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Diadactic Maxims of Ancient Greece

March 1, 2012

Also known as “The Commandments of the Seven Wise Men” but more commonly known as the Delphic Maxims.

According to Records of  “The Commandments of the Seven Wise Men” in the 3rd c. B.C.:   The Revered “Greek Reading book” of the Hellenistic World” by Al.N. Oikonomides, the Maxims were used by the ancients to teach students how to read, write and think in Greek.  They are the earliest known source of collective Greek wisdom.  The Maxims do not claim to be the word of god (or gods, though I know that some  attributed them to Apollo), yet they teach ethics and respect due to the Divine Ones nonetheless.

 “To be a human being and act like one, as far as the Greeks were concerned, needed not a severe god terrifying the crowds and burning bushes demanding respect for himself by threats of destruction and doom.  All that was needed for establishing an ethical law for a nation, a people or a city was to teach the younger generations the wisdom of the past on waht one should and shouldn’t do in a human society.  Behind every “Commandment” stands not a God, but an anonymous sage who is trying to open up in other people’s minds a revelation of the nature of life.”

I have not studied these sage commandments as much as I should or as I would like.  I don’t have a Greek-English Lexicon either.  I have however written them down on popsicle sticks which I eventually hope to toss into a nice gourd bowl (that I haven’t finished yet).  I think it would be an interesting exercise to pull one a day and see how its wisdom relates to my day.  I used the transliterations of the maxims given in the above article making them gender neutral when necessary and included in ones that were not part of the Sosiades copy that Stobaeus preserved.

Below I included a transliteration of the “New Text” that the above article only provided in Greek.  (This only means that I took the time to extrapolate between two sheets then type them in order.)  This is text is based on findings that are older than that which Stobaeus preserved.  It is also only about half the length.  In parenthesis are my comments/questions.  Brackets are my gender neutral replacements.

  1. The Commandments
  2. of the Seven
  3. Follow the Gods. (Theoi as opposed to Theo)
  4. Obey the virtuous.
  5. Use time sparingly. (be thrifty with your time?)
  6. Know what you have learned. (Understand what you have learned?  If you don’t understand it, you didn’t learn it but memorized.)
  7. Respect your parents.
  8. Obey the law. (Same as #49?)
  9. Foresee the future.  (Prepare for the future?  This would be like having a savings and a well stocked pantry.)
  10. Be overcome by justice.  (Be just in your actions?)
    Live without sorrow. (Live with no regrets?)
  11. Help your friends.
  12. Control anger.
  13. Avoid the unjust.
  14. Testify what is right.  (Stand up for what is right?)
  15. Control pleasure.  (Be moderate in everything you do?  As in don’t over do chocolate or anything else pleasurable.)
  16. Recognize fortune. (Count your blessings?)
  17. Honor providence.  (Honor the Gods or Tykhe specifically?)
  18. Do not use an oath. (Do not promise lightly or do not cuss?)
  19. Love friendship.
  20. Cling to discipline. (Don’t be lazy?)
  21. Pursue honor.
  22. Praise virtue.
  23. Practice what is just.  (Practice what you preach or practice honorable actions?)
  24. Return a favor.
  25. Be kind to friends.
  26. Watch out for your enemies.  (is this be wary or do them a good turn?)
  27. Train your relatives. (maybe this should be restrain your relatives? 🙂)
  28. Shun evil.
  29. Be impartial.
  30. Guard what is yours.
  31. Do a favor for a friend.
  32. Despise insolence.
  33. Be (religiously) silent.  (Don’t speak about religon or don’t speak about the mysteries? Same as #63)
  34. Have respect for suppliants. (Don’t make fun of those asking for help.)
  35. Educate your [children].
  36. Speak well of everyone.
  37. Be a seeker of wisdom.
  38. Finish the race without shrinking back.  (Don’t give up.)
  39. Flee a pledge. (Don’t make careless promises/oaths?)
  40. Rule your [spouse]. (A sound marriage is one that involves partnership and compromises.)
  41. Benefit yourself.  (Take care of yourself?)
  42. Be courteous.
  43. Give a timely response.
  44. Repent of sins. (Sin means something different to the Greeks, I believe.  Maybe a better word would be wrong-doing which does not necessarily have religious connotations.)
  45. Control the eye. (No wandering eye?  No envy/covetousness?)
  46. Guard friendship.
  47. Give a timely counsel.
  48. Act according to the law.  (How does this differ from #8?)
  49. Administer justice.
  50. Live in concordance. (Live harmoniously.)
  51. Down-look on no one.
  52. Keep deeply the top secret.  (Keep confidences?)
  53. Fear ruling.  (fear being in a position of power?)
  54. Believe in time. (time soothes all?)
  55. Receive for the pleasure.  (Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth?)
  56. Prostrate before the divine.  (Since the Greeks didn’t pray with head bowed…maybe be humble before the divine?)
  57. Accept due measure. (Reap what you sow?)
  58. Do away with enmities.  (Don’t antagonize.)
  59. Do not boast in might.
  60. Accept old age.  (Gracefully eh?  HA!)
  61. Use the one who has the same interests as you.  (ask friends for aid?)
  62. Exercise (religious) silence. (Same as #33?)
  63. Be embarrassed to lie.
  64. Flee enmity.  (Don’t confront, walk away.)
  65. If you believe in something do not be scared to act for it.  (uncertain translation)
  66. Acquire wealth justly.
  67. Be firm on what has been agreed.  (Don’t waffle. Stick to your agreements.)
  68. As a child be well-behaved,
  69. As a youth — self-disciplined,
  70. as of middle-age — just.
  71. as an old man —
  72. sensible on reaching the end — without sorrow.  (No regrets.)

If you choose to comment to any of the above, please refer to the number in your comment.  Thanks.

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