Homer’s Greek epic the Iliad is a catechism on the merits and dangers of θυμός (thumos). Thumos is the breath of the warrior. It is the emboldened spiritedness of a man.
We find in Homer’s character Achilles the icon of irrational thumos. His name is combination of ἄχος “distress, pain” and λαός “people” resulting in “he who has the people distressed.” His fame in battle and courage causes fear in his enemies but it is balanced by his internal brooding and self-pity. The warrior without virtue becomes miserable because the internal passion for life must be balanced by a philosophical world view. It’s this lack of philosophical reflection that becomes the true Achilles’ heal for thumos. In Homer’s Odyssey, we find that Achilles comes to understand this when he states that that he would rather be a servant in life than be king of all the dead.
In Plato’s Republic, Socrates explains the proper relationship between the warrior’s heart and the philosopher’s mind. He explains that the city and the soul consist of three levels:
- Nous (Intellect) signifying the Philosopher Kings
- Thumos (Warrior Passion) signifying the warrior class
- Epithumia (Carnal Appetite) signifying the peasants class
All three are necessary for a virtuous life, but the three must be rightly ordered. Thumos is dangerous when divorced from rationality. We can observe irrational thumos bubbling up in petty bar fights and “hard” rap lyrics. Since thumos can be lethally dangerous, there is today a false imperative to eliminate thumos all together. We see this imperative gripping our culture in the a number of ways:
- Everybody is a winner in sports.
- Competition is bad.
- Celebrating victory is bad.
- Becoming better at something must be explained away and/or relativized.
- The accumulation of merit or success or excellence is held under suspicion.
- Dialogue and talking is the only way to solve problems.
- Contestants performing feats of strength are presumed to be insecure or hiding something.
- Men should overcome their thumos by getting in touch with their feminine side (whatever that means).
The most effective way of destroying thumos is to sublimate it to epithumia (carnal appetite). This is done through consumerism, pornography, food shows, and epicurean “foodie” culture. A society loses its heart when she turns her full attention to her stomach and loins.
If you want soft men and soft women (and a soft nation), have them give themselves over to carnal appetites. They will abandon their strength and passion for excellence.
As men we must cultivate the intellect and then the thumos. Otherwise, we will be suffocated by our own carnality. Here are a few recommendations, beginning with the mind and descending to the heart.
Developing the intellect:
- Read classic books daily (have you read Homer yet?)
- Write daily.
- Find new friends who have intellectual pursuits.
- Hang out with smart people.
- Take a class or read a book on logic and rhetoric.
- Overcome fears by doing things you that make you nervous or fearful. Start a business. Write a book. Ask the beautiful woman on a date. Take a financial risk.
- Develop your physicality. Lift weights. Run distances. There is a direct link between mental toughness and bodily toughness. See ASICS in Latin.
- Don’t stop playing sports and competing. Play baseball or soccer. Join a martial arts gym. Do something where you must compete against another person or team. Come to the realization that, “I am better at this than that man, but that other man is better than me.” Nothing is better for humility and confidence than knowing where you stand in a real pecking order. It’s normal and natural. There is someone better than you. There is someone worse than you.
- Learn how to quantify and qualify yourself. Do things that you can clearly define a win or loss. We need to celebrate wins and become humble by losses. Go on a hunt. You either get the animal or you don’t. Sign up for a BJJ tournament. You win or you lose. Set a financial goal. You hit it or you do not. Winning or losing doesn’t mean you do or don’t have fun or fulfillment. But it does help you gauge how to grow and prepare in the future. It makes you grow in spiritedness – thumos!