a protecting spirit, analogous to the guardian angels invoked by the Church of Rome. The belief in such spirits existed both in Greece and at Rome. The Greeks called them δαίμονες, daemons, and appear to have believed in them from the earliest times, though Homer does not mention them. Hesiod speaks of δαίμονες, and says that they were 30,000 in number, and that they dwelled on earth unseen by mortals, as the ministers of Zeus, and as the guardians of men and of justice. He further conceives them to be the souls of the righteous men who lived in the golden age of the world. The Greek philosophers took up this idea, and developed a complete theory of daemons. Thus we read in Plato, that daemons are assigned to men at the moment of their birth, that thenceforward they accompany men through life, and that after death they conduct their souls to Hades. Pindar, in several passages, speaks of a γενέθλιος δαίμων, that is, the spirit watching over the fate of man from the hour of his birth, which appears to be the same as the dii genitales of the Romans. The daemons are further described as the ministers and companions of the gods, who carry the prayers of men to the gods, and the gifts of the gods to men, and accordingly float in immense numbers in the space between heaven and earth. The daemons, however, who were exclusively the ministers of the gods, seem to have constituted a distinct class; thus, the Corybantes, Dactyls, and Cabeiri are called the ministering daemons of the great gods; Gigon, Tychon, and Orthages are the daemons of Aphrodite; Hadreus, the daemon of Demeter, and Acratus, the daemon of Dionysus. It should, however, be observed that all daemons were divided into two great classes, viz. good and evil daemons. The works which contain most information on this interesting subject are Appuleius, De Deo Socratis, and Plutarch, De Genio Socratis, and De Defectu Oraculorum. Later writers apply the term δαίμονες also to the souls of the departed. The Romans seem to have received their theory concerning the genii from the Etruscans, though the name Genius itself is Latin (it is connected with gen-itus, γί-γν-ομαι, and equivalent in meaning to generator or father; see August. de Civ. Dei, 7.13). The genii of the Romans are frequently confounded with the Manes, Lares, and Penates ; and they have indeed one great feature in common, viz. that of protecting mortals; but there seems to be this essential difference, that the genii are the powers which produce life , and accompany man through it as his second or spiritual self, whereas the other powers do not begin to exercise their influence till life, the work of the genii, has commenced. The genii were further not confined to man, but every living being, animal as well as mall, and every place, had its genius. Every human being at his birth obtains a genius. Horace describes this genius as vultu mutabilis, whence we may infer either that he conceived the genius as friendly towards one person, and as hostile towards another, or that he manifested himself to the same person in different ways at different times, i. e. sometimes as a good, and sometimes as an evil genius. The latter supposition is confirmed by the statement of Servius, that at our birth we obtain two genii, one leading us to good, and the other to evil, and that at our death by their influence we either rise to a higher state of existence, or are condemned to a lower one. The spirit who appeared to Cassius, saving, "We shall meet again at Philippi," is expressly called his evil spirit, κακοδαίμων. Women called their genius Juno; and as we may thus regard the genii of men as being in some way connected with Jupiter, it would follow that the genii were emanations from the great gods. Every man at Rome had his own genius, whom he worshipped as sanctus et sanctissimus deus, especially on his birthday, with libations of wine, incense, and garlands of flowers. The bridal bed was sacred to the genius, on account of his connection with generation, and the bed itself was called lectus genialis. On other merry occasions, also, sacrifices were offered to the genius, and to indulge in merriment was not unfrequently expressed by genio indulgere, genium curare or placare. The whole body of the Roman people had its own genius, who is often seen represented on coins of Hadrian and Trajan. He was worshipped on sad as well as joyous occasions; thus, e. g. sacrifices were offered to him at the beginning of the second year of the Hannibalian war. It was observed above that, according to Servius, every place had its genius, and he adds, that such a local genius, when he made himself visible, appeared in the form of a serpent, that is, the symbol of renovation or of new life. The genii are usually represented in works of art as winged beings, and on Roman monuments a genius commonly appears as a youth dressed in the toga, with a patera or cornucopia in his hands, and his head covered; the genius of a place appears in the form of a serpent eating fruit placed before him.
Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities by William Smith