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Eudaimonia

Greek philosophic term of the week: Eudaimonia (common trans: "happiness, bliss, blessedness"). Though commonly translated as happiness, eudaimonia has all the hallmarks of a symbolic expression  which became an idiom and eventually a stand-alone noun. The expression would have been transparent in its meaning back in a certain epoch, but certainly not so in ours. The root words of the symbol are "eu" ("good") and "daimonia" ("a spirit").


To say that a person is eudaimonia is not necessarily to say that they are "good spirited" however, though the older English expression "to be in good spirits" comes close to the same mark. Rather, we should think of one being watched over or guided by a good daimon, much as a Roman might speak of being guided by a powerful genius.


We see evidence for this meaning in Plato's "Politeia", in the closing scene of the Myth of Er, in which the gathered souls who are destined to be reborn are enjoined to 'choose their daimon' for the next life. It also places in context the saying of Solon (repeated and contemplated by Aristotle in the "Ethics"), that one should not count a man eudaimonia before he's dead - translating the expression as "happy" tends to put a harsh and peculiar spin on it, as Aristotle noted. It is in fragment 119 by Heraclitus, however, that that archaic experience of being guided by a daimom in life, seems to have been first articulated as a sense of personal calling and responsibility: "Ethos anthropo daimon" ("A human being's character is their fate.") And, it is in the experience of Socrates that we encounter a peculiar man who insists that he avoids doing anything that his "little daimon" warns him against.

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