on November 18, 2003
This is an ideal book for the coffee table, guest bedroom, or bathroom, but also one that will stand proudly on the bookshelf next to Bartlett's Famous Quotations and other prestigious literary reference books. The entries are witty, entertaining, often quite profound, and well organized throughout. The sources are varied but nearly all of the names are widely recognizable.
An aphorism is defined as "a short, pithy statement containing a truth of general import." In the introduction to this volume John Gross offers several distinguishing characteristics of the aphorism. Though the term `maxim' is often used as its synonym, an aphorism is considered more speculative, and sometimes more subversive than a maxim. While aphorisms offer insights and wisdom, they differ from proverbs in that they are not apocryphal. And while they are universal, they also generally bear the personal mark of the author.
Goethe, Nietzsche, Chekhov, Voltaire, Spinoza, Wilde, Yeats, James...but a few of the authors included in this book.
To give a flavor of the kinds of entries, consider these from the chapter on religion.
"Probably no invention came more easily to man than Heaven."
"Heathen, n. A benighted creature who has the folly to worship something that he can see and feel."
"If God created us in his own image, we have more than reciprocated."
And if you don't like those, there are fifty other chapters to choose from.
on April 21, 2011
"Everything has been said before, but since nobody listens we have to keep going back and beginning all over again," noted Andre Gide in 1891, opening this outstanding collection of classical and modern aphorisms.
My well-worn copy has been highlighted, marked, and frequently consulted over the last few years. It's a portable treasure of insights and insanities, both providing pleasures and possibilities. And, as one would expect from an Oxford collection, the this exceptional academic book includes the context and date for each quote. As a life-long lover of quotations and proverbs, I strongly recommend this authoritative collection of aphorisms.
on February 7, 2007
The book is dark verging on sardonic, reflecting the dark, sardonic nature of the best epigrams of our age. I was inspired to respond in the margins to a number of them, and I can't think of a better response to epigrams in general, than for them to get under your prickly skin to the extent that you might write your own ironic counterstatements. Bloodshed begets bloodshed, and so we might say (ironically) that this sort of bitterness begets bitterness. But it may very well be the most brilliant bitterness you've known.
Some of my favorite quotes with my responses--representative in the extreme:
"Where they burn books they will also in the end burn human bodies"--Heine, <<Almansor: A Tragedy>>, 1823
"Where they burn human beings, they will also, in the end, burn the wrong book"--Eucaleh Terrapin
"A secret may sometimes be best kept by keeping the secret of its being a secret"--Sir Henry Taylor, <<The Statesman>>, 1823
"Thus the wisest proverb is common sense"--Eucaleh Terrapin
"Freedom produces jokes, and jokes produce freedom"--Jean Paul Richter, Introduction to Aesthetics, 1823
"But to be witty is to be serious about other comedians"--Eucaleh Terrapin
on February 24, 2007
Those are the bitter pills of civilization. Like other bitter pills, they have great healing power. As a matter of fact, if the World took more notice of those pearls of wisdom, produced by outstanding minds, from Heraclitus to the Huxleys, policies might be less absurd and mass actions less disastrous than they actually are.