Socrates Café
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Socrates Café

The Soul of Man

The daemon, Zeus, and inner discourse

Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

Stoicism and inner discourse — Perrie Hadhot’s take

If you are like me, then one of your favourite books on Stoicism is Perrie Hadhot’s Inner Citadel. As well as being one of the best foundational texts on Stoicism, this book also explains to us the idea of the daemon — that is, the inner voice, not to be confused with the Christian ideal, “demon.” With the purpose being to talk to ourselves: something that is a little taboo in our culture. Anyone who talks to themselves excessively is, typically, seen as mad.

But for the Stoics, as Hadhot tells us, they didn’t see it that way. We all may have experienced this. I have in my life: the voice inside our head, talking to us, sometimes never going away until we answer (usually by whispering under our breath to this voice). Perrie Hadhot and the Stoics wish to help us with these events in our lives. I shall be using the idea of the Inner Citadel (from The Meditations) to illustrate this.

The image of the Inner Citadel

We humans think in terms of images and patterns. One could not memorise an entire theory if said theory was laid out in buttle points — and expect ourselves to remember them. So instead, we think in terms of metaphors and images, essentially mythologising ideas, giving them names and faces: turning them into stories. The Inner Citadel is one such example. I want you to imagine within your mind this citadel. In this citadel, we find you and your daemon. Imagine the citadel as your mind, you as your conscious self, and the daemon as the unconscious. When inside the citadel, we talk to our unconscious and, if possible, try and master our thoughts, or at the very least try not to be consumed by them.

I shall quote from the Inner Citadel, talking about the soul, the daemon, and Zeus, and how they are all connected:

What I mean by this is that the figure of the gods delivering over the fate of an individual, or the figure of the daimon, are nothing but mythical, imaginative expressions, intended to render the Stoic conception of Reason and Destiny more alive and personal (Perrie Hadhot, Inner Citadel, pg., 159).

Hadhot follows up with a quote from Marcus Aurelius to show this method in action,

He that lives with the gods who constantly shows them a soul which greets that which has been allotted to it with joy; it does everything that is willed by the daimon which Zeus has given each person as an overseer and guide, and which is a small parcel of Zeus. It is nothing other than each persons intellect and reason (V,27.)

Marcus was excellent at retreating into his mind, searching for a wise counsellor, someone who wouldn’t lie to him. The Inner Citadel and the daemon severed this purpose well, for he had access to his unconscious, Zeus himself. It is a strange, perplexing concept for modern man to understand, but it is worth exploring. We will try and unpack a bit of this idea here.

How do we talk to this daemon?

This question is simple to answer: you talk yourself in the manner of the Platonic dialogues. It helps to give this “voice” a name, Zeus, Caesar, soul, and so on. The terms are purposefully authoritarian, which typically comes as a woman’s voice for a man and vice versa for a woman. The idea here is to teach us to trust our intuitions— our “gut feeling,” which we can consult with a bit of time and practice whenever we feel the need. The Stoics are excellent at this, for it was, in their school, the way one reaches God: as Marcus Aurelius was so good at doing. We shall now talk about where the Stoics got this idea.

Socrates and Zeus

Socrates was the first, in the West, that is, to spread this idea of the daemon among his fellow citizens in the Agora, the Athenian marketplace. The stories passed down for generations talked about the legend of Socrates: he was known to stop mid-sentence, and when asked why he stopped, Socrates would reply with: because Zeus told me to. As time passed, his actions were seen to be that of a wise man — a sage. Socrates' popularity only grew as a result. Arguably, the wisdom of Socrates, all the theories attributed to him could have could from dialogue with his daemon.

What do the Stoics have to do with Socrates?

It is fair to say to a friend that the Stoics are the disciples of Socrates. Zeno, the founder of the Stoic school in Athens, was familiar with the literature on Socrates, reading Xenophon’s Memorabilia in a book store when he lost everything after the shipwreck. The culmination of Zeno’s philosophy came, not only from Xenophone’s writings, we can not forget his mentor, a Cynic philosopher called Crates of Thebes. Zeno formed the Stoic school in the Agora, the painted porch called the stoa poikile, after, if my memory serves, 20 years of studying in Athens. The Stoics would incorporate many, if not all, of the Socratic ideas into their philosophy.

The Stoics are, in some respects, the disciples of Socrates.

Photo by Lazarescu Alexandra on Unsplash

The Stoics, Socrates and the daemon

The Stoics refined the daemon idea as time passed, culminating in great works of literature like the Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. However, before Marcus, there were some other notable Stoics: Cleanthes, Chrysippus, Posidonius, and Epictetus, among others. All undeniably would have read Socrates, forming their perspective on the daemon, agreeing in places and disagreeing in other parts (as the school would encourage).

The present-day

Committing to this kind of language means also committing to an entirely different culture to our own, which, inevitably, will leave people feeling lonely. It is the price we pay for stepping out of our culture and attempting to put it under the magnifying glass. And what would we gain from this? We would be happier, for the problems that plague our fellow man no longer trouble us: we have denied it entry into our citadel. So remember, you can always retreat into your citadel and talk to the gods— your soul.

Talking to this “voice” however we choose to define it (be it God or daemon) will improve our lives because we start to entertain ideas in our imagination — the place where ideas are born and tested by our conscious. Today, our imagination is neglected when compared to the ancients. Back then, if one were to say that the ancients were governed by the unconscious — where the gods live — and us, modern man, governed by our conscious — where rationality lives. I can agree with that. The Stoics fall somewhere in the middle.

The daemon is an excellent introduction to the idea of God (Socrates thought of this voice to be of divine origin). Many schools of thought admired Stoic ideas and incorporated them into their doctrines, most notably the Christians.

It is the nature of the gods: ideas evolve, going by different names, every rarely do they die out.

Finally, in my experience, this exercise is the best way to connect with new people, which, paradoxically, involves talking to yourselves first. So I wish you well in talking to your daemon.




Socrates Café on Medium is all about making ours, on local and global scales, an inclusive, thoughtful and participatory society where regular exchanges of ideas and ideals among diverse people take place.

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Macaulay Elsworth

Macaulay Elsworth

Amateur writer. From South Yorkshire.

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