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See also: ψυχῇ

Ancient Greek[edit]


Apparently a verbal noun from ψῡ́χω ‎(psū́khō, I blow), but never had the meaning "breath", even in Homer.


  • (file)


ψῡχή ‎(psūkhḗf ‎(genitive ψῡχῆς); first declension

  1. life (the state of being alive)
    • New Testament, Revelation 8.9, (text according to Stephanus [1550] and Scrivener [1894])
      καὶ ἀπέθανεν τὸ τρίτον τῶν κτισμάτων τῶν ἐν τῇ θαλάσσῃ τὰ ἔχοντα ψυχὰς καὶ τὸ τρίτον τῶν πλοίων διεφθαρη.
      Young’s Literal Translation (1862):
      and die did the third of the creatures that [are] in the sea, those having life, and the third of the ships were destroyed.
  2. (poetic) life-breath, life-blood (‘the state of being alive’ made corporeal)
    • 800 BCE – 600 BCE, Homer, Iliad 14.516–519
      Ἀτρεΐδης δ᾽ ἄρ᾽ ἔπειθ᾽ Ὑπερήνορα ποιμένα λαῶν / οὖτα κατὰ λαπάρην, διὰ δ᾽ ἔντερα χαλκὸς ἄφυσσε
      δῃώσας: ψυχὴ δὲ κατ᾽ οὐταμένην ὠτειλὴν / ἔσσυτ᾽ ἐπειγομένη, τὸν δὲ σκότος ὄσσε κάλυψε.
      • 1990 translation by Robert Fagles
        Menelaus took the hardened captain Hyperenor, / gouged his flank and the bronze ripped him open,
        spurting his entrails out — and his life[-blood], gushing forth / through the raw, yawning wound, went pulsing fast
        and the dark came swirling down across his eyes.
    • 800 BCE – 600 BCE, Homer, Iliad 16.505
      τοῖο δ᾽ ἅμα ψυχήν τε καὶ ἔγχεος ἐξέρυσ᾽ αἰχμήν.
      • 1990 translation by Robert Fagles
        so he dragged out both the man's life breath and the weapon's point together.
  3. soul (the immortal part of a person)
    • 800 BCE – 600 BCE, Homer, Iliad 1.1–5
      μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος / οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί᾽ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε᾽ ἔθηκε,
      πολλὰς δ᾽ ἰφθίμους ψυχὰς Ἄϊδι προΐαψεν / ἡρώων, αὐτοὺς δὲ ἑλώρια τεῦχε κύνεσσιν
      οἰωνοῖσί τε πᾶσι, Διὸς δ᾽ ἐτελείετο βουλή.
      • 1990 translation by Robert Fagles
        Rage — Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus' son Achilles, / [...] doomed, that cost the Achaeans countless losses,
        hurling down to the House of Death so many sturdy [...] / great fighters’ souls, but made their bodies carrion,
        feasts for the dogs and birds, / and the will of Zeus was moving toward its end.
  4. ghost (the spirit of a dead person)
    • Homer, Ὀδύσσεια (Odyssey), book 23, lines 362–363, and book 24, lines 1–2:
      αὐτίκα γὰρ φάτις εἶσιν ἅμ᾽ ἠελίῳ ἀνιόντι / ἀνδρῶν μνηστήρων, οὓς ἔκτανον ἐν μεγάροισιν:
      Ἑρμῆς δὲ ψυχὰς Κυλλήνιος ἐξεκαλεῖτο / ἀνδρῶν μνηστήρων: [...]
      Robert Fagles’ translation (1996):
      [Go] quick as the rising sun the news will spread / of the suitors that I killed inside the house.
      Now Cyllenian Hermes called away the suitors' ghosts, [...]
  5. the mind (seat or organ of thought), (the faculty of) reason
    • 430 BCE – 354 BCE, Xenophon, Economics 6.16
      ἀλλ᾽ οὐκ ἄρα εἶχεν οὕτως, ἀλλ᾽ ἐνίους ἐδόκουν καταμανθάνειν τῶν καλῶν τὰς μορφὰς πάνυ μοχθηροὺς ὄντας τὰς ψυχάς.
      • 1979 translation by E. C. Marchant, O. J. Todd and William Heinemann
        But after all, it was not so: I thought I discovered that some who were beautiful to look at were thoroughly depraved in their minds.
  6. spirit (animated attitude)
    • 430 BCE – 354 BCE, Xenophon, On Horsemanship 11.1
      ἢν δέ τις ἄρα βουληθῇ καὶ πομπικῷ καὶ μετεώρῳ καὶ λαμπρῷ ἵππῳ χρήσασθαι, οὐ μάλα μὲν τὰ τοιαῦτα ἐκ παντὸς ἵππου γίγνεται, ἀλλὰ δεῖ ὑπάρξαι αὐτῷ καὶ τὴν ψυχὴν μεγαλόφρονα καὶ τὸ σῶμα εὔρωστον.
      • c. 1898 translation by Henry Graham Dakyns
        If, however, the wish is to secure a horse adapted to parade and state processions, a high stepper and a showy animal, these are qualities not to be found combined in every horse, but to begin with, the animal must have high spirit and a stalwart body.
    • 522 BCE – 443 BCE, Pindar, Isthmian Ode 53–55
      Θηβᾶν ἀπὸ Καδμεϊᾶν μορφὰν βραχύς, ψυχὰν δ᾽ ἄκαμπτος, προσπαλαίσων ἦλθ᾽ ἀνὴρ / τὰν πυροφόρον Λιβύαν, κρανίοις ὄφρα ξένων ναὸν Ποσειδάωνος ἐρέφοντα σχέθοι, / υἱὸς Ἀλκμήνας
      • 1990 translation by Diane Svarlien
        And yet once there went from Thebes, Cadmus’ city, a hero short in stature but unflinching in spirit. This hero went to the house of Antaeus in grain-bearing Libya, to keep him from roofing Poseidon's temple with the skulls of strangers, Alcmena's son.
  7. (rare, extended from the meaning ‘soul’) butterfly
    • 384 BCE – 322 BCE, Aristotle, History of Animals 5.19
      Γίνονται δ᾽ αἱ μὲν καλούμεναι ψυχαὶ ἐκ τῶν καμπῶν, αἳ γίνονται ἐπὶ τῶν φύλλων τῶν χλωρῶν, καὶ μάλιστα ἐπὶ τῆς ῥαφάνου, ἣν καλοῦσί τινες κράμβην.
      Those arise — those which one calls butterflies (psukhai) — out of those caterpillars which arise on leaves of green, especially on the [leaves] of the cabbage-plant (raphanos), which some call cabbage (krambē).



  • (text according to Stephanus (1550), Westcott-Hort (1881) and Scrivener (1894))
    ἐν τῇ ὑπομονῇ ὑμῶν κτήσασθε τὰς ψυχὰς ὑμῶν
    in your patience possess ye your souls. (YLT, KJV)
    Stand firm, and you will win life. (NIV)
  • 522 BCE – 443 BCE, Pindar, Nemean Ode 37–39
    παῦροι δὲ βουλεῦσαι φόνου / παρποδίου νεφέλαν τρέψαι ποτὶ / δυσμενέων ἀνδρῶν στίχας / χερσὶ καὶ ψυχᾷ δυνατοί
    cited by Liddell and Scott as an example of ψυχή meaning "the conscious self or personality as centre of emotions, desires, and affections"
    Diane Svarlien’s translation (1990):
    But few are able to conspire with hand and heart to turn back against the ranks of the enemy the cloud of slaughter that presses close upon them.
    Dawson Turner’s prose translation (1852):
    But few are able to counsel how with hands and soul to turn the cloud of war that is upon them upon the ranks of the enemies.
    Abraham Moore’s metrical translation (1852):
    Few are the fiery souls that know, / When war's fierce tempest heaviest falls, / Back on th' assailant's arms and wavering ranks / With hand and heart to turn / The wasteful wreck.

Derived terms[edit]



  • ψυχή in An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon by Liddell & Scott, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1899: "breath; the life, spirit"
  • 2006, Steven Paul, The Apocalypse Letter by Letter: A Literary Analysis of the Book of Revelation, page 281 (discussing Revelation 8:9): "The literal meaning of the noun “ψυχή” [psykhë, or psyche] is “breath”; hence, like “πνεῦμα” [pneuma], it can also mean “spirit, soul, mind.”"
  • 2007, Leon Marvell, Transfigured light: philosophy, cybernetics and the hermetic imaginary (ISBN 978-1-933146-27-0), page 128: "the psyche (the term derives from ψυχη, the breath, and ψυχειν, to breathe)"



From Ancient Greek ψυχή ‎(psukhḗ).


  • IPA(key): [psiˈçi]
  • Hyphenation: ψυ‧χή


ψυχή ‎(psychíf ‎(plural ψυχές)

  1. soul
  2. human, man
  3. the emotional and moral world
  4. courage, courageousness
  5. one who incites courage
  6. butterfly


Related terms[edit]