First English edition of the Nuremberg chronicle: being the Liber chronicarum of Dr. Hartmann Schedel…

Thales (Tales), the Asiatic philosopher and first among the Seven Sages of Greece, flourished in Athens at this time. The Seven Sages were named after him.

The Seven Wise Men of Greece, or the Seven Sages, as they are also called, were the authors of the celebrated mottoes inscribed in later days in the Temple of Apollo at Delphi: "Know yourself." (Solon of Athens); "Consider the end." (Chilon of Lacedaemon) "Know your opportunity." (Pittacus of Mitylene) "Most men are bad." (Bias of Priene) "Nothing is impossible to industry." (Periander of Corinth) "Avoid excesses." (Cleobulus of Lindus) "Certainty is the precursor of ruin." (Thales of Miletus).

The origin of the title "Seven Wise Men" was this: Some fishermen of Miletus sold a draught of fish to some bystanders before the net was drawn in. When the draught came in, there was also in the net a golden tripod. The fishermen claimed they had sold only the fish, while the buyer insisted he had bought the whole draught. To settle the dispute they referred the matter to the Oracle of Delphi. Being ordered to adjudge the tripod to the wisest man in Greece, they offered it to their fellow citizen Thales; but he modestly replied that there was a wiser man than he, and sent it to Bias. He also declined, and sent the tripod to another; and thus it passed through seven hands, and these seven were afterward called the "Seven Wise Men of Greece." It was finally placed in the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. These seven men met together but twice—once at Delphi, and again at Corinth.

Thales was the first among the philosophers to practice astrology and to predict an eclipse of the sun. He acquired a knowledge of geometry from the Egyptians. He was also an excellent counselor in matters pertaining to civic customs. He had (as they say) no wife, and when asked why he did not take one, he replied that it was because of his love of children. He contended that water is the origin of all things, and stated that the world was associated with and born of the devil. It is said that he also invented the year, and divided it into 365 days. He wrote on the subject of astronomy, and his writings are comprehended in 200 verses. When a golden table (tripod) was accidentally found, and there was a misunderstanding as to whom it belonged, Apollo answered that it should be awarded to him who excelled all others in wisdom. So it was offered to Thales, but he gave it to Bias and Bias Pitachus. At last the table came to Solon, but he turned it over to Apollo, as a token of most renowned wisdom. Thales was poor and he devoted himself to the acquisition of wisdom. Item: By means of astronomy he was able to predict fruitfulness in future years. One night when he was led out of his house by an old woman to study the stars he fell into a hole. And the old woman said to him, If you cannot see what lies at your feet, how can you expect to recognize the things that are in the heavens? He died at 78 years of age.[Thales of Miletus was born about 636 BCE, and according to the weight of authority he died about 546 at the age of 90; however, both dates are uncertain. Some say he was of Phoenician extraction, and this is probably the reason why the chronicler calls him an Asiatic philosopher. It is more probable, however, that he was born in Miletus. As a Greek natural philosopher his fame among the ancients was remarkable. He is said to have predicted the eclipse of the sun which occurred in the reign of the Lydian king Alyattes; to have diverted the course of the Halys, or Red River, the greatest stream of Asia Minor in the time of Croesus; and later, in order to unite the Ionians when threatened by the Persians, to have instituted a federal council in Teos, as the most central of the twelve cities. The application of wise man was conferred on him, not only for his political sagacity, but also for his scientific eminence. He became famous by his prediction of the eclipse that did actually take place during a battle between the Medes and the Lydians, and being total, caused a cessation of hostilities and led to a lasting peace between the contending nations. Thales was one of the founders of philosophy and mathematics in Greece. He maintained that water is the origin of all things.]

Solon, the philosopher, second among the Seven Wise Men, flourished at Athens, and to the Athenians he gave wholesome laws, which the Romans later adopted. These laws were of considerable merit, and his wisdom relieved the people of subservience and oppression. After a change of fortune Solon fled to Egypt. In his later years he opposed the tyrant Pisistratus, who sought to oppress the Athenians. When asked in what he placed his trust in so boldly resisting the tyrant, Solon replied that he was relying on his old age. He stated that tyrants compared the good and virtuous with counters, which at one time were of consequence and at another time of none. Asked by Croesus whom he considered happiest, Solon replied, Those who are unknown and whose fame or credit is hidden. But Croesus greatly bedecked himself and sat with pride upon his throne; and he asked Solon whether he had ever seen such a wonderful and well endowed throne. And Solon replied that he had seen cocks, pheasants and peacocks who by nature were endowed with a thousand fold superior colors and plumage. When Solon wept over his dead son, a man told him not to weep, reminding him that this was of no avail. But Solon replied, Therefore I weep all the more for I realize that my loss is irreparable. When asked whether he wished his relatives to mourn his death, he said, I have labored with much zeal so that I will not die unlamented by my friends. He also stated that no one should say that he suffered greater sorrows than others. He formulated other laws: He who does not support his needy parents is not worthy of good repute. The children of those who have departed should, for the common good, be reared and educated at public charge. A guardian shall not live with the mother of the ward, nor should one act as guardian to whom the estate of the minor might descend upon the latter's death. The ring engraver should not retain the inscriptions on rings he sells. He who deprives a one-eyed person of sight shall suffer the loss of both his own eyes. Drunken princes are to be put to death. Responses of Solon to certain questions are these: What is a word? A word is the reflection of the deed; therefore the word is strengthened by silence, and silence by time. What is a strong king? A power. What is the law? A spiderweb in which the weak are entangled, but through which the mighty pass, breaking the web. Solon died at the age of eighty years in the time of King Hezekiah (Sedechie).

Substantial and important texts dealing with Solon are the first book of Herodotus' Histories, Aristotle's Athenian Constitution (Athenaion Politeia) and Plutarch's Life of Solon. From Plutarch we learn that Solon was born about 640 BCE and that he was the son of Execestides, a man of but moderate wealth and political influence, though he belonged to one of the highest families in Athens. Solon came into prominence in the contest between Athens and Megara for the possession of the island of Salamis. Through his strategy and encouragement of his fellow citizens, the island was recovered from the Megarians.

Solon's attention was turned to the distracted state of his country, due to party disputes, aggravated by the misery of the poor. The lower classes were in a state of mutiny, and it had become impossible to enforce the laws. All turned to Solon to alleviate the prevailing miseries. He was chosen Archon, with unlimited power. He addressed himself to the relief of the distressed, which he accomplished by his celebrated disburdening ordinance, by which the burdens of debtors were lightened with as little infringement as possible on the right of their wealthy creditors. He abolished the law giving the creditor the power to enslave an insolvent debtor. He lowered the rate of interest, although about this there is a dispute. He depreciated the coinage. Although at first nothing more was contemplated in the investment of Solon with dictatorial powers than the relief of the existing distress, his success procured for him such confidence and popularity that he was charged with the task of entirely remodeling the constitution. By this the right of citizens to the honors and offices of the state was regulated, not by nobility of birth, but by their wealth, and for this purpose the citizens were divided into four classes. He created an assembly of four Hundred, to which each class sent one hundred representatives. There were no doubt public assemblies of some kind before his time, though probably possessed of but little power. Solon undoubtedly greatly enlarged the functions of the assembly. He gave it the right of electing the archons and other magistrates whom he made directly accountable to the assembly when their year of office was expired. Every member of any of the four classes had a vote in the assembly, and all votes seem to have had the same weight.

Solon was also the author of a great variety of special laws. If a father did not teach his son some trade or profession, the son was not liable to maintain his father in old age. Idleness was punishable. The exportation of all produce except olive oil was prohibited. Solon was the first who gave those who died childless the power of disposing of their property by will. He enacted laws relating to marriage, especially with regard to heiresses. Frantic and excessive manifestations of grief at funerals were prohibited. The law that the thief should restore twice the value of the thing stolen seems to have originated with him. The laws were inscribed on wooden rollers and triangular tablets, and were set up at first in the Acropolis and afterwards in the Prytaneium. This act in itself was revolutionary, for it encouraged literacy and took the law out of the hands of so-called experts (and their ‘flexible' memories) and made it common knowledge for all the members of the society.

Solon also rectified the calendar, introducing a division of time agreeing more accurately with the course of the moon. He is said to have been the first to introduce among the Greeks months of 29 and 30 days alternately.

From the government and the people he exacted an oath that they would observe his laws without alteration for a certain period (20 years according to Herodotus, 100 years according to others). He was aware that his laws were not perfect and was greatly annoyed by those who came to him with all kinds of complaints. To escape them he absented himself from Athens for ten years. He visited Egypt and conversed with learned Egyptian priests. From there he went on to Cyprus where he was received with great honor. Then, according to Herodotus, he made his way to the court of Croesus in Lydia. The interviews between Solon and Croesus spoken of by Herodotus (and later adapted by Plutarch in his biography of Solon) are undoubtedly fictitious, but very interesting nevertheless both in themselves and in the fact that they lay the foundation for Aristotle's celebrated definition of happiness (the Nicomachean Ethics are, among many other things, an extended meditation on the ideas espoused by Solon in Herodotus' History). During Solon's absence dissensions at home were renewed. Matters were approaching a crisis when he returned to Athens. Pisistratus, a distant relative of Solon, was able to overthrow the state and have himself made sole authority in Athens. Yet he paid considerable court to Solon and on various occasions solicited his advice, which Solon did not withhold. More importantly, he kept all of Solon's laws and constitutional reforms, thus laying the foundation for the world's first democracy some two generations later (in 510-508 BCE). We do not know how long Solon survived the overthrow of the constitution.

Chilon, the third sage, flourished at Athens in the time of Zedekiah. Because of his deep wisdom he was called the laconic speaker. He was delegated to Corinth to bring about an alliance and understanding; but when he there saw the dukes and elders of the people playing dice, he returned home without transacting the business, stating that he did not care to besmirch the honor and glory of the Spartans with such folly. He did not want it to be said that he had made an alliance with men who play games of chance. When asked to define luck, he answered, It is an unknowing physician. This man Chilon taught the taming of the tongue, particularly in trade. Not to speak ill of one's neighbor, for he might hear of it and be saddened thereby. Item: Threaten no one; for that is womanish. It is preferable to go to a friend in trouble than to one who is fortunate. Be humble in festivities and speak not ill of the dead. Honor old age. Know yourself. Control your temper. Do not crave the impossible. Do not laugh at the unfortunate. A lord should be gentle so that his subordinates will honor him more than fear him. One should prefer to sustain a loss rather than a gain through evil; for the loss brings sorrow but once; but an evil gain is a sorrow forever. He too was famous in the time of King Hezekiah. He lived, moreover, 56 years.[Chilon of Lacedaemon (Sparta), son of Damagetus, flourished at the beginning of the sixth century. In 560 BCE (or 556) he acted as ephor, one of the highest magistrates of Sparta, an office which he is said to have founded himself. It is uncertain when the office was created and what was its original character. We may regard it as an immemorial Dorian institution, or accept the tradition that it was founded during the first Messenian War which necessitated a prolonged absence from Sparta on the part of both kings. In historical times the ephors were five in number, the first of them giving his name to the year, like the eponymous archon at Athens. The ephors were elected annually by the people, and had an official residence in the Agora. Every full citizen was eligible. According to Chilon, the great virtue of man is prudence, or well-grounded judgment as to future events. It is said that he died of joy when his son gained the prize for boxing at the Olympic games.]


Solon is represented here by a woodcut used for the first time. He is clothed in a sort of Oriental fez and a robe of many folds. He has a decidedly aquiline profile, and is diligently engaged in the study of a book.

In the Latin edition of the Chronicle the woodcut representing Solon is used in the German edition for Thales.