Greek, Rock Stars, and Tombstones

For All Hallows’ Eve, I present to you Jim Morrison’s gravestone, in Paris:

Jim Morrison's gravestone

It appears that the tombstone with the Greek phrase was ordered by Jim’s father in 1990. In his retirement, his father studied ancient Greek in order to read the NT, as well as, clearly, to hone his epitaphographical skills. It is speculated that he might have intended a double meaning with the inscription. I suppose a modern idiomatic translation would be: “to the beat of a different drummer.” I could not find the phrase in any ancient text, but personally, it puts me in mind of Socrates, made unique by the guidance of his own δαιμων.

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About Daniel R. Streett

Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at Houston Baptist University
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4 Responses to Greek, Rock Stars, and Tombstones

  1. Did you ever listen to the Steve Taylor song, “Jim Morrison’s Grave?” Not my favorite of Taylor’s, but your post reminded me of it, so I thought I’d ask.

  2. Carl W. Conrad says:

    I don’t think there’s any relation to Socrates, who spoke rather of his δαιμόνιον, an inner urgency which, he said, never positively urged a course of action on him but rather deterred from a course of action that was wrong for him. The δαίμων is the “guardian angel” that “allots” (δαίω, δαίζω) one’s lot/destiny/portion — one’s μοῖρα (like a slice of cake or or pie) and that keeps one on course of the “thread” of his μοῖρα. At some point — I think the tragedians use it this way — the word δαίμων came to stand for the individual lot/destiny itself. In that sense, I think, κατὰ δαίμονα ἑαυτοῦ should mean something like, “in pursuit of his own destiny.” Without knowing more about the guy whose epitaph this is, I’d guess that the phrase intends to say something like, “His death was in accordance with the man that he was.” Admittedly that’s a guess. The fascinating thing about epitaphs like this is their challenge to the reader of them.

    • Hi Carl, I’m not claiming the epitaph’s author intended an allusion to Socrates, only that it reminded me of that. I am familiar with the ‘allotting’ interpretation of Socrates δαιμων/δαιμονιον, and it makes sense to me. It seems to me, though, that in my reading I have run into later thinkers (maybe Patristic) who saw Socrates’s δαιμων/δαιμονιον (both are used with regard to Socrates in later texts) as more of an inspiring spirit. I could be misremembering, of course.

  3. Mark Lightman says:

    It’s clearly a double meaning in English. Morrison had his own demons that led to his death, but also an inner Muse which sparked his genius. I know Socrates. Socrates is a friend of mine, and I agree with Carl that Jim was no Socrates. But ον φιλουσιν θεοι νεος απαθνησκει. My only friend, the end…

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