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(from Latin genere, gignere, to 'beget, bring forth'). Genius in Roman mythology (corresponding to δαιμων in Greek) referred to "an attendant inner spirit assigned to every person at birth, governing their fortunes and determining their character. By extension, the sense of genius as guardian spirit was applied to specific groups, or to a particular place, as in the term genius loci" (Negus and Pickering, 2004: 138). It was believed that every individual, family, and city had its own genius. The genius received special worship as a household god because it was thought to bestow success and intellectual powers on its devotees. For this reason, the word came to designate a person with unusual intellectual powers. The genius of a woman was sometimes referred to as a juno. In art, the genius of a person was frequently depicted as a winged youth; the genius of a place, as a serpent. Daemon, or genius, was considered a real source of human creativity.
At some point, the ways of daemon and genius diverged. Greek daemon was turned to demon in Christianity that was suspicious and even an adversary to inspiration if it was not confirmed by the Church as having 'the right source, ' i.e. the Scripture interpreted by the Church in accordance with the demand of the moment and its current interests. The freedom of freethinking and expression that the ancient Greeks enjoyed was suppressed or at least channelled into a narrow path of Christian faith. Genius has been more fortunate. It held its position in culture through the Renaissance and Romanticism and it has survived until our own day, even if some scientists consider it 'an impediment to scientific research of creativity' (Sternberg and Lubart, 1999: 5).
In modern usage, genius refers to innate ability which leads to intellectual excellence and exceptional creativity and it denotes a specific type of human - an extraordinary individual who is "acutely innovative, original and superior" (Negus and Pickering, 2004: 139). However, the concepts of genius still holds some mystical connotations suggesting inspiration from the supernatural powers, the unconscious or the higher states of consciousness.
Genius has been often opposed to talent as an innate creative ability and the highest manifestation of creativity to a mere predisposed response to education. Unlike talent, "original genius was truly exceptional and by definition was to be exempt from the rules, customs, and obligation that applied to the talented" (Albert and Runco, 1999).
Genius is defined by accomplishments and a great influence over contemporary and succeeding generations (Albert, 1975). The best indicator of genius is fame: "For the most part, to be identified as a genius an individual must become famous, and the fame must be attained for making durable contributions to cultural or political endeavors" (Simonton, 1984: 2).
The ideology of genius as an exceptional personality possessing some extraordinary qualities assumes that the function of genius is to eliminate alienation (of the self and the world from themselves), and to establish "a higher order in which unity is achieved or restored, and in which humanity is fully realized" (Currie, 1974: 15).
See also Study of genius.
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