The seven wise
men of antiquity.
THALIS of Miletus. 624-549 BC.
Regarded as being the founder of the Ionian School of philosophy. Thalis was the first to renounce the religious and mythological explanations of the world and its phenomena that had prevailed up to that time by declaring water to be the elementary cosmic substance out of which all others are formed. His Life and work. Thalis believed that matter, of which the universe is made, is subject to constant changes that are brought about by the gods, powerful beings inherent in ever y particle of matter. He also sought a single elementary cosmic matter as the base of the diversity of nature, and declared this to be water. Most of the information we have about the life and work of Thalis of Miletus is from the writings of the ancient Greek historian Diogenes Laertius.The appellation «Wise Man» (Sophos) initially applied to Thales and six other Greek men was derived from a term that then designated inventiveness and practical wisdom rather than speculative insight.
Thalis is said to have had extensive knowledge of mathematics, astronomy and physics. To him we owe a number of theorems in geometry such as that opposite angles are equal when two straight lines intersect, that the angles at the base of a n isosceles triangle are equal, that the angle inscribed in a semicircle is a right angle, and others.
Thalis was also an important astronomer. According to Eudemus of Rhodes, in his History of Astronomy, Thales was the first to speak of eclipses of the sun and established the solstices. Herodotus reported that Thalis predicted the solar eclipse of 585 BC, when a battle was taking place between the Lydians and the Persians. Thales likewise had some knowledge of mechanics. To enable Cyrus's army to cross the River Halys, wrote Herodotus, Thales shifted the bed of the river in such a way that Croesus' army was on the other side.
Thales was the first known scientist in the world in the full sense of the word. The ancient Greeks believed that it was Thales who introduced geometry into the Aegean world. He won the profound esteem of his contemporaries for his sagacity. An epigram was carved on his tomb in Miletus that began with a phrase:'' ολιγον τοδε σημα, το δε κλεος ουρανομηκες'' meaning; "This grave may be s mall, but its glory reaches heaven".
PITTACUS OF MYTILENE.648-569 BC
He was a model of prudence and a political figure distinguished for his reason, wisdom and political honesty. He granted freedom even to the murder of his son, arguing that '' forgiveness is better than regret''. His considerable political abilities are confirmed by a number of laws including the one that stipulated a double penalty for any offence committed while intoxicated.
His life. Pittacus probably came from an aristocratic family, since his mother was a noblewoman from the island of Lesbos and his father was from the middle or upper classes of Thrace. Other information, originating mainly from his political adversaries, indicated that Pittacus was of humble origin, and that he spent his childhood unhappily and humbly, but being the very intelligent and active person he was, he managed to overcome all difficulties and hurdles created by his humble origin. He was self-educated and traveled widely. With his intelligence, prudence and political honesty, and his wisdom and courage in battle, he played a very important role in the history of his country. In 589 his fellow citizens elected him Aisymnetes, entrusting him with absolute power in times of internal strife.
His work. Pittacus was involved in politics and governed Mytilene prudently for 10 years. According to Diogenes Laertius, when the Athenians attacked Lesbos, its inhabitants had Pittacus as their general. He challenged the adversary general Phtynon to a duel and defeated him, which made his fellow citizens recognize his services and allow him to govern Mytilene. He is reported to have ruled in a spirit of justice, seeking to calm political passions. He showed sympathy to α11 political factions by proclaiming a general amnesty. He was the first to give the example of tolerance, granting freedom to the murderer of his own son, stating that "forgiveness is better than repentance".
He enacted new laws and took care to foster trade and to emancipate the people. It is reported that one-of his best taws was the one that provided for a double punishment for any offence that had been committed when the offender was drunk. When he felt he had completed his political program, he retired from office of his own volition and lived the remaining ten years of his life as an ordinary citizen. His political sagacity and moral stature were recognized very soon. Diogenes Laertius quotes a number of moral and political maxims attributed to him, as well as an undoubtedly spurious letter he is reported to have written to Croesus - who had allegedly sent him a lavish gift of money - telling him that he always had twice as much as he needed.
A number of other writers of antiquity also attributed maxims to him. Pittacus wrote six hundred lines of elegiac poetry , as well as a prose text containing laws for the citizens. His poetry was admonitory in nature and, taken as a whole, constituted an account of his political action. He lived more than seventy years. The following epigram was carved in his grave: "With the appropriate tears, sacred Lesbos mourns for Pittacus whom it produced and now is dead".
SOLON OF ATHENS.640/558 BC
Solon's law regarding apathetic citizens.
Of all Solon's laws, the most characteristic and strange is the law stipulating that in the event of civil unrest in the city, every man had to side with a faction, otherwise he would lose his civil rights. It seems that Solon did not want a single citizen to be indifferent to public issues, or to seek only his own interests, or to take pride in the fact that the sufferings of his homeland cause him no pain. On the contrary, Solon wanted the citizen to take a position at the outset alongside those he believed to be acting most correctly and justly, and to take a risk and help them instead of waiting to see who would win.
His life. Poet,
legislator and philosopher, Solon came from a noble family,
and as a young man; maintained himself as a merchant. He traveled
far and wide on his own ship, educating himself and making money.
But he considered earthly goods in the right light: he believed
that people who have "piles of gold and silver, fruitful fields,
horses and mules" were as happy as those w ho have "nothing
but their health -a strong stomach, a strong body and legs-
and when the time comes, a pretty wife. Thus their happiness
But this wise man did not disdain the joys of life: "The works of Dionysus and the Muses , a source of delight to men, this is what I like!"
His work . In 594 BC, in recognition of his services in recapturing the island of Salamis from the Megarians, the Athenians elected Solon to the position of Archon with unlimited powers and with a mandate to exercise economic and social reforms. Because the land was concentrated in the hands of a few, the poorer classes kept multiplying and falling deeper in debt, and discontent was rife in the state. Solon undertook this high mission and succeeded in instituting laws and establishing social measures that constituted a historic landmark in the city of Athens, creating the conditions necessary for its subsequent glory.
In his mature poetry he called upon his fellow citizens to take bold actions, emphasising their patriotism
Among the measures he took were:
1) to abolish debts through the Seisachtheia ("shaking off burdens"), a law that cancel ed loans granted on the property or person of the borrower. He then set free people whose debts had reduced them to slavery.
2) to lay down a new basis for distinguishing citizens into four classes with different rights: t he wealthy Pentacosiomedimni, the horsemen Hippeis, the Zeugites who tilled the land, and the Thetes who were servants, etc., according to each one's property e and income rather than his family origin, as had been the case hitherto.
3) to prohibit the export of cereals from Attica, since it could not feed its own people, although he permitted the export of oil which was abundant.
4) to take economic measures to bridge the gap between the aristocracy and the lower social classes.
5) to encourage the settlement of metoikoi (emigrants).
6) to grant the right by law to those who had no descendants to dispose of their property as they wished, i.e. the division of family lands.
7) to make provision by law to oblige citizens to adhere to one or the other faction in a civil dispute under penalty of losing their rights.
8) to grant amnesty to all exiled Athenians.
9) to pass a law allowing any citizen to bring charges against another who damaged the honor, life and property of a third citizen.
BIAS OF PRIENE. 6TH C. BC
His life and work .
Bias was born in Priene, a town north of Miletus in lonia, Asia Minor, which maintained links with Thebes. In it the main sanctuary of the lonians was located.
He was renowned for his wisdom, his flawless judicial judgment
and his eloquence. He defended in court those who had been unjustly
treated, and indeed without fee.
When he was obliged to sentence someone to death, he would weep.
It is said that when Alyattes, king of Lydia, laid siege to
Priene, Bias let loose two well-fed mules into Atyattes' camp.
The latter, seeing the mules, was astonished at their excellent
condition and concluded that for livestock to be so well fed,
the inhabitants must be living under very good conditions. To
verify this, he sent a messenger into the city. Then Bias ordered
piles of sand to be created, and wheat to be poured on top of
them, which he then showed to the emissary. When Alyapes learned
about this, he sought peace with Priene.
Bias died at the age of 80 as he was speaking in the court. He was honored by a splendid funeral and a sanctuary called Teutaminum was dedicated to him .
CLEOBOULOS OF RHODES. 6TH C. BC
His Life and work.
Cleoboulos was the tyrant (a word which in antiquity meant absolute ruler) of Rhode~ (Lindos) and one of the seven sages of ancient Greece. He lived in the 6th century BC, but we do not know exactly when he was born or when he died. His father boasted that his family was descended from Hercules. He was distinguished for his physical strength and handsome appearance. He had traveled widely and was well acquainted with Egyptian philosophy. He wrote poetry riddles and epigrams. He had a daughter, Cleobouline, who was a writer of riddles and hexameter poems. Cleobouline was discussed by Cratinus in his work entitled Cleobulinae. Cleoboulus refurbished the sanctuary of Athena that had been built by Danaus.
Of all the riddles for which Cleoboulus was famed, only the
following one has been preserved, the answer to which is time:
"The father is one and his children twelve. Each of the children has twice thirty daughters who have a different appearance. Some are white others black some are immortal while others die .
CHILON OF SPARTA. 6TH C. BC.
Life and work .
Chilon lived in the 6th century BC. He was the son of Damagetus and his family was ~. from Sparta (Lacedaemon). What ranked Chilon among the Seven Sages was his reform of the institutions established by Lycurgus on the basis of this reform, power was given to the ephors. Under the laws of Lycurgus, the ephors were mere assistants to the two basile i s (or kings), without any particular politician role .
Chilon, cleverly taking advantage of the current situation,
had the ephors made deputies of the basileis/kings when the
latter were absent, or when the kingdom was "lame", i.e. when
one of the two basileis/kings could not exercise power, or when
they disagreed about something.Chilon wrote about two hundred
elegiac verses and said that the great virtue of man was prudence
and well-grounded judgment as to future events. The characteristic
feature of Chilon was the laconic way in which he expressed
his philosophical convictions. He believed the most difficult
things for man to do were to keep secrets, to control his nerves
and to 'suffer injustice.
Tradition tells us that Chilon died of great joy when he heard that his son had won a contest in the Olympic Games. The inscription on his tomb concludes with the words: "We too would be fortunate to have such a death".
PERIANDER OF CORINTH. 668-584 BC
His life and work.
Periander was tyrant of Corinth for 40 years. He succeeded the tyranny of his father Cypselus. To consolidate his power, he did not hesitate to commit the most heinous crimes. It is said, for example, that in a moment of anger, he killed his own wife, thus coming into conflict with his father-in-law, Proclus, tyrant of Epidavrus, whose territory he eventually seized. It is also possible that his reputation as a cruel despot may have stemmed largely from the Corinthian nobility whom he treated harshly.
What is certain is that Periander, though his
firm and effective rule, became famous as the founder of Corinthian
greatness. He worked hard to increase its power and prosperity.
He enacted brilliant measures to protect and promote Corinthian
trade, making it the major maritime power of the age. Under
his rule, Corinth reached the height of its political power,
established the colonies of Apollonia, Epidaumnus and Potidaea,
and annexed Corfu. From the economic point of view, under Periander's
rule,Corinth was the most important city in Greece, with its
industry and trade reaching unprecedented heights. Periander
restricted luxury and prohibited the purchase of slaves. He
also introduced drastic legislation against idleness, luxury
and vice. He took
care to develop shipping. He even thought of cutting through the isthmus of Corinth, but was obliged to abandon this plan owing to the lack of engineering resources. Periander, patron of poets and artists, is reputed to have been the author of a collection of maxims in 2000 verses.