Seven Sages of Greece

When humans first contemplated the concept of Dawn, wisdom was the prize that the poet alone possessed.  Out of all men he was the wisest, for the gods had chosen his soul to be a receptacle of their beliefs.  Thus filled with divine inspiration, the poet knew better than any other man the secrets of the world.  The vessel making up human wisdom could fill all of the archives on earth without ever exhausting itself, but thinking makes wisdom a labyrinth, whose secret paths of sacred absurdity cannot be followed without rational thinking and a good teacher to steer you on the right course.  The sage did not need to pursue wisdom, as they were already wise, and the seven great sages were like fruits that are in season growing ripe all at once.

The Athenian philosopher Plato (427-347), mentioned seven names of wise people that were lovers and emulators and disciples of the culture of the Spartans and they were Thales of Miletus, Solon of Athens, Bias of Priene, Cleobulus of Lindos, Myson of Chenae, Chilon of Sparta and Pittacus of Mytilene.  Not everyone agreed about the names and sometimes Periander of Corinth is also listed as being one of the great Sages of Greece.  These men are considered to be the founders of Greek philosophy, but most of these people are just names as in most cases, we are not able to reconstruct their ideas.

The nature of these sages had to be sufficiently vague in order to remain convincing.  The philosophy of the seven sages was handed over in the form of brief maxims like ‘know thyself’, or ‘nothing too much’, or ‘Justice is nothing other than the advantage of the stronger’ and ‘Man is the measure of all things’.  Real philosophy began later, but the age of the seven sages marks the beginning of doubt about older beliefs, and this doubt was of course the first step towards a better understanding of reality.

Sophism is an early Pre-Socratic (before Socrates) school of philosophy.  This name was often given to the so-called Seven Sages of 7th and 6th Century BC from ancient Greece.  Sophist philosophers were more concerned with Man himself and how he should behave than with big questions about the Universe.  Rather than a well-defined school or movement, however, it is more of a loose grouping of like-minded individuals.  The term ‘sophism’ means wise, or wisdom, or clever, or skilled man, and it originally referred to any expertise in a specific domain of knowledge or craft.  After a period where it mainly referred to poets, the word came to describe general wisdom, especially wisdom about human affairs.  Over time, it came to denote a class of itinerant intellectuals who taught courses in excellence or virtue, or those who speculated about the nature of language and culture, and who employed rhetoric to achieve their purposes (which was generally used to persuade or convince others).

Sophists held relativistic views on cognition and knowledge (that there is no absolute truth, or that two points of view can be acceptable at the same time), skeptical views on truth and morality, and their philosophy often contained criticisms of religion, law and ethics.  Sophists had considerable influence in their time, and were largely well-regarded.  They were generally itinerant teachers who accepted fees in return for instruction in oratory and rhetoric, and they emphasized the practical application of rhetoric toward civic and political life.  Their cultural and psychological contributions played an important role in the growth of democracy in Athens, not least through their rhetorical teaching, their adoption of Relativism and their liberal and pluralistic acceptance of other viewpoints.  Sophists were also some of the world’s first lawyers, making full use of their highly-developed argumentation skill.

The Sophists were orators, public speakers, mouths for hire in an oral culture.  They were gifted with speech.  They were skilled in what becomes known as Rhetoric.  They were respected, feared and hated. They had a gift and used it in a manner that aroused the ire of many.  They challenged, questioned and did not care to arrive at the very best answers.  They cared about winning public speaking contests, debates, and lawsuits and in charging fees to teach others how to do as they did.  To be able to speak well meant a great deal at that time.  This was a time before paper was available, so there were no written contracts or deeds and disputes that would be settled with a set of documents like the way we do today.  Evidence back then would need to be settled through a contest of words, being one person’s words against another’s. Whoever presented the best oral case would often prevail.

To speak well was very important.  The Sophists were very good speakers.  Indeed, they had reputations for being able to convince a crowd that up was down, that day was night, that the wrong answer could be the right answer, that good was bad and bad is good, even that injustice is justice and justice would be made to appear as injustice!  The early Sophists claimed that they could find the answers to all questions, which, along with their practice of taking fees and their questioning of the existence and roles of traditional deities, led to popular resentment against Sophist practitioners, ideas and writings.

Written for Linda G Hill Life in progress January 15, 2018 #JusJoJan Daily Prompt is Justice by Barb at Gallimaufry, which I looked up and found out that it means a confused jumble or medley of things.

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