Know thyself! A maxim as pernicious as it is ugly. Whoever observes himself arrests his own development. A caterpillar who wanted to know itself well would never become a butterfly. ~Andre GideOuch.
"Know thyself" is the most common translation of (arguably) the most famous of the Delphic Maxims. The Delphic Maxims are inscribed at Apollo's Temple in Delphi and are said to have been delivered by Apollo Himself. The Maxims are suggestions for pious living rather than commandments. According to legend, they were written down by The Seven Sages who are usually identified as: Solon of Athens, Chilon of Sparta, Thales of Miletus, Bias of Priene, Cleobulus of Lindos, Pittacus of Mitylene and Periander of Corinth.
Now, I've had trouble reconciling myself to some of the maxims in the past, but this was not one of them. When a friend posted the Gide quote above earlier this week it forced me to question a concept that I had not even realized I had accepted without question.
I will readily admit that choosing to investigate my thoughts on this subject seem to support the very foundations of the maxim "Know Thyself", but I'll leave that paradox aside here for the sake of further exploration.
Would a caterpillar who wanted to know itself never become a butterfly? Does it do harm to the development of my butterfly/psyche to hold it under constant scrutiny? I can understand how that could be perceived as the case. My illness, bipolar disorder, thrives on the constant narration and criticism of my mind about my daily activities. I achieve a certain state of grace when I meditate singularly on my breath and not on the chatter and self-talk of my mind.
Perhaps in chastising "Know Thyself" Gide was recalling that old adage about not staring too long into the abyss lest it stare back into you. We observe ourselves, and observe ourselves observing ourselves. We see flaws that mirror back at us like the abyss, like the demons of the Goetia. We see strengths that we hold ourselves up by. We create an identity based not on who we are being, but on what we are perceiving ourselves to be.
It is important to note that "Know Thyself", although a popular translation, is only that, a translation. The maxim itself is Σαυτον ισθι which can also be translated as "Be Yourself", the advice given to us by our mothers and countless characters on Sesame Street. "Be Yourself" is a much kinder way to live than "Know Thyself". It challenges us to discover our True Will, to ultimately become whatever sort of butterfly we are intended to be.
*gets out Thelemic soapbox (it is composed of two perfect cubes and is exactly at navel height for everyone)*
Therefore, damned for a dog be "Know Thyself". There is no law beyond Do What Thou Wilt. Be Yourself. Love is the Law, Love Under Will.