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gnōmē


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A maxim or aphorism: an important facet of Greek literary expression from the earliest period. Hesiod's Works and Days 694 is representative: ‘keep the rules: proportion is best in all things.’ The subject is usually human life or the terms of human existence, articulated as a succinct general truth or instruction. Gnomai are used: (a) in argument, to relate or distinguish particular and general: ‘the Athenian war‐dead will never be forgotten—heroes have the whole world for their tombstone’ (Thucydides 2. 43); ‘women (they say) live safe at home while men go to war…I would rather take up arms three times than give birth once’ (Euripides Medea 248–251); (b) singly, as self‐sufficient maxims, like the Delphic ‘know thyself ’ and ‘nothing in excess’. See proverbs.

(a) in argument, to relate or distinguish particular and general: ‘the Athenian war‐dead will never be forgotten—heroes have the whole world for their tombstone’ (Thucydides 2. 43); ‘women (they say) live safe at home while men go to war…I would rather take up arms three times than give birth once’ (Euripides Medea 248–251); (b) singly, as self‐sufficient maxims, like the Delphic ‘know thyself ’ and ‘nothing in excess’. See proverbs.

Subjects: Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500) — Classical Studies.


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