Genius of Ancient Greece and where and how it is expressed.

Ingenium is an ancient concept, with synonyms in Sanscrit and often equated with eupheuia, ‘ευφυία’ in Greek. Though the French esprit, the English wit and its German cognate Witz have no etymological relationship to ingenium, they are all more or less synonyms (at least a certain sense of each of those words), and there is no reason to believe that the Greeks did not possess that same conception or a similar one which is by no means unique to Roman thinking.

It is possible that euphia was not only associated with seeing similarities (even in disparate things), but that Aristotle closely linked it with poetic ability, because it is the basis of metaphor. Most interesting, though, is that he found it was a trait associated with melancholics! Ingenium is actually linked to genius, which was thought to be a substance originally, namely, the moisture of breath. That is because the Greeks apparently believed that the seat of mind was in the “phrenes” (= lungs), not the brain, and “thymos” was regarded as a kind of visceral, natural mind, one affected by booze, too–which would be fine with most poets, what?

Breath and soul are closely related to the ancient Greek Mind. One might want to look at Aristotle “De Anima” I do not think the ancient Greeks had a concept of genius other than what is said about Daedalus. We say ‘He is a genius’. They would have said ‘He is like Daedalus’.

From “An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon” based on Liddell and Scott and published in 2001 separate definitions can be found. The problem is that both words are slightly ambiguous with different meanings attached that must depend upon the context. The definitions follow:

euphuēs --
   I. well-grown, shapely. goodly
   II. 1. of good natural disposition
       2. naturally suited or adapted
   iii. of good natural parts

euphuia --

   I. natural goodness of shape, shapeliness

   II. good natural parts, cleveness, genius, and morally, goodness of disposition.

the Indo-European derivation of the word ‘ευφυία’ It is probably: ‘2. eu-‘, ‘to dress, put on’ and ‘bheu-, bheu̯ə-, bhu̯ā-, bhu̯ē- : bhō̆u- : bhū-‘, ‘to be, exist; grow, prosper’.

Here is an example of the use of the word ‘ευφυία’ in Aristotle:

Aristot. Poet. 1455a
"διὸ εὐφυοῦς ἡ ποιητική ἐστιν ἢ μανικοῦ: τούτων γὰρ οἱ μὲν εὔπλαστοι οἱ δὲ ἐκστατικοί εἰσιν."
"And that is why poetry needs either a sympathetic nature or a madman,9 the former being impressionable and the latter inspired."

The concept of genius relate to the mythic figure Daedalus. A relevant passage is at Hom. Il. 18.590: “Therein furthermore the famed god of the two strong arms cunningly wrought a dancing-floor like unto that which in wide Cnosus Daedalus fashioned of old for fair-tressed Ariadne” in Greek:

"ἐν δὲ χορὸν ποίκιλλε περικλυτὸς ἀμφιγυήεις,
τῷ ἴκελον οἷόν ποτ᾽ ἐνὶ Κνωσῷ εὐρείῃ
Δαίδαλος ἤσκησεν καλλιπλοκάμῳ Ἀριάδνῃ."

The suggestion is that the translation ‘cunningly wrought’ comes mainly from the reference to Daedalus simply because everything he did was this way. There are a number of Greek words related to this name that carry this meaning.

‘ἐπίπονοί γ᾽ οἱ δεξιοί’ Aristophanes, Frogs “Painstaking are the men of wit,” by F.W. Hall and W.M. Geldart, Ed. “O the labour these wits go through!”, “Oh, the working of genius are keen and laborius.” by Gilbert Murray.

Hermes is an Ingenious god, expert in both technology and magic. From his birth onwards, he was skilled in trickery and deception.


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