know myself

May 18, 2011 § Leave a comment

Today I went to Delphi to the Temple of Apollo and the site of the most famous oracle. It’s not only a fascinating piece of history but it’s a really beautiful spot in the mountains. I think I picked the perfect time to visit in Spring with all of the wildflowers blooming among the ruins.

In thinking about philosophy, Delphi is another extremely important institution because people would travel from all over not only Greece but the rest of Europe and Asia as well to “find answers” ranging from personal questions to political advice to whether to declare war. I suppose the only equivalent nowadays would be tuning into Oprah.

Although I couldn’t find it there today (surprising I don’t read ancient greek),on the entrance to the temple the words “Know Thyself” are inscribed there. I believe I had that on the wall of my college dorm at some point. Those words are odd for a place you have to travel hundreds of miles to in order to get advice from someone else. I guess in the end the oracle was more of a validation of sorts. According to a 10th century encyclopedia of knowledge “the proverb is applied to those whose boasts exceed what they are and that “know thyself” is a warning to pay no attention to the opinion of the multitude. It was sort of an “oh snap” to all of those 5th century BC people who thought they knew everything but really didn’t even know much about themselves. Those people were annoying even then.

Even well after the ancient greeks were grappling with annoying know-it-alls, Benjamin Franklin wrote: “There are three things extremely hard, steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self.” I would agree. There have been so many times I’ve thought I understood something pretty clearly about myself only to find myself completely questioning how I could have seen myself that way. Time, circumstances and maturity seem to do that.

I suppose knowing oneself and acting upon things that happen in the world can be two different things and the important thing is to try to be true to who you are at each step. At least that’s my interpretation having made the long journey to Delphi.

I wonder what Oprah would say.

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