He urged that the Ionians establish a single council-chamber, that it be located on Teos, which was the center of Ionia, and that the other cities be governed and treated as though they were cantons. Herodotus, Histories I 170.3

When Croesus sent envoys to the Milesians to make an alliance he prevented it - which saved the city when Cyrus came to power.

But Clytus relates, as Heraclides assures us, that he was attached to a solitary and recluse life.

once being asked why he did not himself become a father, he answered, that it was because he was fond of children.

They say, too, that when his mother exhorted him to marry, he said, "No, by Jove, it is not yet time." And afterwards, when he was past his youth, and she was again pressing him earnestly, he said, "It is no longer time."

Hieronymus, of Rhodes, also tells us, in the second book of his Miscellaneous Memoranda, that when he was desirous to show that it was easy to get rich, he, foreseeing that there would be a great crop of olives, took some large plantations of olive trees, and so made a great deal of money.

and the God gave them the following answer:

You ask about the tripod, to whom you shall present it; 'Tis for the wisest, I reply, that fortune surely meant it. Accordingly they gave it to Thales, and he gave it to someone, who again handed it over to another, till it came to Solon. But he said that it was the God himself who was the first in wisdom; and so he sent it to Delphi.

And so they say Aristodemus once Uttered a truthful speech in noble Sparta: 'Tis money makes the man; and he who's none, Is counted neither good nor honourable.

And after some time, some of the citizens of Lebedos having bought a net, this tripod was brought up in it; and as they quarrelled with the fishermen about it, they went to Cos; and not being able to get the matter settled there, they laid it before the Milesians, as Miletus was their metropolis; and they sent ambassadors, who were treated with neglect, on which account they made war on the Coans; and after each side had met with many revolutions of fortune

But Hermippus, in his Lives, refers to Thales what has been by some people reported of Socrates; for he recites that he used to say that he thanked fortune for three things: first of all, that he had been born a man and not a beast; secondly, that he was a man and not a woman; and thirdly, that he was a Greek and not a barbarian.

It is said that once he was led out of his house by an old woman for the purpose of observing the stars, and he fell into a ditch and bewailed himself, on which the old woman said to him—"Do you, O Thales, who cannot see what is under your feet, think that you shall understand what is in heaven?"

It is not many words that real wisdom proves; Breathe rather one wise thought, Select one worthy object, So shall you best the endless prate of silly men reprove.

intellect is the swiftest of things, for it runs through everything: necessity is the strongest of things, for it rules everything: time is the wisest of things, for it finds out everything.

He said also that there was no difference between life and death. "Why, then," said some one to him, "do not you die?" "Because," said he, "it does make no difference."

A man asked him which was made first, night or day, and he replied "Night was made first by one day."

An adulterer inquired of him whether he should swear that he had not committed adultery. "Perjury," said he, "is no worse than adultery."

When he was asked what was very difficult, he said, "To know one's self." And what was easy, "To advise another." What was most pleasant? "To be successful."

When asked what hard thing he had seen, he said, "An old man a tyrant."

When the question was put to him how a man might most easily endure misfortune, he said, "If he saw his enemies more unfortunate still."

When asked how men might live most virtuously and most justly, he said, "If we never do ourselves what we blame in others."

To the question, "Who was happy?" he made answer. "He who is healthy in his body, easy in his circumstances, and well-instructed as to his mind."

He said that men ought to remember those friends who were absent as well as those who were present, and not to care about adorning their faces, but to be beautified by their studies.

"Do not," said he, "get rich by evil actions, and let not any one ever be able to reproach you with speaking against those who partake of your friendship. All the assistance that you give to your parents, the same you have a right to expect from your children."

The apophthegm, "know yourself," is his; though Antisthenes in his Successions, says that it belongs to Phemonoe, but that Chilon appropriated it as his own.

Chilon, the Spartan sage, this sentence said: Seek no excess—all timely things are good

THALES TO PHERECYDES. I hear that you are disposed, as no other Ionian has been, to discourse to the Greeks about divine things, and perhaps it will be wiser of you to reserve for your own friends what you write rather than to entrust it to any chance people, without any advantage. If therefore it is agreeable to you, I should be glad to become a pupil of yours as to the matters about which you write; and if you invite me I will come to you to Syros; for Solon the Athenian and I must be out of our senses if we sailed to Crete to investigate the history of that country, and to Egypt for the purpose of conferring with the priests and astronomers who are to be found there, and yet are unwilling to make a voyage to you; for Solon will come too, if you will give him leave, for as you are fond of your present habitation you are not likely to come to Ionia, nor are you desirous of seeing strangers; but you rather, as I hope, devote yourself wholly to the occupation of writing. We, on the other hand, who write nothing, travel over all Greece and Asia

THALES TO SOLON. If you should leave Athens it appears to me that you would find a home at Miletus among the colonists of Athens more suitably than anywhere else, for here there are no annoyances of any kind. And if you are indignant because we Milesians are governed by a tyrant, (for you yourself hate all despotic rulers), still at all events you will find it pleasant to live with us for your companions. Bias has also written to invite you to Priene, and if you prefer taking up your abode in the city of the Prieneans, then we ourselves will come thither and settle near you.

The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, by Diogenes Laertius, Literally translated by C.D. Yonge. London: Henry G. Bohn, 1853

Back To Top

Back to Collected Wisdom

Home Page

© 2009