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Empirical facts seem to support this connection: the Greeks were anything but modest, and among the Greeks, the Athenians were the most extravagant.

I wonder what exactly are the reasons behind this connection.

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What does the phrase have to do with the Greeks? And the Greeks had "Nothing in excess" as a proverb.


Wikipedia says of the phrase (which was written by Blake, as one of the "Proverbs of Hell"),

Unlike that of Milton or Dante, Blake's conception of Hell begins not as a place of punishment, but as a source of unrepressed, somewhat Dionysian energy, opposed to the authoritarian and regulated perception of Heaven.

In the most famous part of the book, Blake reveals the Proverbs of Hell. These display a very different kind of wisdom from the Biblical Book of Proverbs. The diabolical proverbs are provocative and paradoxical.

Blake explains that,

"Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate are necessary to Human existence. From these contraries spring what the religious call Good & Evil. Good is the passive that obeys Reason. Evil is the active springing from Energy. Good is Heaven. Evil is Hell."


For what it's worth, to the extent that it's true, the phrase reminds me of the "Middle Way" of Buddhism; i.e. that you might (as the Gautama Buddha himself did, with his early life as a worldly prince followed by his striving for enlightenment as an ascetic) know extreme (excess) before you know wisdom (sufficiency); e.g. you know "not enough" and "too much" (excess) before you understand "enough".

"There are two extremes, O bhikkhus, which the man who has given up the world ought not to follow-the habitual practice, on the one hand, of self-indulgence which is unworthy, vain and fit only for the worldly-minded and the habitual practice, on the other hand, of self-mortification, which is painful, useless and unprofitable.

"Neither abstinence from fish and flesh, nor going naked, nor shaving the head, nor wearing matted hair, nor dressing in a rough garment, nor covering oneself with dirt, nor sacrificing to Agni, will cleanse a man who is not free from delusions. Reading the Vedas, making offerings to priests, or sacrifices to the gods, self-mortification by heat or cold and many such penances performed for the sake of immortality, these do not cleanse the man who is not free from delusions. Anger, drunkenness, obstinacy, bigotry, deception, envy, self-praise, disparaging others, superciliousness and evil intentions constitute uncleanness; not verily the eating of flesh.

"A middle path, O bhikkhus avoiding the two extremes, has been discovered by the Tathagata-a path which opens the eyes, and bestows understanding, which leads to peace of mind, to the higher wisdom, to full enlightenment, to Nirvana! What is that middle path, O bhikkhus, avoiding these two extremes, discovered by the Tathagata-that path which opens the eyes, and bestows understanding, which leads to peace of mind, to the higher wisdom, to full enlightenment, to Nirvana? Let me teach you, O bhikkhus, the middle path, which keeps aloof from both extremes. By suffering, the emaciated devotee produces confusion and sickly thoughts in his mind. Mortification is not conducive even to worldly knowledge; how much less to a triumph over the senses!

  • Thanks, @ChrisW. Were not philosophy, mathematics, science, theatre, literature and Art just some of the Greek's indulgences? – George Chen Sep 25 '14 at 18:35

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