The Seven Sages of Greece

The "Seven Sages of Greece" were and are famed in ancient times for the pithy wisdom of their insights wit and the laconic brevity with which they expressed themselves. They distilled wisdom into aphorisms, which have descended to us as "conventional wisdom."Reading their thoughts on the philosophy of morals is a refreshing adventure and departure from political correctness, punctuated by surprised thoughts of "Is that who said that first!"

Of the seven, only Thales of Miletus, whom Aristotle called the first philosopher, is recognized as a mathematician. The others were politicians, masters of rhetoric, the art of human dialogue. All of them are fascinating.

Diogenes Laertius wrote, "The men who were commonly regarded as sages were the following: Thales, Solon, Periander, Cleobulus, Chilon, Bias, Pittacus. To these are added Anacharsis the Scythian, Myson of Chen, Pherecydes of Syros, Epimenides the Cretan; and by some even Pisistratus the tyrant. So much for the sages or wise men." The listing of sage philosophers below is in this order.

In Plato's Protagoras, 343a, Socrates says:

"... There are some, both at present and of old, who recognized that Spartanizing is much more a love of wisdom than a love of physical exercise, knowing that the ability utter such [brief and terse] remarks belongs to a perfectly educated man. Among these were Thales of Miletus, and Pittacus of Mytilene, and Bias of Priene, and our own Solon, and Cleobulus of Lindus, and Myson of Chen, and the seventh of them was said to be Chilon of Sparta."

To Diogenes' list we add Plato's substitution, Myson of Chen.

Thales of Miletus (6th Century BC) is the first well‑known philosopher and mathematician. Aristotle regarded him as the first Greek philosopher. His excellent advice, "Know thyself," was engraved on the façade of the Oracle of Apollo in Delphos.
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Solon of Athens (640‑559 BC) was a famous legislator and reformer from Athens, framing the laws shaped the Athenian democracy; he said, "Seek excess in nothing."
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Periander of Corinth (7th and 6th Centuries BC) was the tyrant of Corinth; under his rule, Corinth knew a golden age of unprecedented stability. He said, "Be farsighted with everything." periander's true identity is questionable; Plato did not regard him as one of the Seven Sages.
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Cleobulus of Lindos (6th Century BC) governed as tyrant of Lindos, on the Greek island of Rhodes; he said, "Moderation is the chief good."
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Chilon of Sparta (6th Century BC) was a politician, credited with the change in Spartan policy leading to the development of the Peloponnesian League in the 6th Century B.C. He said, "Think before you speak."
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Bias of Priene (6th Century BC) was a politician and legislator renowned for his goodness. He said, "Love prudence."
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Pittacus of Mytilene (6th Century BC), governed Mytilene (Lesbos) for ten years. He tried to reduce the power of the nobility and governed with popular support. He said, "Whatever you do, do it well."
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Myson of Chen (600 BC): Little is known of Myson, and what is recorded holds many conflicting accounts. He said, "We should not investigate facts by the light of arguments, but arguments by the light of facts." We include him among the Seven Sages based on Plato's recommendation.
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For a delightful intellectual foray into an imagined dinner party with the Seven Sages, read Plutarch's The Dinner of the Seven Wise Men (Septem Sapientium Convivium) as published in Vol. II of the Moralia, Loeb Classical Library edition, 1928. pp. 345‑449.


Plato. "Protagoras." The Dialogues of Plato. 3rd ed. Trans. Benjamin Jowett. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1892. 343a‑b.

Plutarch. "The Dinner of the Seven Wise Men" in Moralia, Vol. II, Loeb Classical Library edition, 1928. pp. 345‑449.

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