Sophrosyne (Greek: σωφροσύνη) is a Greek philosophical term etymologically meaning healthy-mindedness and from there self-control or moderation guided by knowledge and balance. Roman poet Juvenal later interpreted sophrosyne as "mens sana in corpore sano" ("a healthy mind in a healthy body").
In ancient Greek philosophy
Sophrosyne was a Greek goddess. She was the spirit of moderation, self-control, temperance, restraint, and discretion. She was considered to be one of the good spirits that escaped Pandora's box when the first woman had opened the lid and fled to Olympos. Her Roman goddess equivalents were Continentia, the goddess of continence and moderation, and Sobrietas, the goddess of temperance and sobriety.
Many Ancient Greeks upheld the ideal of sophrosyne, which is often translated by such terms as prudence, self-control, moderation, and temperance; but ultimately its complex meaning, so important to the ancients, is very difficult to convey in English. It is perhaps to some extent expressed by the two most famous sayings of the Oracle of Delphi: "Nothing in excess" and "Know thyself."
Socrates, a Greek philosopher, believed that the quest for self-knowledge was to be honored more than the attainment of wealth or material goods and that the most valuable of one’s possessions were virtues.
The term suggests that lifelong happiness may be obtained when one's mental needs are satisfied, and it resembles the idea of enlightenment through harmonious living. It is a nearly lost Classical ideal, but the goal of living within the limits of reason and nature through practical wisdom and self-knowledge is enjoying a revival today. Parallels abound in Eastern thought, in Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism. The Analects of Confucius, for example, has several passages on humility that resemble discussions of the Greek ideal.
It is conceptually the opposite of hubris.
The word is found in the writings of Ancient Greece, especially those of Plato: in ethical discussions of the dialogue Charmides where it refers to the avoidance of excess in daily life, and in the Republic. This term in Plato's use is connected with the Pythagorean idea of harmonia.
In Christian theology
In Christian theology, especially in the Greek Orthodox patristic form, the word sophrosyne has come to mean purity, integrity and virginity, although this is not its Classical meaning. The Gospel of Matthew may be the source of this difference; however, there are clear examples in secular Hellenistic authors where sophrosyne refers to sexual fidelity and integrity (at least for a woman; cf. Callirhoe §2.8.4, §2.10.8). For the Ancient Greeks, "sophrosyne" had these noble connotations, but could also be used in more mundane contexts.
Examples of this term often appear in Greek literature as well. See the character of Deianeira in Trachinian Women by Sophocles. Achilles in The Iliad when Agamemnon decides to take Briseis or Oedipus in Oedipus Rex are examples of characters without sophrosyne. Plato's Symposium could accurately be subtitled "On Sophrosyne," and his character Socrates is sophrosyne exemplified.
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- Chariton. Callirhoe. Cambridge, MA, and London: Harvard University Press. (pp.118 and 126)
- › Adriaan Rademaker (1966-01-01). "Sophrosyne: Self-Knowledge and Self-Restraint in Greek Literature: Helen North: Amazon.com: Books". Amazon.com. Retrieved 2013-10-07.
- Dzielzka, Maria. Hypatia of Alexandria. Cambridge, MA, and London: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-43776-4(pbk)