The Seven Sages of Greece

The "Seven Sages of Greece" were 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 and on the nature of moral man is a refreshing adventure and a departure from political correctness, punctuated by surprised thoughts of "Is that who said that first!"

"The earliest reference to the Seven Sages of Ancient Greece is in Plato's Protagoras in which he listed seven names: 'A man's ability to utter such remarks [notable, short, and compressed] is to be ascribed to his perfect education. Such men were Thales of Miletus, Pittacus of Mitylene, Bias of Priene, Solon of our city [Athens], Cleobulus of Lindus, Myson of Chen, and, last of the traditional seven, Chilon of Sparta. … and you can recognize that character in their wisdom by the short memorable sayings that fell from each of them' (Protagoras, 342e-343a)." – Patricia O'Grady

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. They are all fascinating characters.

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

Thales of Miletus

This biographical sketch and the laws ascribed to Thales here are derived from the Robert D. Hicks translation of Diogenes Laertius' The Lives of the Eminent Philosophers.

Thales of Miletus (634-546 BC): "Herodotus, Duris, and Democritus are agreed that Thales was the son of Examyas and Cleobulina, and belonged to the Thelidae who are Phoenicians, and among the noblest of the descendants of Cadmus and Agenor. As Plato testifies, he was one of the Seven Sages."

"After engaging in politics he became a student of nature. … Some, including Choerilus the poet, declare that he was the first to maintain the immortality of the soul. He was the first to determine the sun's course from solstice to solstice, and according to some the first to declare the size of the sun to be one seven hundred and twentieth part of the solar circle, and the size of the moon to be the same fraction of the lunar circle.

“The most difficult thing in life is to know yourself.”

"Thales is also credited with having given excellent advice on political matters. For instance, when Croesus sent to Miletus offering terms of alliance, he frustrated the plan; and this proved the salvation of the city when Cyrus obtained the victory. Heraclides makes Thales himself say that he had always lived in solitude as a private individual and kept aloof from State affairs.

"His doctrine was that water is the universal primary substance, and that the world is animate and full of divinities. He is said to have discovered the seasons of the year and divided it into 365 days.

Thales of Miletus on Moral Law

Many words do not declare an understanding heart. – Thales

Seek one sole wisdom. Choose one sole good. For thou wilt check the tongues of chatterers prating without end. – Thales

Of all things that are, the most ancient is God, for he is uncreated. The most beautiful is the universe, for it is God's workmanship. The greatest is space, for it holds all things. The swiftest is mind, for it speeds everywhere. The strongest, necessity, for it masters all. The wisest, time, for it brings everything to light. – Thales

Some one asked him whether a man could hide an evil deed from the gods: "No," he replied, "nor yet an evil thought." – Thales

To the adulterer who inquired if he should deny the charge upon oath, he replied that perjury was no worse than adultery. – Thales

Being asked what is difficult, he replied, "To know oneself." "What is easy?" "To give advice to another." – Thales

Being asked what is the divine, he replied, "That which has neither beginning nor end." – Thales

"How shall we lead the best and most righteous life?" "By refraining from doing what we blame in others." – Thales

Remember friends, whether present or absent; do not to pride yourself upon outward appearance, but study to be beautiful in character. – Thales of Miletus

Shun ill‑gotten gains. – Thales

Let not idle words prejudice thee against those who have shared thy confidence. – Thales

Solon the Lawgiver

The biographical sketch of Solon (Greek: Σόλων 638-558 BC) the Lawgiver and the laws ascribed to him here are derived from Diogenes Laertius' The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, translated by Robert Drew Hicks. Quotes from Plutarch are noted as such.

"Solon, the son of Execestides, was born at Salamis. His first achievement was the σεισάχθεια or Law of Release, which he introduced at Athens; its effect was to ransom persons and property. For men used to borrow money on personal security, and many were forced from poverty to become serfs or daylabourers. He then first renounced his claim to a debt of seven talents due to his father, and encouraged others to follow his example. This law of his was called σεισάχθεια, and the reason is obvious. He next went on to frame the rest of his laws, which would take time to enumerate, and inscribed them on the revolving pillars."

"The people looked up to him, and would gladly have had him rule them as tyrant; he refused, and, early perceiving the designs of his kinsman Pisistratus (so we are told by Sosicrates), did his best to hinder them. He rushed into the Assembly armed with spear and shield, warned them of the designs of Pisistratus, and not only so, but declared his willingness to render assistance, in these words: 'Men of Athens, I am wiser than some of you and more courageous than others: wiser than those who fail to understand the plot of Pisistratus, more courageous than those who, though they see through it, keep silence through fear.' And the members of the council, who were of Pisistratus' party, declared that he was mad.

"When Pisistratus was already established, Solon, unable to move the people, piled his arms in front of the generals' quarters, and exclaimed, 'My country, I have served thee with my word and sword!' Thereupon he sailed to Egypt and to Cyprus. … When he learnt that Pisistratus was by this time tyrant, he wrote to the Athenians on this wise: "If ye have suffered sadly through your own wickedness, lay not the blame for this upon the gods. For it is you yourselves who gave pledges to your foes and made them great; this is why you bear the brand of slavery. Every one of you treadeth in the footsteps of the fox, yet in the mass ye have little sense. Ye look to the speech and fair words of a flatterer, paying no regard to any practical result.

Solon to Epimenides: "It seems that after all I was not to confer much benefit on Athenians by my laws, any more than you by purifying the city. For religion and legislation are not sufficient in themselves to benefit cities; it can only be done by those who lead the multitude in any direction they choose. And so, if things are going well, religion and legislation are beneficial; if not, they are of no avail.

"Nor are my laws nor all my enactments any better; but the popular leaders did the commonwealth harm by permitting licence, and could not hinder Pisistratus from setting up a tyranny. And, when I warned them, they would not believe me. He found more credit when he flattered the people than I when I told them the truth. I laid my arms down before the generals' quarters and told the people that I was wiser than those who did not see that Pisistratus was aiming at tyranny, and more courageous than those who shrank from resisting him. They, however, denounced Solon as mad. And at last I protested: "My country, I, Solon, am ready to defend thee by word and deed; but some of my countrymen think me mad. Wherefore I will go forth out of their midst as the sole opponent of Pisistratus; and let them, if they like, become his bodyguard."

“Advise not what is most agreeable, but what is best.”

For you must know, my friend, that he was beyond measure ambitious to be tyrant. He began by being a popular leader; his next step was to inflict wounds on himself and appear before the court of the Heliaea, crying out that these wounds had been inflicted by his enemies; and he requested them to give him a guard of 400 young men. And the people without listening to me granted him the men, who were armed with clubs. And after that he destroyed the democracy. It was in vain that I sought to free the poor amongst the Athenians from their condition of serfdom, if now they are all the slaves of one master, Pisistratus."

Plutarch wrote that when asked if he had left the Athenians the best laws that could be given, he replied, "The best they could receive." Solon died in Cyprus at the age of eighty. Of Solon Diogenes Laertius wrote:

Far Cyprian fire his body burnt; his bones,
Turned into dust, made grain at Salamis:
Wheel-like, his pillars bore his soul on high;
So light the burden of his laws on men.

"Anacharsis understood, he laughed at him for imagining the dishonesty and covetousness of his countrymen could be restrained by written laws, which were like spiders' webs, and would catch, it is true, the weak and poor, but easily be broken by the mighty and rich. To this Solon rejoined that men keep their promises when neither side can get anything by the breaking of them; and he would so fit his laws to the citizens, that all should understand it was more eligible to be just than to break the laws. But the event rather agreed with the conjecture of Anacharsis than Solon's hope. Anacharsis, being once at the Assembly, expressed his wonder at the fact that in Greece wise men spoke and fools decided. – Solon, via Plutarch's Lives

Solon the Lawgiver on Moral Law

Speech is the mirror of action. – Solon

Secrecy is the seal of speech, and occasion the seal of secrecy. – Solon

Watch every man and see whether, hiding hatred in his heart, he speaks with friendly countenance, and his tongue rings with double speech from a dark soul. – Solon

The older I become, the more I learn. – Solon

By its own great men a city falls, the ignorant mob becoming slaves to kings. – Solon

Asked how crime could most effectually be diminished, he replied, "If it caused as much resentment in those who are not its victims as in those who are," adding, "Wealth breeds satiety, satiety outrage." – Solon

Consider your honour, as a gentleman, of more weight than an oath. – Solon

Never speak falsely. – Solon

Pay attention to matters of importance. – Solon

His counsel to men in general is stated by Apollodorus in his work on the Philosophic Sects as follows: Put more trust in nobility of character than in an oath. Never tell a lie. Pursue worthy aims. Do not be rash to make friends and, when once they are made, do not drop them. Learn to obey before you command. In giving advice seek to help, not to please, your friend. Be led by reason. Shun evil company. Honour the gods, reverence parents. – Solon

Seek excess in nothing. – Solon

Life is more pleasant where justice and equality prevail universally. – Solon to Croesus

Some wicked men are rich, some good are poor,
We will not change our virtue for their store:
Virtue's a thing that none can take away;
But money changes owners all the day.
– Solon, via Plutarch's Lives

Each day grow older, and learn something new. – Solon, via Plutarch's Lives

Periander of Corinth

This biographical sketch and the laws ascribed to Periander of Corinth here are derived primarily from Diogenes Laertius' The Lives of the Eminent Philosophers, translated by Robert Drew Hicks.

Periander (tyrant 625-585 BC): "Periander, the son of Cypselus, was born at Corinth, of the family of the Heraclidae. His wife was Lysida, whom he called Melissa. Her father was Procles, tyrant of Epidaurus, her mother Eristheneia, daughter of Aristocrates and sister of Aristodemus, who together reigned over nearly the whole of Arcadia, as stated by Heraclides of Pontus in his book On Government. By her he had two sons, Cypselus and Lycophron, the younger a man of intelligence, the elder weak in mind.

"He was the first who had a bodyguard and who changed his government into a tyranny, and he would let no one live in the town without his permission, as we know from Ephorus and Aristotle. He flourished about the 38th Olympiad and was tyrant for forty years.

"Sotion and Heraclides and Pamphila in the fifth book of her Commentaries distinguish two Perianders, one a tyrant, the other a sage who was born in Ambracia. Neanthes of Cyzicus also says this, and adds that they were near relations. And Aristotle maintains that the Corinthian Periander was the sage; while Plato denies this."

“Practice makes perfect.”

("Periander is mentioned in the Politics of Aristotle (v. 4, 1304 a 32), but not as one of the Seven Wise Men. In Plato's Protagoras, 343a, where the Seven Wise Men are enumerated, Periander's name is omitted, his place being taken by Myson. It would almost seem as if Diogenes Laertius knew of some passage in Aristotle in which Periander was called one of the Seven, though no such passage is extant.")

Periander of Corinth on Moral Law

Practice makes perfect. – Periander

Pleasures are transient, honours are immortal. – Periander

Be farsighted with everything. – Periander

Nothing is impossible to industry. – Periander

Live according to your income. – Periander

The mind still longs for what it has missed, and loses itself in the contemplation of the past. – Periander

He who assists the wicked will in time rue it. – Periander

He who has once made himself notorious as utterly unprincipled, is not credited even when he speaks the truth. – Periander

He who trusts himself for safety to the care of a wicked man, in seeking succour meets with ruin. – Periander

However exalted our position, we should still not despise the powers of the humble. – Periander

Judge of a tree by its fruit, not by its leaves. – Periander

Liars pay the penalty of their own misdeeds. – Periander

Relaxation should at times be given to the mind, the better to fit it for toil when resumed. – Periander

Success brings many to ruin. – Periander

The soft speeches of the wicked are full of deceit. – Periander

The success of the wicked tempts many to sin. – Periander

Those who plot the destruction of others often perish in the attempt. – Periander

To counsel others, and to disregard one's own safety, is folly. – Periander

Unless your works lead to profit, vain is your glory in them. – Periander

Witty remarks are all very well when spoken at a proper time: when out of place they are offensive. – Periander

The useful and the beautiful are never separated. – Periander

Be moderate in prosperity, prudent in adversity. – Periander

Be the same to your friends whether they are in prosperity or in adversity. – Periander

Whatever agreement you make, stick to it. – Periander

Betray no secret. – Periander

Correct not only the offenders but also those who are on the point of offending. – Periander

Cleobulus of Lindos

Cleobulus of Lindos (633-564 BC): "Cleobulus, the son of Euagoras, was born at Lindus, but according to Duris he was a Carian. Some say that he traced his descent back to Heracles, that he was distinguished for strength and beauty, and was acquainted with Egyptian philosophy. He had a daughter Cleobuline, who composed riddles in hexameters; she is mentioned by Cratinus, who gives one of his plays her name, in the plural form Cleobulinae. He is also said to have rebuilt the temple of Athena[1] which was founded by Danaus."

Having lived a good life, Cleobulus "died at the ripe age of seventy."

Cleobulus of Lindos on Moral Law

It is want of taste that reigns most widely among mortals and multitude of words; but due season will serve. – Cleobulus

Set your mind on something good. – Cleobulus

Do not become thoughtless or rude. – Cleobulus

We ought to give our daughters to their husbands maidens in years but women in wisdom (signifying that girls need to be educated as well as boys). – Cleobulus

“Set your mind on something good.”

Render a service to a friend to bind him closer to us, and to an enemy in order to make a friend of him. For we have to guard against the censure of friends and the intrigues of enemies. – Cleobulus

When anyone leaves his house, let him first inquire what he means to do; and on his return let him ask himself what he has effected. – Cleobulus

When men are being bantered, do not laugh at their expense, or you will incur their hatred. – Cleobulus

Do not be arrogant in prosperity; if you fall into poverty, do not humble yourself. – Cleobulus

Know how to bear the changes of fortune with nobility. – Cleobulus

Avoid extremes. – Cleobulus

Safeguard the health both of body and soul. – Cleobulus

Do nothing by violence. – Cleobulus

Moderation is the chief good. – Cleobulus

Be listeners rather than talkers. – Cleobulus

Choose instruction rather than ignorance. – Cleobulus

Be friendly to virtue, hostile to vice. – Cleobulus

Do not be overcome by pleasure. – Cleobulus

Educate your children. – Cleobulus

Shun injustice. – Cleobulus

Be swift to hear and slow to speak. – Cleobulus

Refrain from ill-omened words. – Cleobulus

Put an end to enmity. – Cleobulus


1^ Athena was the Greek goddess of wisdom.

Chilon of Sparta

'Chilon, son of Damagetas, was a Lacedaemonian. He … declared that the excellence of a man is to divine the future so far as it can be grasped by reason. When his brother grumbled that he was not made ephor as Chilon was, the latter replied, "I know how to submit to injustice and you do not." He was made ephor in the 55th Olympiad; Pamphila, however, says the 56th. He first became ephor, according to Sosicrates, in the archonship of Euthydemus. He first proposed the appointment of ephors as auxiliaries to the kings, though Satyrus says this was done by Lycurgus.

As Herodotus relates in his first book, when Hippocrates was sacrificing at Olympia and his cauldrons boiled of their own accord, it was Chilon who advised him not to marry, or, if he had a wife, to divorce her and disown his children. The tale is also told that he inquired of Aesop what Zeus was doing and received the answer: "He is humbling the proud and exalting the humble." Being asked wherein lies the difference between the educated and the uneducated, Chilon answered, "In good hope." What is hard? "To keep a secret, to employ leisure well, to be able to bear an injury."

"These again are some of his precepts: To control the tongue, especially at a banquet. Not to abuse our neighbours, for if you do, things will be said about you which you will regret. Do not use threats to any one; for that is womanish. Be more ready to visit friends in adversity than in prosperity. Do not make an extravagant marriage. De mortuis nil nisi bonum. Honour old age. Consult your own safety. Prefer a loss to a dishonest gain: the one brings pain at the moment, the other for all time. Do not laugh at another's misfortune. When strong, be merciful, if you would have the respect, not the fear, of your neighbours. Learn to be a wise master in your own house. Let not your tongue outrun your thought. Control anger. Do not hate divination. Do not aim at impossibilities. Let no one see you in a hurry. Gesticulation in speaking should be avoided as a mark of insanity. Obey the laws. Be restful.

"Of his songs the most popular is the following: "By the whetstone gold is tried, giving manifest proof; and by gold is the mind of good and evil men brought to the test." He is reported to have said in his old age that he was not aware of having ever broken the law throughout his life; but on one point he was not quite clear. In a suit in which a friend of his was concerned he himself pronounced sentence according to the law, but he persuaded his colleague who was his friend to acquit the accused, in order at once to maintain the law and yet not to lose his friend.

"He became very famous in Greece by his warning about the island of Cythera off the Laconian coast. For, becoming acquainted with the nature of the island, he exclaimed: "Would it had never been placed there, or else had been sunk in the depths of the sea." And this was a wise warning; for Demaratus, when an exile from Sparta, advised Xerxes to anchor his fleet off the island; and if Xerxes had taken the advice Greece would have been conquered. Later, in the Peloponnesian war, Nicias reduced the island and placed an Athenian garrison there, and did the Lacedaemonians much mischief.

"He was a man of few words; hence Aristagoras of Miletus calls this style of speaking Chilonean. … is of Branchus, founder of the temple at Branchidae. Chilon was an old man about the 52nd Olympiad, when Aesop the fabulist was flourishing. According to Hermippus, his death took place at Pisa, just after he had congratulated his son on an Olympic victory in boxing. It was due to excess of joy coupled with the weakness of a man stricken in years. And all present joined in the funeral procession.

"I have written an epitaph on him also, which runs as follows:

II praise thee, Pollux, for that Chilon's son
By boxing feats the olive chaplet won.
Nor at the father's fate should we repine;
He died of joy; may such a death be mine.

"The inscription on his statue runs thus:

Here Chilon stands, of Sparta's warrior race,
Who of the Sages Seven holds highest place.

"His apophthegm is: 'Give a pledge, and suffer for it.' A short letter is also ascribed to him.

"Chilon to Periander: 'You tell me of an expedition against foreign enemies, in which you yourself will take the field. In my opinion affairs at home are not too safe for an absolute ruler; and I deem the tyrant happy who dies a natural death in his own house.' "

Chilon of Sparta on Law

Do not abuse your neighbours, for if you do, things will be said about you which you will regret. – Chilon

Honour old age. – Chilon

Prefer a loss to a dishonest gain: the one brings pain at the moment, the other for all time. – Chilon

Control the tongue, especially at a banquet. – Chilon

Think before you speak. – Chilon

“Do not laugh at a person in his misfortune.”

Do not speak evil of the dead. – Chilon

Prefer punishment to disgraceful gain; for the one is painful but once, but the other for one's whole life. – Chilon

Do not laugh at another's misfortune. – Chilon

When strong, be merciful, if you would have the respect, not the fear, of your neighbours. – Chilon

Learn to be a wise master in your own house. – Chilon

Let not your tongue outrun your thought. – Chilon

Restrain anger. – Chilon

Do not desire what is impossible. – Chilon

Obey the laws. – Chilon

Tread more rapidly through the misfortunes of your friends than through their good fortune. – Chilon

Bias of Priene

This biograhical sketch and the laws ascribed to Bias of Priene here are derived from Diogenes Laertius' The Lives of the Eminent Philosophers, translated by Robert Drew Hicks.

Bias of Priene (6th Century BC): "Bias, the son of Teutames, was born at Priene, and by Satyrus is placed at the head of the Seven Sages. Some make him of a wealthy family, but Duris says he was a labourer living in the house. Phanodicus relates that he ransomed certain Messenian maidens captured in war and brought them up as his daughters, gave them dowries, and restored them to their fathers in Messenia. – Diogenes Laërtius, in "Life of Bias," as translated by C. D. Yonge

"The tripod was found near Athens by some fishermen, the brazen tripod I mean, which bore the inscription — "For the Wise;" then Satyrus says that the damsels (but others, such as Phanodicus, say that it was their father,) came into the assembly, and said that Bias was the wise man — and so the tripod was sent to him. But Bias, when he saw it, said that it was Apollo who was "the Wise," and would not receive the tripod.

"It is said that he was very energetic and eloquent when pleading causes; but that he always reserved his talents for the right side. In reference to which Demodicus of Alerius uttered the following enigmatical saying — "If you are a judge, give a Prienian decision."

"He used also to say that that man was unfortunate who could not support misfortune; and that it is a disease of the mind to desire what was impossible, and to have no regard for the misfortunes of others.

"Being asked what was difficult, he said — "To bear a change of fortune for the worse with magnanimity."

"Once he was on a voyage with some impious men, and the vessel was overtaken by a storm; so they began to invoke the assistance of the Gods; on which he said, "Hold your tongues, lest they should find out that you are in this ship."

"Being asked what was pleasant to men, he replied, "Hope."

"It was a saying of his that it was more agreeable to decide between enemies than between friends; for that of friends, one was sure to become an enemy to him; but that of enemies, one was sure to become a friend.

"He used to say, too, that men ought to calculate life both as if they were fated to live a long and a short time: and that they ought to love one another as if at a future time they would come to hate one another; for that most men were wicked.

Heraclitus too, a man who was not easily pleased, has praised him; saying, "In Priene there lived Bias the son of Teutamus, whose reputation is higher than that of the others."

“Do not praise an undeserving man because of his riches.”

"A story is told that, while Alyattes was besieging Priene, Bias fattened two mules and drove them into the camp, and that the king, when he saw them, was amazed at the good condition of the citizens actually extending to their beasts of burden. And he decided to make terms and sent a messenger. But Bias piled up heaps of sand with a layer of corn on the top, and showed them to the man, and finally, on being informed of this, Alyattes made a treaty of peace with the people of Priene. … It is also stated that he was a very effective pleader; but he was accustomed to use his powers of speech to a good end.

"He said he would rather decide a dispute between two of his enemies than between two of his friends; for in the latter case he would be certain to make one of his friends his enemy, but in the former case he would make one of his enemies his friend. … Further, he gave this advice: Be slow to set about an enterprise, but persevere in it steadfastly when once it is undertaken.

Bias of Priene on Law

Find favour with all the citizens. … in whatever state you dwell. For this earns most gratitude; the headstrong spirit often flashes forth with harmful bane. – Bias

Seek to please all the citizens, even though your house may be in an ungracious city. For such a course will favour win from all: But haughty manners oft produce destruction. – Bias

Choose the course which you adopt with deliberation; but when you have adopted it, then persevere in it with firmness. – Bias

He who cannot bear misfortune is truly unfortunate; it is a disease of the soul to be enamoured of things impossible of attainment; we ought not to dwell upon the woes of others. – Bias

Cherish wisdom. Admit the existence of the gods. If a man is unworthy, do not praise him because of his wealth. Gain your point by persuasion, not by force. Ascribe your good actions to the gods. Make wisdom your provision for the journey from youth to old age; for it is a more certain support than all other possessions. – Bias

You should look into a mirror: if you look fine, do fine things; if you look ugly, correct by nobility the defect of your nature. – Bias of Priene, as reported by Demetrius of Phalerum

The naïve men are easily fooled. – Bias

Being asked what is difficult, he replied, "Nobly to endure a change for the worse." – Bias

Do not be hasty of speech, for that is a sign of madness. – Bias

Do not speak fast, for that shows folly. – Bias

Speak of the gods as they are. – Bias

Truth breeds hatred. – Bias

Love prudence. – Bias

It is a disease of the mind to desire what is impossible, and to have no regard for the misfortunes of others. – Bias

Do not praise an undeserving man because of his riches. – Bias

The growth of strength in man is nature's work; but to set forth in speech the interests of one's country is the gift of soul and reason. – Bias

Great strength of body is the gift of nature; but to be able to advise whate'er is most expedient for one's country's good, is the peculiar work of sense and wisdom. – Bias

Pittacus of Mytilene

This biographiy and the laws ascribed to Pittacus here are derived from Diogenes Laertius' The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, translated by R.D. Hicks.

Pittacus of Mytilene (640-568 BC) "was the son of Hyrrhadius and a native of Mitylene. Duris calls his father a Thracian. Aided by the brothers of Alcaeus he overthrew Melanchrus, tyrant of Lesbos; and in the war between Mitylene and Athens for the territory of Achileis he himself had the chief command on the one side, and Phrynon, who had won an Olympic victory in the pancratium, commanded the Athenians. Pittacus agreed to meet him in single combat; with a net which he concealed beneath his shield he entangled Phrynon, killed him, and recovered the territory. Subsequently, as Apollodorus states in his Chronology, Athens and Mitylene referred their claims to arbitration. Periander heard the appeal and gave judgement in favour of Athens.

“Power shows the man.”

"At the time, however, the people of Mitylene honoured Pittacus extravagantly and entrusted him with the government. He ruled for ten years and brought the constitution into order, and then laid down his office. He lived another ten years after his abdication and received from the people of Mitylene a grant of land, which he dedicated as sacred domain; and it bears his name to this day Sosicrates relates that he cut off a small portion for himself and pronounced the half to be more than the whole. Furthermore, he declined an offer of money made him by Croesus, saying that he had twice as much as he wanted; for his brother had died without issue and he had inherited his estate."

Pittacus of Mytilene on Law

A crime committed by a person when drunk should receive double the punishment which it would merit if the offender were sober. – Pittacus

Do not to your neighbor what you would take ill from him. – Pittacus [This is a restatement of the law of reciprocity, or the Golden Rule.]

Cultivate truth, good faith, experience, cleverness, sociability, and industry. – Pittacus

It is better to pardon now than to repent later. – Pittacus

Mercy is better than vengeance. – Pittacus

Forgiveness is better than revenge. – Pittacus, as quoted by Heraclitus

Forgiveness is better than punishment; for the one is proof of a gentle, the other of a savage, nature. – Pittacus, as quoted by Epictetus

Truly to become a virtuous man is hard. – Pittacus

Whatever you do, do it well. – Pittacus

Even the gods do not fight against necessity. – Pittacus

Even the gods cannot strive against necessity. – Pittacus, as quoted by Plato

Power shows [reveals] the man. – Pittacus

Do not announce your plans beforehand; for, if they fail, you will be laughed at. – Pittacus

Never reproach any one with a misfortune, for fear of Nemesis.[1] – Pittacus

Power shows the man. – Pittacus

Duly restore what has been entrusted to you. – Pittacus

Speak no ill of a friend, nor even of an enemy. – Pittacus

Practise piety. Love temperance. Cherish truth, fidelity, skill, cleverness, sociability, carefulness. – Pittacus

Know thine opportunity. – Pittacus


1^ Nemesis was the Greek goddess who ruled over justice as retribution or vengeance.

Myson of Chen

This biographical sketch of Myson of Chen is derived from Diogenes Laertius' The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, translated by Robert Drew Hicks.

Myson of Chen (600 BC) "Myson was the son of Strymon, according to Sosicrates, who quotes Hermippus as his authority, and a native of Chen, a village in the district of Oeta or Laconia; and he is reckoned one of the Seven Sages. They say that his father was a tyrant. We are told by some one that, when Anacharsis inquired if there were anyone wiser than himself, the Pythian priestess gave the response which has already been quoted in the Life of Thales as her reply to a question by Chilon:

"Myson of Chen in Oeta; this is he
Who for wiseheartedness surpasseth thee."

“Facts were not put together to fit the arguments,
but the arguments to fit the facts.”

"His curiosity aroused, Anacharsis went to the village in summer time and found him fitting a share to a plough and said, "Myson, this is not the season for the plough." "It is just the time to repair it," was the reply. Others cite the first line of the oracle differently, "Myson of Chen in Etis," and inquire what "Myson of Etis" means. Parmenides indeed explains that Etis is a district in Laconia to which Myson belonged. Sosicrates in his Successions of Philosophers makes him belong to Etis on the father's side and to Chen on the mother's. Euthyphro, the son of Heraclides of Pontus, declares that he was a Cretan, Eteia being a town in Crete. Anaxilaus makes him an Arcadian.

"Myson is mentioned by Hipponax, the words being:

"And Myson, whom Apollo's self proclaimed
Wisest of all men."

"Aristoxenus in his Historical Gleanings says he was not unlike Timon and Apemantus, for he was a misanthrope. At any rate he was seen in Lacedaemon laughing to himself in a lonely spot; and when some one suddenly appeared and asked him why he laughed when no one was near, he replied, "That is just the reason." And Aristoxenus says that the reason why he remained obscure was that he belonged to no city but to a village and that an unimportant one. Hence because he was unknown, some writers, but not Plato the philosopher, attributed to Pisistratus the tyrant what properly belonged to Myson. For Plato mentions him in the Protagoras, reckoning him as one of the Seven instead of Periander. He died at the age of ninety-seven.

"We opine that Plato regarded Myson of Chen as one of the Seven Sages on the basis of what he had personally learned of the man, and because of this statement of his logical postion: "We should not investigate facts by the light of arguments, but arguments by the light of facts; for the facts were not put together to fit the arguments, but the arguments to fit the facts."

Top ↑

An Invitation: 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 Moralia, Vol. II, Loeb Classical Library edition, 1928. pp. 345‑449.


Laertius, Diogenes, "Life of Bias," The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers. R.D. Hicks, trans. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1925. [Accessed November 16, 2017].

Laertius, Diogenes, "Life of Chilion," The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers. R.D. Hicks, trans. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 1972 (First published 1925) [Accessed November 16, 2017].

Laertius, Diogenes, "Life of Cleobulus," The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers. R.D. Hicks, trans. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 1972 (First published 1925) [Accessed November 15, 2017].

Laertius, Diogenes, "Life of Myson," The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers. R.D. Hicks, trans. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 1972 (First published 1925) [Accessed November 15, 2017].

Laertius, Diogenes, "Life of Periander," The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers. R.D. Hicks, trans. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 1972 (First published 1925) [Accessed November 16, 2017].

Laertius, Diogenes, "Life of Pittacus," The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers. R.D. Hicks, trans. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 1972 (First published 1925) [Accessed November 15, 2017].

Laertius, Diogenes, "Life of Solon," The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers. R.D. Hicks, trans. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 1972 (First published 1925) [Accessed November 16, 2017].

Laertius, Diogenes, "Life of Thales," The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers. R.D. Hicks, trans. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 1972 (First published 1925) [Accessed November 15, 2017].

O'Grady,Patricia. "Thales of Miletus" in The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ISSN 2161-0002, April 11, 2020.

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. [Accessed] November 17, 2017].

Plutarch, "Solon," The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans, John Dryden, trans. Internet Classics Archive [Accessed] November 12, 2017].

Search Our Site