of Plymouth

The Little

The Pilgrim

Uncle Jabez

PHS 1963



Charles I




Psellus on Demons psellus


A translation of Michael Psellus' oft-cited Dialogue of the Operation of Demons has not been made available on the web, although innumerable other classic texts on the subject have. As I happened to have a xerox copy (courtsey of my old friend Stephen Skinner) of the rare 1843 Collison translation of the Dialogue into English, I though it might be useful to transcribe this interesting text for other readers.

I have transcribed what I could, and the main text is pretty much complete, although I cannot guarantee the Latin or Greek. In addition, there are two passages in Latin that Mr. Collison dared not render into English. My wife, who was a classics major years ago, has made a stab at what these say, but if anyone could improve upon these notes and send us the translation, we would be very grateful. The original pagination is indicated by slashes and page numbers



The Translator is willing to devote a few hours daily to private tuition—His course of instruction would include, besides the Classics, a general English Education. Communications addressed to Marcus Collisson, may be left at either Mr. Tegg’s Bookseller, Mr. Welch, Printer, opposite the Post-office, or Mr. Sands, Print-seller, George-street.

Subscribers are informed, that owing to the work being enlarged by additional matter in the Introduction and Notes, the price will be Two Shillings.

Sydney, February 1843.
Your kindness to a stranger at this extremity of the globe, and your well-known encouragement of general literature, induce me to dedicate to you this Translation of Psellus’ Dialogue on Daemons, as a small but sincere token of grateful acknowledgement, hoping you will extend that indulgence which first literary attempts seem to call for.

I have the honor to be,
Your obliged and obedient humble Servant,


Michael Psellus, who flourished in the eleventh century, the Author of this little treatise on the operation of Daemons, was an eminent philologist, philosopher, and scholar, and filled the office of Tutor to the young Prince Michael, son of Constantine Ducas, with great credit to himself, as appears from the eulogium passed on him be Anna Contanena, daughter of the Emperor Alexis (Alexiados, lib. v.)  Besides other works, he wrote an exposition of Aristotle’s Philosophy, and Commentaries on the Book of Psalms and Solomon’s Song. Mosheim, the ecclesiastical historian, pays the following tribute to his worth :—“But the greatest ornament of the republic of letters in the eleventh century was Michael Psellus, a man illustrious in every respect, and deeply versed in all the various kinds of erudition that were known in his age. This great man recommended warmly to his countrymen the study of philosophy, and particularly the system of Aristotle, which he established and illustrated in several learned and ingenious productions.”

The work (now for the first time published in an English dress) was written A. D. about 1050, and was distinguished by the learned Barthius with the honorable title, “The Little Golden Book.” It is interesting as a literary curiosity, being now exceedingly scarce, as well as by its subject, on which mankind have generally shown themselves very inquisitive. It is further interesting from its /
detailing most minutely the extraordinary secret proceedings of the Euchitae, otherwise called the Massalians (which, it must be admitted, is a desideratum) and it seems to determine the true meaning of the expression, “doctrine of daemons” (1st Tim iv. I).

We may further remark, respecting the work, it may be considered a fair specimen of the manner in which the heathen philosophy was blended with Christian theology in the author’s day, and of the plausible reasonings with which the most absurd theories were supported; and it goes far to show that certain terms, which by ecclesiastical usage have obtained a harsh signification, had not acquired such harsh signification so early as the period for which Psellus’ dialogue is laid. It relates also an instance of daemoniacal possession which cannot be accounted for on the supposition that such possessions were imaginary.

The proprie[t]y of apprising the mere English reader of the distinction between a daemon and the devil suggest itself here.* The Pagan World, for the most part, knew nothing whatever of the devil, although well acquainted with daemons, and addicted to their worship; and nothing can be more clearly evinced from Scripture than the fact that /

*Properly speaking the Pagan mythology, although it taught a future state of punishment, had nothing analogous with the hell of revelation. Neither Charon, nor Pluto, nor Aetius, nor Rhadamanthus, bear the slightest resemblance to that apostate being who is variously designated Adversary, Tempter, and Traducer. The local arrangement, too, of the Pagan hell, and the administration of its punishments, essentially distinguished it from the hell of the Christian system. The Pagan hell is ludicrously divided into compartments, in which men were punished according to their respective demerits, and had, besides, attached a region called the Elysian Plains, to which Heroes (first-rate characters, in the Pagans’ estimate) were admitted immediately on their decease, and minor offenders after they had undergone a purgatorial process. It is true the Latin Christians adopted the term Inferni to express hell; yet that was rather because it was more convenient to adopt a term in general use, and which, in its widest signification, included the idea of a future state of punishment, than because there was much natural fitness in the term to convey the idea intended.

there is but one devil, whereas the daemons are numerous; the distinction between them, though invariably observed in Scripture, has not been carried in either our authorized translation, the German of Luther, or the Geneva French. It has been rigidly preserved, however, by the Syriac version, all the Latin translations, ancient and modern, and in Diodatti’s Italian version. We can not do better than recite what Dr. Campbell has so lucidly written on this subject; after remarking that there is scarcely any perceptible difference between δαιμων and δαιμωνιον, this acute critic observes (Diss. vi., p. 1, §8) :— “Δαιμωνιον, daemon, occurs frequently in the Gospels, and always in reference to possessions, real or supposed; but the word διαβολος, devil, is never so applied. The use of the term δαιμωνιον, daemon, is as constantly indefinite as the term διαβολος, devil, is definite: not but that it is sometimes attended with the article, but that is only when the ordinary rules of composition require that the article be used of a term that is strictly indefinite. Thus when a possession is first named, it is called simply δαιμωνιον, or daemon, or πνευρα αγαθαρτον; an unclean spirit; never το δαιμωνιον, or το πνευρα αγαθαρτον; but when in the progress of the story mention is again made of the same daemon, he is styled το δαιμωνιον, the daemon, namely, that already spoken of, and in English, as well as Greek, this is the usage in regard to all indefinites. Further, the plural δαιμωνια occurs frequently, applied to the same order of beings with the singular; but what sets the difference of signification in the clearest light is that though both words διαβολος and δαιμωνιον, occur often in the Septuagint, they are invariably used for translating different Hebrew words: διαβολος is always in Hebrew דע, tsar, enemy, or ץבש, Satan, adversary, words never translated δαιμωνιον. This word, on the contrary, is made to express some Hebrew term signifying idol, Pagan deity, apparition, or what some render satyr. What the precise idea of the daemons to whom possessions were ascribed then was, it /
would, perhaps, be impossible for us with any certainty to affirm; but it is evident that the two words διαβολος and δαιμωνιον are not once confounded, though the first occurs in the New Testament upwards of thirty times, and the second about sixty, they can by no just rule of interpretation be rendered by the same term; possessions are never attributed to the being termed ο διαβολος, nor are his authority and dominion ever ascribed to daemons. Nay, when the discriminating appellations of the devil are occasionally mentioned, δαιμωνιον is never used as one.

It may be proper to subjoin here the most striking instances of the term being mistranslated in the authorized version. Acts xvii., 18: “Others said he seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods.” should be strange daemons. 1st Corinth. x., 20, 21” “The things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to devils, and not to God, and I would not that you should have fellowship with devils; ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils; ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table and the table of devils.” Here in every instance the word rendered devils should be rendered daemons. Rev.ix., 20: :The rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues, yet repeated not the work of their hands, that they should not worship devils;” read daemons. 1st Tim.iv.1: “Giving heed to seducing spirits, and the doctrine of devils,” should be daemons. James ii., 19: “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well; the devils also believe and tremble;” substitute daemons.

With respect to the instance of daemoniacal possession recorded in Psellus’ work, and which is irreconcilable with the supposition that such possessions were imaginary, although, indeed, it may be objected that the particular case is not duly authenticated, yet we can hardly conceive it possible for anyone you believes the infallible truth of scripture, and reads it with ordinary attention, to call into question the reality of daemoniacal possessions, at least in the apostolic age. Nothing can be more pertinent /
than Dr. Campbell’s remarks on this subject (Diss. vi. P. 1, §10):—“A late learned and ingenious author (Dr. Farmer),” observes Dr. Campbell, “has written an elaborate dissertation to evince that there was on real possession in the demoniacs mentioned in the Gospel, but that the style there employed was adopted merely in conformity to popular prejudice, and used of a natural disease. Concerning this doctrine, I shall only say, in passing, that if there had been no more to argue from sacred writ in favor of the common opinion that the name δαιμονιζομενος, or even the phrase δαιμονιον εχειν, εκβαλλειν, &c., I should have thought his explanation at least not improbable, but when I find mention made of the number of daemons in particular possessions, their action so expressly distinguished from that of the man possessed, conversations held by the former in regard to the disposal of them after their expulsion, and accounts given how they were actually disposed of—when I find desires and passions ascribed peculiarly to them, and similitudes taken from the conduct they usually observe, it is impossible for me to deny their existence, without admitting that the sacred historians were either deceived themselves in regard to them, or intended to deceive their readers. Nay, if they were faithful historians, this reflection, I am afraid, will strike still deeper."

Without consenting to all that Psellus advances on the origin, nature, modes of action, and occasional manifestation of daemons, yet, believing implicitly the sacred Scriptures, we can have no more doubt of the existence of such beings than we have of our own. Dr. Campbell also observes (Diss. vi. P. 1, §11):—“Though we cannot discover with certainty, from all that is said in the Gospel concerning possessions, whether the daemons were conceived to be ghosts of wicked men deceased, or lapsed angels, or (as the opinion of some early Christian writers, (Iust M. Apol. 1) the mongrel breed of certain angels (whom they understood by the sons of God, men-/
tioned in Genesis, ch.vi., 2) and the daughters of men, it is plain they were conceived to be malignant spirits. They are exhibited as the causes of the most direful calamities to the unhappy person that they possess—dumbness, deafness, madness, palsy, and the like. The descriptive titles given them always denote some ill quality or the other; most frequently they are called πνευματα αχαθαρτα, unclean spirits; sometimes πνευματα πονηρα, malign spirits; they are represented as conscious that they are doomed to misery and torments, though their punishment be for a while suspended. ‘Art thou come hither, βαστανασαι ημας, to torment us before time?’ Matt. viii., 29.”

Calmet seems to be of the opinion that daemons are identical with the apostate angels: we cannot but believe that such as were connected with daemoniacal possession were the same with the apostate angels, the more especially as we find not the remotest allusion to their origin as a distinct class, as both they and the apostate angels are represented as destined to future torment. The possessed with daemons at Gadara cry out, on our Lord’s approach, “Art thou come to torment before the time”—(Matt. vii., 29)—whilst our Lord says, delivering future judgment, “Depart ye cursed into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:” from which passages it would appear that neither Satan nor the daemons are yet enduring the extreme punishment prepared for them; indeed, the scriptural opinion appears to be that, as the devil walketh about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour, going to and fro in the earth, walking up and down in it, so his emissaries, the apostate angels, the daemons, roam through every part of it, inflicting diseases, tempting to sin, and blasting physical as well as moral good. If it be said that such a supposition be irreconcilable with the power and beneficence of the Divine Being, will those who make such objections venture to deny the existence of moral and physical evil? And if that be reconcil-/

< 1 2 3 4 5 6 >