Aphorisms by Peter Siviglia

Dinner with Peter Siviglia will not cost you an arm and a leg (he insists on picking up the tab)—unless you happen to be the waiter or waitress, in which case your limbs might be endangered because Mr. Siviglia feigns gnawing at them every time a plate or a glass of water (or more often, a glass of wine) passes before him. Surprised serving staff (and fellow diners) must also contend with a relentless barrage of puns, many of which have clearly already achieved iconic catchphrase status in the annals of Siviglian family lore; to wit, every time Mr. Siviglia is referred to as ‘sir’—as in, “Would you like fries with your burger, sir?”—he responds with mock indignation, “Don’t call me surly!” These traits—the Marx Brothers-esque antics, the inability to pass up any opportunity for a pun—are telltale signs of the inveterate aphorist.

Mr. Siviglia’s aphorisms, which he calls Recipes from the Top of the Food Chain, mix political and moral musings with Ambrose Bierce’s (Geary’s Guide, pp. 356–358) brand of acerbic wit. Like Bierce, Mr. Siviglia writes one of the oldest forms of aphorism—the definition, e.g.

Responsibility: the rejection of excuses.

But he often takes the definition one step further, by adding several layers of philosophical exposition in what might be called the Siviglian syllogism, e.g.

Most people view the world in a mirror and see only themselves. Hence, the Platinum Rule: Do not do unto others as they would not have you do unto them. Corollary to the Platinum Rule: Do not do that which places others in danger.

“I think philosophical wisdom often repeats itself from age to age in different forms,” he says, “but repetition of good is good.” In Recipes from the Top of the Food Chain, Mr. Siviglia serves up fresh takes on age-old philosophical dishes that will definitely keep you coming back for more. Just don’t call him surly…

Truth: the most powerful and disarming of weapons. To believe that you can deceive without detection is self-deception. To admit error is to treat acid with a base.

The two certainties in life: Death and Taxes. Well, it’s time to add a third: Mistakes. Work, therefore, must be checked, rechecked, and checked again. Even then, some mistakes, like pests, will persist; but by then, those that remain, hopefully, will be harmless.

The street cleaner who does his or her job well deserves the same admiration and respect as the PhD who does his or her job well.

Conduct yourself so that everyone can rely on you; be wary in choosing those on whom you rely.

Luck begins and ends when the sperm hits the egg. It is a word for losers and for those few who are both successful and modest. Therefore, take an extended vacation from “if only”, “might have”, “could have”, “would have”, and their colleagues.

When you care what someone thinks of you, you are hostage to that person. Be hostage first—and preferably only—to yourself.

Success: achieving one’s goals. Wealth is a measure of success only if wealth is the goal. Too often people judge the success of others by their own goals.

Three people never to trust: cowards, the greedy, and the desperate.

Sometimes enemies are preferable to friends: you will never turn your back to an enemy. (Consult Julius Caesar.)

But for a moment, money will not buy happiness; yet happiness without money is in jeopardy of lasting little longer than a moment.

Life is too long and too difficult not to (a) fish for trout as often as possible, (b) specify your preference as often as possible.

Even the top of the food chain worries.

Aphorisms by Markku Envall

Sami Feiring, a Finnish aphorist and charter member of the World Aphorism Organization, sends new translations of aphorisms by Markku Envall (Geary’s Guide, pp. 273–274). Envall practices an uncommon variation on the form—the aphorism sequence—that is popular in Finland. “In an aphorism sequence,” Sami writes, “the basic unit is not a single aphorism but a set of aphorisms, usually about five. The aphorisms in an aphorism sequence usually deal with a common theme but are also intertwined with each other in a more profound way. Several noted Finnish aphorists have used and use the form, including Mirkka Rekola, Paavo Haavikko, and Markku Envall.”

Here is what Envall himself has to say about the aphorism: “The answer to the question of what an aphorist wants to say is his written and published aphorisms. There is hardly any other way to reply to that question. Also, explaining or interpreting one’s aphorisms is useless. In my opinion, an aphorism includes all the meanings the reader finds in it. The author has no exclusive right to the correct interpretation, not to mention the only correct interpretation.”

The first aphorism below is an aphorism sequence.

Man is the cancer of nature, growing uncontrollably and exponentially.

A dead man is a cured cancer cell in the world’s body.

Useful as soil or as ash.

If our species faces extinction, a question arises: Is there then any thought that could comfort us?

Yes, there is. To see our evilness, ugliness, and imbecility; that is the comfort.

The listener gives therapy; the talker takes it.

The lynch mob realizes spontaneously: What is done by many is done by none.

Progress does not abolish social evils but merely increases their variety.

If all people were thrown into the sea, the sea would immediately become cleaner.

As much order as necessary, as much freedom as possible.

The paradox of the avenger: Your enemy dictates your conduct as well as your ethics.

Away with metaphysics! A good life is a series of good moments.

We live as if we had two lives. The first one is used for the acquisition of resources.

When faith replaces knowledge, its reliability is halved but its insistence doubles.

Darwin refuted original sin. The Fall of Adam and Eve is an acquired characteristic.

I’m making progress. My memory is shorter than the circle I’m strolling around.