Heraclitus Ηθος Ανθρωπος Δαιμων, (Ethos Anthropos Daimon)

"Character is destiny" = standard translation

One meaning of the Greek concept ethos is ‘to dwell" (for instance, in Heraclitus'  (ca. 544-483 B.C.E.) famous dictum, ethos anthropos daimon, or, following Heidegger's translation, "the (usual) place where humans dwell is the openness where the god (as the un-usual) can appear. ”

But one can also interpret it as “The Character (Ethos*) of Man (Anthropos) is in accordance with the Daimon.

*Ethos - the characteristic spirit of a culture, era, or community as manifested in its attitudes and aspirations.

* Daimon- the guardian spirit that determines one’s destiny. According to the “Myth of Er,” in Plato’s Republic, after one dies one has to choose one’s Daimon for the next life – after having drunk from the River Lethe (Oblivion/Forgetfulness) – whereby one drinks according to his Character from his just-lived life. One’s choice is therefore governed by his awareness, acquired in his life, of Aletheia (Truth) – i.e., an awareness that “thirst” – the need to drink from the River – is an illusion... Apparently, if this awareness is realized, one will not drink from the River Lethe, and thus, will not have to be “born again” in the circle of life-death. HOWEVER, if we are to understand Plato’s “story” in full, it would seem that even when one reaches a higher level of “awareness” (i.e., after one has “ascended from the Cave (of illusion)”) one is still obligated to return to “the Earth” to act as a “midwife” to others – to lead others out of Oblivion (Lethe)...

Eudaimonia – generally translated as “happiness” means “literally”: living one’s life in accordance with one’s Daimon...



Ἵπποι ταί με φέρουσιν, ὅσον τ' ἐπὶ θυμὸς ἱκάνοι, πέμπον, ἐπεί μ' ἐς ὁδὸν βῆσαν πολύφημον ἄγουσαι δαίμονος, κατὰ πάντ' ἄστη φέρει εἰδότα φῶτα·τῇ φερόμην· τῇ γάρ με πολύφραστοι φέρον ἵπποι ἅρμα τιταίνουσαι, κοῦραι δ' ὁδὸν ἡγεμόνευον.

The steeds that bear me carried me as far as ever my heart Desired, since they brought me and set me on the renowned Way of the goddess, who with her own hands conducts the man who knows through all things. On what way was I borne along; for on it did the wise steeds carry me, drawing my car, and maidens showed the way.

Αἱ γὰρ στεινότεραι πλῆντο πυρὸς ἀκρήτοιο, αἱ δ' ἐπὶ ταῖς νυκτός, μετὰ δὲ φλογὸς ἵεται αἶσα· ἐν δὲ μέσῳ τούτων δαίμων πάντα κυϐερνᾷ· πάντα γὰρ <ἣ> στυγεροῖο τόκου καὶ μίξιος ἄρχει πέμπουσ' ἄρσενι θῆλυ μιγῆν τό τ' ἐναντίον αὖτις ἄρσεν θηλυτέρῳ.
Πρώτιστον μὲν Ἔρωτα θεῶν μητίσατο πάντων ...

The narrower circles are filled with unmixed fire, and those surrounding them with night, and in the midst of these rushes their portion of fire. In the midst of these circles is the divinity that directs the course of all things; for she rules over all painful birth and all begetting, driving the female to the embrace of the male, and the male to that of the female.
First of all the gods she contrived Eros.



Democritus' ethical theory does not seem consistent with his Atomist theory of Being and knowledge, as far as we see from his Fragments.
His ethics is an Eudaimonism (the criterion of the moral right consists in pursuing or being conducive to pursing happiness -- eudaimonia = the well-being of spirit (daimonion)). According to Democritus, this happiness consists in pleasure and fulfillment of cheerfulness (euthymié or euesto) or avoidance of pain or suffering.
Democritus wrote a treatise on cheerfulness (Peri euthymiés), which was later used by Seneca and Plutarch.

"Happiness dwelleth not in herds nor in gold; the soul is the dwelling-place of the 'daimon'." (Frag. 171)

"The best thing for a man is to pass his life so as to have as much joy and as little trouble as may be." (Frag. 189)

In order to attain well being (euthymia) or cheerfulness (euesto), it is required to weigh, deliberate, judge and distinguish various pleasure. Democritus said that we should be guided, therefore, by the principle of symmetry or harmony, thus we shall be able to attain health = the calmness for body and the cheerfulness = the calmness of soul.


Daimons were generally understood to be beings hierarchically posterior to the gods and prior to heroes and men.(14)  The Pythagoreans exhorted one to

Honor first the immortal gods, in the order established by custom.  Revere the oath.  Pay reverence next to the benevolent heroes and the daimons of the underworld.(15)

 For a Platonist, the daimon was a protector and guide, acting not from without, but from within.  This interior guidance and aid could bring about a great illumination and upliftment to one who was receptive to it.  As Proclus wrote:

It must be said that Socrates primarily in his own discursive reason and in his knowledge of reality benefited from the inspiration of his daimon, who awakened him to divine love; and secondarily, that even concerning the things of life it restored and regulated his providential care for those less perfect; and, as far as the daimon's own activity is concerned, that he received the light proceeding from it not only in his discursive reason or in his opinionative power, but in his subtle body,(16) the daimonic illumination spreading suddenly through every part of his life and then moving sense perception itself.  For it is evident that although the activity of the daimon is the same, reason benefits from it in one way, imagination in another, and sense perception in another, and each of the elements which constitute us is affected and moved by the daimon in a distinct way.  Therefore the voice did not act on Socrates from without, as an impression, but from within, the inspiration, having traversed his whole soul and penetrated as far as the organs of sense perception, finally became a voice, discerned by the consciousness rather than by sense perception; for such are the illuminations of good daimons and of the gods. (17)

(14) See, for instance, Plato, Republic 392a and 427b; Iamblichus, Life of Pythagoras 31, 37 and 100; Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers 8:23; Porphyry, Life of Pythagoras 38. 

(15)  Golden Verses of the Pythagoreans 1-3.  Translation ©2005 by Robert K. Clark.  All rights reserved.  I have translated cthonious daimonas as "daimons of the underworld".  Hierocles, in his commentary, interprets this passage as referring to terrestrial (ekikthonioi) daimons.  However, as it has been pointed out, "the adjective ' cthonious'  has no other meaning than 'underground'."  (Noel Anjoulat, Le Néo-platonisme Alexandrin d'Hiérocles d'Alexandrie (Leiden: Brill, 1986), p. 182.  This has been noted elsewhere, as in the translation of the Golden Verses of the Pythagoreans by N. Rowe included in M. Dacier, The Life of Pythagoras (York Beach: Weiser, 1981), p. 202.  See also  Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon (Oxford: Oxford University Press, Eighth Edition, 1940) and A. Bailly, Dictionnaire Grec-Français (Paris: Hachette, 1950).  The unusual order followed here, that of gods—heroes—daimons, is discussed in Johan C. Thom, The Pythagorean Golden Verses (Leiden: Brill, 1995), pp. 103-112.     

(16)  pneuma.   While the general meaning of pneuma is "air", "breath" or "spirit", it acquired special meanings in the Neoplatonic and Stoic traditions.  See G.R.S. Mead, The Doctrine of the Subtle Body in Western Tradition (London: Watkins, 1919), pp. 47 & 77; Robert Christian Kissling, "The ochema-pneuma of the Neoplatonists and the de Insomniis of Syrenius of Cyrene", American Journal of Philology 43 (1922),  pp. 318-330; G. Verbeke, L'évolution de la doctrine de pneuma du Stoicisme à St. Augustin (Paris: Louvain, 1945); and E.R. Dodds, tr. Proclus: The Elements of Theology , Second Edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1963), Appendix B, pp. 313-321.  

(17)  Proclus, Commentary on the First Alcibiades of Plato 80. 4-22.  Translation ©2005 by Robert K. Clark.  All rights reserved. 


Empedocles was a follower of Pythagoras, hence a believer in the transmigration of souls, and hence also a vegetarian. He claims to be a daimon, a divine or potentially divine being, who, having been banished from the immortals gods for ‘three times countless years’ for committing the sin of meat-eating and forced to suffer successive reincarnations in a purificatory journey through the different orders of nature and elements of the cosmos, has now achieved the most perfect of human states and will be reborn as an immortal. He also claims seemingly magical powers including the ability to revive the dead and to control the winds and rains.


5. Ethics and the journey of the soul


a. The daimons and transmigration of souls

Plutarch cites the following fragment as coming from 'the beginning of Empedocles' philosophy’, fr. B 115:

There is a decree of necessity, ratified long ago by gods, eternal and sealed by broad oaths, that whenever one in error, from fear, defiles his own limbs, having by his error made false the oath he swore - daimons to whom life long-lasting is apportioned – he wanders from the blessed ones for three-times countless years, being born throughout the time as all kinds of mortal forms, exchanging one hard way of life for another. For the force of air pursues him into the sea, and sea spits him out onto earth's surface, earth casts him in the rays of blazing sun, and sun into the eddies of air; one takes him from another, and all abhor him. I too am now one of these, an exile from the gods and a wanderer, having put my trust in raving Strife.

In fr. 115 Empedocles describes himself as a 'daimon', a being to whom long life has been granted, but who has committed the sin of meat-eating and bloodshed and consequently is punished by banishment from the company of the immortal gods. The banishment lasts three myriads of years, either 'three-times countless years' or thirty thousand years. In either case he must atone for his sin by being repeatedly reincarnated into all the different living forms of the different orders of nature. Elsewhere he says: 'For before now I have been at some time boy and girl, bush, bird, and a mute fish in the sea' (fr. B 117). Empedocles then, has already suffered this nearly endless cycle of reincarnations having been seemingly hurled down to the lowest rung of the scale of nature but has worked his way up, has been purified at last and, as he tells us in fr. B. 112, is himself now an immortal god. There are others too numbered among the daimons, those who 'at the end ... come among men on earth as prophets, minstrels, physicians and leaders, and from these they arise as gods, highest in honour.' (fr. 146). It is not entirely clear whether we are meant to imagine the daimons as an entirely separate class of blessed being with a different creation and a different fate from ourselves, the ordinary mortals, or as people who began as ordinary mortals but who, having purified themselves and having achieved perfection, are now approaching divine status. The latter reading would perhaps make more sense in terms of Empedocles' didactic ethical mission: if we are all potentially perfectable, then his purificatory teaching becomes much more crucial. Empedocles himself, as his life shows, has achieved all four of the states that qualify the daimons for immortality, he is a prophet, a minstrel, a physician and a leader, and can now pass on his wisdom to those on earth whom he is about to leave behind when he rejoins the company of the immortals. As can be seen from the description above, there are strong similarities between Empedocles and the teachings of Pythagoras on the transmigration of souls. Empedocles is clearly a follower of Pythagoras, in his ethics and psychology at least, and shares his vegetarianism and pacifism.


while Socrates was not an outwardly religious person, he seems to have maintained an inner religious faith and, in fact, believed that some benevolent god made periodic contact with him through a sign, or daimonion. Through Plato, we are told that the sign is only negative, informing Socrates when he is about to go wrong. While it is not explicitly mentioned, it is probably the cause of Socrates' abrupt reconsideration, in Lysis (211e), where he says, "But then a most unaccountable suspicion came across me, and I felt that the conclusion was untrue."

Socrates demonstrates how the Sophists twist meanings and the direction of arguments by using words irresponsibly and not attending to meanings, as we should. At the end, mimicking the Sophist's thirst for aggressive argument, Socrates says that he delights like the hunter at the end of the chase.

No sooner has he said this but Socrates receives a "certain suspicion" that their conclusions are not true. This is Socrates' daimon which keeps him on the path to truth. At this point (218d), the Socratic argument begins. In effect, Socrates suggests that, rather than just pursuing a verbal argument for the benefit of winning, we need to discover some first principles that lead us to the true meaning of friendship, principles that can help us truly judge when friendship happens. These principles are rarely very far away from traditional wisdom as conveyed to us by the poets. The issue is one of learning how to hear and understand the poets. The Sophists teach a way of using the poets to one's advantage; Socrates encourages us to seek the ways that they have always been understood.

Though in Homer the words θεοί (gods) and δαίμονες (divinities) were practically synonymous, later writers like Plato developed a distinction between the two.[5] Plato in Cratylus (398 b) gives the etymology of δαίμονες (daimones) from δαήμονες (daēmones) (=knowing or wise), though in fact the root of the word is more probably daiō (=to distribute destinies).[6] In Plato's Symposium, the priestess Diotima teaches Socrates that love is not a god, but rather a "great daemon" (202d). She goes on to explain that "everything daimonic is between divine and mortal" (202d-e), and she describes 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..." (202e). In Plato's Apology of Socrates, Socrates claimed to have a daimonion (literally, a "divine something")[7] that frequently warned him - in the form of a "voice" - against mistakes but never told him what to do.[8] However, the Platonic Socrates never refers to the daimonion as a daimōn; it was always an impersonal "something" or "sign".[9]


Plato [427-347 B.C.E.] asserts that "[a]s regards the supreme form of soul in us, we must conceive that the god has conferred it upon each...as a guiding genius [daimon] - that which...lifts us from earth toward our celestial affinity, like a plant whose roots are not in the earth, but in the heavens". (Timaeus (90-90d))


5) p. 115, John Burnet, Plato's Euthyprho, Apology of Socrates, and Crito, Clarendon 1924.

6) "daimōn", in Liddell, Henry and Robert Scott. 1996. A Greek-English Lexicon.

7) Plato, Apology 31c-d, 40a; p. 16, Burnet, Plato's Euthyprho, Apology of Socrates, and Crito.

8) pp. 16-17, Burnet, Plato's Euthyprho, Apology of Socrates, and Crito; pp. 99-100, M. Joyal, "To Daimonion and the Socratic Problem", Apeiron vol. 38 no. 2, 2005.

9) p. 16, Burnet, Plato's Euthyprho, Apology of Socrates, and Crito; p. 63, P. Destrée, "The Daimonion and the Philosophical Mission", Apeiron vol. 38 no. 2, 2005.