The Delphic Knife—An Ancient Greek Multitool

During or prior to the 4th century BCE, a blade was produced in Greece that was designed to aid its wielder in a wide variety of tasks. The knife’s exact schematics are unknown, but it was apparently the multitool or Swiss Army Knife of its day. Aristotle (c. 384-322 BCE) made use of the Delphic knife in his Politics, contrasting the all-purpose nature of the blade against the individual roles and abilities that each human contributes to his or her society. Aristotle wrote, “[Nature] recognizes different functions and lavishly provides different tools, not an all-purpose tool like the Delphic knife; for every instrument will be made best if it serves not many purposes but one” (The Politics, Bekker page 1252b). As Aristotle noted, the blade must have aligned with the saying that a jack of all trades is a master of none. Although the Delphic knife could serve many purposes, other blades designed to excel at singular tasks were often more efficient than the ambitious ancient multitool.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

Picture Attribution: (Alexander cuts the Gordian Knot, by Jean-Simon Berthélemy (1743–1811), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).


  • The Politics by Aristotle, translated by T. A. Sinclair and revised by T. J. Saunders. London: Penguin Classics, 1962, 1992.

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