Devas and devils

mgansten at mgansten at
Sun May 5 07:16:59 UTC 1996

Dan Lusthaus writes:

>The "good" gods were called Devas
>in India, and the cruder, envious deities were called Asuras; The
>Zoroastrians called their main deity Ahura (mazda), and we Indo-European
>speakers inherited their term for the anti-gods as "devils." 

I apologize for (temporarily) changing the subject, but is this really an
etymological fact? What I've always read is that "devil" derives from Greek
diabolos, meaning "adversary". My knowledge of Greek is very scant, but I
believe dia- is a prefix meaning (in this context) "against", etc. If you
compare a few modern European languages, you will find that their words for
"devil" are generally not very like "deva", and that the -l- element is very
marked: Fr. diable, Ge. Teufel, Sw. djaevul, etc.

I ask only because I was recently asked by one of my own students whether
there is any connection between these words and "deva", and replied in the
negative. If there is any evidence to the contrary, I would like to know.


Martin Gansten
mgansten at

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