A passage from the Ancient Greek Historian,
Herodotus, as Xerxes’ massive Persian Army approaches Greece:

The Athenians had sent messages to Delphi asking that an
oracle be given them, and when they had performed all due rites at the temple
and sat down in the inner hall, the priestess, whose name was Aristonice, gave
them this answer:

“Wretches, why do you linger here? Flee from your houses
and city;
Flee to the ends of the earth from the encircled Athens!
The head will not remain in its place, nor the body,
Nor the feet beneath, nor the hands, nor the parts between;
But all is ruined; for fire and the headlong god of war speeding in a Syrian
chariot will bring you low.
Many a fortress will he shatter;
Many a shrine of the gods will he give to the flame for devouring;
Therefore I bid you depart from the sanctuary; steep your souls in woe.”

In the ancient world, if you wanted advice, you sent
ambassadors to the Delphic Oracle.  It
was quite a journey to get to Delphi. 
Most would come by sea, some perhaps by crossing the ancient equivalent
of the Corinthian canal, a pulley system that pulled you and your ship across
the isthmus by land, before arriving at the foot of the towering and mysterious
Mount Parnassus.  The journey up the
mountain would have been fraught with nerves; what will the oracle be
like?  Will it give me the answer that I
wish to hear?  And indeed, after such a
journey, will I be allowed in at all?  The
ritual purification in the Castalian Spring had to be performed perfectly, the
priests needed to be satisfied, the offerings appropriate and the omens good,
or the monthly opportunity to be allowed access would be denied.  If all goes to plan, the final ascent to the
Temple of Apollo, and its oracle within, takes you past an array of Greek
wealth, from the beauty of the treasury of the Siphnians, the first all marble
structure known in the Greek world, with the earliest example of caryatids
holding up its ornate roof, to a group of vast bronze statues, early works of
the great sculptor Phidias, displaying Athenian dominance and set up to honour
the heroes of Marathon.  A final check
that all is in order, and you find yourself inside the Temple of Apollo itself,
sitting on a fissure in the earth’s crust, steam pouring forth from the ground,
the Pythia herself underground in the adyton, incomprehensible and
fearsome.  It must have been quite

The observant and level headed of the suppliants would
have paused in the pronaos, the entranceway, of the temple.  There, etched into the walls, were two of the
great maxims of the ancient world – meden agan (nothing in excess) and gnothi
seauton (know thyself).  The former would
make a talk in itself; the latter an entire life.  You see, the thing is, that here we are two
and a half thousand years later and gnothi seauton, know thyself, speaks to us
as strongly as it has ever done – and if two words could sum up the mission for
us all at school and beyond, it is these two. 
Those who appreciate this phrase the earliest, it seems to me, are those
who succeed in achieving a happy and successful life the quickest. 

Remarkable lives are lived by people who know themselves.  They learn about themselves by seizing
opportunities, by never saying no, by taking risks, by failing miserably, by
helping, supporting and learning from others, by seeing the possibilities in
impossible situations and by living through uncomfortable times.  They learn to understand the frailties of
human beings and they acknowledge their own weaknesses.  The most remarkable lives are lived by people
who do this from a young age.  The year
is still new; so now is your moment. 
Take up something you have not yet tried; put yourself in an uncomfortable
position; strike up conversation with people you have not met; learn about
yourself by extending yourself beyond the bounds of your normal life.  The journey which the ancients took up to the
heights of Delphi brought uncertainty, anxiety and fear – but they were
ultimately experiences which shaped life.

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