Summary and Keywords
Thymos (or thumos), cognate with Indo-European words meaning “smoke,” is one of a number of terms in Greek which associate psychological activity with air and breath. In the Homeric poems, thymos is one of a family of terms associated with internal psychological process of thought, emotion, volition, and motivation. Though the range of the term’s applications in Homer is wide, that in itself gives us a sense of the unity of cognitive, affective, and desiderative processes in Homeric psychology. No post-Homeric author can rival that range, but something of the richness of the Homeric conception of thymos as an interrelated set of motivations re-emerges in Plato’s conception of the tripartite soul in the Republic and the Phaedrus. Plato’s thymos represents a pared-down model of human agency typified by one central desire or aim in life but also exhibiting whatever further capacities of persons are necessary to enable it to pursue that aim in interaction with the other elements of the personality. As in Homer, the metaphorical agency of Plato’s thymos does not detract from the notion of the individual as the real centre of agency. Plato’s conception of thymos, in turn, is a fundamental point of reference for Aristotle’s treatment of thymos as a type of desire (orexis). Though Aristotle tends more generally to use the term as a synonym for orgē (anger), there are also traces of older associations between thymos and qualities such as assertiveness and goodwill towards others. Elsewhere, thymos tends to mean “heart” or “mind” (as aspects of mental functioning), “spirit,” “inclination,” or “anger.” A selection of these uses is surveyed, but the article overall concentrates on Homer, Plato, and Aristotle, where the role of thymos is of a different order of importance.
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