“Who? Neva hoid ov’em.”
The Seven Sages of ancient Greece. They are considered by many to be the fathers of western philosophy, mathematics, and astronomy… at least in the general sense. Stories about them may be a touch apocryphal (for instance attribution for specific nuggets of wisdom is occasionally shifted from source to source among the seven) but they were none-the-less considered the great minds of the archaic western tradition.
Oh indeed. And yet their names are not exactly common knowledge are they? No cars or candy bars named after them. Such is the injustice of daddy time.
So who specifically were these seven dudes so filled with sagacity that they deserve their own ancient-world version of mensa? Well the early philosophy fan-boys debated about their exact make-up just exactly as a group of Trekkies might debate the make-up of the magnificent seven of Starfleet. I am going to go with Plato’s version here (because as far as historical accounting goes, he was not only the philosophy club president but he was also a member.)
Solon of Athens
Occupation: “Beloved tyrant.”
Catch phrase: “Nothing in excess.”
Athenians addressed him as: “Sir”
Turn-ons: Lawgiving, statesmanship, arbitration, lyric poetry, long walks on the beach.
Claim to fame: Creating a supreme court. Repealing the laws of Dracon, which punished even small offenses with death, making only murder and manslaughter punishable by death. Allowed the poor to participate in government. And lastly basically the founding of the Western tradition of constitutional government in the laying of the foundation for classical Greek culture.
Chilon of Sparta
Known as: “The laconic spartan.”
His enemies called him: “The Fartin’ Spartan.”
Catch phrase: “Know thyself.” (It has never been satisfactorily settled as to whether he meant in the metaphysical sense or what we’d now call the “Biblical” sense.)
Alternate catch phrase: “I’m Chilon like Gillagon.”
It is said that: He died of joy in the arms of his son, who had just gained a prize at the Olympic games.
Bias of Priene
Catch phrases: “Too many workers spoil the work.” “All men are wicked.” “Speak of the Gods as they are.”
Example of his sagacity: He wisely said that as a judge, he would rather decide a dispute between two of his enemies than between two of his friends. No matter what he ruled in the first case, one of the two enemies would become his friend, but in the second case, one of his two friends would become an enemy.
Final Irony: He was a preeminent lawyer and judge of his time and yet his name would, through coincidence, come to mean “a personal and sometimes unreasoned judgment, prejudiced.”
Cleobulus of Lindos
Catch Phrase: “Moderation is the chief good.”
His Father once told him: “Don’t be such a sagenheimer!”
Turn-ons: hexameter verse, egyptian philosophy, Minerva, tyrany.
Example of his sagacity: he wisely said when a man goes out of his house, he should consider what he is going to do: and when he comes home again he should consider what he has done.
Greatest lapse in judgement: naming his daughter “Cleobulina.”
Pittacus of Mitylene
Catch phrase: “Know thine opportunity.”
Turn-ons: Killing athenians, being a general, elegiac metre, floppy hats.
Terms the archaic poet Alcaeus used to describe him:
Sarapous (because he was splay-footed and dragged his feet.)
Cheiropodês (because he had scars on his feet.)
Phuskôn or Gastrôn (because he was fat.)
Agasurtos (because he was lazy and dirty.)
Person who Pitticus exiled: Alcaeus the archaic poet.
Periander of Corinth
Catch phrase: “Forethought in all things.”
Corinthians called him: “Master.”
Good deed: He restricted the number of slaves in Corinth.
Real reason for doing so: To keep the citizens too busy to conspire against him.
Accomplishment: he constructed the famed Diolcos, which carried ships over the isthmos of corinth for a thousand years, in order to kick much naval ass.
Turn-ons: Killing his wife, sending his enemies children off to become eunuchs, puppies.
Admission: Plato actually left Periander off his list because he was a huge dick.
Thales of Miletus
Catch phrase: “To bring surety brings ruin.”
Turn-ons: Astronomy, engineering, mathematics, romantic dinners.
Turn-offs: His mother asking him over and over again to marry her.
When asked why he had no children he answred: “Becuase I love children.”
Claims to fame: Being the first man in history to correctly predict a solar-eclipse. Being the first man in history to have specific mathematical discoveries attributed to him. Determining the height of an Egyptian pyramid by measuring the length of its shadow. Dividing the year into 365 days. Being a world class smart-ass.
Truth be told it is Thales (pronounced Thay-lees) who led me to this post in the first place. There are so many anecdotal stories about him that I would feel it remiss not to offer him special treatment and relate at least one.
When Solon went to visit Thales, Solon asked why he did not get married and have children. Thales gave no reply, but he hired an actor, who a few days later pretended to have just arrived from Athens. Solon asked this actor for the latest news, and the actor said that nothing important had happened, except there was a funeral of some young man who had died while his famous father happened to be away. “Poor man,” said Solon, “but what is his name?” With every question and answer, Solon got more and more worried, until finally he mentioned his own name. “That’s the man!” said the actor, and Solon went into all of the usual expressions of grief while Thales watched impassively. After a while, Thales said to Solon: “You asked why I did not marry and have children. You now see the reason.”
So there you have it friends a refresher course, complete with a few eensy-weensy lies, on The Seven Sages. Hope you enjoyed.
For more see:
The lives and opinions of eminent philosophers.
The Seven Sages, Between Legend and History.
The Seven Sages of Ancient Greece.
The Seven Wise Men of Antiquity.
For further sagacity see:
The Sages Directory.
Lastly I must mention that the images in this post were adapted from The Morse Library of Benoit College’s excellent online version of the The Nuremberg Chronicle , a sprawling medieval history of the world, which, owing to it’s amazing illustrations (some by a young Albrecht Dürer) alone, deserves its own post. Perhaps another time.
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