Who Are the Seven Sages of Greece?

alex atkins bookshelf wisdomIn the dialogue Protagoras, Athenian philosopher Plato (428-424 BC), considered one of the most influential figures in Western philosophy, provided one of the earliest lists of the Seven Sages of Greece (also referred to as the Seven Wise Men). These seven men, who lived in the 6th century, were considered to be the wisest philosophers and statesmen of Ancient Greece. What is impressive and astonishing is that an entire nation could easily identify seven really wise individuals. Fast forward two centuries and we find ourselves living in a culture devoid of these types of preeminent wise philosophers. Could you imagine identifying the Seven Sages of America, or even the Seven Sages of the Modern World? Sadly, in their place we have “influencers” who promote consumerism and mindless thinking. But we digress… The Seven Sages of Greece dispensed their timeless, practical wisdom through short and memorable aphorisms which were inscribed on the walls of the Temple of Apollo, located in Delphi. In Protagoras (342-343), Plato writes:

Hence this very truth has been observed by certain persons both in our day and in former times — that the Spartan cult is much more the pursuit of wisdom than of athletics; for they know that a man’s ability to utter such remarks is to be ascribed to his perfect education. Such men were Thales of Miletus, Pittacus of Mytilene, Bias of Priene, Solon of our city, Cleobulus of Lindus, Myson of [Chenae], and, last of the traditional seven, Chilon of Sparta. All these were enthusiasts, lovers and disciples of the Spartan culture; and you can recognize that character in their wisdom by the short, memorable sayings that fell from each of them they assembled together and dedicated these as the first-fruits of their lore to Apollo in his Delphic temple, inscribing there those maxims which are on every tongue — “Know thyself” and “Nothing overmuch.” To what intent do I say this? To show how the ancient philosophy had this style of laconic brevity; and so it was that the saying of Pittacus was privately handed about with high approbation among the sages—that it is hard to be good.

While other Ancient Greek writers included in their lists of Seven Sages Cleobulus of Lindos or Periander of Corinthos, both of who were tyrants, Plato included Myson of Chanae, a farmer.

The walls of the Temple of Apollo were inscribed with a total of 147 maxims (known as the Delphic maxims), which were originally attributed to Apollo, but later writers, like historian Diogenes Laertius (3rd century) and Greek scholar Joannes Stobaeus (5th century) attributed to the Seven Sages of Greece. Stobaeus compiled the instructive sayings from early Greek authors into a compilation titled Eclogues (Extracts). Modern classical scholars now believe that the authorship of these maxims is uncertain and that these were popular maxims, some of which where attributed to certain sages. Below are the some notable aphorisms attributed to the Seven Sages of Greece: 

Bias of Priene: “Too many workers spoil the work”

Chilon of Sparta: “Know thyself”

Cleobulus of Lindos: “Moderation is the chief good”

Periander of Corinth – “Forethought in all things”

Pittacus of Mitylene: “Know thine opportunity”

Solon of Athens: “Nothing in excess”

Thales of Miletus: “To bring surety brings ruin”

The 147 Delphic maxims can be read here. Which is the maxim which resonates the most with you?

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