A unique collection of advice for life, Baltasar Gracian's The Pocket Oracle and Art of Prudence is a philosophical gem, and perhaps the first 'self-help' book ever written.
This Penguin Classics edition is translated from the Spanish with an introduction by Jeremy Robbins. Written over 350 years ago, The Pocket Oracle and Art of Prudence is a subtle collection of 300 witty and thought-provoking aphorisms.
From the art of being lucky to the healthy use of caution, these elegant maxims were created as a guide to life, with further suggestions given on cultivating good taste, knowing how to refuse, the foolishness of complaining and the wisdom of controlling one's passions.
Baltasar Gracian intended these ingenious, pragmatic aphorisms to challenge the mind, and recognised that few would be capable of applying them.
In Jeremy Robbins's introduction to his penetrating new translation, he examines Gracian's place in Spanish literature and his previous works.
Robbins also looks at the themes, contexts and contradictions of The Pocket Oracle, as well as the brevity and subtlety of Gracian's cool-headed aphorisms.
This edition also contains a chronology, suggested further reading and notes. Baltasar Gracian (1601-1658) was born in Belmonte, Aragon and entered the Society of Jesus in 1619.
Teaching in Jesuit colleges across the Kingdom of Aragon, he was also at one time confessor to the viceroy of Aragon and chaplain to the Spanish army.
But it is as one of the great Spanish stylists and moralists that he is best known.
He wrote a series of short moral tracts marked by their elliptical, epigrammatic style, as well as a three volume allegorical novel, The Critic (1651-57).
Published in 1647, The Pocket Oracle and Art of Prudence influenced the vogue for the form in France, and was quickly translated into the major European languages.
If you enjoyed The Pocket Oracle and Art of Prudence, you might like La Rochefoucauld's Maxims, also available in Penguin Classics.