Chapter 3. CHILON (c. 560B.C.)
Chilon, son of Damagetas, was a Lacedaemonian.
He wrote a poem in elegiac metre some 200 lines in
length; and he declared that the excellence of a
man is to divine the future so far as it can be grasped
by reason. When his brother grumbled that he was
not made ephor as Chilon was, the latter replied,
"I know how to submit to injustice and you do not."
He was made ephor in the 55th Olympiad; Pamphila,
however, says the 56th. He first became ephor,
according to Sosicrates, in the archonship of Euthy-
demus. He first proposed the appointment of ephors
as auxiliaries to the kings, though Satyrus says this
was done by Lycurgus.1
As Herodotus relates in his first Book, when
Hippocrates was sacrificing at Olympia and his
cauldrons boiled of their own accord, it was Chilon
who advised him not to marry, or, if he had a wife,
to divorce her and disown his children.
The tale is
also told that he inquired of Aesop what Zeus was
doing and received the answer: "He is humbling
the proud and exalting the humble." Being asked
wherein lies the difference between the educated
and the uneducated, Chilon answered, "In good
hope." What is hard? "To keep a secret, to
employ leisure well, to be able to bear an injury."
These again are some of his precepts: To control
the tongue, especially at a banquet.
Not to abuse
our neighbours, for if you do, things will be said
about you which you will regret. Do not use threats
to any one; for that is womanish. Be more ready
to visit friends in adversity than in prosperity. Do
not make an extravagant marriage.
De mortuis nil
Honour old age. Consult your own
safety. Prefer a loss to a dishonest gain: the one
brings pain at the moment, the other for all time.
Do not laugh at another's misfortune. When strong,
be merciful, if you would have the respect, not the
fear, of your neighbours. Learn to be a wise master
in your own house. Let not your tongue outrun
your thought. Control anger. Do not hate divina-
tion. Do not aim at impossibilities. Let no one
see you in a hurry. Gesticulation in speaking should
be avoided as a mark of insanity. Obey the laws.
Of his songs the most popular is the following:
"By the whetstone gold is tried, giving manifest
proof; and by gold is the mind of good and evil
men brought to the test." He is reported to have
said in his old age that he was not aware of having
ever broken the law throughout his life; but on one
point he was not quite clear. In a suit in which a
friend of his was concerned he himself pronounced
sentence according to the law, but he persuaded his
colleague who was his friend to acquit the accused,
in order at once to maintain the law and yet not to
lose his friend.
He became very famous in Greece by his warning
about the island of Cythera off the Laconian coast.
For, becoming acquainted with the nature of the
island, he exclaimed: "Would it had never been
placed there, or else had been sunk in the depths
of the sea."
And this was a wise warning; for
Demaratus, when an exile from Sparta, advised
Xerxes to anchor his fleet off the island; and if
Xerxes had taken the advice Greece would have
been conquered. Later, in the Peloponnesian war,
Nicias reduced the island and placed an Athenian
garrison there, and did the Lacedaemonians much
He was a man of few words; hence Aristagoras
of Miletus calls this style of speaking Chilonean. . . .
is of Branchus, founder of the temple at Branchidae.
Chilon was an old man about the 52nd Olympiad,
when Aesop the fabulist was flourishing. According
to Hermippus, his death took place at Pisa, just
after he had congratulated his son on an Olympic
victory in boxing. It was due to excess of joy
coupled with the weakness of a man stricken in
years. And all present joined in the funeral procession.
I have written an epitaph on him also, which runs
I praise thee, Pollux, for that Chilon's son
By boxing feats the olive chaplet won.
Nor at the father's fate should we repine;
He died of joy; may such a death be mine.
The inscription on his statue runs thus3
Here Chilon stands, of Sparta's warrior race,
Who of the Sages Seven holds highest place.
His apophthegm is: "Give a pledge, and suffer for
it." A short letter is also ascribed to him.
Chilon to Periander
"You tell me of an expedition against foreign
enemies, in which you yourself will take the field.
In my opinion affairs at home are not too safe for
an absolute ruler; and I deem the tyrant happy
who dies a natural death in his own house."