December 6, 2017

“Know thyself.” (And thy enemy.)

Temple of Apollo at Delphi WM


“Know thyself.” (“Gnothi seauton.”)
       A saying inscribed at the Greek Temple of Apollo at Delphi (4th century BC)             
       This oft-quoted advice is generally attributed to “The Seven Sages of Greece,” a group of famous Greek philosophers, statesmen and politicians. It’s one of 147 pithy sayings inscribed at Delphi.             
       Some of those sayings have been attributed to specific sages. For example, “Know thyself” has been credited to the philosopher Thales, the Greek statesman Solon, and several other Greek wise men.
       However, it’s likely that it and many other maxims inscribed at the Temple of Delphi are proverbial sayings that predate the Seven Sages.       



“He who knows others is wise. He who knows himself is enlightened.”             
       One of the most-cited quotes from the Tao Te Ching (a.k.a. the  Daodejing or Dao De Jing), a fundamental text of Taoism dating back to the 6th Century BC
       This quote is traditionally attributed to Lao-Tzu (a.k.a.  Lao-Tze or Laozi), the legendary, possibly mythical founder of Taoism who is generally credited with authorship of the Tao Te Ching.  
       Modern scholars tend to believe that text is probably a compilation of ancient Chinese wisdom, rather than the creation of one man.

 Sun Tzu the Art of War


“Know your enemy and know yourself, find naught in fear for 100 battles. Know yourself but not your enemy, find level of loss and victory. Know thy enemy but not yourself, wallow in defeat every time.”
        Sun-Tzu (c. 544 BC-496 BC)
        Chinese general, military strategist, and philosopher             
        This is one of the most popular pieces of wisdom in his famed work The Art of War (5th century BC).
        Although “Know thy enemy” and the variation “Know thine enemy” sound like and are sometimes assumed to be Biblical in origin, there is no such quote in the Bible. (Check it yourself if you don’t believe me.)

Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard's


“There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self.”
       Benjamin Franklin (1705-1790)
       American author, inventor, writer, publisher and statesman
       A saying recorded the 1750 edition of Poor Richard’s Almanack, a yearly almanac published by Franklin under the pseudonym of “Poor Richard” Saunders.

Oscar Wilde


“Only the shallow know themselves.”
       Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)
       Irish poet and playwright
       From his collection of aphorisms “Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young,” first published in December 1894 in the one and only issue of the Oxford student magazine The Chameleon.

Andre Gide by_Laurens


“‘Know Thyself’ – a maxim as pernicious as it is odious. A person observing himself would arrest his own development. Any caterpillar who tried to ‘know himself’ would never become a butterfly.”
       André Gide (1869-1951)
       French writer and left-leaning political activist
       A comment in his 1935 book Les Nouvelles Nourritures, meaning “The New Foods” in English. That rambling, part-philosophical, part-poetic, part-political work is a followup to Gide’s Les Nourritures Terrestres, or “Foods of the Earth,” (1897).

Henry Miller


“The study of crime begins with the knowledge of oneself.”
       Henry Miller (1891-1980)
       American writer best known for his boundary-pushing, semi-autobiographical novels             
       A line from his memoir The Air-Conditioned Nightmare (1945), an account of a year-long trip he took across the United States in 1939 after living in Paris for nearly a decade.
        After the quote above, Miller goes on to say: “All that you despise, all that you loathe, all that you reject, all that you condemn and seek to convert by punishment springs from you. The source of it is God whom you place outside, above and beyond. Crime is identification, first with God, then with your own image.”

For fun, also see the video riff on “Know thyself” that I posted on YouTube.

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