from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

An aphorism is an independent individual thought, judgment or wisdom , which can consist of just one sentence or a few sentences. Often he formulates a special insight in a rhetorical artful way as a general motto ( sentence , maxim , aperçu , bon mot ). On the other hand, excerpts from other texts, such as winged words or pointed quotations, are not considered aphorisms in literary studies. A writer of aphorisms is called an aphorist .


The aphorism has only been recognized and researched as an independent prose genre since the early 20th century . It is considered a contradicting text form with the following core properties:

  • It tends to be non-fictional and can be assigned to both literature and philosophy.
  • Its most common construction principle is the antithesis , for example: life is short, art is long ( Hippocrates ), which is often polemically pointed.
  • Especially when a linguistic image is picked up and figuratively lengthened, the antithetical phrase often leads to the paradox , for example, with the bond that should bind their hearts, they have strangled their peace ( Lichtenberg ).
  • Virtuoso handling of image and aspect changes is often a hallmark of the essay , the "big brother" of the aphorism. The transition between the two is fluid, a limit for the length is mostly rejected by literary scholars.

Origin of the term

The word "aphorism" comes from ancient Greek . ἀφορισμός (aphorismόs) can have the following meanings:

  • Demarcation, definition
  • medical theorem
  • Sentence as wisdom
  • short, concise style.

The corresponding verb ἀφορίζειν (aphorízein = ap [o] -horízein) "precisely determine, delimit", can be derived from the word ὅρος hóros "limitation, condition", from which the German word " horizon " comes.

historical development

The first aphorist was Heraclitus of Ephesus . Plato also counts Heraclitus among the aphorists. The first work, which consisted to a large extent of aphorisms, was the writings of Hippocrates, which, however, come from many individual authors. Here medical doctrines are set up in aphoristic form. The literary-philosophical genre developed later. Its masters include the French moralists of the 17th and 18th centuries, among others. a. François de La Rochefoucauld , Jean de La Bruyère , Joseph Joubert , Luc de Clapiers, Marquis de Vauvenargues and the Spaniard Baltasar Gracián .

The aphorism has a long tradition in German-speaking countries. In Georg Christoph Lichtenberg ( Sudelbücher ) in the 18th century and follow. a. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe , Jean Paul , Friedrich Schlegel , Novalis , Arthur Schopenhauer , Friedrich Nietzsche , Karl Kraus , Franz Kafka , Ludwig Wittgenstein , Theodor W. Adorno , Elias Canetti , Émil Cioran and Elazar Benyoëtz .

In Poland the following should be mentioned: Stanisław Jerzy Lec , Karol Irzykowski , Adolf Nowaczyński , Henryk Elzenberg and Wojciech Wiercioch .

Other well-known aphorists are Laotse , Confucius , Oscar Wilde , George Bernard Shaw , Andrzej Majewski and Paul Valéry .

Aphorists on aphorisms

  • Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach (1830–1916): An aphorism is the last ring in a long chain of thoughts. (opens the volume Aphorisms , 1880.)
  • Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914): Aphorism, m. Predigested wisdom. (Original: Predigested wisdom , from The Devil's Dictionary , 1911.)
  • Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900): An aphorism, righteously coined and poured out, has not yet been “deciphered” because it has been read; Rather, it is now to begin with its interpretation, which requires an art of interpretation. (From the preface to the Genealogy of Morals , 1887.)
  • Robert Musil (1880–1942): Aphorism: the smallest possible whole.
  • Theodor Fontane (1819–1898): A good aphorism is the wisdom of an entire book in a single sentence.
  • Hans Kudszus (1901–1977): Every aphorism is the amen of an experience. (opens the volume Jaworte, Noworte. Aphorismen. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt a. M. 1970.)
  • Karlheinz Deschner (1924–2014): An aphorism is the attempt to output the sound as a concert. ( Annoyances. Aphorisms. Rowohlt, Reinbek 1994.)
  • Elias Canetti (1905–1994): The great aphorists read each other as if they had known each other well. ( Records 1942–1948. Hanser, Munich 1965.)
  • Helmut Arntzen (1931–2014): In the aphorism the thought is not at home, but on the go. ( Short trial. Nymphenburger, Munich 1966.)
  • Elazar Benyoëtz (* 1937): An aphorist says as much as can be imagined and no more than can be imagined. ( Humans exist from case to case. Reclam, Leipzig 2002, p. 82.)
  • Klaus von Welser (1942–2014): The systematist carries out his thoughts, the aphorist leads them home. ( Recent studies on aphorism and essay writing. Ed. By G. Cantarutti. Peter Lang, Frankfurt am Main 1986, p. 31.)
  • Jacques Wirion (* 1944): The aphorism only apparently suits those who don't have time. ( Sporen . Esch / Sauer, Op der Lay 2005, p. 54.)
  • Alfred Grünewald (1884–1942): When I realized that it is not easy to prescribe to people without instructions for use, I decided on the aphorism. (Alfred Grünewald, results. Ed. Memoria, Hürth bei Köln 1996, p. 38.)
  • Karl Kraus (1874–1936): An aphorism doesn't have to be true, but it should surpass the truth. He has to get beyond them in one leap. (Karl Kraus, Werke Vol. 3, ed. H. Fischer, p. 326.)
  • Karl Kraus: The aphorism never coincides with the truth; it is either half a truth or one and a half. ( Proverbs and contradictions . Karl Kraus, Fackel 270/271 32.)
  • Elazar Benyoëtz : Aphorism - a word dipped into meaning. ( Meeting point at the crossroads. Elazar Benyoëtz.)
  • Aphorisms (Corpus Hippocraticum)

Aphoristic meeting

Since 2004, a German-speaking, now international aphoristic meeting has been held in Hattingen an der Ruhr every two years, most recently from November 1st to 3rd, 2018. This forum is organized by the Förderverein Deutsches Aphorismus-Archiv Hattingen e. V. (DAphA) and the Hattingen City Museum .

Aphoristic stylistic devices

All example aphorisms are from Stanisław Jerzy Lec .

Famous aphorists



  • Hans Peter Balmer : aphorism, essay writing, moralistic . In: Theories of Literature, Fundamentals and Perspectives, Hans Vilmar Geppert / Hubert Zapf (Eds.), Vol. III, A. Francke, Tübingen 2007, pp. 191–211.
  • Stephan Fedler: The aphorism. Conceptual game between philosophy and poetry . Metzler, Stuttgart 1992. ISBN 3-476-45014-7
  • Harald Fricke : Aphorism . Metzler, Stuttgart 1984. ISBN 3-476-10208-4
  • Werner Helmich : The modern French aphorism. Innovation and reflection on the genre . Tübingen 1991. ISBN 3-484-55009-0
  • Heinz Krüger: About the aphorism as a philosophical form. Dissertation . edition text + kritik, Munich 1988. ISBN 3-88377-301-8
  • Gerhard Neumann : The aphorism. About the history, the forms and possibilities of a literary genre . Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 1976. ISBN 3-534-05731-7
  • Friedemann Spicker : The aphorism. Term and genre from the middle of the 18th century to 1912 . De Gruyter, Berlin / New York 1997. ISBN 3-11-015137-5
  • Friedemann Spicker: Studies on the German aphorism in the 20th century . Niemeyer, Tübingen 2000. ISBN 3-484-35079-2
  • Friedemann Spicker: The German aphorism in the 20th century. Game, picture, knowledge . Niemeyer, Tübingen 2004. ISBN 3-484-10859-2
  • Friedemann Spicker: Brief History of the German Aphorism. Francke, Tübingen 2007. ISBN 978-3-7720-8247-4
  • Friedemann Spicker: The world is full of sayings. Portrait of great aphorists. Brockmeyer, Bochum 2010. ISBN 978-3-8196-0767-7
  • Thomas Stölzel: Raw and polished thoughts. Studies on the mode of action of aphoristic texts. Dissertation . Rombach, Freiburg im Breisgau 1998, ISBN 3-7930-9185-6
  • Klaus von Welser : The language of the aphorism. Forms of implicit reasoning from Lichtenberg to the present. Peter Lang, Frankfurt am Main 1986. ISBN 3-8204-9170-8

Web links

Wiktionary: Aphorism  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Klaus von Welser: The language of the aphorism. Forms of implicit reasoning from Lichtenberg to the present. Berlin contributions to recent German literary history, ed. by Hans Schumacher. Peter Lang, Frankfurt a. M. 1986, ISBN 3-8204-9170-8 .
  2. Jünger, Friedrich Georg. Thoughts and marks . Frankfurt a. M. 1949
  3. Plato, Theaitetos 179c – 180b, Complete Works, Vol. 4. After the translation by Friedrich Schleiermacher, ed. by Walter F. Otto and Ernesto Grassi, Hamburg 1958, p. 146.
  4. http://www.dapha.de/aktivitaeten/aphoristikertreffen/