Seven Sages of Various Places

Seven seems to be a good number for wise guys, as well as goddesses. Here’s a few groups of cronies, known generally as the seven sages.

Nimrud Apkallu

Nimrud Apkallu

The Apkallu (Akkadian) or Abgal, (Sumerian) are seven Sumerian sages, demigods who are said to have been created by the god Enki (AkkadianEa) to establish culture and give civilization to mankind. They served as priests ofEnki and as advisors or sages to the earliest “kings” or rulers of Sumer before the flood. They are credited with giving mankind the Me (moral code), the crafts, and the arts. They were seen as fish-like men who emerged from the sweet water Abzu. They are commonly represented as having the lower torso of a fish, or dressed as a fish.

The Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove (also known as the Seven Worthies of the Bamboo Grove,simplified Chinesetraditional ChinesepinyinZhúlín  Xián) were a group of Chinese scholars, writers, and musicians of the 3rd century CE. Among other things, some of the seven wrote Taoist poems, poems criticizing the court and the administration, and manuals on Taoist mysticism andfangshi. It would be a mistake to assume that all members had similar views, however, and while some members tried to negotiate their difficult political positions by self-consciously adopting the roles of ale-fuelled pranksters and eccentrics, others eventually capitulated and joined the Jin dynasty (most notably Wang Rong). Although it is unknown how much they personally engaged in qingtan, they became the subjects of it themselves in the Shishuo Xinyu (Chinese: 世說新語 “A New Account of the Tales of the World“).

The Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove

The Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove embroidered on dark blue satin woven silk, 1860-1880.

As is traditionally depicted, the group wished to escape the intrigues, corruption and stifling atmosphere of court life during the politically fraught Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history. They gathered in a bamboo grove near the house of Xi Kang (aka Ji Kang) in Shanyang (now in Henan province) where they enjoyed, and praised in their works, the simple, rustic life. This was contrasted with the politics of court. The Seven Sages stressed the enjoyment of Chinese alcoholic beverages, personal freedom, spontaneity and a celebration of nature.

The Seven Wise Masters

(also called The Seven Sages or The Seven Sages of Rome) is a cycle of stories of SanskritPersian or Hebrew origins.The Sultan sends his son the young Prince to be educated away from the court in the seven liberal arts by Seven Wise Masters. On his return to court his stepmother the empress seeks to seduce him. To avert danger he is bound over to a week’s silence by Sindibad, leader of the Seven Wise Masters. During this time the empress accuses him to her husband, and seeks to bring about his death by seven stories which she relates to the emperor; but her narrative is each time confuted by the Seven Wise Masters led by Sindibad. Finally the prince’s lips are unsealed, the truth exposed, and the wicked empress is executed.

The Saptarishi

The Saptarishi (from saptarṣi, a Sanskrit dvigu meaning “seven sages”) are the seven rishis who are extolled at many places in the Vedas and Hinduliterature. The Vedic Samhitas never actually enumerate these rishis by name, though later Vedic texts such as the Brahmanas and Upanisads do so. They are regarded in the Vedas as the patriarchs of the Vedic religion. The Big Dipper asterism is also called Saptarshi.

The earliest list of the Seven Rishis is given by Jaiminiya Brahmana 2.218-221: VashistaBharadvajaJamadagniGautamaAtriVisvamitra, and Agastya, followed by Brihadaranyaka Upanisad 2.2.6 with a slightly different list: Gautama and Bharadvāja, Viśvāmitra and Jamadagni, Vashiṣṭa and Kaśyapa, and Atri. The late Gopatha Brāhmana 1.2.8 has Vashiṣṭa, Viśvāmitra, Jamadagni, Gautama, Bharadvāja, Gungu, Agastya, and Kaśyapa.

In post-Vedic texts, different lists appear; some of these rishis were recognized as the ‘mind born sons’ (Sanskrit: manasa putra) of Brahma, the representation of the Supreme Being as Creator. Other representations are Mahesha or Shiva as the Destroyer and Vishnu as the Preserver. Since these seven rishis were also among the primary eight rishis, who were considered to be the ancestors of the Gotras of Brahmins, the birth of these rishis was mythicized.

In some parts of India people believe these are seven stars named “Vashista“, “Marichi“, “Pulastya“, “Pulaha“, “Atri“, “Angiras” and “Kratu”. There is another star slightly visible within it, known as “Arundhati“.Arundhati is the wife of Vasistha.

Seven Sages of Greece from the Nuremberg chronicles

Seven Sages of Greece from the Nuremberg chronicles

The Seven Sages (of Greece) or Seven Wise Men (Greek: οἱ ἑπτὰ σοφοί, hoi hepta sophoi; c. 620 BC–550 BC) was the title given by ancient Greek tradition to seven early 6th century BC philosophers, statesmen and law-givers who were renowned in the following centuries for their wisdom.

Traditionally, each of the seven sages represents an aspect of worldly wisdom which is summarized by an aphorism. Although the list of sages sometimes varies, the ones usually included are the following:

  • Solon of Athens“Keep everything with moderation.” Solon (c. 638–558 BC) was a famous legislator and reformer from Athens, framing the laws which shaped the Athenian democracy.
  • Chilon of Sparta“You should not desire the impossible.” Chilon was a Spartan politician from the 6th century BC, to whom the militarization of Spartan society was attributed[citation needed].
  • Bias of Priene“Most men are bad.” Bias was a politician and legislator of the 6th century BC.
  • Thales of Miletus: (c. 624 BC – c. 546 BC) Thales is the first well-known philosopher and mathematician. His advice, Know thyself,” was engraved on the front façade of the Oracle of Apollo in Delphi.
  • Pittacus of Mytilene (c. 640–568 BC), governed Mytilene (Lesbos) along with Myrsilus. He tried to reduce the power of the nobility and was able to govern with the support of the popular classes, whom he favoured. He famously said “You should know which opportunities to choose.”
  • Periander of Corinth (fl. 627 BC): he was the tyrant of Corinth in the 7th and 6th centuries BC. During his rule, Corinth knew a golden age of unprecedented stability. He was known saying “Be farsighted with everything.”

In addition to being credited for pithy sayings, the wise men were also apparently famed for practical inventions; in Plato’s Republic (600a), it is said that it “befits a wise man” to have “many inventions and useful devices in the crafts or sciences” attributed to him, citing Thales and Anacharsis the Scythian as examples.

According to a number of moralistic stories, there was a golden tripod (or, in some versions of the story, a bowl or cup) which was to be given to the wisest. Allegedly, it passed in turn from one of the seven sages to another, beginning with Thales, until one of them (either Thales or Solon, depending on the story) finally dedicated it to Apollo who was held to be wisest of all.

According to Diogenes, Dicaearchus claimed that the seven “were neither wise men nor philosophers, but merely shrewd men, who had studied legislation.” And according to at least one modern scholar, the claim is correct: “With the exception of Thales, no one whose life is contained in Diogenes’ Book I [i.e. none of the above] has any claim to be styled a philosopher.”

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3 Responses to Seven Sages of Various Places

  1. Great article. I am a student of cultures and really was impressed with this article. I’ve shared it so that I can find it again. Great job!

  2. Wonderful article. It makes one ask, why the number seven? It would be interesting to see the philosophy behind that. In numerology, seven represents the thinker, the searcher of Truth, one who tries to understand the hidden meaning of things.
    http://pennymcdanielspiritualguidance.blogspot.com

  3. Thanks for stopionng by sharing. I’d never heard of any of these stories until I started researching sevens. Now I have lots of material to compost.

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