It was once explained to me that in ancient Greece when a person was reflecting on their own action that they later recognised as reckless or shameful, they would say that the gods have "blinded" them temporarily.

There was a specific (one-word) expression for that state. Anyone happen to know what this expresion would be? I would also appreciate any source where this state is explained in more detail.

3 Answers 3


The Greek word is atë (ἄτη), when not used as a proper noun but as a common noun, as seen in the canonical "The Greeks and the Irrational" by E. R. Dodds (Google Books).

  • I found the exact word I was looking for (for details see my answer), but I feel that this word expresses better the state I asked about in my question. Therefore I will mark this as accepted answer. Thank you for sharing!
    – zilinx
    Nov 22, 2014 at 9:11

Not sure, but is it Ate, who causes blind recklessness? No personal knowledge, but found this interesting:-


In the context, interesting that St Paul was blinded before he accepted Christianity - possible cultural link?

  • 1
    Reading the linked sources, Ate definitely is fitting the profile. I used word "blindness" specifically because, if I recall correctly, that was the most direct/literal translation from the ancient greek.
    – zilinx
    Nov 21, 2014 at 13:36

While searching some more, I found an excellent resource on ancient Greek (although website is a bit slow and sometimes it throws exceptions). The word describing a state of blindness inflicted by the gods was known as θεοβλαβεία (infatuation sent by the gods, madness, blindness).

I still can't find the specific source where I first saw it, but I could find it in quite a few other texts, many of them matching very well, e.g.

  • Appian, the Civil Wars, chapter X (greek, english) :

    Although he had been on his guard against them at Dyrrachium, a certain spell seems to have come over him at a time when it would inure most to Cæsar's advantage. Under this spell also Pompey's army was most nonsensically puffed up, and rendered insubordinate to its own commander, and hurried into action without previous experience in war. But this was the ordering of divine Providence to bring in the imperial power which now embraces everything.

  • Appian, Syrian Wars, chapter VI (greek, english)

    Yet he was so beside himself that he did not even defend the crossing, but hastened to reach the interior in advance of the enemy, not even leaving a guard at the straits.

    In this particular text, this expression appeared also in another form:

    ὑπὸ δὴ τῶνδε πάντων ἐκταρασσόμενός τε, καὶ θεοῦ βλάπτοντος ἤδη τοὺς λογισμούς, ὅπερ ἅπασι προσιόντων ἀτυχημάτων ἐπιγίγνεται (...)

    Translated as (same source):

    Everything unnerved him, and the deity took away his reasoning powers (as is usually the case when misfortunes multiply)

However, even though this is the exact word I was looking for, I feel that ἄτη actually expresses better the state I was asking about in question. This is especially true if put in context, why I started searching for the word in the first place. That's why I will accept the other answer (and I wish I could accept two, since they are really close).

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