Friday, June 12, 2015

"Know Thyself"

My last article concerned classical Greek philosophy, and so, by the gods, this one will too.

Another lesson from classical Greece, with yours truly.
The words "Know Thyself" were famously inscribed on a stone that used to reside at the Temple of Apollo in Delphi. They became the most well known of 147 Delphic Maxims,  believed to have been given to use by Apollo at the Oracle of Delphi. The saying was also famed in Lacedaemon (Sparta), a city state whose populace is unfairly remembered for being a country of mindless, brutish defenders of a tyrannical and xenophobic state. They're also remembered for disappearing and becoming obscure in history because of a lack of democracy and philosophy, which Athens is remembered for.

Truly, the historical losers never seem to receive justice in history. Perhaps we have a cultural desire to see the winners of history as having a similar culture to our own. But then, we hardly acknowledge the submission of Athens by Macedon and Rome; both had elements of democracy but were dynastic at the core. What did the contemporaries think of their Lacedaemonian rivals, though?

What's left of Sparta, from the time of Socrates.

"Sparti in-river-Eurotas-valley flanked-by-Taygetos-mountains"
ulrichstill - Own work. Licensed under 

CC BY-SA 2.0 de via Wikimedia Commons.
Socrates explains of a Sparta who along with Crete are the original modern philosophers of his time. Similarly, contemporaries of the time explain of a Lacedaemonian culture who educates both women and men in reading and writings. Women also are trained similarly in the strict military regimen of Spartan males. Chilon of Sparta is remembered as one of the seven sages of Greece, and was democratically elected as an ephor (a fancy Spartan word for politician) by the Lacedaemonians. Lycurgus, who is credited for transforming Sparta into one of the military superpowers of its time created a system of law and governance that valued equality, military fitness and austerity. He left his post as King of Sparta to travel the world and learn about what sort of Reforma he would need in order to craft Sparta into the society we remember it as today. He visited the Oracle of Delphi where he was said to receive answers to his questions.

How to find a job in travel. 

One likely result of Lycurgus visiting Delphi was an appropriation of some strong worded Delphic

The temple of Apollo, at Delphi
"Columns of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, Greece"
Patar knight - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Maxims,  such as "Know thyself". Socrates lauds Spartan philosophy, which includes the use of sayings such as "Know thyself", which he likens to a bowstring which is composed of twisted up string, that are shorter and stronger than they were in their natural state. He himself refers often to the saying almost like a personal mantra, believing that he cannot know other things when he doesn't even know himself.

Being aware and thinking about quotes like this can be useful for a bartender. Aside from creating the appearance that you are the thinking man (or woman), quotes can be a good talking piece. There are a few quotes, such as this one, that stand up to the test of time, though. The reason that quotes like "Know thyself" endure for so long is that they both require a certain level of insight into yourself and the meaning of the proverb, which make them useful to anyone; not JUST bartenders.

I know that I'm a bartender....
Philosophers of antiquity believed - among other things - that the proverb meant to know your limitations and capabilities. I've said in the past to avoid promising more than you can deliver, and that goes without saying here too. Considering the quote may reveal that you are weak in areas where you need to be stronger, or that you need to readjust short term goals. Other considerations may help you be less apathetic and more understanding of people; after all, it's one desire that you can empathize better with people when you can relate to them, and perhaps a little soul searching can help with that too.

It's no wonder that the Greeks thought this maxim was so profound, because it's a veritable gold mind. You cn reap the benefits of this quote, in the form of a wealth of antiquitous wealth of self understanding. Or you can just use it because it's a cool quote, and can instigate discussion at your bar. But take heed reader, whatever the reason for your usage; take heed.... to know thyself.

Sorry folks. I had to do it.
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