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Thumos (also commonly spelled thymo; Greek: θυμός) is a Greek word expressing the concept of "spiritedness" (as in "spirited stallion" or "spirited debate"). The word indicates a physical association with breath or blood and is also used to express the human desire for recognition.

In Homer's works, thumos was used to denote emotions, desire, or an internal urge. Thumos was a permanent possession of living man, to which his thinking and feeling belonged. When a Homeric hero is under emotional stress, he may externalize his thumos and converse with or scold it.[1]

Plato's Phaedrus and his later work The Republic discuss thumos as one of the three constituent parts of the human psyche. In the Phaedrus, Plato depicts logos as a charioteer driving the two horses eros and thumos (erotic love and spiritedness are to be guided by logos). "In the Republic (Book IV) soul ... becomes divided into nous ("intellect"), thumos ("passion"), and epithumia ("appetite"”). To its appetitive part are ascribed bodily desires; thumos is the emotional element in virtue of which we feel anger, fear, etc.; nous is (or should be) the controlling part which subjugates the appetites with the help of thumos."[2] (See Plato's tripartite theory of soul.)

Democritus used "euthymia" (i.e. "good thumos") to refer to a condition in which the soul lives calmly and steadily, being disturbed by no fear, superstition, or other passions. For Democritus euthymia was one of the root aspects the goal of human life.

Megalothymia and isothymia[edit]

Megalothymia refers to the need to be recognized as superior to others, while isothymia is the need to be recognized as merely equal to others. Both terms are neoclassical compounds.

Cultural impact[edit]

  • The Phi Theta Kappa honor society took the letter theta for thumos, representing the "aspiration" that they seek in their potential members.
  • Thymos is the name of an academic Journal of Boyhood Studies [3].
  • Aldous Huxley's proposed term for psychedelics, phanerothyme, derives from thymos.[1]

Thumos and democracy[edit]

In his book The End of History and the Last Man, Francis Fukuyama mentions "thymos" in relation to liberal democracy and recognition. He relates Socrates' ideas about Thymos and desire to how people want to be recognized within their government. Problems emerge when other people do not recognize another's Thymos and therefore do not provide the justice that it requires. In order for people to exist in harmony, he argues, isothymia rather than megalothymia must be used to satisfy the human need for recognition. Any system that creates political inequality is necessarily feeding the megalothymia of some members while denying it to others. Fukuyama explains how Thymos relates to history with the example of anti-communism in relation to the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and China. He states, "We cannot understand the totality of the revolutionary phenomenon unless we appreciate the working of thymotic anger and the demand for recognition that accompanied communism's economic crisis."[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Phanerothyme: A Western Approach to the Religious Use of Psychochemicals". 1968-01-01. Retrieved 2017-02-01. 
  2. ^ Fukuyama, Francis. The End of History and the Last Man. Francis Fukuyama 2006: New York, NY.