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The Art of Worldly Wisdom - 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.

While this format makes the manual perfect for reading a few maxims at a time, it also makes it challenging to use it 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 problem, I am sorting the maxims into the best categories I could think of!

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.

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 Judgement
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 Judgement
032 Be known for pleasing others Often Social Relations
033 Know when to put something aside Barely Personal Judgement
034 Know your best quality Barely Personal Knowledge
035 Weigh matters carefully Often Personal Judgement
036 Take the measure of your luck Barely Personal Judgement
037 Know what insinuation is, and how to use it Barely Social Relations
038 Quit while you’re ahead Barely Personal Judgement
039 Know when things are at their acme, when they are ripe, and know how to take advantage of them Occasionally Personal Judgement
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 Judgement
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 Judgement
050 Never lose your self-respect Occasionally Personal Temperance
051 Know how to choose Barely Personal Judgement
052 Never lose your composure Barely Personal Temperance
053 Be diligent and intelligent Barely Personal Resolution
054 Act boldly but prudently Barely Personal Courage
055 Know how to wait Barely Personal Judgement
056 Think on your feet Barely Personal Courage
057 Thoughtful people are safer Barely Personal Temperance
058 Adapt to those around you Barely Social Relations
059 End well Barely Social Relations
060 Good judgment Barely Personal Judgement
061 Eminence in what is best Barely Social Relations
062 Use the best instruments Barely Social Friends
063 The excellence of being first Barely Personal Resolution
064 Avoid grief Barely Personal Tranquillity
065 Elevated taste Barely Social Friends
066 Take care to make things turn out well Often Personal Resolution
067 Choose an occupation in which you can win praise Often Social Relations
068 Make others understand Often Social Relations
069 Don’t give in to every common impulse Barely Personal Temperance
070 Know how to say no Barely Social Relations
071 Don’t be inconsistent, either because of temperament or out of affectation Barely Personal Temperance
072 Be resolute Barely Personal Resolution
073 Know when to be evasive Barely Social Relations
074 Don’t be unfriendly Often Social Relations
075 Choose a heroic model, and emulate rather than imitate Barely Personal Industry
076 Don’t always be joking Occasionally Social Relations
077 Adapt yourself to everyone else Occasionally Social Relations
078 Skill at trying things out Occasionally Personal Temperance
079 A jovial character Often Social Relations
080 Be careful when you inform yourself about things   Social Relations
081 Renew your brilliance Often Social Appearances
082 Neither all bad nor all good Barely Social Appearances
083 Allow yourself some venial fault Barely Social Appearances
084 Know how to use your enemies Barely Social Relations
085 Don’t be the wild card Barely Social Appearances
086 Head off rumor Barely Social Relations
087 Culture and refinement Occasionally Personal Knowledge
088 Deal with others in a grand way Occasionally Social Appearances
089 Know yourself: your character, intellect, judgment, and emotions Occasionally Personal Temperance
090 The art of living long: live well Often Personal Justice
091 Never act unless you think it prudent to do so Occasionally Personal Judgement
092 Transcendent wisdom, in every situation Occasionally Personal Judgement
093 A universal man Often Social Friends
094 Unfathomable gifts Often Social Appearances
095 Keep expectations alive Often Social Appearances
096 Good common sense Occasionally Personal Judgement

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