
 Mentioned by Plato in his Symposium.

In Plato's The Apology, Socrates claimed to have his own, life-time daimon, a favour from the Gods,  that frequently warned him, in the form of a "voice", if he was about to make a mistake, of bad judgment, or danger, but never told him how to act, just advised Socrates, so to speak.

Homer, in ancient Greece (8th century BC), who is best known for the two epic poems the The Iliad and the The Odyssey, considered Gods and daimons to be similar, but distinct.

Homer Ancient Greek Poet
Ancient Greek Poet

The Algerian writer, Apuleius of Madaurus, who lived in The Roman Empire, and, studied Platonism in Athens, states in his book “Metamorphoses”,or, The Golden Ass, that daimons are good souls, blessed souls, with no connotations of malevolence or evil, and goes on to say;

"They are intermediate powers of a divine order. They fashion dreams, inspire soothsayers,"

By the time of the early Roman Empire, cult statues, were seen by pagans and Christians alike, as being inhabited by spirits of the Gods, daimons, and were fed, and even dressed, to be paraded, and worshipped at religious festivals.

One such cult image, created by the ancient Greek sculptor Pheidias, was that of Athena Parthenos, Greek Goddess of civilization, wisdom, and just war.

Athena Varvakeion, small Roman replica of the Athena Parthenos by Phidias.  Found in Athens near the Varvakeion school, hence the name.  First half of the 3rd c. AD. National Archaeological Museum in Athens
Athena Varvakeion, small Roman replica of the Athena Parthenos by Phidias.
 Found in Athens near the Varvakeion school, hence the name.
 First half of the 3rd c. AD. National Archaeological Museum in Athens

So far, so good, the daimons are still in favour, still worshiped, still considered as guardian angels, having good, blessed souls.

What happened to change that, how did these delightful beings, become supernatural, malevolent, fallen angels of unclean spirit?

Well, religion raised its head, significantly, the three Abrahamic religions; Judaism, Christianity and Islam, specifically; Christianity.

Abrahamic religions
"Abrahamic religions are the monotheistic faiths emphasizing and tracing their common origin to Abraham or recognizing a spiritual tradition identified with him. They are one of the three major divisions in comparative religion, along with Indian religions and East Asian religions. As of the early 21st century, it was estimated that 54% of the world's population (3.8 billion people) considered themselves adherents of the Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam."

The Abrahmic religions called the cult images idols, and the worshipping of them idolatry.
These statues and effigies, were manmade, with no divine power, no spirit, and were no longer considered beautiful.

“Their land also is full of idols; they worship the work of their own hands, that which their own fingers have made”.
. Isaiah 2.8, reflected in Isaiah 17.8.

The above was stated by Isaiah, the 8th century BCE Jewish prophet, who gave his name, to the Book of Isaiah, Old Testament.

The term daimon, acquired much negativity with the Septuagint Bible, the Greek Old Testament translation of the Hebrew bible.

This could literally have been a case of “Lost in translation”, as was the case when the  The New Testament was translated from Greek, the Old Testament from Hebrew and Aramaic, and the Apocrypha from Greek and Latin in 1611, and became The King James Bible.

  The Greek word daimon, was translated as the Greek word “Diabolos”, devil, in English.

The King James Bible
The King James Bible
Saint Paul or, Saul of Tarsus, as he is also known, and who converted from Judaism to Christianity, after experiencing an epiphany, on the road to Damascus, considered the daimons of Greek and Roman history, to be malevolent beings, and the first thing converted Gentiles needed to do, was stop worshiping these evil creatures.

Saint_Paul. Apostle of the Gentiles  Bartolomeo_Montagna
Saint_Paul. Apostle of the Gentiles
The late Romans, by this time, believed daimons could take on human form, starting plagues and riots.

In contrast, Saint Augustine, Augustine of Hippo, theologian and philosopher, the most important church father in Western Christianity, considered daimons to be purely psychological, with the ability to possess a man, and cause illusions.

As was often the case, church fathers, had a mania for studying non-Christian ancient authors, poo pooing their works, declaring them to be heresy.

 Saint Augustine was no different, after writing his book Confessions, in which he describes his life, before he “Saw the light”, as one of debauchery and begs for atonement, Augustine goes on to ridicule the works of his fellow African author, Apuleius of Madauros.

Saint Augustine, in another of his books,The City of God ridicules Apuleius’s book “Metamorphoses”, (The only Latin novel that has survived in its entirety, an imaginative, irreverent, and amusing work that relates the ludicrous adventures of one Lucius, who experiments with magic and is accidentally turned into an ass), calling it

“The Golden Ass”

Augustine specifically ridicules Apulieius’s believe that daimons are;

 “Iintermediate powers of a divine order”,

Augustine states, that the only Intermediate power, is Jesus Christ.

Saint Augustine Caravaggio 1600
Saint Augustine
Caravaggio 1600

Today, daimons take the leading role, in cults and the occult, where they are recognized as evil, with the power to posses living creatures.

Mischievous Pan, jolly satyr of ancient Greece, has been replaced by Baphomet, a pagan deity, a product of Christian folklore revived in the 19th century as a figure of occultism & Satanism.

 It first appeared in 11th & 12th century as a corruption of "Mahomet" or "Muhammad" & later appeared as a pagan idol in trial transcripts of the Inquisition of 14th century Knights Templar

 It since been associated with a "Sabbatic Goat", or Satan; representing duality of male & female, Heaven & Hell, night & day, as above so below signified by raised right arm & downward left.


Where daimons are concerned, Guardian Angels have been replaced by Fallen Angels, and that thing on your shoulder, call it an angel, call it your conscience,
 well, watch out, it might just possess you, in the worst way possible!

 To learn, and understand more about Greece, and Greek mythology, you can't go wrong with "Gods, Demigods and Demons"  a concise, yet wide-ranging handbook of Greek mythology, an introduction to the great myths of ancient Greece.

 Here are the gods of the Olympian pantheon, the demigods, demons, heroes, and many of the best-loved (as well as lesser-known) cycles, fables and nature myths.

  Readable and informative, it conveys the significance of Greek mythology and its place at the core of Western culture. It evokes the majesty, as well as the all-too-human foibles, of the Greek deities and their acolytes.

 Whether they find themselves caught up by the single combat of Hector and Achilles before the looming walls of Troy; or find themselves transported, like Odysseus, by the haunting song of the Sirens; or are thrilled by the quest of Jason and his Argonauts for the fabled Golden Fleece - enthusiasts of myth and ancient history will discover many stories to enjoy here.

 "Gods, Demigods and Demons" is both a helpful guide and a one-stop resource that can be consulted again and again. It will prove an indispensable companion to the world of the ancient Greeks and the gods they worshiped.

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