Or alternately: Original Greek: γνῶθι σεαυτόν. The two word maxim was chiseled into a stone plaque in the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. Legend tells that the seven sages (all males of the highest order, women were second class citizens in the ‘cradle of democracy) 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.
Others have noted that the seven sages were familiar with teachings from ancient Egypt, and pre-dated Socrates, including Gurdjieff, according to arkintime.com.
“Gurdjieff outlined different states of consciousness possible to man, stating that, under normal conditions, man was a sleeping machine. Man’s spiritual evolution progressed in direct proportion to his self-knowledge. Since Gurdjieff claimed that all ancient teachings first and foremost taught man to become real, know thyself had to be their natural foundation.
He’d also written that:
“The first reason for man’s inner slavery is his ignorance of himself.
Without self-knowledge, man cannot be free, he cannot govern himself and he will always remain a slave. This is why in all ancient teachings the first demand at the beginning of the way to liberation was: ‘Know thyself’.”
On the other hand, the witty Oscar Wilde had offered this epigram:
“Our ambition should be to rule ourselves, the true kingdom for each one of us; and true progress is to know more, and do more, and be more.”
‘Know Thyself’ was written over the portal of the antique world. Over the portal of the new world, ‘Be Thyself’ shall be written.
The message of Christ to man was simply “Be Thyself.” That is the secret of Christ.”
In any case, the aphorism became a touchstone for philosophers, authors, playwrights and poets, some even rejecting it, or ‘evolving’ away from the notion in their later writings. (the Wikipedia entry has loads of examples)
On edit: I’d forgotten to ask if you think that these beliefs are true:
“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.”
The Sufi Poet Rumi:
Who am I in the midst of all this thought traffic?’ ~Rumi
In this mob of I’s inside, which one is me? Hear me out. I know I’m wandering, but don’t start putting a lid on this racket. No telling what I’ll do then. Every moment I’m thrown by your story. One moment it’s happy, and I’m singing. One moment it’s sad, and I’m weeping. It turns bitter, and I pull away. But then you spill a little grace, and just like that, I’m all light. It’s not so bad, this arrangement, actually. ~Rumi
Of all knowledge, the wise and good seek most to know themselves.
Thou sleep’st: awake, and see thyself.
The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.
This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
I know myself now, and I feel within me
A peace above all earthly dignities,
A still and quiet conscience.
Peter Ouspensky on Know Thyself
“Ouspensky outlined the path to self-knowledge before his students. Man, in his normal condition, was ignorant of himself – a ‘lying’ machine, according to one of his definitions. Self-knowledge was too high to serve as a beginning step; self-study was where man could begin, in observing himself and compiling a collection of ‘photographs’ that captures his unconscious behaviour in different moments of the day.
To know oneself—this was the first principle and the first demand of old psychological schools. We still remember these words, but have lost their meaning.
We think that to know ourselves, means to know our peculiarities, our desires, our tastes, our capacities and our intentions.
The most fundamental thing is to know oneself, although if certain things do not change you cannot know yourself.
To know oneself is a long process. First we must study.
Very soon after starting to observe himself, a man will begin to distinguish useful features and harmful features in himself, that is, useful or harmful from the point of view of his possible self-knowledge, his possible awakening, his possible development. He will see sides of himself, which can become conscious, and sides which cannot become conscious and must be eliminated.”
His best known works include, The Psychology of Man’s Possible Evolution, In Search of the Miraculous, The Fourth and A Further Record Way (a Fourth Way video is here; in general I liked it, especially the images of the painful friction tug of war to ‘stir the ocean), but not the dark characterization of ‘the heart’ part of the trinity; that was baffling to me.)
But how hard is to Know Oneself? Hard, hard, hard. ‘Hard as steel, hard as diamonds’ one writer noted. Not only is silence required to turn inward, as in meditation, prayer, or dreaming decoded, but also the abysmal truth that most of us are ‘lying machines’, not only acculturated and programmed to find ourselves measuring ourselves by the yardstick of material, not spiritual, success, but coached not to seek out our dark sides. ‘There be dragons’, of course. How many folks do you know who even claim not to have inner lives, this can never take any sort of moral inventory? How many of us can stop our internal dialogue narrating our lives to ourselves, which narratives tend to find us just and blameless in any sort of adversarial situations, including accusations of wrongdoing?
On the other side of the equation, how many of us with over-active consciences due to parental/grandparental bullying and blaming have been left with the reflexive default positions that we really are guilty of crimes we’ve never committed, or are just part of being human? Yes, we can seek to make amends where possible, and attempt to dedicate ourselves to being more worthy and conscious humans, but do we forgive ourselves and let go of past deeds? Yes, I’m trying to learn that part…
So often I’m left wondering that even with the many things I’ve worked through in therapy or making amends, or looking within and acknowledging, how many more are there that are still hidden from myself? Oh, yes, I can be a tough taskmaster, partially because i) I keep my word, or goddam say why I was unable to, and ii) I try to be the best goddam friend possible, thus when my expectations of friends are dashed or betrayed, I am often grieved and let’s face it: angry underneath. iii) I value verisimilitude in my relationships a lot, and most folks are either equivocators or plain old bullshit artists (if not liars), and my BS detector is very strong, and it’s a rare thing for me to bite my tongue and not (ahem) express myself.
An example: a neighbor who pretends to be a modern incarnation of either St. Francis of Assisi or Doctor Doolittle once said: ‘I told John that the deer and I have an agreement that they won’t eat my garden plants’. How could I not say, ‘Well, the nine-foot fence around your garden doesn’t hurt, does it?’ Or similarly when he honks on about what a glorious for ‘the creatures’ he’s made of his three acres, can I miss saying, ‘Except for that hapless cat that you’d spray-painted!’. Yeah, that made the fur fly…
But really, the same neighbor’s utterances had been what promted this diary. It’s a long story of some extra help I’d offered him that might, might, might help to restore some of his post-stroke vision and peripheral vision problems, and as I gave him examples of the acupuncture point tapping, eye movements, vocalizations, etc. on the phone, he claimed not to have any depression about his crap vision, which was mainly what he whinged about when he was here for four long hours for Christmas dinner. And later he’d told Mr. wd, who’d showed him one thing he taps for now and again: I don’t have any anxieties. ‘Yeah, why do you sleep with a loaded Sig-Sauer under your pillow and have a large cache of rifles in your basement, then?’, might have popped right out of my grande bouche. But in any event, he turned down the help, admitted that he hadn’t done the earlier ‘very helpful’ Educational Kinesiology (stimulating brain hemispheric cross-communication) for weeks, and he was simply content to adapt to his condition, and Keep Life Simple™. It reminded me that when his sister was here to care for him, she told me he’d turned down my offer of loaner crutches to use instead of a walker. ‘It’s vanity’, she quipped, ‘plus falling down is so much more natural’. (wide grin)
Know Thyself. Does that include STFU, wd, stifle your inner beyotch, as per the AA maxim not to work anyone else’s program for them, and thus… must be eliminated? Yeah, I reckon it just might be so… Discretion is the better part of valor…or some such homily.
*note: not to mention online life, where one can re-invent oneself at will…