On Genius (1)


Karl Brullof, “Genius of Art“

I have started to read a book Divine Fury: A History of Genius by Darrin M. McMahon. I am approaching this book with a substantial bias: I think that the term “genius“ is an old vestige of patriarchal thinking, which denied women their souls (the female equivalent of “genius“ for the Romans was “juno“). From Encyclopedia Mythica:

 “In Roman mythology, the genius was originally the family ancestor who lived in the underworld. Through the male members he secured the existence of the family. Later, the genius became more a protecting or guardian spirit for persons. These spirits guided and protected that person throughout his life. Every man had a genius, to whom he sacrificed on birthdays. It was believed that the genius would bestow success and intellectual powers on its devotees.

Women had their own genius, which was called a juno. …

However, not only individuals had guardian spirits: families, households, and cities had their own. Even the Roman people as a whole had a genius. The genius was usually depicted as a winged, naked youth, while the genius of a place was depicted as a serpent.“



Agathodaimon (“good divinity“), genius of the soil around Vesuvius

I have also been warming up recently to the thought of Henry Miller from his Tropic of Cancer, who said that genius is dead, we have no need for him but instead we have need for “strong hands, for spirits who are willing to give up the ghost and put on flesh…“ In the latest instalment of her Fairy Tale Fridays, Amanda of dreamrly posted a tale about a woman who has a tea shop. I encourage you to read that story. It is the miraculous powers that she possesses that I think are exactly the type of juno/genius that our times are in need of. That woman reminded me of the main female protagonist of a wonderful novel by Jose Saramago entitled Blindness.


In the story, a massive epidemic of blindness affects everyone in an unnamed city. To protect the healthy citizens, blind people are quarantined in a filthy asylum, where crime is rampant and the inmates are constantly threatened and humiliated in their struggle for survival. The doctor’s wife is the only resident who can see, though she hides that fact. She had pretended to be blind in order to accompany her husband to the asylum. I believe The Seeing Woman is a wonderful remedy for our civilization struck by collective blindness.

With all my initial trepidation, the book by McMahon does seem worthwhile and I am going to devote my time to reading it. I reproduce the first two paragraphs to whet your appetites and I promise to post more in the near future:

 “GENIUS. SAY THE WORD OUT LOUD. Even today, more than 2,000 years after its first recorded use by the Roman author Plautus, it continues to resonate with power and allure. The power to create. The power to divine the secrets of the universe. The power to destroy. With its hints of madness and eccentricity, sexual prowess and protean possibility, genius remains a mysterious force, bestowing on those who would assume it superhuman abilities and godlike powers. Genius, conferring privileged access to the hidden workings of the world. Genius, binding us still to the last vestiges of the divine.

Such lofty claims may seem excessive in an age when football coaches and rock stars are frequently described as “geniuses” The luster of the word—once reserved for a pantheon of eminence, the truly highest of the high—has no doubt faded over time, the result of inflated claims and general overuse. The title of a BBC television documentary on the life of the Nobel Prize–winning physicist Richard Feynman sums up the situation: “No Ordinary Genius.” There was a time when such a title would have been redundant. That time is no more.”


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28 Responses to On Genius (1)

  1. Hmm. Interesting. I had never heard of “genius” being gender specific. I certainly do not think it the case anymore. Words, like all symbols, take on different meanings based upon the current paradigm. But I do find it intriguing that at one time it was. But I think gender-specific terms are on the way out. We have male nurses and witches, women doctors, and no one would dispute that there are plenty of women who fall into the genius category 😉

    Thanks for another great post. Cheers!!


    • In Europe we are still partial to gender-specific words – I am certainly. For example in German, you must always indicate the gender, also in Polish. I think that language has been a powerful tool of discrimination for ages. This is why I love to dig deep into the roots of words and the history of words. It is kind of obvious why the word genius survived but juno did not.
      I am not in favour of regulations, but I support spreading consciousness. I am certainly glad we do not say mankind but humankind for example.
      But obviously you are right – genius is not gender specific.
      Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts, Jeff.


  2. lampmagician says:

    Reblogged this on lampmagician and commented:
    Genius is not dead, he or she lives though, hidden!


  3. Pingback: On Genius (1) | lampmagician

  4. SalvaVenia says:

    This makes appetite for more and for sure. 🙂


  5. ptero9 says:

    James Hillman’s book, The Souls Code, is based on the Greek word Daimon, similar to genius. I’m sure he wouldn’t be above taking liberties with some etymology, but he saw similarities to Plato’s myth of Er.

    The daimon is an unseen being that is with you when you’re born and knows your fate. The daimon remains an invisible guide throughout your life and understands how necessary are all the things that happen to you.

    Besides the gender issues, I do love to think of having a guide from the underworld behind the scenes.

    I was not aware that genius was masculine. I have lately been thinking about mother earth and father sky, wondering about the implications of masculine association to ideals and transcendence. Perhaps it says a lot about the ways of the world?

    Good stuff as always, Monika!


    • I saw there is a part dedicated to the socratic daimon in the book. I could swear I have already written something about daimon in a post but I cannot find it right now. Thank you also for bringing up the amazing Myth of Er – I know the gist but I would really love to study it further.
      I do believe in underworld guides, too. Psyche in Greek meant both a spirit of a dead person and the soul of a person who is alive.
      I am glad that our interests always glide together in celestial spheres, Debra.
      Thanks for your inspiring words.


  6. A very interesting perspective on the mythological nature of genius !


  7. augustmacgregor says:

    This reminds me of your previous post on Hera/Juno — and how she had to give up some of her powers once she married Zeus. We need to showcase the women leaders more, like you mentioned in the Blindness book, since genius — true genius of seeing the world in a different way and not simply someone who’s smart — can belong inside both genders.


  8. Amy Campion says:

    speaking of genius and daimons, have you read “The Philosophers’ Secret Fire, A History of the Imagination” by Patrick Harpur? I would be very interested on your take on it… Thanks again for this post – there is so much more that I wish I had time to read, I am grateful for your posts that provide insights in the meantime into books I have yet to read myself!


  9. Sounds a very interesting read.. I have to say your reading material is far deeper than anything I have tackled… 🙂 But I am learning lots from such posts as your and Amanda’s whose stories I am also enjoying.. 🙂 Have a beautiful day and lovely weekend my friend. 🙂


  10. Great post. Lively, rich, deep. As always. If I’m not mistaken Emily Dickinson had a thought about genius: I’m paraphrasing here but it was along the lines of genius not being thought but rather affection or kindness.


  11. Genius is the ignition of affection not intellect. I think that was it.


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