Letters To Aletheia

The Maxims of Delphi

The temple at Delphi has a convoluted history. The site itself is to be found between two towering rocks on Mount Parnassus called the Phaidriades. Evidence of Sacred Worship in the region goes back to least 6000 years, with evidence of ritual use in the Neolithic around 4000BC.

The Athena complex at Delphi. Photo by Tamara Semina.


The Sacred Upper Precinct At Delphi.
In more recent times, the Corycian Cave was associated with the Thriae, the three Corysian Nymphs associated with prophesy. They were called Melaina (the black), Corycia (after whom the cave was named after and Kleodora (lit. Glorious gift). Their method of divination (casting lots) differed from that of Apollo (casting stones) and it appears that they were later merged with the Apollonian myth via conflation with the Bee Maidens.


This link with prophesy, of course, extends to the main site itself.

According to Aeschylus in the prologue to The Eumenides in  Oresteia, circa 485BC, the temple was originally dedicated to Gaia, the primordial mother Goddess and was guarded by her son, Python, or in older myths, her daughter, Delphyne both represented as dragons or serpents, later killed by Apollo before his temple was built over the older sites. According to the Homeric Hymn to Delphic Apollo, the original name for Delphi was Krisa.

There were two temples at Delphi. The sanctuary of Athena Pronaia (Athena before the temple) and the sanctuary of Apollo. Within the sanctuary of Apollo an eternal flame was kept lit, an interesting echo of Zoroastrian and Mithraic traditions. 



The temples and oracle itself seem to have survived in some from at least around the 1400BC until 381AD with the persecution of pagans, in particular, Theodosius I “the Great”. He was central to the fall of Western Rome. It was not long after the shutting of the temple that the Western Empire began its final collapse. This is an interesting parallel to the collapse of the First Temple after the rejection of the Wisdom of Solomon.

The Eastern Empire, in which the wisdom traditions still survived (albeit in occulted form) continued until around 1453. We can see the reemergence of their wisdom tradition in the work of Botticelli as transmitted by Pletho.

The Oracle was aware of their incoming destruction. In the time of Julian, the last great Emperor of Rome, and his attempt to turn the Empire back to the wisdom traditions, Oribasius, under the behest of Julian, received this prophesy in 362AD.

Εἴπατε τῷ βασιλεῖ, χαμαὶ πέσε δαίδαλος αὐλά,

οὐκέτι Φοῖβος ἔχει καλύβην, οὐ μάντιδα δάφνην,

οὐ παγὰν λαλέουσαν, ἀπέσβετο καὶ λάλον ὕδωρ.

Tell the king, the splendid hall fell to the ground.

Phoebus no longer has his house, nor the prophesying laurel,

nor the speaking well. The speaking water has dried out.

Passio Artemii 96.1284.45–7, Cedrenus 1.532.8–10)



The Delphic Sibyl by Michelangelo.

Thankfully, fragments of the ancient wisdom have been passed to us in the modern age in the Maxims Of Delphi. The three most important, those carved on the pillars as one entered the temple, were: 

Γνῶθι σεαυτόν | Know Thyself.

Μηδὲν ἄγαν | Nothing In Excess

Ἐγγύα πάρα δ Ἄτα | Surity brings Ruin. 

Of these three, Know Thyself was the most important. It was the inscription above the Temple itself. This is a very deep concept which we will come back to in later articles. 

In honour of the ancient wisdom of Gaia, Athena, Apollo, the Triae, the Delphic SybilPythia and all others who were associated with this ancient site, I append what fragments are left of the ancient wisdom which guided the classical world.  



  1. Ἕπου θεῷ | Follow God
  2. Νόμῳ πείθου | Obey the law
  3. Θεοὺς σέβου | Respect the Gods
  4. Γονεῖς αἰδοῦ | Respect your parents
  5. Ἡττῶ ὑπὸ δικαίου | Be ruled by justice
  6. Γνῶθι μαθών | Know by learning
  7. Ἀκούσας νόει | Listen and understand
  8. Σαυτὸν ἴσθι | Know yourself, also, γνῶθι σεαυτόν
  9. Γαμεῖν μέλλε | Set out to be married
  10. Καιρὸν γνῶθι | Know your opportunity
  11. Φρόνει θνητά | Think mortal thoughts
  12. Ξένος ὢν ἴσθι | Know when you are an outsider
  13. Ἑστίαν τίμα | Honour the hearth
  14. Ἄρχε σεαυτοῦ | Be in control of yourself
  15. Φίλοις βοήθει | Help your friends
  16. Θυμοῦ κράτει | Control your temper
  17. Φρόνησιν ἄσκει | Exercise prudence
  18. Πρόνοιαν τίμα | Honour forethought
  19. Ὅρκῳ μὴ χρῶ | Do not use an oath
  20. Φιλίαν ἀγάπα | Embrace friendship
  21. Παιδείας ἀντέχου | Cling to education
  22. Δόξαν δίωκε | Pursue honour
  23. Σοφίαν ζήλου | Be eager for wisdom
  24. Καλὸν εὖ λέγε | Praise the good
  25. Ψέγε μηδένα | Find fault with no one
  26. Ἐπαίνει ἀρετήν | Praise virtue
  27. Πρᾶττε δίκαια | Practice what is just
  28. Φίλοις εὐνόει | Show favour to your friends
  29. Ἐχθροὺς ἀμύνου | Ward off your enemies
  30. Εὐγένειαν ἄσκει | Exercise nobility of character
  31. Κακίας ἀπέχου | Shun evil
  32. Κοινὸς γίνου | Be impartial
  33. Ἴδια φύλαττε | Guard what is yours
  34. Ἀλλοτρίων ἀπέχου | Shun what belongs to others
  35. Ἄκουε πάντα | Listen to everything
  36. Εὔφημος ἴσθι | Be fair of speech
  37. Φίλῳ χαρίζου | Look after your own
  38. Μηδὲν ἄγαν | Nothing in excess
  39. Χρόνου φείδου | Save time
  40. Ὅρα τὸ μέλλον | Look to the future
  41. Ὕβριν μίσει | Despise insolence
  42. Ἱκέτας αἰδοῦ | Have respect for suppliants
  43. Πᾶσιν ἁρμόζου | Be accommodating to all
  44. Υἱοὺς παίδευε | Educate your sons
  45. Ἔχων χαρίζου | If you have, give
  46. Δόλον φοβοῦ | Fear deceit
  47. Εὐλόγει πάντας | Speak well of everyone
  48. Φιλόσοφος γίνου | Be a seeker of wisdom
  49. Ὅσια κρῖνε | Choose what is holy
  50. Γνοὺς πρᾶττε | Act from knowledge
  51. Φόνου ἀπέχου | Shun murder
  52. Εὔχου δυνατά | Pray for what is possible
  53. Σοφοῖς χρῶ | Consult the wise
  54. Ἦθος δοκίμαζε | Test your character
  55. Λαβὼν ἀπόδος | If you have received, give back
  56. Ὑφορῶ μηδένα | Look down on none
  57. Τέχνῃ χρῶ | Make use of expertise
  58. Ὃ μέλλεις, δός | Give what you aim to give
  59. Εὐεργεσίας τίμα | Honour generosity
  60. Φθόνει μηδενί||Envy no one
  61. Φυλακῇ πρόσεχε | Be on your guard
  62. Ἐλπίδα αἴνει | Praise hope
  63. Διαβολὴν μίσει | Despise slander
  64. Δικαίως κτῶ | Gain possessions justly
  65. Ἀγαθοὺς τίμα | Honour good people
  66. Κριτὴν γνῶθι | Know who is the judge
  67. Γάμους κράτει | Control your marriages
  68. Τύχην νόμιζε | Recognize fortune
  69. Ἐγγύην φεῦγε | Don’t make risky promises
  70. Ἁπλῶς διαλέγου | Speak plainly
  71. Ὁμοίοις χρῶ | Associate with likeminded people
  72. Δαπανῶν ἄρχου | Control your expenditure
  73. Κτώμενος ἥδου | Be happy with what you have
  74. Αἰσχύνην σέβου | Revere a sense of shame
  75. Χάριν ἐκτέλει | Repay favours
  76. Εὐτυχίαν εὔχου | Pray for success
  77. Τύχην στέργε | Embrace your fate
  78. Ἀκούων ὅρα | Listen and observe
  79. Ἐργάζου κτητά | Work for what you can own
  80. Ἔριν μίσει | Despise strife
  81. Ὄνειδος ἔχθαιρε | Detest disgrace
  82. Γλῶτταν ἴσχε | Restrain your tongue
  83. Ὕβριν ἀμύνου | Shun violence
  84. Κρῖνε δίκαια | Make just judgements
  85. Χρῶ χρήμασιν | Use what you have
  86. Ἀδωροδόκητος δίκαζε | Judge incorruptibly
  87. Αἰτιῶ παρόντα | Make accusations face to face
  88. Λέγε εἰδώς| | Speak from knowledge
  89. Βίας μὴ ἔχου | Have no truck with violence
  90. Ἀλύπως βίου | Live free of sorrow
  91. Ὁμίλει πρᾴως | Have kindly interactions
  92. Πέρας ἐπιτέλει μὴ ἀποδειλιῶν | Complete the race and don’t chicken out
  93. Φιλοφρόνει πᾶσιν | Deal kindly with everyone
  94. Υἱοῖς μὴ καταρῶ | Do not curse your sons
  95. Γυναικὸς ἄρχε | Control your wife
  96. Σεαυτὸν εὖ ποίει | Benefit yourself
  97. Εὐπροσήγορος γίνου | Be courteous
  98. Ἀποκρίνου ἐν καιρῷ | Respond in a timely manner
  99. Πόνει μετ’ εὐκλείας | Struggle for glory
  100. Πρᾶττε ἀμετανοήτως | Act decisively
  101. Ἁμαρτάνων μετανόει | Repent of your errors
  102. Ὀφθαλμοῦ κράτει | Control your eye
  103. Βουλεύου χρόνῳ | Give timely counsel
  104. Πρᾶττε συντόμως | Act without hesitation
  105. Φιλίαν φύλαττε | Guard friendship
  106. Εὐγνώμων γίνου | Be grateful
  107. Ὁμόνοιαν δίωκε | Pursue harmony
  108. Ἄρρητον κρύπτε | Keep secret what should be secret
  109. Τὸ κρατοῦν φοβοῦ | Fear what rules
  110. Τὸ συμφέρον θηρῶ | Pursue what is profitable
  111. Καιρὸν προσδέχου | Accept due measure
  112. Ἔχθρας διάλυε | Dissolve enmities
  113. Γῆρας προσδέχου | Accept old age
  114. Ἐπὶ ῥώμῃ μὴ καυχῶ | Do not boast about power
  115. Εὐφημίαν ἄσκει | Exercise (religious) silence
  116. Ἀπέχθειαν φεῦγε | Shun hatred
  117. Πλούτει δικαίως | Acquire wealth justly
  118. Δόξαν μὴ λεῖπε | Do not abandon honour
  119. Κακίαν μίσει | Despise evil
  120. Κινδύνευε φρονίμως | Take sensible risks
  121. Μανθάνων μὴ κάμνε | Never tire of learning
  122. Φειδόμενος μὴ λεῖπε | Never cease being thrifty
  123. Χρησμοὺς θαύμαζε | Admire oracles
  124. Οὓς τρέφεις, ἀγάπα | Love those whom you rear
  125. Ἀπόντι μὴ μάχου | Do not fight an absent foe
  126. Πρεσβύτερον αἰδοῦ | Respect the old
  127. Νεώτερον δίδασκε | Instruct the young
  128. Πλούτῳ ἀπίστει | Do not put your trust in wealth
  129. Σεαυτὸν αἰδοῦ | Respect yourself
  130. Μὴ ἄρχε ὑβρίζειν | Do not initiate violence
  131. Προγόνους στεφάνου | Crown your ancestors
  132. Θνῆσκε ὑπὲρ πατρίδος | Die for your country
  133. Τῷ βίῳ μὴ ἄχθου | Do not live your life in discontent
  134. Ἐπὶ νεκρῷ μὴ γέλα | Do not make fun of the dead
  135. Ἀτυχοῦντι συνάχθου | Share the load of the unfortunate
  136. Χαρίζου ἀβλαβῶς | Gratify without harming
  137. Μὴ ἐπὶ παντὶ λυποῦ | |Have no grief
  138. Ἐξ εὐγενῶν γέννα | Beget good from good
  139. Ἐπαγγέλλου μηδενί | Make promises to none
  140. Φθιμένους μὴ ἀδίκει | Do not wrong the dead
  141. Εὖ πάσχε ὡς θνητός | Do as well as your mortal status permits
  142. Τύχῃ μὴ πίστευε | Do not put your trust in chance
  143. Παῖς ὢν κόσμιος ἴσθι | As a child be well-behaved
  144. Ἡβῶν ἐγκρατής | As a youth be self-disciplined
  145. Μέσος δίκαιος | As a middle-aged person be honest
  146. Πρεσβύτης εὔλογος | As an old man be sensible
  147. Τελευτῶν ἄλυπος | At your end be without sorrow

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