The Delphic Maxims

If you aren’t familiar with the Delphic Maxims, they are inscriptions associated with the Temple to Apollo at Delphi**, at which Apollo was said to have arrived to in dolphin form, as Apollo Delphinios, and founded.  I’m not a devotee of Apollo, but anyone that friendly with dolphins is fine in my book (and it gives me an excuse to use this pic, which I’ve been hoarding the link of for a while)!  Delphi, of course, is home to the Pythia, otherwise known as the Oracle of Delphi, whose oracular visions may have been influenced by the geological features of the area.  Oh, and I’ll bet you do know at least one Delphic Maxim…you might be familiar with the phrase “Know Thyself”? Yeah, its a Delphic Maxim!

The maxims themselves are also known as “The Commandments of the Seven”, and are said to have been written by seven sages of Ancient Greek at Delphi, where they were supposedly inscribed.  The seven sages are (maybe) Solon of Athens, Chilon of Sparta, Thales of Miletus, Bias of Priene, Cleobulus of Lindos, Pittacus of Mitylene and Periander of Corinth  and the maxims were perhaps composed in the 6th century B.C.  Much like the Lord’s Prayer in the hornbook readers of colonial America, these maxims seem to have been used as a sort of primer in the ancient Greek and Byzantine world. It wasn’t until a recent archaeological discovery in the 1960′s though, that there was some verification as to the origins of the maxims, when a Hellenic stele was discovered in Afghanistan that claimed to be a faithful copy from Delphi. (source)

Either way…there’s some good stuff there!  They are less “commandments” as their title claims (at least in comparison with the 10 commandments) than they are really strong reccomentation and great advice (at least most of them).

(from my post on the impromptu “Delphic Maxim Blogging Party”)

There are a number of Pagan bloggers that started participating in a sort of impromptu blogging party…including me!  I’m linking the post I’ve written for each maxim to the list of maxims below, and I’ll try to remember to update it as I keep going.  Some of the other bloggers I’ve run across so far include Greek Recon Mommy, Pagan Dad, My Own Ashram, Aine Llewellyn, Under the Ancient Oaks, quillismightier, and (of course, since she started it) Star Foster–I’m not sure how many of them will make it all the way through (or even if I will), but all together they are pretty interesting, so check them out!

Follow God (Επου θεω)
Obey the law (Νομω πειθου)
Worship the Gods (Θεους σεβου)
Respect your parents (Γονεις αιδου)
Be overcome by justice (Ηττω υπο δικαιου)
Know what you have learned (Γνωθι μαθων)
Perceive what you have heard (Ακουσας νοει)
Be/Know Yourself (Σαυτον ισθι)
Intend to get married (Γαμειν μελλε)
Know your opportunity (Καιρον γνωθι)
Think as a mortal (Φρονει θνητα)
“If you are a stranger act like one” or “When you are a stranger be aware” (Ξepsilon;νος ων ισθι)
Honor the hearth/Hestia (Εστιαν τιμα)
Control yourself (Αρχε σεαυτου)
Help your friends (Φιλοις βοηθει)
Control anger (Θυμου κρατει)
Exercise prudence (Φρονησιν ασκει)
Honor providence (Προνοιαν τιμα)
Do not use an oath (Ορκω μη χρω)
Love friendship (Φιλιαν αγαπα)
Cling to discipline (Παιδειας αντεχου)
Pursue honor (Δοξαν διωκε)
Long for wisdom (Σοφιαν ζηλου)
Speak well of the beautiful good (Καλον ευ λεγε)
Find fault with no one (Ψεγε μηδενα)
Praise those having arête. (Επαινει αρετην)
Practice what is just (Πραττε δικαια)
Be kind to friends (Θιλοις ευνοει)
Watch out for your enemies (Εχθρους αμυνου)
Exercise nobility of character (Ευγενειαν ασκει)
Shun evil (Κακιας απεχου)
Be impartial (Κοινος γινου)
Guard what is yours (Ιδια φυλαττε)
Shun what belongs to others (Αλλοτριων απεχου)
Listen to everyone (Ακουε παντα)
Be (religiously) silent (Ευφημος ιοθι)
Do a favor for a friend (Φιλω χαριζου)
Nothing to excess (Μηδεν αγαν)
Use time sparingly (Χρονου φειδου)
Foresee the future (Ορα το μελλον)
Despise insolence (Υβριν μισει)
Have respect for suppliants (Ικετας αιδου)
Be accommodating in everything (Παςιν αρμοζου)
Educate your sons (Υιους παιδευε)
Give what you have (Εχων χαριζου)
Fear deceit (Δολον φοβου)
Speak well of everyone (Ευλογει παντας)
Be a seeker of wisdom (Φιλοσοφος γινου)
Choose what is divine (Οσια κρινε)
Act when you know (Γνους πραττε)
Shun murder (Φονου απεχου)
Pray for things possible (Ευχου δυνατα)
Consult the wise (Σοφοις χρω)
Test the character (Ηθος δοκιμαζε)
Give back what you have received (Λαβων αποδος)
Down-look no one (Υφορω μηδενα)
Use your skill (Τεχνη χρω)
Do what you mean to do (Ο μελλεις, δος)
Honor a benefaction (Ευεργεςιας τιμα)
Be jealous of no one (Φθονει μηδενι)
Be on your guard (Φυλακη προσεχε)
Praise hope (Ελπιδα αινει)
Despise a slanderer (Διαβολην μισει)
Gain possessions justly (Δικαιως κτω)
Honor good men (Αγαθους τιμα)
Know the judge (Κριτην γνωθι)
Master wedding-feasts (Γαμους κρατει)
Recognize fortune (Τυχην νομιζε)
Flee a pledge (Εγγυην φευγε)
Speak plainly (Αμλως διαλεγου)
Associate with your peers (Ομοιοις χρω)
Govern your expenses (Δαπανων αρχου)
Be happy with what you have (Κτωμενος ηδου)
Revere a sense of shame (Αισχυνην σεβου)
Fulfill a favor (Χαριν εκτελει)
Pray for happiness (Ευτυχιαν ευχου)
Be fond of fortune (Τυχην στεργε)
Observe what you have heard (Ακουων ορα)
Work for what you can own (Εργαζου κτητα)
Despise strife (Εριν μισει)
Detest disgrace (Ονειδς εχθαιρε)
Restrain the tongue (Γλωτταν ισχε)
Keep yourself from insolence (Υβριν αμυνου)
Make just judgements (Κρινε δικαια)
Use what you have (Χρω χρημασιν)
Judge incorruptibly (Αδωροδοκητος δικαζε)
Accuse one who is present (Αιτιω παροντα)
Tell when you know (Λεγε ειδως)
Do not depend on strength (Βιας μη εχου)
Live without sorrow (Αλυπως βιου)
Live together meekly (Ομιλει πραως)
Finish the race without shrinking back (Περας επιτελει μη αποδειλιων))
Deal kindly with everyone (Φιλοφρονει πασιν)
Do not curse your sons (Υιοις μη καταρω)
Rule your wife (Γυναικος αρχε)
Benefit yourself (Σεαυτον ευ ποιει)
Be courteous (Ευπροσηγορος γινου)
Give a timely response (Αποκρινου εν καιρω)
Struggle with glory (Πονει μετ ευκλειας)
Act without repenting (Πραττε αμετανοητως)
Regret falling short of the mark (or goal) (Αμαρτανων μετανοει)
Control the eye (Οφθαλμοθ κρατει)
Give a timely counsel (Βουλευου χρονω)
Act quickly (Πραττε συντομως)
Guard friendship (Φιλιαν φυλαττε)
Be grateful (Ευγνωμων γινου)
Pursue harmony (Ομονοιαν διωκε)
Keep deeply the top secret (Αρρητον κρυπτε)
Fear ruling (Το κρατουν φοβου)
Pursue what is profitable (Το συμφερον θηρω)
Accept due measure (Καιρον προσδεχου)
Do away with enmities (Εχθρας διαλυε)
Accept old age (Γηρας προσδεχου)
Do not boast in might (Επι ρωμη μη καυχω)
Exercise (religious) silence (Ευφημιαν ασκει)
Flee enmity (Απεχθειαν φευγε)
Acquire wealth justly (Πλουτει δικιως)
Do not abandon honor (Δοξαν μη λειπε)
Despise evil (Κακιαν μισει)
Venture into danger prudently (Κινδυνευε φρονιμως)
Do not tire of learning (Μανθανων μη καμνε)
Do not stop to be thrifty (Φειδομενος μη λειπε)
Admire oracles (Χρησμους θαυμαζε)
Love whom you rear (Ους τρεφεις αγαπα)
Do not oppose someone absent (Αποντι μη μαχου)
Respect the elder (Πρεσβυτερον αιδου)
Teach a youngster (Νεωτερον διδασκε)
Do not trust wealth (Πλουτω απιστει)
Respect yourself (Σεαυτον αιδου)
Do not begin to be insolent (Μη αρχε υβριζειν)
Crown your ancestors (Προγονους στεφανου)
Die for your country (Θνησκε υπερ πατριδος)
Do not be discontented by life (Τω βιω μη αχθου)
Do not make fun of the dead (Επι νεκρω μη γελα)
Share the load of the unfortunate (Ατυχουντι συναχθου)
Gratify without harming (Χαριζου αβλαβως)
Grieve for no one (Μη επι παντι λυπου)
Beget from noble routes (Εξ ευγενων γεννα)*
Make promises to no one (Επαγγελου μηδενι)
Do not wrong the dead (Φθιμενους μη αδικει)
Be well off as a mortal (Ευ πασχε ως θνητος)
Do not trust fortune (Τυχη μη πιστευε)
As a child be well-behaved (Παις ων κοσμιος ισθι)
as a youth – self-disciplined (ηβων εγκρατης)
as of middle-age – just (μεσος δικαιος)
as an old man – sensible (πρεσβυτης ευλογος)
on reaching the end – without sorrow (τελευτων αλυπος)

Source: The Commandments of the Seven (the copy of Sosiades preserved by Stobaeus), via this site

*another blog, which has some different interpretations (and additional background information) lists this maxim as “be close with good people” (added 29 April 2014)

*consider the book Longing for Wisdom: The message of the Maxims  by Allyson Szabdo, as a source for more information (added 10 November 2015)

6 thoughts on “The Delphic Maxims”

  1. Ok – I’ve looked everywhere and have found nothing – If you can, please explain this maxim from your list (I also think it is a misprint)
    Beget rom noble routes (Εξ ευγενων γεννα)

    • I think so too…I’ve gotten behind on a lot of my blogging, but this is one I’ve never seen a goot translation. I’d guess “beget from noble routes”, from which *my* interpretation would be something akin to “you can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear”. But, who knows? If I remember correctly, modern Greek offers no clues either, and I know enough ancient Greek to fill the end of a pin (the pointy end, not the pin head)!! I’d love to see someone explain this one, and what it really should be. :-/

    • I’ve *just* found another version of these, which lists that one as “be close with good people” (http://theotherhistory.blogspot.com/2012/11/the-delphic-maxims.html), if that helps!

    • Most of the maxims can be interpreted with various meanings.
      The interpretation usually is in the of the beholder.
      The specific one is made of three words (Εξ Ευγενών Γέννα)
      transliteration: Eks Eugenon Genna.
      The first word (Εξ / Eks) translates “From” or “Out of”.
      The second word, (Ευγενών / Eugenon) is a compound consisting of (Ευ / Eu) and (γενών / genon).
      “Eu” can be translated as ‘good’ or ‘positive’.
      “Genon” means “from genoi”,and “genoi” is plural of “genos”.
      Genos is a word related with ‘Gen-etics’ and birth. Genos literally means “product of birth” and it is often interpreted as either “nation” or “lineage”.
      Thus the translation of the word Eugenon as “of Nobles” doesn’t meant noble from an ethic point,but from a genealogy / lineage point.
      The third word,(γέννα / genna) literally means “birth”.
      Thus the literal translation of the whole maxim says that one should look to make children with people of a ‘good’ or ‘positive’ genealogy or lineage.

Share your thoughts...I always try to respond, though sometimes I get distracted!! If that's the case, I apologize in advance...

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