The Delphic Maxims

August 9, 2017

The Delphic maxims are a set of 147 aphorisms (sayings) inscribed at Delphi, one of the most important religious sanctuaries of the ancient world. Some attribute them to the God Apollo’s Oracle, some to Apollo himself. Later research attributes them to the seven sage sisters of Greece. Recent scholars believe that they are merely the collection of traditional proverbs collected over the centuries. The most recognizable of those maxims is perhaps, “Know thyself” that is carved into the temple of Apollo at the ancient city of Delphi, which is widely attributed to Socrates. The Maxims have no particular order, and I have omitted nineteen that are no longer relevant to this time and age, like the ones concerning ancient beliefs. Here they are:


  1. Obey the law

  2. Respect your parents

  3. Be overcome by justice

  4. Know what you have learned

  5. Perceive what you have heard 

  6. Be Yourself or Know Yourself 

  7. Know your opportunity

  8. Think as a mortal

  9. If you are a stranger act like one 

  10. Control yourself

  11. Help your friends

  12. Control anger

  13. Exercise prudence

  14. Do not use an oath

  15. Love friendship

  16. Cling to discipline

  17. Pursue honor

  18. Long for wisdom

  19. Praise the good

  20. Find fault with no one

  21. Praise virtue

  22. Practice what is just

  23. Be kind to friends

  24. Watch out for your enemies 

  25. Exercise nobility of character 

  26. Shun evil

  27. Be impartial

  28. Guard what is yours

  29. Shun what belongs to others 

  30. Listen to everything

  31. Be silent

  32. Do a favor for a friend

  33. Do nothing to excess

  34. Use time sparingly

  35. Foresee the future

  36. Despise insolence

  37. Be accommodating in everything 

  38. Educate your sons

  39. Give what you have 

  40. Fear deceit

  41. Speak well of everyone 

  42. Be a seeker of wisdom 

  43. Choose what is divine 

  44. Act when you know 

  45. Consult the wise

  46. Test the character

  47. Give back what you have received 

  48. Down-look no one

  49. Use your skill

  50. Do what you mean to do 

  51. Be jealous of no one

  52. Be on your guard

  53. Praise hope

  54. Despise a slanderer

  55. Honor good men

  56. Know the judge

  57. Master wedding-feasts 

  58. Recognize fortune

  59. Speak plainly

  60. Associate with your peers 

  61. Govern your expenses

  62. Be happy with what you have

  63. Revere a sense of shame 

  64. Fulfill a favor

  65. Be fond of fortune

  66. Observe what you have heard

  67. Work for what you can own

  68. Despise strife

  69. Detest disgrace

  70. Restrain the tongue

  71. Keep yourself from insolence

  72. Make just judgement

  73. Use what you have

  74. Judge incorruptibly

  75. Accuse one who is present

  76. Tell when you know

  77. Do not depend on strength

  78. Live without sorrow

  79. Live together meekly

  80. Finish the race without shrinking back 

  81. Deal kindly with everyone

  82. Benefit yourself

  83. Be courteous

  84. Give a timely response

  85. Struggle with glory

  86. Act without repenting

  87. Control the eye

  88. Give a timely counsel

  89. Act quickly

  90. Guard friendship

  91. Be grateful

  92. Pursue harmony

  93. Keep deeply the top secret

  94. Fear ruling

  95. Pursue what is profitable

  96. Accept due measure

  97. Do away with enmities

  98. Accept old age

  99. Do not boast in might

  100. 100.Flee enmity

  101. 101.Acquire wealth justly

  102. 102.Do not abandon honor

  103. 103.Venture into danger prudently

  104. 104.Do not tire of learning

  105. 105.Do not stop to be thrifty

  106. 106.Love whom you rear

  107. 107.Do not oppose someone absent 

  108. 108.Respect the elder

  109. 109.Teach a youngster

  110. 110.Respect yourself

  111. 111.Do not begin to be insolent

  112. 112.Crown your ancestors

  113. 113.Die for your country

  114. 114.Do not be discontented by life

  115. 115.Do not make fun of the dead

  116. 116.Share the load of the unfortunate 

  117. 117.Gratify without harming

  118. 118.Grieve for no one

  119. 119.Beget from noble routes

  120. 120.Make promises to no one

  121. 121.Do not wrong the dead

  122. 122.Be well off as a mortal

  123. 123.Do not trust fortune

  124. 124.As a child be well-behaved

  125. a youth - self-disciplined

  126. of middle-age - just

  127. an old man - sensible

  128. 128.on reaching the end - without sorrow


You would have probably noticed the similarity of the Maxims' core philosophy to the Stoic Philosophy in general, and to the code of conduct outlined in the book “Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz. (1.Be impeccable with your word / 2.Do not take anything personally / 3.Do not make assumptions / 4.Always do your best). The book is based on an ancient Toltec wisdom which lived continents and ages apart from the times where the maxims were written. If that proves anything, is that as much as we are different as humans, we are all stricken by the chaotic existential nature of our being and that there are proven new old ways to bring some order to that chaos. 


What would happen if you were to take the above agreements one each day at a time, ponder it and go to work on enforcing it into your life? How would your life be different? How would the lives of others be different because of the change you are making? How would you feel about that? Is it worth giving it a decent try? When would you start?


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