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The Maxims of Delphi

June 18, 2013

The Oracle of Delphi was respected throughout Greece for its wisdom and it seems appropriate that upon the Temple of Apollo were:

Written maxims useful for the life of men, inscribed by those whom the Greeks say were sages… These sages…came to Delphi and dedicated to Apollo the celebrated maxims, “Know thyself,” and “Nothing in excess.”

Pausanias Description of Greece 10.24.1

I find these sayings inspirational; in order to achieve our goals in life you must “know thyself” and, although I do not always achieve it, “Nothing in excess” is prudent.

The origin of the sayings is questionable; but it is likely that the story of the sages had been handed down between generations. Furthermore, I would suggest that these were in fact well known sayings that were deemed suitable to link with the Oracle. The Oracles given were quite ambiguous, one such example is Croesus of Lydia who asked the question should he go to war with Persia. The response he received from the Oracle advised, ‘that if he should send an army against the Persians he would destroy a great empire’ (Herodotus The Histories  1.53). It was Croesus’ empire that fell not the Persians. In circumstances such as this knowing thyself (for example the power of your empire) and nothing in excess (being content with what your have) are appropriate maxims that Croesus should have paid heed.

I do not have an empire at risk but there is much to be learned and noted, even today, from such maxims.


Herodotus The Histories Translated by A. D. Godley Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1920. Perseus Digital Library – [Accessed: 18 June 2013]

Pausanias Pausanias Description of Greece Translated by W.H.S. Jones London: William Heinemann Ltd, 1918. Perseus Digital Library – [Accessed: 18 June 2013]


From → Quotes

  1. Bouzanis K. permalink

    The ¨E¨ of Delphi and the “know thyself”
    Read an interesting point of view concerning the ¨ E ¨ of Delphi:

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