Since this blog takes its name and tagline from the works of Baltasar Gracian, I thought I could also utilize this space as sort of a virtual discussion and meditation on his work, The Art of Worldly Wisdom. I do prefer the direct translation of the title, though: A Manual of the Art of Discretion. For any who wish to follow along, there is a free translated version at Sacred-Texts.com, though I might rely upon my more modern Christopher Maurer’s translation for greater insight. Footnotes, what delightful things.
I will only use direct copies from the free version though so I don’t stumble across any copyright violations. Since Baltasar wrote 300 maxims in his book, there may be times I combine several into one write up for my own general convenience and sometimes the concepts are very straight forward and lengthy meditation on them is unnecessary.
Everything is at its Acme; especially the art of making one’s way in the world. There is more required nowadays to make a single wise man than formerly to make Seven Sages, and more is needed nowadays to deal with a single person than was required with a whole people in former times.
The Seven Sages are a bit of mystery in this. At first I was eager to find the seven great minds of Greece. It appears to be a bit of Greek rhetoric, though to refer to an archetype of men of wisdom. Socrates once listed seven men, but it was done in a way that it was hard to take seriously. It seems to me (and I’m fully willing to admit my wrongness in this regard) that it is very likely that the ‘seven sages’ was just a construct of perfect wisdom so people could say “not even the Seven Sages could solve this Sodoku puzzle”.
I believe this first maxim is Baltasar’s warning to the reader that the path to becoming a wise moral person is a difficult one. At one point in history (and don’t ask me to detail which point) it was good enough to have depth of knowledge in only one field to be considered a sage. As the world became more complex, a person needed mastery of several forms of knowledge. Consider life before the computer and life after the computer. A person may be a brilliant salesperson but if the person is unable to work the computer to communicate with client and staff, the core skill of being able to sell becomes meaningless. Becoming a True Person, a person who seeks moral perfection, is a difficult task and not one that can be pursued lightly.
Armed with this warning, this first maxim, the reader is prepared to accept the next 299 lessons Baltasar is going to present. The reading is simple, the understanding and knowledge is the hard part.