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Thumos (also commonly spelled 'thymos'; Greek : θυμός) is the Ancient Greek concept of "spiritedness" (as in "a spirited stallion" or "spirited debate"). The word indicates a physical association with breath or blood and is also used to express the human desire for recognition. It is not a somatic feeling, as nausea and giddiness are.



In Homer's works, thumos was used to denote emotions, desire, or an internal urge. Thumos was a permanent possession of living man, to which his thinking and feeling belonged. When a Homeric hero is under emotional stress, he may externalize his thumos and converse with or scold it. [1]

Plato's Phaedrus and his later work The Republic discuss thumos as one of the three constituent parts of the human psyche. In the Phaedrus, Plato depicts logos as a charioteer driving the two horses eros and thumos (erotic love and spiritedness are to be guided by logos). In the Republic (Book IV) soul becomes divided into (See Plato's tripartite theory of soul): [1]

However, the term "emotion" is relatively modern. It was introduced into academic discussion as a catch-all term to passions, sentiments and affections. [2]

Plato suggested we have three parts of our soul, which in combination makes us better in our destined vocation, and is a hidden basis for developing our innate ideas. Thumos may draw from this to strengthen man with our reasoning, this tripartite division is as follows:

  1. Reason (thoughts, reflections, questioning)
  2. Spiritedness (ego, glory, honor) and
  3. Desires (natural e.g. food, drink, sex vs unnatural e.g. money, power).

Democritus used "euthymia" (i.e. "good thumos") to refer to a condition in which the soul lives calmly and steadily, being disturbed by no fear, superstition, or other passions. For Democritus euthymia was one of the root aspects the goal of human life.

Greek polytheism

Achilles, in the Illiad, cares for his own honour; he keeps gods and deities in his heart; "...the thunderous lord of Hera might grant you the winning of glory, you must not set your mind on fighting the Trojans, whose delight is in battle, without me. So you will diminish my honour." [3]

Thymos and democracy: megalothymia and isothymia

"Megalothymia" refers to the need to be recognized as superior to others, while "isothymia" is the need to be recognized as merely equal to others. Both terms are neoclassical compounds, coined by Francis Fukuyama.

In his book The End of History and the Last Man , the author mentions "thymos" in relation to liberal democracy and recognition. He relates Socrates' ideas about Thymos and desire to how people want to be recognized within their government. Problems emerge when other people do not recognize another's Thymos, and therefore do not provide the justice that it requires. In order for people to exist in harmony, Fukuyama argues, isothymia rather than megalothymia must be used to satisfy the human need for recognition. Any system that creates political inequality is necessarily feeding the megalothymia of some members while denying it to others.

Fukuyama explains how Thymos relates to history with the example of anti-communism in relation to the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and China. He states, "We cannot understand the totality of the revolutionary phenomenon unless we appreciate the working of thymotic anger and the demand for recognition that accompanied communism's economic crisis." [4]

Modern concepts

Harvey Mansfield, author of the 2006 book Manliness , bringing Thumos to political science, in relation to thumos; “Politics is about what makes you angry, not so much about what you want. Your wants do matter, but mainly because you feel you are entitled to have them satisfied and get angry when they are not.” Politics, which political science misses; “is about who deserves to be more important.” [5] [6]

Robert Kagan defines Thumos as; “a spiritedness and ferocity in defence of clan, tribe, city, or state.” [7] [8] Kagan's argument is men in Western civilization are lacking in thumos, manly virtue, it is what leads many men to self-sacrifice, men must preserve enough thumos to be prepared to die for their country, lest they become decadent and ultimately subservient.

Cultural references

See also

Related Research Articles

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Psychagogy is a psycho-therapeutic method of influencing behavior by suggesting desirable life goals. In a more spiritual context, it can mean guidance of the soul. It is considered to be one of many predecessors to modern psychology. It was used to describe the goals of the ancient Greek theater sense the goal of a play was to teach the Greek civilians higher concepts. If the play had no higher teachings but still captivating it was consider "entertainment". Entertainment is about someone coming into and controlling your mind Εnter] - from Latin intrō, from intrā (“inside”) [-tain] - from Latin sub- + teneo e.g. sustain, obtain. [-ment] - from Latin mēns and it's used today as an English translation for the word Psychagogy

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The search for a hypothetical soul and its location have been a subject of much speculation throughout history. In early medicine and anatomy, the location of the soul was hypothesized to be located within the body. Aristotle and Plato understood the soul as a corporeal form but closely related to the physical world. The Hippocratic Corpus chronicles the evolution of thought that the soul is located within the body and is manifested in diseased conditions. Later, Galen explicitly used Plato's description of the corporeal soul to physical locations in the body. The logical (λογιστικός) in the brain, the spirited (θυμοειδές) in the heart, and the appetitive (ἐπιθυμητικόν) in the liver. Da Vinci had a similar approach to Galen, locating the soul, or ssenso comune, as well as the imprensiva (intellect) and memoria (memory) in different ventricles of the brain. Today neuroscientists and other fields of science that deal with the body and the mind, such as psychology, bridge the gap between what is physical and what is corporeal.

On Passions, also translated as On Emotions or On Affections, is a work by the Greek Stoic philosopher Chrysippus dating from the 3rd-century BCE. The book has not survived intact, but around seventy fragments from the work survive in a polemic written against it in the 2nd-century CE by the philosopher-physician Galen. In addition Cicero summarises substantial portions of the work in his 1st-century BCE work Tusculan Disputations. On Passions consisted of four books; of which the first three discussed the Stoic theory of emotions and the fourth book discussed therapy and had a separate title—Therapeutics. Most surviving quotations come from Books 1 and 4, although Galen also provides an account of Book 2 drawn from the 1st-century BCE Stoic philosopher Posidonius. Little or nothing is known about Book 3.


  1. 1 2 Long, A. A. Psychological Ideas in Antiquity. In: Dictionary of the History of Ideas. 1973-74 [2003]. link.
  2. Dixon,T. 2003. From Passions to Emotions: The Creation of a Secular Psychological Category. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 39. link.
  3. Homer (2003). The Iliad (Wordsworth Classics) (New ed.). Ware, Hertfordshire: England: Wordsworth Classics. ISBN   978-1853262425.
  4. Fukuyama, Francis. The End of History and the Last Man. Francis Fukuyama 2006: New York, NY.
  5. Mansfield, Harvey. "How to understand politics". Retrieved 26 May 2019.
  6. Gewertz, Ken. "Reintroduce Thumos". Retrieved 26 May 2019.
  7. "Put Thumos in Your Tank". Retrieved 26 May 2019.
  8. Kagan, Robert (2008). The Return of History and the End of Dreams . New York: United States and Random House: UK: Knopf. ISBN   978-0307269232 . Retrieved May 26, 2019.
  9. Frederick A. de Armas, Don Quixote among the Saracens: A Clash of Civilizations and Literary Genres. University of Toronto Press, 2011, pp. 162 ff.
  10. "Phanerothyme: A Western Approach to the Religious Use of Psychochemicals". 1968-01-01. Retrieved 2017-02-01.