From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
- "A member of a large and powerful tribe whose influence in human affairs has always been dominant and controlling. The Idiot's activity is not confined to any special field of thought or action, but "pervades and regulates the whole." He has the last word in everything; his decision is unappealable. He sets the fashions and opinion of taste, dictates the limitations of speech and circumscribes conduct with a dead-line." --The Devil's Dictionary
Idiot is a common term for a person of low general intelligence. This may be used pejoratively, as an insult. It is a weak insult, however, and between close friends, family members, or lovers, is often completely nonaggressive.
A few authors have used "idiot" characters in novels, plays and poetry. Often these characters are used to highlight or indicate something else (allegory). Examples of such usage are William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury and William Wordsworth's The Idiot Boy. Idiot characters in literature are often confused with or subsumed within mad or lunatic characters. The most common imbrication between these two categories of mental impairment occurs in the polemic surrounding Edmund from William Shakespeare's King Lear. In Fyodor Dostoevsky's novel The Idiot, the idiocy of the main character, Prince Lev Nikolaievich Myshkin, is attributed more to his honesty, trustfulness, kindness, and humility, than to a lack of intellectual ability. Nietzsche claimed, in his The Antichrist, that Jesus was an idiot. This resulted from his description of Jesus as having an aversion toward the material world: "To make a hero of Jesus! And even more, what a misunderstanding is the word "genius"! Our whole concept, our cultural concept, of "spirit" has no meaning whatever in the world in which Jesus lives. Spoken with the precision of a physiologist, even an entirely different word would be yet more fitting here—the word idiot." (§ 29, partially quoted here, contains three words that were suppressed by Nietzsche's sister when she published The Antichrist in 1895. The words are: "das Wort Idiot", translated here as "the word idiot". They were not made public until 1931, by Josef Hofmiller. H. L. Mencken's 1920 translation does not contain these words.)
In the novel Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, the character of Ben, a man who inhabits Rebecca de Winter's former beach cottage, is referred to as an idiot, because of his childlike behavior, confusion and anti-social behavior.