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Eudaimonia

There are several words which are associated with the idea of happiness to the ancient Greeks:

  • Eudaimonia’ is the principle word for prosperity and the comforts and peace of mind that can bring.
  • Olbos/Olbios’ which more specifically refers to material wealth as granted by the gods. This was in use in Hesiod’s time almost interchangeably with eudaimonia.
  • Tyche’ means luck or good fortune and ‘Eutychos’ is a lucky or fortunate man.
  • Arete’ refers to virtue or excellence, a moral virtue.

Such are the notions upon which Socrates often pondered, but the earliest record of Eudaimonia and its cognates in Greek Literature occurred in the Theogonia of Hesiod.

A reading of Hesiod suggests that –   the adjective eudaim (“happy”), and its cognate forms such as eudaimonia, are compounds of the prefix eu- and the noun daimon: eu is the standard adverb meaning “good” (agathos) and the noun daimon denotes divine or semi-divine beings (or more generally the divine forces or powers) who influence what happens to humans.   Being eudaimon is, etymologically, to be well-off or successful or to be in a good standing with respect to such beings or forces.

Hesiod simplistically describes Humans as lucky or unlucky with the comment:

– That man is happy [eudaim] and prosperous within who knows all these things and does his work without offending the deathless gods, someone who discerns the omens of birds and avoids transgression. 

We see here the acquisition of a good-quality life, inner light and happiness as something connected with the Deathless Gods.

It seems to me that a large part of humanity of any time and age, and of whatever culture, has not got far beyond this level of understanding of life and existence. It is not a very encouraging observation!

Hesiod suggests that :

Being favoured by the Gods might make one ‘olbios’ that is in possession of material wealth or success in life.

Thus once again the concept ties happiness and prosperity with man’s dependence on the favour of the gods. And of course, the opposite may be deduced: those who are poor or unwell very possibly are so by divine will!

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