to the World's Great Aphorists
by James Geary
"People of solitude always love the aphorism. It gives distraction to the hypochondriac, it gives an air of composure and calm to the nervous, it gives the illusion of productivity to the thinker and the poet in times of barrenness and nonproductivity." - Vilhelm Ekelund
I have enjoyed aphoristic thinkers and writers for most of my reading life. Authors from Epictetus to Rochester and, especially the Germans: Lichtenberg, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and my favorite, Goethe ("A good man is always a beginner").
James Geary has compiled an authoritative guide that not only includes all of those and many other well known writers but those less well known with aphorisms that often surprise the reader with aptness if not always greatness. The aphorists are grouped by category such as comics, moralists, painters and poets. In addition to the aphorisms there is a brief biography for each author. One of the most fascinating aspects of the guide are aphoristic comparisons called "Parallel Lines". These are included after many of the entries and present varying interpretations of similar aphorisms by different authors.
Importantly for the reader there are two indices that provide listings by author and by theme. More importantly for those who want to explore an author in depth there is an extensive bibliography. As with most reference books of this kind I enjoy dipping into the book from time to time. It is exciting to find authors previously unknown who have pithy or poignant things to say. One of my favorite sections is titled "Strange Beasts" and include those aphorists who "resist easy categorization" according to Geary. Included in this group are aphorists as disparate as Emily Dickinson and Ludwig Wittgentstein. Also in this group is Ambrose Bierce who appropriately wrote, "Aphorism, n. Predigested wisdom."
If you are looking for an on-line feast of aphorisms you should visit James Geary's aphorisms.
Geary's Guide to the World's Great Aphorists by James Geary. Bloomsbury, 2007.