Mar 22, 2007

The 10 Commandments of Solon

Much thanks to Richard Carrier and for pointing this out to me.

Basically, this is about the 10 Commandments given by Solon the Athenian, one of the Seven Sages of Ancient Greece, the founder of Athenian democracy (and thus western democratic tradition) and a poet of some note.

I originally studied him as a poet, which is why I plead ignorance over this topic until the above two bought it to my attention. Personally, when I did Greek history I found political reform and constitutions as dull as hell. Give me a good myth, or battle, or verse over that any day (I'm very Greek in that respect, I suppose).

Anyway, his ten Ethical Dicta were as important as hell in guiding the American founding fathers in their creation of a universal democracy and thus the spread of democratic ideals in Europe and around the world, probably much more so than even mystical Judaism, (one of the few theological theories that values individuality). Unlike the claims of certain Bible thumpers, Solon has far more to do with the establishment of modern society than that near mythical figure called Moses.

The Ten Commandments of Solon ( as recorded in Diogenes Laertius' Lives of Eminent Philosophers, 1.60), runs as follows:

1. Trust good character more than promises.
2. Do not speak falsely.
3. Do good things.
4. Do not be hasty in making friends, but do not abandon them once made.
5. Learn to obey before you command.
6. When giving advice, do not recommend what is most pleasing, but what is most useful.
7. Make reason your supreme commander.
8. Do not associate with people who do bad things.
9. Honor the gods.
10. Have regard for your parents.

Obviously, nine is a bit...iffy, but if you put that aside for a moment (I will come back to it) you can see how much more these ideas have advanced civilization than the ideals of Moses and his 10 Commandments.

The problems with nine can be dealt with, if you are prepared to think of "gods" as all the gods of the people in society. The exact word used by Solon, as noted by Mr Carrier, is timaƓ, which means "to honor, to revere, to pay due regard". Mr Carrier correctly points out
Solon asks us to give the plethora of gods the regard that they are due, and we can say that some gods are not due much--such as the racist gods and gods of hellfire. In the end, it is good to be respectful of the gods of others, which we can do even if we are criticizing them, even if we disbelieve in them.
Solon's commands are far more fitting for that of a modern society than practically anything in the Bible. I hate to say it, but not only do the Greeks have far better literature and politics, they now also have superior moral grounds to those of ancient Israel. Is it not about time we started to recognize that our societies have more than one influence and to stop this foolish Judeo-Christian reductionism once and for all?

Richard Carrier has a far superior article where he goes into greater depth on this topic, and it can be read here.


drjon said...

You might like to check out Hellenismos J Brad Hicks' Thoughts Towards a Hellenic Reconstructionist 10 Commandments, which is a fascinating piece.

Episkopos Cain said...

Thanks for interesting read.

High Heels said...

Interesting, but I have a problem with this list. it seems to ignore meta-ethics. "good", "bad"... ?

Episkopos Cain said...

Well, this is pre-Socratic Greek philosophy