Pittacus of Mytilene

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Bust of Pittacus, Roman copy of a Greek original of the Late Classical period, Louvre

Pittacus (/ˈpɪtəkəs/; Greek: Πιττακός; c. 640 – 568 BC) was an ancient Mytilenaen military general and one of the Seven Sages of Greece.


Piitacus was a native of Mytilene, and son of Hyrradius. He became a Mytilenaean general who, with his army, was victorious in the battle against the Athenians and their commander Phrynon. In consequence of this victory the Mytilenaeans held Pittacus in the greatest honour and presented the supreme power into his hands. After ten years of reign he resigned his position and the city and constitution were brought into good order.

When the Athenians were about to attack his city, Pittacus challenged their General to a single combat, with the understanding that the result should decide the war, and much bloodshed be thereby avoided. The challenge was accepted, and he killed his enemy with a broad sword. He was then chosen ruler of his city and governed for ten years, during which time he made laws in poetry—one of which was to this effect: "A crime committed by a person when drunk should receive double the punishment which it would merit if the offender were sober." His great motto was this: "Whatever you do, do it well."[1]

Some authors mention that he had a son called Tyrrhaeus. The legend says that his son was killed and when the murderer was brought before Pittacus, he dismissed the man, saying, "Pardon is better than repentance." Of this matter, Heraclitus says that he had got the murderer into his power and then he released him, saying, "Pardon is better than punishment."

It was a saying of Pittacus, that it is a hard thing to be a good man. Plato in his Protagoras has Socrates discuss this saying at length with Protagoras, and has Prodicus of Ceos call the Aeolic dialect that Pittacus spoke barbarian: "He didn't know to distinguish the words correctly, being from Lesbos, and having been raised with a barbarian dialect."[2]

He flourished about the forty-second Olympiad. Having lived more than seventy years, he died in the third year of the fifty-second Olympiad (568 BC).

Legal reform[edit]

Pittacus instituted a law stating that crimes committed in drunkenness should be punished twofold;[3] this law was directed predominately against the aristocrats, as they were more often guilty of drunk and violent behaviour. As such, it was greatly appreciated by the common people.[4][5]

Other sayings[edit]

  • "Forgiveness is better than revenge."[6]
  • "Whatever you do, do it well."
  • "Even the Gods cannot strive against necessity."
  • "Power shows the man."
  • "Do not say beforehand what you are going to do; for if you fail, you will be laughed at."
  • "Do not reproach a man with his misfortunes, fearing lest Nemesis may overtake you."
  • "Forbear to speak evil not only of your friends, but also of your enemies."
  • "Cultivate truth, good faith, experience, cleverness, sociability, and industry."
  • "Know thine opportunity"


  1. ^ As quoted by Diogenes Laërtius, i. 77.
  2. ^ Plato. Protagoras. ISBN 978-1604506365. 
  3. ^ Aristotle, Politics 1274b 18–23
  4. ^ McGlew, 1993: 95 n. 16.
  5. ^ Jon Ploug Jørgensen, The taming of the aristoi - an ancient Greek civilizing process? History of the Human Sciences: July 2014 vol. 27 no. 3, pg 45
  6. ^ As quoted in Hancock, Thomas (1826), The Principles of Peace, p. 211


  • Wikisource-logo.svg Diogenes Laërtius, Life of Pittacus, translated by Robert Drew Hicks (1925).
  • H. W. Burton (1877). The History of Norfolk, Virginia. Norfolk, VA: Norfolk Virginian Job Print. p. 244. 
  • Charles Stewart Given (1905). A Fleece of Gold: Five Lessons from the Fable of Jason and the Golden Fleece. Cincinnati, OH: Jennings & Graham. 

External links[edit]