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date: 25 February 2021

psychēlocked

  • J. N. Bremmer

Extract

Psychē is the Greek term for ‘*soul’, but modern concepts like psychology or psychiatry wrongly suggest that the Greeks viewed the soul in the modern way. In our oldest source, Homer, we still find a widespread soul system, in which psychē was the ‘free-soul’, which represented the individual personality only when the body was inactive: during swoons or at the moment of death. On the other hand, psychological functions were occupied by ‘body-souls’, such as thymos and menos. It is also the psychē that leaves for the Underworld and the dead are indeed frequently, but not exclusively, called psychai; on black-figure vases of c.500 bce we can see a homunculus, sometimes armed, hovering above the dead warrior.Towards the end of the Archaic age two important developments took place. First, *Pythagoras (1) and other philosophers introduced the notion of reincarnation. The development is still unexplained, but it certainly meant an upgrading of the soul, which we subsequently find in *Pindar called ‘immortal’.

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