Re: Plato on demons

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Tue Mar 24 1998 - 12:49:13 EST

This is not really, properly speaking, a B-Greek question, but since it
comes out of BAGD, let me try a brief response:

At 10:24 AM -0600 3/24/98, Steven Cox wrote:
>I just noticed Bauer's quote from Plato
>to illustrate "of independant beings who occupy
>a position somewhere between the human and the divine"
>what exactly does this mean?
>to [some] Greeks was it that they were naturally
>part of that between God and [the] mortal? (and hence truly
>"independant" as Bauer says)

DAIMONION is a diminutive of DAIMWN, which originally meant something like
"dispensing power" and which was often used of a god whose name was either
unknown or not deemed important to identify in this instance. DAIMONES are
nameless supernatural powers, generally thought subordinate to the Olympian
pantheon. Bauer cites in particular a celebrated passage from the Symposium
of Plato where Diotima is trying to define EROS as a supernatural power
that mediates between humanity and the gods. If you want to understand what
is meant by that phrase there, you really ought to look up that passage in
the Symposium and read more of it. DAIMWN and DAIMONION can mean so many
things across such a range that I don't think it would be fair to venture
any simple account. I'd check through the whole articles on these words in
an unabridged LSJ, preferably the most recent with the appendix by Glare.
This is one of those important Greek words where you simply cannot scan the
definition and find the one English word that seems to work in the Greek
passage you're looking at. It calls for a greater confrontation with the
whole article in the lexicon.

>Or were they caught in a limbo between as a result of the
>fall of QEOI or death of the bodies of QNHTOI
>I ask this because in Jewish literature unclean spirits
>are sometimes dead souls (as in the souls of Enoch's giants)
>and in various Asian forms of Buddhism/Shinto/Shamanism the
>common and garden demons (the ones who do the possessing of
>people and cursing crops and animals) tend to be dead rather
>than truly "independant beings" as Bauer. So what did the
>Greeks think?

Big question. A big distinction would have to be made between older Greek
religion and the Hellenistic period where all the different national
traditions are cross-fertilizing each other. I suspect that it's the
Hellenistic period you really want to know about, but that is enormously
complex, however superficially similar the phenomena are from one cult
group to another.

>So my question:
>Was it possible for either a QEOS or a QNHTOS to enter the

To be answered "yes," "no," or "NA"? I would probably mark all three of
these, but I don't have time to write the appropriate footnote.

>A related question
>The Greeks' comment in Acts 17:18 - is DAIMONION an insult
>here or neutral? "foreign ghosts" or "unknown gods"??

I think it's more neutral: it's taken for granted that different peoples
worship different gods; "foreign divinities" seems to me probably the most
fundamental sense here for XENA DAIMONIA.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649 OR

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Sat Apr 20 2002 - 15:39:16 EDT