Delphic maxims


The Delphic maxims are a set of maxims inscribed on the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. Originally, they were said to have been given by the Greek god Apollo's Oracle at Delphi, Pythia, and therefore were attributed to Apollo.[1] The 3rd century doxographer Diogenes Laertius attributed them to the Seven Sages of Greece[2] as did the 5th century scholar Stobaeus.[3] Contemporary scholars, however, hold that their original authorship is uncertain, and that "most likely they were popular proverbs, which tended later to be attributed to particular sages."[4] Roman educator Quintilian argued that students should copy those aphorisms often to improve their moral core.[5] Perhaps the most famous of these maxims is 'know thyself,' which was the first of three maxims carved above the entrance to the Temple of Apollo at Delphi.

The specific order and wording of each maxim varies among different versions (and translations) of the text. Not all maxims appear in all versions.

Entrance maxims

Temple of Apollo at Delphi, by Albert Tournaire

Three maxims were inscribed on a column in the pronaos (forecourt) of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi:[6][7]

Three main Delphic maxims
No. Greek English
001 Γνῶθι σεαυτόν Know thyself
002 Μηδὲν ἄγαν Nothing in excess
003 Ἐγγύα πάρα δ Ἄτα Surety brings ruin[8]

147 Delphic maxims as cited by Stobaeus

147 Delphic maxims[9]
No. Greek English
001 Ἕπου θεῷ Follow God
002 Νόμῳ πείθου Obey the law
003 Θεοὺς σέβου Respect the Gods
004 Γονεῖς αἰδοῦ Respect your parents
005 Ἡττῶ ὑπὸ δικαίου Be ruled by justice
006 Γνῶθι μαθών Know by learning
007 Ἀκούσας νόει Listen and understand
008 Σαυτὸν ἴσθι Be thyself
009 Γαμεῖν μέλλε Set out to be married
010 Καιρὸν γνῶθι Know your opportunity
011 Φρόνει θνητά Think mortal thoughts
012 Ξένος ὢν ἴσθι Know when you are an outsider
013 Ἑστίαν τίμα Honour the hearth
014 Ἄρχε σεαυτοῦ Be in control of yourself
015 Φίλοις βοήθει Help your friends
016 Θυμοῦ κράτει Control your temper
017 Φρόνησιν ἄσκει Exercise prudence
018 Πρόνοιαν τίμα Honour forethought
019 Ὅρκῳ μὴ χρῶ Do not use an oath
020 Φιλίαν ἀγάπα Embrace friendship
021 Παιδείας ἀντέχου Cling to education
022 Δόξαν δίωκε Pursue honour
023 Σοφίαν ζήλου Be eager for wisdom
024 Καλὸν εὖ λέγε Praise the good
025 Ψέγε μηδένα Find fault with no one
026 Ἐπαίνει ἀρετήν Praise virtue
027 Πρᾶττε δίκαια Practice what is just
028 Φίλοις εὐνόει Show favour to your friends
029 Ἐχθροὺς ἀμύνου Ward off your enemies
030 Εὐγένειαν ἄσκει Exercise nobility of character
031 Κακίας ἀπέχου Shun evil
032 Κοινὸς γίνου Be impartial
033 Ἴδια φύλαττε Guard what is yours
034 Ἀλλοτρίων ἀπέχου Shun what belongs to others
035 Ἄκουε πάντα Listen to all
036 Εὔφημος ἴσθι Be fair of speech
037 Φίλῳ χαρίζου Look after your own
038 Μηδὲν ἄγαν Nothing in excess
039 Χρόνου φείδου Save time
040 Ὅρα τὸ μέλλον Look to the future
041 Ὕβριν μίσει Despise insolence
042 Ἱκέτας αἰδοῦ Have respect for suppliants
043 Πᾶσιν ἁρμόζου Be accommodating to all
044 Υἱοὺς παίδευε Educate your sons
045 Ἔχων χαρίζου If you have, give
046 Δόλον φοβοῦ Fear deceit
047 Εὐλόγει πάντας Speak well of everyone
048 Φιλόσοφος γίνου Be a seeker of wisdom
049 Ὅσια κρῖνε Choose what is holy
050 Γνοὺς πρᾶττε Act from knowledge
051 Φόνου ἀπέχου Shun murder
052 Εὔχου δυνατά Pray for what is possible
053 Σοφοῖς χρῶ Consult the wise
054 Ἦθος δοκίμαζε Test your character
055 Λαβὼν ἀπόδος If you have received, give back
056 Ὑφορῶ μηδένα Look down on none
057 Τέχνῃ χρῶ Make use of expertise
058 Ὃ μέλλεις, δός Give what you aim to give
059 Εὐεργεσίας τίμα Honour generosity
060 Φθόνει μηδενί Envy no one
061 Φυλακῇ πρόσεχε Be on your guard
062 Ἐλπίδα αἴνει Praise hope
063 Διαβολὴν μίσει Despise slander
064 Δικαίως κτῶ Gain possessions justly
065 Ἀγαθοὺς τίμα Honour good people
066 Κριτὴν γνῶθι Know who is the judge
067 Γάμους κράτει Control your marriages
068 Τύχην νόμιζε Recognize fortune
069 Ἐγγύην φεῦγε Don't make risky promises
070 Ἁπλῶς διαλέγου Speak plainly
071 Ὁμοίοις χρῶ Associate with likeminded people
072 Δαπανῶν ἄρχου Control your expenditure
073 Κτώμενος ἥδου Be happy with what you have
074 Αἰσχύνην σέβου Revere a sense of shame
075 Χάριν ἐκτέλει Repay favours
076 Εὐτυχίαν εὔχου Pray for success
077 Τύχην στέργε Embrace your fate
078 Ἀκούων ὅρα Listen and observe
079 Ἐργάζου κτητά Work for what you can own
080 Ἔριν μίσει Despise strife
081 Ὄνειδος ἔχθαιρε Detest disgrace
082 Γλῶτταν ἴσχε Restrain your tongue
083 Ὕβριν ἀμύνου Shun violence
084 Κρῖνε δίκαια Make just judgements
085 Χρῶ χρήμασιν Use what you have
086 Ἀδωροδόκητος δίκαζε Judge incorruptibly
087 Αἰτιῶ παρόντα Make accusations face to face
088 Λέγε εἰδώς Speak from knowledge
089 Βίας μὴ ἔχου Have no truck with violence
090 Ἀλύπως βίου Live free of sorrow
091 Ὁμίλει πρᾴως Have kindly interactions
092 Πέρας ἐπιτέλει μὴ ἀποδειλιῶν Complete the race and don't chicken out
093 Φιλοφρόνει πᾶσιν Deal kindly with everyone
094 Υἱοῖς μὴ καταρῶ Do not curse your sons
095 Γυναικὸς ἄρχε Control your wife
096 Σεαυτὸν εὖ ποίει Benefit yourself
097 Εὐπροσήγορος γίνου Be courteous
098 Ἀποκρίνου ἐν καιρῷ Respond in a timely manner
099 Πόνει μετ’ εὐκλείας Struggle for glory
100 Πρᾶττε ἀμετανοήτως Act decisively
101 Ἁμαρτάνων μετανόει Repent of your errors
102 Ὀφθαλμοῦ κράτει Control your eye
103 Βουλεύου χρόνῳ Give timely counsel
104 Πρᾶττε συντόμως Act without hesitation
105 Φιλίαν φύλαττε Guard friendship
106 Εὐγνώμων γίνου Be grateful
107 Ὁμόνοιαν δίωκε Pursue harmony
108 Ἄρρητον κρύπτε Keep secret what should be secret
109 Τὸ κρατοῦν φοβοῦ Fear what rules
110 Τὸ συμφέρον θηρῶ Pursue what is profitable
111 Καιρὸν προσδέχου Accept due measure
112 Ἔχθρας διάλυε Dissolve enmities
113 Γῆρας προσδέχου Accept old age
114 Ἐπὶ ῥώμῃ μὴ καυχῶ Do not boast about power
115 Εὐφημίαν ἄσκει Exercise (religious) silence
116 Ἀπέχθειαν φεῦγε Shun hatred
117 Πλούτει δικαίως Acquire wealth justly
118 Δόξαν μὴ λεῖπε Do not abandon honour
119 Κακίαν μίσει Despise evil
120 Κινδύνευε φρονίμως Take sensible risks
121 Μανθάνων μὴ κάμνε Never tire of learning
122 Φειδόμενος μὴ λεῖπε Never cease being thrifty
123 Χρησμοὺς θαύμαζε Admire oracles
124 Οὓς τρέφεις, ἀγάπα Love those whom you rear
125 Ἀπόντι μὴ μάχου Do not fight an absent foe
126 Πρεσβύτερον αἰδοῦ Respect the old
127 Νεώτερον δίδασκε Instruct the young
128 Πλούτῳ ἀπίστει Do not put your trust in wealth
129 Σεαυτὸν αἰδοῦ Respect yourself
130 Μὴ ἄρχε ὑβρίζειν Do not initiate violence
131 Προγόνους στεφάνου Crown your ancestors
132 Θνῆσκε ὑπὲρ πατρίδος Die for your country
133 Τῷ βίῳ μὴ ἄχθου Do not live your life in discontent
134 Ἐπὶ νεκρῷ μὴ γέλα Do not make fun of the dead
135 Ἀτυχοῦντι συνάχθου Share the load of the unfortunate
136 Χαρίζου ἀβλαβῶς Gratify without harming
137 Μὴ ἐπὶ παντὶ λυποῦ Have no grief
138 Ἐξ εὐγενῶν γέννα Beget good from good
139 Ἐπαγγέλλου μηδενί Make promises to none
140 Φθιμένους μὴ ἀδίκει Do not wrong the dead
141 Εὖ πάσχε ὡς θνητός Do as well as your mortal status permits
142 Τύχῃ μὴ πίστευε Do not put your trust in chance
143 Παῖς ὢν κόσμιος ἴσθι As a child be well-behaved
144 Ἡβῶν ἐγκρατής As a youth be self-disciplined
145 Μέσος δίκαιος As a middle-aged person be honest
146 Πρεσβύτης εὔλογος As an old man be sensible
147 Τελευτῶν ἄλυπος At your end be without sorrow

Ai-Khanoum inscription

Stone block with a portion of the Delphic Maxims. Ai-Khanoum, Afghanistan, 2nd century BCE

In the ruins of the Hellenistic city of Ai-Khanoum (former Greco-Bactrian kingdom, and modern Afghanistan), on a Herõon (funerary monument) identified in Greek as the tomb of Kineas (also described as the oikistes (founder) of the Greek settlement) and dated to 300-250 BCE, an inscription has been found describing part of the Delphic maxims (maxims 143 to 147):[10]

Greek Transliteration English
παῖς ὢν κόσμιος γίνου, Païs ôn kosmios ginou As children, learn good manners
ἡβῶν ἐγκρατής, hèbôn enkratès, as young men, learn to control the passions
μέσος δίκαιος, mesos dikaios in middle age, be just
πρεσβύτης εὔβουλος, presbutès euboulos in old age, give good advice
τελευτῶν ἄλυπος. teleutôn alupos. then die, without regret.

The precepts were placed by a Greek named Clearchos, who may or may not have been Clearchus of Soli the disciple of Aristotle,[11] who, according to the same inscription, had copied them from Delphi:

ἀνδρῶν τοι σοφὰ ταῦτα παλαιοτέρων ἀνάκει[τα]ι
ῥήματα ἀριγνώτων Πυθοὶ ἐν ἠγαθέαι·
ἔνθεν ταῦτ[α] Κλέαρχος ἐπιφραδέως ἀναγράψας
εἵσατο τηλαυγῆ Κινέου ἐν τεμένει.

"These wise commandments of men of old
- Words of well-known thinkers - stand dedicated
In the most holy Pythian shrine
From there Klearchos, having copied them carefully, set them up, shining from afar, in the sanctuary of Kineas"

Philosophical interpretations

By Socrates

Socrates' student, Xenophon, in his Memorabilia described Socrates' use of the maxim know thyself as an organizing theme for his dialogue with Euthydemus. In this dialogue Socrates points out that knowing thyself is the starting point for all good things, and failure to know thyself is the starting point of delusion, yet, even from this starting point one cannot be sure one knows what is good and what is bad.[12]

Socrates' student, Plato, employs the maxim 'know thyself' extensively by having the character of Socrates use it to motivate his dialogues. Benjamin Jowett's index to his translation of the Dialogues of Plato lists six dialogues which discuss or explore the Delphic maxim: 'know thyself.' These dialogues (and the Stephanus numbers indexing the pages where these discussions begin) are Charmides (164D), Protagoras (343B), Phaedrus (229E), Philebus (48C), Laws (II.923A), Alcibiades I (124A, 129A, 132C).[13]

In Plato's Charmides, Critias argues that "succeeding sages who added 'never too much,' or, 'give a pledge, and evil is nigh at hand,' would appear to have so misunderstood them; for they imagined that 'know thyself!' was a piece of advice which the god gave, and not his salutation of the worshippers at their first coming in; and they dedicated their own inscription under the idea that they too would give equally useful pieces of advice."[14] In Critias' opinion 'know thyself!' was an admonition to those entering the sacred temple to remember or know their place and that 'know thyself!' and 'be temperate!' are the same.[15] In the balance of the Charmides, Plato has Socrates lead a longer inquiry as to how we may gain knowledge of ourselves.

In Plato's Phaedrus, Socrates uses the maxim 'know thyself' as his explanation to Phaedrus to explain why he has no time for the attempts to rationally explain mythology or other far flung topics. Socrates says, "But I have no leisure for them at all; and the reason, my friend, is this: I am not yet able, as the Delphic inscription has it, to know myself; so it seems to me ridiculous, when I do not yet know that, to investigate irrelevant things."[16]

In Plato's Protagoras, Socrates lauds the authors of pithy and concise sayings delivered precisely at the right moment and says that Lacedaemon, or Sparta, educates its people to that end. Socrates lists the Seven Sages as Thales, Pittacus, Bias, Solon, Cleobulus, Myson, and Chilon, who he says are gifted in that Lacedaemonian art of concise words "twisted together, like a bowstring, where a slight effort gives great force."[17] Socrates says examples of them are, "the far-famed inscriptions, which are in all men's mouths,--'know thyself,' and 'nothing too much'.".[18] Having lauded the maxims, Socrates then explains what one of them means, the saying of Pittacus, 'Hard is it to be good.' The irony here is that although the sayings of Delphi bear 'great force,' it is not clear how to live life in accordance with their meanings. Although, the concise and broad nature of the sayings suggests the active partaking in the usage and personal discovery of each maxim; as if the intended nature of the saying lay not in the words but the self-reflection and self-referencing of the person thereof.

In Plato's Philebus dialogue, Socrates refers back to the same usage of 'know thyself' from Phaedrus to build an example of the ridiculous for Protarchus. Socrates says, as he did in Phaedrus, that people make themselves appear ridiculous when they are trying to know obscure things before they know themselves.[19] Plato also alluded to the fact that understanding 'thyself,' would have a greater yielded factor of understanding the nature of a human being.


Diogenes Laërtius in his account of the life of Pyrrho, the founder of Pyrrhonism that the Seven Sages of Greece were considered to be precursors of Pyrrho's philosophical skepticism because the Delphic Maxims were skeptical. "The maxims of the Seven Wise Men, too, they call skeptical; for instance, "Observe the Golden Mean," and "A pledge is a curse at one's elbow," meaning that whoever plights his troth steadfastly and trustfully brings a curse on his own head."[20]

See also



  1. ^ Temenos Theon – The Delphic Maxims
  2. ^ Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers Book IX Chapter 11 section 71
  3. ^ Leslie Kurke, Aesopic Conversations: Popular Tradition, Cultural Dialogue, and the Invention of Greek Prose, Princeton University Press, 2010, p. 109.
  4. ^ H. Parke and D. Wormell, The Delphic Oracle, (Basil Blackwell, 1956), vol. 1, p. 389.
  5. ^ Teacher of the Nations: Ancient Educational Traditions and Paul’s Argument in 1 Corinthians 1-4, Devin L. White, (Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co KG), ISBN 978-3-11-053955-4, page 83
  6. ^ Plato Charmides 165
  7. ^ Allyson Szabo Longing For Wisdom: The Message Of The Maxims 2008 ISBN 1438239769 p8
  8. ^ Eliza G. Wilkins ΕΓΓΥΑ, ΠΑΡΑ ΔΑΤΗ in Literature Classical Philology Volume 22, Number 2 Apr., 1927 p121
  9. ^ "Joannis Stobaei Anthologivm recensvervnt Cvrtivs Wachsmvth et Otto Hense". Berolini apud Weidmannos. 1884.
  10. ^ a b Greek Culture in Afghanistan and India: Old Evidence and New Discoveries, Shane Wallace, 2016, p.215
  11. ^ Greek Culture in Afghanistan and India: Old Evidence and New Discoveries, Shane Wallace, 2016, p.217
  12. ^ Xenophon describes Socrates use of 'Know Thyself' in Memorabilia 4.2.24 <>
  13. ^ Plato, The Dialogues of Plato translated into English with Analyses and Introductions by Benjamin Jowett, M.A. in Five Volumes. 3rd edition revised and corrected (Oxford University Press, 1892), (See Index: Knowledge; 'know thyself' at Delphi).
  14. ^ Critias states the meaning of 'know thyself' in Plato's Charmides (165a),<>
  15. ^ Critias says 'know thyself!' and 'be temperate!' are the same in Plato's Charmides (164e), <>
  16. ^ Socrates uses the saying 'know thyself' to explain what is important for him to know.
  17. ^ Socrates lists the authors of Delphi's sayings. <>
  18. ^ Socrates seeks to understand 'Know thyself' as pithy, concise wisdom. <>
  19. ^ Socrates use of 'know thyself' in Philebus (48c)
  20. ^ Diogenes Laërtius Lives of the Eminent Philosophers Book IX, Chapter 11, Section 71


  • Stobaeus, Anth. 3.1.173
  • John Uebersax – Sentences of the Seven Sages

External links

  • Ancient Hellenic wisdom– Original text in Greek
  • – Original text in Greek
  • 2018 English translation by Melissa Gold of Hellenion