“Know Thyself” was written on the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. Legend tells that the seven sages of ancient Greece, philosophers, statesmen and law-givers, who laid the foundation for western culture, gathered in Delphi to inscribe “know thyself” at the entry to its sacred oracle. The adage subsequently became a touch-stone for western philosophers, and extended its reach as the influence of Greek philosophy expanded. This site gathers its most profound expressions and elaborates on their meaning.
Self-knowledge is all-encompassing. What is learned on one scale of experience can be applied to all scales. It is the highest form of knowledge, surpassing all other knowledge. Self-knowledge is also timeless, which means that what is gained in one era, benefits all subsequent generations. On this website we have gathered many expressions of ancient wisdom that have been articulated by eminent men and women from all ages, traditions and cultures. Our compilation reveals the universal nature of man’s quest for self-knowledge, and further shows that no age of mankind was necessarily any closer or farther from this quest than any other.
Although we may be technologically more sophisticated than our ancestors, the age we inhabit is in the same relationship as previous eras to this quest. Therefore, the primary aim of this site is to benefit from the ancient wisdom of our ancestors and apply it to our own period. If you’d like to explore the quest for self-knowledge more deeply, subscribe to our mailing list. We will send you email updates on a contemporary attempt at building an online community that applies ancient wisdom in modern times.
Or simply read on to learn more about the universal challenge of self-knowledge…
When asked what was the most difficult thing, Thales replied, “To know thyself.”
When asked what was easiest, he replied, “To give advice.”
Since Solon (one of the seven sages) received his education in Egypt, the principle of Know Thyself might well predate the Greeks. At the same time, the Hindus in the east developed their system of philosophy before the Greek civilization, and knowledge of the Self took a prominent position in their writings. (Read more about the history of Know Thyself)
Wherever and whenever the adage originated, Know Thyself was universally adopted and placed at the foundation of knowledge, the corner stone on which the temples of philosophy should be erected. “The essence of knowledge is self-knowledge,” claimed the Greek philosopher Plato. Centuries before him, the Hindu Upanishads confirmed, “Enquiry into the truth of the Self is knowledge.” Leagues away and centuries later, the Persian poet Rumi wondered, “Who am I in the midst of all this thought traffic?” and the American poet Walt Whitman celebrated his Self, “a simple, separate person.”
Know Thyself through time
This two-word imperative traveled from antiquity and throughout history to the present day. Like a golden thread in a multicolored fabric, Know Thyself wove its course through races and cultures, through religious and secular traditions, spanning spiritual and scientific teachings and appearing in art and literature. Indeed, the ancient adage was declared in almost every medium on every continent and in every era. In the list of authors compiled for this site (listed on the sidebar), we included men and women of all cultures. We included a short biographical excerpt at the head of each page and drew a selection of the author’s most profound sayings on self-knowledge. Each page concludes with contemplations on know thyself and suggestions for further reading.
Know thyself has often been a corner stone rejected. “Can one know oneself” wondered the French poetess George Sand. “Is one ever somebody?” “When will I ever see that Am that I Am?” lamented the poet Rumi. Scores of poets and philosophers dedicated their lives to inquiring about the Self, seeking its elusive mysteries, digging deep to unearth that hidden stone without which all construction would be futile. Some attained remarkable results, attested to by the legacy of their works. Others never found an end to their quest. “I have an inner self of which I was ignorant,” confesses the Bohemian–Austrian poet Rilke in his diary, while the ninety-year-old art-historian Bernard Berenson tells a different story:
Yet, who is the real I, where does he hide from ME? I know who he is not, but how and what and if at all HE is, I have never discovered although for more than seventy years I have been looking for him.
It is the sincerity of such remarks as Berenson’s that touch the reader and direct his attention inwards, asking himself the very questions these authors posed in their times.
Know Thyself—the essence of knowledge
If the essence of knowledge is self-knowledge, then this site is an elementary door to all those in pursuit of this wisdom. Within these pages and posts are compilations of sayings on Know Thyself, the fruition of many hours of research by several individuals. The quotations compiled are at the reader’s disposal.
Profound sayings on Know Thyself invite contemplation. They profess that Truth stands the test of time, bypassing the ages and connecting us with the authors who expressed them. They spark our curiosity to learn more about the men and women who struggled before us, who strove in their times to find a firm foundation of truth, as we do today. They prove timelessly relevant and open doors into further inquiry of our true nature. They confirm that, despite the passage of millennia, man’s struggles have essentially remained the same: man is, and always has been, a being in search of truth and identity.
Moreover, expressions of self-knowledge call us to action. “‘Know Thyself’ was written over the portal of the antique world,” said the Irish writer Oscar Wilde–more than two thousand years after the seven sages inscribed it on the forecourt of their oracle. “Over the portal of the new world, ‘Be Thyself’ shall be written.”