As part of my sabbatical devoted to writing How to Be a Stoic (the book, scheduled to be out for Basic Books in late April) I spent a few days in Greece with the primary intent of going after Epictetus. I visited Nicopolis, the Roman town where he went after he was exiled by Domitian in 93 CE. There he established his school and eventually died, probably around 135 CE, when he was about 80.
On my way to Nicopolis (modern day Preveza, in the Epirus region of northwestern Greece), I rented a car from Athens and drove the 370 or so kilometers with my friend Tunc, stopping at Delphi. I had been there before, but the place truly is magical, and was certainly worth a visit on our way to the Ionian coast.
While there, Tunc and I took in the gorgeous landscape surrounding the archeological site, visited the temple of Apollo and the one dedicated at Athena, walked by the remains of the Roman and Athenian Stoas, and looked with awe at the famous Charioteer statue inside the adjacent museum. Just to give you an example, here is an image I took of the temple of Athena:
While there, I checked the famous Delphi “commandments,” or maxims, allegedly given to the Oracle by Apollo himself. Stobaeus tells us that they were actually uttered by the Seven Sages, a group of 6th century philosophers and mystics that included the famous legislator Solon of Athens, the politician Chilon of Sparta, and Thales of Miletus, the first person to whom we attach the label of “philosopher.” Modern scholars are more inclined to think that the Delphi maxims are a collection of ancient proverbs and sayings.
Whatever the origins, there are a number of pearls of wisdom among the 147 maxims (and some not so wise: “Rule your wife.” Really?). As an exercise in personal discovery, I read all 147 of them, picking the ones that particularly spoke to me. I invite you to do the same, but without lingering too much on each entry, just highlight those that resonate with you at first glance. You may be surprised at what the final list will look like, or at the least at some of its entries.
At the cost of a bit of narcissism, here is my own roll of 22 (in order of appearance in the Wiki entry):
Ηττω υπο δικαιου = Be overcome by justice
Σαυτον γνωθι = Know yourself
Φρονει θνητα = Think as a mortal
Αρχε σεαυτου = Control yourself
Θυμου κρατει = Control anger
Σοφιαν ζηλου = Long for wisdom
Ψεγε μηδενα = Find fault with no one
Επαινει αρετην = Praise virtue
Φιλοις ευνοει = Be kind to friends
Ευγενειαν ασκει = Exercise nobility of character
Μηδεν αγαν = Nothing to excess
Χρονου φειδου = Use time sparingly
Πασιν αρμοζου = Be accommodating in everything
Τυχην νομιζε = Recognize fortune
Φιλοφρονει πασιν = Deal kindly with everyone
Ευγνωμων γινου = Be grateful
Γηρας προσδεχου = Accept old age
Πλουτει δικιως = Acquire wealth justly
Μανθανων μη καμνε = Do not tire of learning
Νεωτερον διδασκε = Teach a youngster
Σεαυτον αιδου = Respect yourself
Τελευτων αλυπος = On reaching the end be without sorrow
Categories: Virtue Ethics