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The Art of Worldly Wisdom, maxims 1 to 50 - A Pocket Oracle

by Balthasar Gracián, 1647; translation by Christopher Maurer, 1992
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Table of Contents

About the book

Baltasar Gracián Y Morales (1601-1658) was born in Calatayud, Aragon, Spain. His works aimed at instructing princes and, consequently, display a certain deviousness and preoccupation with the exercise of power.

300 aphorisms were extracted from his works and published as “The Art of Worldly Wisdom”, a manual for becoming wise “in the ways of the world”.

About this summary

The book has a curious format, the maxims are numbered and have a short title, but that’s about it: there are no chapters and no organisation by topic.

In this format the manual is perfect for reading a few maxims at a time, but it also makes the book challenging to use as a reference. Let’s say I want to reflect on a particular virtue, how do I find all the related maxims?

To help exactly with this kind of questions I am sorting the maxims into the best categories I could think of! This post covers the first 50 maxims.

Reading the Maxims

The book is widely available online in many translations, but my favourite is the one from 1992 by Christopher Maurer, which you can find here: maxims 1-25, maxims 26-50.

Categorisation of the Maxims

The first two categories are quite easy:

Picking the component virtues for worldly wisdom was quite challenging. In the end I settled on the two Domains, Personal and Social, and on a number of Graces for each domain, as follows:

Below are the first 50 maxims!

PS: The table is interactive, you can click on the columns to sort the content :)

Number Title Frequency Domain Grace
001 All has reached perfection, and becoming a true person is the greatest perfection of all Barely Social Relations
002 Character and intelligence Occasionally Social Relations
003 Keep matters in suspense Occasionally Social Relations
004 Knowledge and courage take turns at greatness Barely Personal Courage
005 Make people depend on you Occasionally Social Relations
006 Reach perfection Barely Personal Industry
007 Don’t outshine your boss Often Social Relations
008 Not to be swayed by passions: the highest spiritual quality of all Barely Personal Temperance
009 Avoid the defects of your country Occasionally Personal Temperance
010 Fame and fortune Barely Social Relations
011 Associate with those you can learn from Occasionally Social Friends
012 Nature and art, material and labor Barely Personal Industry
013 Act on the intentions of others: their ulterior and superior motives Barely Social Relations
014 Both reality and manner Often Social Appearances
015 Surround yourself with auxiliary wits Often Social Friends
016 Knowledge and honorable intentions Barely Personal Justice
017 Keep changing your style of doing things Barely Social Relations
018 Application and capacity Barely Personal Resolution
019 When you start something, don’t raise other people’s expectations Occasionally Social Relations
020 A person born in the right age Barely Personal Prudence
021 The art of success Barely Personal Courage
022 Be well informed Barely Personal Knowledge
023 Don’t have a single imperfection Occasionally Personal Temperance
024 Temper your imagination Barely Personal Tranquillity
025 Know how to take a hint Occasionally Social Relations
026 Find each person’s ‘handle’ Occasionally Social Relations
027 Better to be intensive than extensive Often Personal Resolution
028 Be vulgar in nothing Occasionally Personal Temperance
029 Be righteous and firm Occasionally Personal Justice
030 Don’t occupy yourself with disreputable things Barely Personal Temperance
031 Know the fortunate in order to choose them, and the unfortunate in order to flee from them Barely Personal Prudence
032 Be known for pleasing others Often Social Relations
033 Know when to put something aside Barely Personal Prudence
034 Know your best quality Barely Personal Knowledge
035 Weigh matters carefully Often Personal Prudence
036 Take the measure of your luck Barely Personal Prudence
037 Know what insinuation is, and how to use it Barely Social Relations
038 Quit while you’re ahead Barely Personal Prudence
039 Know when things are at their acme, when they are ripe, and know how to take advantage of them Occasionally Personal Prudence
040 Grace in dealing with others Often Social Relations
041 Never exaggerate Occasionally Personal Temperance
042 Born to rule Barely Social Relations
043 Feel with the few, speak with the many Often Social Relations
044 Sympathy with the great Often Social Friends
045 Use, but don’t abuse, hidden intentions, and above all, don’t reveal them Barely Social Relations
046 Temper your antipathy Occasionally Social Relations
047 Avoid committing yourself to risky enterprises Barely Personal Prudence
048 You are as much a real person as you are deep Barely Personal Knowledge
049 A person of sharp observation and sound judgment Barely Personal Prudence
050 Never lose your self-respect Occasionally Personal Temperance

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