According to Plato (Protagoras 343a-b), the entrance to the Temple of Apollo at Delphi contained the inscription gnothi seauton, “know yourself.” The significance of the phrase meant different things to different writers: for some it signified a fundamental difference between the divine and humanity (Seneca, Consolation to Marcia 11.2-3; Plutarch, Moralia 394c), while others imagined it as a statement affirming the human being’s essential relationship with God (Cicero, Tusculan Disputations 1.22.58-59; Gospel of Thomas 3). What remained unchanged, however, was the connection gnothi seauton had with the search for meaning and striving for self-awareness (cf. Plato, Apology 22e-23c; Phaedrus 229e-230a). For a historical discussion of the term, see Hans Dieter Betz, “The Delphic Maxim gnothi seauton in Hermetic Interpretations,” Harvard Theological Review 63 (1970): 465-484.
In the essay below, Peter Dodington outlines the practical benefits that come from studying the Classics. It is not simply that attention to ancient languages and literature can help students become more proficient readers and writers (though it does). Engaging this material also, so Dodington maintains, shapes character by providing examples of how ancient peoples confronted the human condition.