Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences

Living Edition
| Editors: Virgil Zeigler-Hill, Todd K. Shackelford


  • Jonathan J. DetrixheEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-28099-8_637-1


Freud used the term “Thanatos” to refer to his hypothesized “death instinct.” Thanatos was a frightening character in Greek mythology, and now, as a psychoanalytic term, Thanatos expresses one of the most troubling aspects of Freud’s unique vision of humanity – our innate destructiveness.

In Greek mythology, Thanatos, the god of death, was one of the “fearsome gods” for Hesiod in his Theogony (trans. 1988, p. 25). He was the son of Night and the brother of Sleep. Thanatos “has a heart of iron and a pitiless spirit of bronze in his chest. That man is his whom he once catches, and he is hateful even to the immortal gods” (p. 25). And yet he is not invincible: Sisyphus, the mythological Greek king punished by the gods for his arrogance, was able to tie up Thanatos and defeat him; also Hercules beat Thanatos in a wrestling match (Buxton 2004, pp. 89, 171).

According to biographer Earnest Jones (1957, p. 295), Freud never used the word Thanatos in his writing, only in...


Armed Conflict Organic Life Cellular Organism Greek Mythology Clinical Understanding 
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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.BrooklynUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Kevin Meehan
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyLong Island UniversityBrooklynUSA