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N.S. Gill

Thursday's Term to Learn - Sophrosyne

By September 24, 2009

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Sophrosyne (so-fro-soo-nay, in my area of the globe) is such an elegant word you might want to learn it just so you can say it. Practically, the chances increase the longer you spend studying Classics that you will run into it. Plato's Charmides dialogue is about it, so don't expect to be an expert in it immediately. But, on the other hand, don't feel threatened by it, as I did. I felt that because it was so exotic a word, I was missing essential connotations not supplied by the Latin equivalent: temperantia, which we translate into English as temperance.

The Oxford Classical Dictionary does not have an entry on sophrosyne, but names this virtue in connection with the Stoics because sophrosyne is a virtue incorporating self-control and moderation. For the Stoics, sophrosyne, courage, prudence, and justice were all cardinal virtues.

The Dictionary of the History of Ideas says sophrosyne comes from an adjective Homer uses saophrōn 'of sound mind' for which reason the line from Juvenal: mens sana in corpore sano 'healthy mind in a healthy body' is sometimes used to clarify what sophrosyne is all about. Theognis uses sophrosyne as the opposite of hubris, according to Ethics in Thucydides: the Ancient Simplicity, by Mary Frances Williams. Theognis' use is sometimes political, where sophrosyne is a characteristic of the conservative order, and, at other times, sophrosyne is linked with justice.

Sophrosyne Definition

"sophrosyn (Greek, self-control, temperance, soundness of mind) One of the cardinal virtues, consisting in a harmonious state of rational control of one's desires. In Aristotle the temperate person is one who can abstain or indulge appetites to the right degree without a severe effort of will; the person who needs the effort of will is not temperate, and needs to be continent...."

Source:
"sophrosyn" The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy. Simon Blackburn. Oxford University Press, 2008

Obviously, there is much more on sophrosyne, but the links and references above should get you started.

More Thursdays' Terms to Learn

Comments

December 4, 2009 at 2:30 am
(1) Anna R says:

Good word, yes. I don’t know where your area of the globe is, of course, but for North American anglophones, the word is pronounced suh-FROSS-uh-nee. In (modern) Greek, σωφροσύνη is pronounced soh-froh-SEE-nee, and means prudence or wisdom.

December 4, 2009 at 2:31 am
(2) Anna R says:

Good word, yes. I don’t know where your area of the globe is, of course, but for North American anglophones, the word is pronounced suh-FROSS-uh-nee. In (modern) Greek, σωφροσύνη is pronounced soh-froh-SEE-nee, and means prudence or wisdom.

May 29, 2011 at 12:45 pm
(3) Amanda says:

I love that word. I like it with the long a sound on the end even though I’m finding the pronunication mainly with the long e sound. In my college history class (way back when), we were taught it meant balance, moderation and simplicity. I would like to have a ring made with “sophrosyne” engraved across it.

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