Introducing the Basics

Psychology Before Psychology

Did Homer have a Concept of the Mind?

Homer’s legendary epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey, date back to the eighth century B.C.E. Although Homer’s epics are timeless stories of passion and drama, his understanding of human psychology is radically different from our view today. There is no real concept of consciousness in Homer, no sense of the characters’ behaviors being motivated by their own internal feelings or thoughts. Instead characters’ motivations are imposed on them through the whims of the gods. Athena makes Odysseus do whatever he does. Abstract ideas of mental life, of consciousness, do not exist and awareness is understood in concrete, bodily terms. For example, the Greek word noos (later spelled nous), which later came to mean consciousness, was more concretely understood as vision or sight. The word psyche, which in later years referred to the soul or the mind, in Homer’s day meant only blood or breath, the physical markers of life.


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