It has been a while since I last talked to you about the Delphic Maxims, but while I will be referencing them today, I won't be talking about any one of them specifically. Today, I want to talk to you about the Seven (Ancient) Sages, or the Seven Wise Men--and introduce a new mini series.

The maxims are said to have been delivered by Apollon Himself to his Oracle at Delphi. They represent a honest, worthy way of living but are not to be taken as commandments. They are guidelines, forming a framework to life, without restraining the mortal soul. Once noted down, they were shared with any who would listen.

Instead (or in addition to) the Oracle of Delphi, the maxims are sometimes contributed to the Seven Sages or the Seven Wise Men (οἱ ἑπτὰ σοφοί, hoi hepta sophoi). This was the title given by ancient Hellenic tradition to seven early 6th century BC philosophers, statesmen and law-givers who were renowned in the following centuries for their wisdom. They are usually identified as: Solon of Athens, Chilon of Sparta, Thales of Miletus, Bias of Priene, Cleobulus of Lindos, Pittacus of Mitylene and Periander of Corinth.

Solon of Athens (Σόλων ὁ Ἀθηναῖος)
Solon was an Athenian statesman, lawmaker, and poet, who lived from 638 BC to 558 BC. He spent most of his adult life trying to legislate against political, economic, and moral decline in archaic Athens. His ideologies are often credited with having laid the foundations for Athenian democracy.

Chilon of Sparta (Χίλων or Χείλων)
Chilon was an early 6th century BC Lacedaemonian (Spartan). Like Solon, he was a politician and a reformer of the way the city-state was ran in the time he was alive. He was part of the Spartan assembly, became an ephor in the 6th Olympiad, and it is clamed that he introduced the system where kings took ephors as their counselors for their term. The ephors (Ἔφορος) were leaders of ancient Sparta and shared power with the Spartan kings. Five ephors were elected annually, who 'swore on behalf of the city', while the kings swore for themselves. Chilon is said to have helped to overthrow the tyranny at Sicyon, which became a Spartan ally. He is also credited with the change in Spartan policy leading to the development of the Peloponnesian League in the sixth century BC.

Thales of Miletus (Θαλῆς ὁ Μιλήσιος)
Thalēs was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher and mathematician from Miletus in Asia Minor. What made his philosophical musings uniue at the time was that he attempted to explain natural phenomena without reference to mythology. Of his time and of tyhe sages, he was often considered the most wise--which actually spared his life when he became a captive of war. Many commentators state that Thales was named as Sage because of the practical advice he gave to Miletus in particular, and to Ionia in general. Thalens is the only one of the Sages who did not leave behind a body of ethical sayings which can be attributed to him.

Bias of Priene (Βίας ὁ Πριηνεύς)
Bias, along with Thales, Pittacus, and Solon was one of the four men always named amongst the Sages. He was known for his goodness and was an advocate of many who had to appear in ancient Hellenic courts--very succesfully so.

Cleobulus of Lindos (Κλεόβουλος ὁ Λίνδος)
Cleobus (or Kleoboulos) was an ancient Lindosian poet and statesman. He was considered a tyrant but famed for his strength and beauty of person.

Pittacus of Mitylene (Πιττακός  Μυτιλήνη)
Pittacus was a Mytilenaean general who, with his army, was victorious in the battle against the Athenians and their commander Phrynon. As a result, he reigned over Mytilene for ten years before he resigned his position. As a ruler and lawmaker, many of his sayings were recorded.

Periander of Corinth (Περίανδρος ὁ Κόρινθος)
Periander was the Second Tyrant of the Cypselid dynasty that ruled over Corinth. Periander was said to be a patron of literature, who both wrote and appreciated early philosophy. Some scholars have argued that the ruler named Periander was a different person from the sage of the same name.

Four names have become canonical (Thales, Pittacus, Bias, Solon), but there were many candidates for the remaining three positions. Diogenes Laertius, the author of the entertaining Lives of the Philosophers, mentions several writers who had included lists of seven sages in their books on the history of Greek philosophy, like Dicaearchus of Messene (late fourth century), Maeandrius of Miletus (early third century), and three authors whose names are not mentioned. The candidates for inclusion include: Myson, Anacharsis, Pythagoras, Aristodemus, Pamphylus, Epimenides, Leophantes, Acusilaos, Scabras, Pherecydes, Lasus, Aristoxenus, Anaxagoras, Orpheus, Linus, and Epicharmus.

Unlike collections of sages from other (religious) traditions--like the saptarishi from Hindu tradition or the seven apkallū from Babylon--the ancient Hellenic Seven Sages were not (semi-)mythical. The only (semi-)mythical thing about them was their relation to Apollon and the involvement of the Delpic oracle in forming the Delphic Maxims.

Personally, I think these men bundled their own ideals and ideologies into a coherent ethical framework, but that does not negates Apollon's involvement at all, as He would be credited with their wisdom and inspiration--and rightfully so. And Delphi was a meeting place of many people--likeminded or not, especially for the Phyian games. These men could have come together there or anywhere else to discuss philosophy and ethics. They were all essentially practical men who played leading roles in the affairs of their respective states, and were far better known to the earlier GHellenes as lawgivers and statesmen than as profound thinkers and philosophers, althoughn their Maxims were picked up quickly.

The coming seven weeks, every Monday, I would like you to get to know these men better--and the ethical guidelines they brought into the Delphic Maxims. We will be starting tomorrow with Solon, a man who has been featured on this blog before for his wisdom and legistrative skill. See you tomorrow for part one of the Seven Sages Series.