The Delphic Maxims and Philosophy of Apollo

Upon a column once standing at the entrance (pronaos) of the Temple of Apollo in Delphi, two famous maxims were inscribed: “Know thyself” (gnothi seauton) and “Nothing in excess” (meden agan).

In Plato’s Protagoras, Socrates claims that the legendary Seven Sages invented these sayings and had them placed at Delphi:

They met together and dedicated in the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, as the first-fruits of their wisdom, the far-famed inscriptions, which are in all men’s mouths — “Know thyself”, and “Nothing in excess.”

The god Apollo was the Leader of the Muses, and therefore ultimately responsible for the arts, such as music and oratory. He was also the god especially responsible for the arts of prophecy and healing. In addition to these traditional roles, however, Apollo came to be associated with philosophy. Indeed, Plutarch calls Apollo “that god who is above all things the lover of truth”, and claims that he “is no less philosopher than he is prophet.”

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