My dear Kacvey,
Diogenes Laertius told that Solon, the legalist, was born in Salamis, circa 594 B.C.
In the war between Athens with Megara over the claim to Salamis, he wrote this famous poem: “Then let us fight for Salamis and fair fame, Win the beloved isle, and purge our shame.”
When his kinsman, Pisistratus, became a tyrant, he sailed to Egypt, to Cyprus and then proceeded to the court of Croesus who, in magnificent array, sat on his throne and asked Solon if he had ever seen anything more beautiful. “Yes,” he replied, “cocks and pheasants and peacocks; for they shine in nature’s colors, which are ten thousand times more beautiful.”
Solon enacted some laws, one of which is the precursor of the “law of talion” (lex talionis) by which the penalty for depriving a one-eyed man of his single eye should be the loss of the offender’s two eyes.
Solon used to say that those who had influence with tyrants were like the pebbles employed in calculations; for as each of the pebbles represented now a large and now a small number, so the tyrants would treat each one of those about them at one time as great and famous, at another as of no account.
Solon’s most notable sayings:
- Speech is the mirror of action.
- Wealth breed satiety, satiety outrage.
- Put more trust in nobility of character than in an oath.
- Never tell a lie.
- Pursue worthy aims.
- Do not be rash to make friends and, when once they are made, do not drop them.
- Learn to obey, before you command.
- In giving advice seek to help, not to please, your friend.
- Be led by reason.
- Shun evil company.
- Honour the gods, reverence parents.
Solon most famous apothegm: “Nothing too much” – ne quid nimis.
Kacvey, you certainly remember Thales’s most famous apothegm: “Know thyself“. This is how the two apothegms “Know thyself” and “Nothing too much” work together.
Duane H. Berquist explained: “If the Seven Sages put Know thyself before Nothing too much, it would seem to be because one must know oneself before one can know how much is too much. If one did not know oneself, one could not know how much is too much for oneself.
“The exhortation Nothing too much can be applied first to the exhortation Know Thyself. Some have thought that the end of human knowledge was for man to know himself. We find this especially among many modern thinkers. To pursue knowledge of oneself as the end of man’s knowledge, and therefore as wisdom, is to seek to know oneself too much. The only knowledge of self that is wisdom is God’s knowledge of himself. Man is not wise if he is ignorant of himself, but knowing himself does not make him to be wise.
“The Seven Sages did not urge us to love ourselves. For it is more natural to love oneself than to know oneself. We do not need to be urged to love ourself. But those who do not know themselves may not truly love themselves. Those who think themselves to be more a body than a soul or emotion more than reason, may not truly love themselves. They choose what appears to be good for the body or to satisfy the emotions rather than what perfects the soul or reason.
“Moreover, if the common defect in knowing oneself is to know oneself too little (hence, we must be urged to know ourselves), the common defect in loving oneself is to love oneself too much.
“Thus, for the defect in knowing ourselves, we are urged to know ourselves. And for the common defect in loving ourself, we are urged Nothing too much. But for the defect of not truly loving ourselves, we are urged to know ourselves as well.
“Why do the Seven Sages urge more Nothing too much than Nothing too little? Since there is the same knowledge of opposites and thus the brevity of wisdom can be satisfied taking just one of these two, why emphasize Nothing too much?
“Perhaps more harm is done by too much than by too little. Although driving too slowly can cause accidents, more accidents are caused by driving too fast. More harm is done by drinking too much alcohol than too little.
“Perhaps we are also inclined more to go towards too much than towards too little. This is clearly seen in the pleasures of eating and drinking and reproducing. But is not the same true as regards anger? And do men love money too much or too little? Men do not seem to be in need of being urged not to love money too little.
“And if pride is the queen and root of all the vices, and pride or haughtiness is an excessive love of one’s own excellence, Nothing too much is an exhortation that we are much more in need of than Nothing too little.”