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Delphic Maxims

Temple of Apollo (Delphi) by Joy of Museums - 2

Delphic Maxims

The Delphic Maxims are a set of aphorisms inscribed at Delphi. A maxim is a short, pithy statement expressing a general truth or a rule of conduct. The original authorship of the Delphic Maxims is uncertain, and most likely they were popular wisdom, which later was attributed to particular gods or sages. Perhaps the most famous of these maxims is ‘know thyself,’ which was carved into the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. The Temple of Apollo housed the innermost sanctuary which was the centre of the Delphic oracle and seat of Pythia. 

The specific order and wording of each maxim vary between different translations of the text, below are some of the Delphic Maxims.

  • Know yourself
  • Know your opportunity
  • Think as a mortal
  • Control yourself
  • Help your friends
  • Control Anger
  • Exercise prudence
  • Do not use an oath
  • Love friendship
  • Cling to discipline
  • Pursue honour
  • Long for wisdom
  • Praise the good
  • Find fault with no one
  • Praise virtue
  • Practice what is just
  • Be kind to friends
  • Watch out for your enemies
  • Exercise nobility of character
  • Shun evil
  • Be impartial
  • Guard what is yours
  • Shun what belongs to others
  • Listen to everyone
  • Do a favour for a friend
  • Nothing to excess
  • Foresee the future
  • Despise insolence
  • Have respect for suppliants
  • Be accommodating in everything
  • Educate your children
  • Give what you have
  • Fear deceit
  • Speak well of everyone
  • Be a seeker of wisdom
  • Act when you know
  • Shun murder
  • Pray for things possible
  • Consult the wise
  • Down-look no one
  • Be jealous of no one
  • Praise hope
  • Despise a slanderer
  • Gain possessions justly
  • Honour good men
  • Flee a pledge
  • Speak plainly
  • Govern your expenses
  • Be happy with what you have
  • Fulfil a favour
  • Despise strife
  • Detest disgrace
  • Restrain the tongue
  • Keep yourself from insolence
  • Make just judgements
  • Judge incorruptibly
  • Accuse one who is present
  • Do not depend on strength
  • Deal kindly with everyone
  • Be courteous
  • Give a timely response
  • Repent of sins
  • Control the eye
  • Give timely counsel
  • Guard friendship
  • Be grateful
  • Pursue harmony
  • Keep deeply the top secret
  • Fear ruling
  • Do away with enmities
  • Accept old age
  • Do not boast in might
  • Flee enmity
  • Despise evil
  • Venture into danger prudently
  • Do not tire of learning
  • Do not stop being thrifty
  • Do not oppose someone absent
  • Do not trust wealth
  • Do not be discontented by life
  • Share the load of the unfortunate
  • Make promises to no one
  • On reaching the end be without sorrow

Oracle of Delphi

Delphi is best known for its Oracle, the Pythia, a priestess at the sanctuary dedicated to Apollo. Apollo spoke through his Oracle of Delphi, who was a priestess in an inner sanctum where she sat on a tripod seat over an opening chasm in the earth. Sitting over a crack in the ground, she would become intoxicated by the vapours, and she would fall into a trance, allowing the gods to possess her spirit. In this trance maintained state, she prophesied.

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Reflections

  • Which are your favourite Ancient Maxim?
  • Did Pythia, the Delphi Oracle, fall back on these Maxims?
  • Are maxims and proverbs still popular today?

Delphic Maxims

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“Love of money and nothing else will ruin Sparta.”
– Oracle of Delphi

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Photo Credit: JOM

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