Reconsidering the Concept of Daimon in Homer: A Revised Interpretation of the Term and Evaluation of its Role in the Poems

Eleni Katsae

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

358 Downloads (Pure)


The thesis focuses on the concept of the term daimôn in Homer. It offers a new interpretation of the term and an evaluation of its role in the poems. The aim of my research is to build upon the three ways in which the term was used: first, in a general sense; second, as a term whose meaning depended on specific literary context; and, third, as a purposefully ‘ambiguous’ symbol. While the term daimôn is certainly associated with several distinct aspects of the superhuman ‘other’ in epic, I argue that the term functions in two principle ways: first, as a means by which mortals represent forces beyond their control and understanding; and, second, as an ‘identifiable sign’ of the ‘mysterious’ and the ‘unknown’ in the epics. The term daimôns hows that, regardless of what is ‘known’ and ‘unknown’ in human experience, the ‘unknown’ part of the world of gods and men has real consequences for humanity. This divine influence over mortal life is the essential supernatural characteristic of those forces associated with the term daimôn.
The thesis contains an Introduction, followed by four main chapters.
Chapter one provides a review of scholarship; it analyses the term’s uncertain etymology and examines the history of the scholarly tradition about the word. This discussion is divided into two parts. The first considers the basic, divergent etymological explanations for the term daimôn and its derivatives: the vocative δαιμόνιε and the formula δαίμονι ἶσος. One explanation offers the meaning of the word as ‘allotter of one’s lot’, while the other with the signification of the ‘disruptor of man’s life’). The second part shows how the widely divergent usage, etymological variants and different readings of the term daimôn generated different general interpretations that led to wide differences of opinion among scholars of Greek religion. Specifically, some scholars associated the term with the anthropomorphic gods while others associated it with an unspecified supernatural power. This chapter argues such conflicting and incompatible positions problematise the term in such a way as to merit a reevaluation of its meaning and significance in the Homeric epics.
Chapter two applies narratological theory, particularly the notion of focalization, to examine the term multiple meanings the term daimôn has when read in the context of its various uses through the poems. That is to say, depending on the context, the term daimôn can refer to three different concepts: (1) a specific god, (2) the Olympian gods as a group, (3) fate and (4) a mysterious supernatural power. This narratological analysis will reveal that, behind these varying applications lies a consistent understanding of ther term as representing some power beyond mortal comprehension. In line with my main argument, chapter two ultimately uses focalization to highlight the term’s qualification as a ‘single’ ‘complex’ signifier that maintains a unified yet multi-faceted supernatural dimension to the human world.
Chapter three considers three aspects of the term’s function within Homeric poetic language and style, specifically its function as (1) a narrative device, (2) a formula within epic discourse, and (3) an element within Homeric type-scenes. This stylistic analysis demonstrates how this single word can be associated with a number of diverse entities, mortal, divine and superhuman. The word is used in two particularly significant ways: first, in the formulaic phrase δαίμονι ἶσος and, second, in the vocative form δαιμόνιε. These uses highlight the role of the term as a ‘spoken sign’ of the mysterious, the non-rational and the excessive as it relates to both gods and mortals in the epics. An understanding of its function in these different contexts points to the complicated relationship between the gods and mortals.
Chapter four argues that the complicated significations of daimôn can, in fact, be reconfigured as the key to a revised interpretation of the ‘epistemic experience’ within the world of Homeric epic. This chapter suggests that, alongside the existential constructs of ‘men’ and ‘gods’ in Homer, we should also consider an essential, possibly simpler distinction, between ‘what is known and is understood in experience’ and the phenomenological ‘unknown’. From this perspective, the concept of daimôn can be seen as a ‘typical expression’, a ‘phraseological byte’ and as the label for a broad range of ‘the unknown’. From this, I conclude that the use of the term is how the poem’s deal with the conceptual problem of understanding actions and forces beyond man’s control. The term is a verbal device that allows the ‘beyond’ to be organised and expressed while nevertheless maintaining the different ways this unknowability is manifested in the complex but coherent world of Homeric epic.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Kahane, Ahuvia, Supervisor
Award date1 Jan 2015
Publication statusUnpublished - 2014


  • Eleni Katsae Homeric Daimon

Cite this