Aphorisms and Epigraphs

The omnivorous aphoristic hunter-gatherer Dave Lull flags up this piece in the Wall Street Journal by Rosemary Ahern about her book The Art of the Epigraph: How Great Books Begin. “The epigraph may pay tribute to a favorite writer or be the product of a chance encounter with a particularly resonant snippet of poetry or prose,” Ahern writes. “But it’s also an act of literary semaphore: an author signaling his themes and sensibility to readers inclined to respond to both.” Ahern gives three tips for choosing appropriate epigraphs: Be brief, be funny, be wise—not bad advice for composing aphorisms, either. And, of course, there are many aphorisms among the epigraphs she cites in her essay, including:

The secret of being a bore is to say everything. —Voltaire

All seats provide equal viewing of the universe. —Museum Guide, Hayden Planetarium

To be happy you must have taken the measure of your powers, tasted the fruit of your passion and learned your place in the world. —Santayana

Begin, be bold and venture to be wise. —Horace