Delphic maxims

Stone block with a portion of the Delphic Maxims. Ai-Khanoum, Afghanistan, 2nd century BCE.

The Delphic maxims are a set of 147 aphorisms inscribed at Delphi. Originally, they were said to have been given by the Greek god Apollo's Oracle at Delphi and were therefore attributed to Apollo himself.[1] The 5th century scholar Stobaeus later attributed them to the Seven Sages of Greece.[2] Contemporary scholars, however, hold that their original authorship is uncertain and that 'most likely they were popular proverbs, which tended later to be attributed to particular sages.'[3] Perhaps the most famous of these maxims is 'know thyself,' which was carved into the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. The specific order and wording of each maxim varies between different versions (and translations) of the text.

Ai-Khanoum inscription

In the ruins of the Hellenistic city of Ai-Khanoum (former Greco-Bactrian kingdom, and modern Afghanistan), on a Herõon (funerary monument) identified in Greek as the tomb of Kineas (also described as the oikistes (founder) of the Greek settlement) and dated to 300-250 BCE, an inscription has been found describing part of the Delphic maxims (maxims 143 to 147):

παῖς ὢν κόσμιος γίνου,
ἡβῶν ἐγκρατής,
μέσος δίκαιος,
πρεσβύτης εὔβουλος,
τελευτῶν ἄλυπος.[4]
"Païs ôn kosmios ginou (As children, learn good manners)
hèbôn enkratès, (as young men, learn to control the passions)
mesos dikaios (in middle age, be just)
presbutès euboulos (in old age, give good advice)
teleutôn alupos. (then die, without regret.)"

The precepts were placed by a Greek named Clearchos, who may or may not have been Clearchus of Soli the disciple of Aristotle,[5] who, according to the same inscription, had copied them from Delphi:

ἀνδρῶν τοι σοφὰ ταῦτα παλαιοτέρων ἀνάκει[τα]ι
ῥήματα ἀριγνώτων Πυθοὶ ἐν ἠγαθέαι·
ἔνθεν ταῦτ[α] Κλέαρχος ἐπιφραδέως ἀναγράψας
εἵσατο τηλαυγῆ Κινέου ἐν τεμένει.[4]
"These wise commandments of men of old
- Words of well-known thinkers - stand dedicated
In the most holy Pythian shrine
From there Klearchos, having copied them carefully, set them up, shining from afar, in the sanctuary of Kineas"
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