On Art and Aesthetics

The Oxford Book of Aphorisms edited by John Gross (1980s/2003, Oxford University Press)

What is an aphorism? Perhaps a witty statement. Something pithy, something universal. Supposedly carries a lot of weight, speaks of a general truth. But how does it differ from “maxims” or “proverbs” or “adages”? In The Oxford Book of Aphorisms, prominent British critic John Gross (1935-2011) – who had worked for the Sunday Telegraph, the Times Literary Supplement and the New York Times – provided a set of characteristics that might help us spot one. “The earliest aphorisms—the first to go by that name, at least—,” began he, “were a collection of brief medical teachings and sayings by Hippocrates (460 BC-370 BC), and when the term was revived in the Renaissance it initially looked back to its scientific origins. Soon, however, it came to denote the formulation of a moral or philosophical principle as well, and gradually this took over…

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