Generally used to denote a human being of extraordinary
intelligence, but historically indicating a superior class of entities
holding an intermediate rank between mortals and immortals.
The latter meaning appears to be the signification of daemon,
the corresponding term in Greek. It is probable that the
whole system of demonology was invented by the Platonic philosophers
and grafted by degrees onto popular mythology.
The Platonists, however, professed to derive their doctrines
from the ‘‘theology of the ancients,’’ so this system may have
come originally from the East, where it formed a part of the tenets
of Zoroaster. This sage ascribed all the operations of nature
to the agency of celestial beings, the ministers of one supreme
first cause, to whose brilliant image—fire—homage was
Some Roman writers referred to the genius as ‘‘the God of
Nature,’’ or ‘‘Nature’’ itself, but their notions seem to have
been modified by, if not formed from, etymological considerations
more likely to mislead than to afford a clue to the real
meaning of the term. At a later period they supposed almost
every created thing, animate or inanimate, to be protected by
its guardian genius—a sort of demigod who presided over its
birth and was its constant companion until death. Censorinus,
who lived about the middle of the third century, noted
‘‘The genius is a god supposed to be attendant on everyone
from the time of his birth. . . . Many think the genius to be the
same as the lars of the ancients. . . . We may well believe that
its power over us is great, yea, absolute. . . . Some ascribe two
genii at least to those who live in the houses of married persons.’’
Euclid, the Socratic philosopher, gave two genii to everyone,
a point on which Lucilius, in his Satires, insists we cannot be informed.
To the genius, therefore, so powerful through the whole
course of one’s life, yearly sacrifices were offered. As the birth
of every mortal was a peculiar object of his guardian genius’s
solicitude, the marriage bed was called the genial bed (lectus
genialis). The same invisible patron was also supposed to be the
author of joy and hilarity, hence a joyous life was called a genial
life (genialis vita).
There is a curious passage relating to the functions of the
Greek demons in the Symposium of Plato, in which he has Socrates
‘‘. . . from it [i.e., the agency of genii] proceed all the arts of
divination, and all the science of priests, with respect to sacrifices,
initiations, incantations, and everything, in short, which
relates to oracles and enchantments. The deity holds no direct
intercourse with man; but, by this means, all the converse and
communications between gods and men, whether asleep or
awake, take place; and he who is wise in these things is a man
peculiarly guided by his genius.’’
Plato highlights the connection between demonology and
magic, an association characteristic of the romances of the East
if the jinns of the Moslems are compared to the genii of the
A modern understanding of the term genius is well illustrated
by F. W. H. Myers in his book Human Personality and its Survival
of Bodily Death (1903)
‘‘Genius should be regarded as a power of utilising a wider
range than other men can utilise of faculties in some degree innate
in all; a power of appropriating the results of subliminal
mentation to subserve the supraliminal stream of thought; so
that an ‘inspiration of genius’ will be in truth a subliminal uprush,
an emergence into the current of ideas which the man is
consciously manipulating of other ideas which he has not consciously
originated but which have shaped themselves beyond
his will, in profounder regions of his being.’’
Theodore Flournoy said he considered Myers’s chapter on
genius one of the most remarkable and strongest of the work
because it made one feel the insufficiency of all the naturalistic
explanations advanced up to that time.
In The Road to Immortality (1932), claimed to be composed
of posthumous communications from Myers through the mediumship
of Geraldine Cummins, the discarnate ‘‘Myers’’ expands
on genius with reference to the idea of a group-soul
‘‘If a certain type of psyche is continually being evolved in
the one group, you will find that eventually that type, if it be
musical, will have a musical genius as its representative on
earth. It will harvest all the tendencies in those vanished lives,
and it will then have the amazing unconscious knowledge that
is the property of genius.’’
The often-quoted dictums of Jane Ellice Hopkins, ‘‘Genius
only means an infinite capacity for taking pains,’’ and Thomas
Edison, ‘‘genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent
perspiration,’’ draw attention to the phenomenon that
prolonged absorption and study often result in an inspirational
leap of awareness and insight. Many new concepts and discoveries
have taken place in this way. This is comparable to the
mystic’s experience in which meditation leads to enhancement
of consciousness, sometimes to ecstatic conditions of so-called
cosmic consciousness.
Cummins, Geraldine. The Road to Immortality. London Ivor
Nicholson & Watson, 1933.
Galton, Francis. Hereditary Genius. London, 1869. Reprint,
London Watts, 1950.
Kenmore, Dallas. The Nature of Genius. Westport, Conn.
Greenwood Press, 1972.
Lombroso, Cesare. The Man of Genius. London Scott, 1889.
Storr, Anthony. The School of Genius. London A. Deutsch,