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Many perform the foulest deeds and rehearse the fairest words.

[Πολλοὶ δρῶντες τὰ αἴσχιστα λόγους ἀρίστους ἀσκέουσιν.]

Democritus (c. 460 BC - c. 370 BC) Greek philosopher
Frag. 53a (Diels) [tr. Barnes (1987)]
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Diels citation "53a. (122 b N.) DEMOKRATES. 19.2. (Stob. II, 15, 33)" Bakewell lists this under "The Golden Sayings of Democritus." Freeman notes this as one of the Gnômae, from a collection called "Maxims of Democratês," but because Stobaeus quotes many of these as "Maxims of Democritus," they are generally attributed to the latter.

Alternate translations:

  • "Many who do the basest deeds can make most learned speeches." [tr. Bakewell (1907)]
  • "Many whose actions are most disgraceful practise the best utterances." [tr. Freeman (1948)].
  • "Many who do the worst things prepare the best speeches." [@sentantiq (2020), fr. 54]
Added on 9-Mar-21 | Last updated 9-Mar-21
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Few are those who wish to be endowed with virtue rather than to seem so.

[Virtute enim ipsa non tam multi praediti esse quam videri volunt.]

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC) Roman orator, statesman, philosopher
“Laelius De Amicitia [Laelius on Friendship],” ch. 26 / sec. 98 (44 BC)

Common translation. Alternates:

  • "For not so many desire to be endowed with virtue itself, as to seem to be so." [tr. Edmonds (1871)]
  • "For there are not so many possessed of virtue as there are that desire to seem virtuous." [tr. Peabody (1887)]
  • "For many wish not so much to be, as to seem to be, endowed with real virtue." [tr. Falconer (1923)]
Added on 8-Mar-21 | Last updated 8-Mar-21
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Wit is cultured insolence.

Aristotle (384-322 BC) Greek philosopher
Rhetoric, Book 2, ch. 12, sec. 16 / 1389b.11 (350 BC) [[tr. Freese (1924)]
    (Source)

Alternate translations:

  • "Wit is a refined petulance." [Source (1847)]
  • "Facetiousness is chastened forwardness of manner." [tr. Buckley (1850)]
  • "Wit is educated insolence." [tr. Jebb (1873)]
  • "Wit being well-bred insolence." [tr. Roberts (1954)]
  • "Wittiness is educated insolence." [tr. Bartlett (2019)]
Added on 5-Mar-21 | Last updated 5-Mar-21
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If cats looked like frogs we’d realize what nasty, cruel little bastards they are. Style. That’s what people remember.

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) English author
Lords and Ladies (1992)
Added on 2-Feb-21 | Last updated 2-Feb-21
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RESPECTABILITY, n. The social status of people whose sins haven’t quite caught up with them.

Edmund H. Volkart (1919-1992) American sociologist, researcher, editor
The Angel’s Dictionary: A Modern Tribute to Ambrose Bierce (1986)
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I make this distinkshun between charakter and reputashun — reputashun iz what the world thinks ov us, charakter is what the world knows of us.

[I make this distinction between character and reputation — reputation is what the world thinks of us, character is what the world knows of us.]

Josh Billings (1818-1885) American humorist [pseud. of Henry Wheeler Shaw]
Everybody’s Friend, Or; Josh Billing’s Encyclopedia and Proverbial Philosophy of Wit and Humor, “Lobstir Sallad” (1874)
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Judge nothing by the appearance. The more beautiful the serpent, the more fatal its sting.

William Scott Downey (fl. 19th C) American baptist missionary, aphorist
Proverbs, ch. 6, #8 (1853)
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The world oftener rewards the appearances of merit than merit itself.

François VI, duc de La Rochefoucauld (1613-1680) French epigrammist, memoirist, noble
Réflexions ou sentences et maximes morales [Maxims], #312 (1665-1678)
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Added on 12-Nov-19 | Last updated 12-Nov-19
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The surface of Americna society is, if I may use the expression, covered with a layer of democracy, from beneath which the old aristocratic colors sometimes peep.

Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) French writer, diplomat, politician
Democracy in America, ch. 2 (1835) [tr. Reeve (1899)]
    (Source)

    Alt. trans.:
  • As above, but given as "... sometimes seep."
  • "American society, if I may put it this way, is like a painting that is democratic on the surface but from time to time allows the old acistocratic colors to peep through." [tr. Goldhammer (2004)]
  • "The surface of American society is covered with a layer of democratic paint, but from time to time one can see the old aristocratic colors breaking through."
Added on 12-Sep-18 | Last updated 12-Sep-18
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The reward for conformity was that everyone liked you but yourself.

Rita Mae Brown (b. 1944) American author, playwright
Venus Envy, ch. 15 (1993)
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Often paraphrased in the present tense: "The reward for conformity is that everyone likes you but yourself."
Added on 2-Apr-18 | Last updated 2-Apr-18
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There are no grades of vanity, there are only grades of ability in concealing it.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
Mark Twain’s Notebook, 1898 [ed. Paine (1935)]
Added on 21-Jul-17 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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The only people who can still strike us as normal are those we don’t yet know very well.

Alain de Botton (b. 1969) Swiss-British author
The Course of Love, “Irreconcilable Desires” (2016)
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Added on 20-Jul-17 | Last updated 20-Jul-17
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It had snowed in the night, and the world looked very clean, which I knew it not to be. But illusion is nice sometimes.

Robert B. Parker (1932-2010) American writer
Painted Ladies, ch. 22 (2010)
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Added on 12-Jul-17 | Last updated 12-Jul-17
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We’re animals. We’re born like every other mammal and we live our whole lives around disguised animal thoughts.

Barbara Kingsolver (b. 1955) American novelist, essayist, poet
Animal Dreams (1990)
Added on 10-Jul-17 | Last updated 10-Jul-17
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No man ever stood the lower in my estimation for having a patch in his clothes; yet I am sure that there is greater anxiety, commonly, to have fashionable, or at least clean and unpatched clothes, than to have a sound conscience.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) American philosopher and writer
Walden, “Economy” (1854)
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Added on 3-May-17 | Last updated 17-May-17
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She smoothed her hair back from her forehead and looked at herself in the mirror. She looked like she always looked. It was probably a truth about tragedy, she thought, while the tragedy is going on people look pretty much the way they looked when it wasn’t.

Robert B. Parker (1932-2010) American writer
Thin Air (1995)
Added on 3-May-17 | Last updated 3-May-17
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Every man has three characters — that which he exhibits, that which he has, and that which he thinks he has.

Alphonse Karr (1808-1890) French journalist and novelist
A Tour Round My Garden [Voyage autour de mon jardin] (1851)
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Added on 25-Apr-17 | Last updated 2-May-17
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Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you an automobile.

sunday-church-christian-garage-automobile-wist_info-quote

William Ashley "Billy" Sunday (1862-1935) American athlete, evangelist, preacher
In William T. Ellis, “Billy” Sunday, The Man and his Message, ch. 12 (1914)
Added on 14-Oct-16 | Last updated 14-Oct-16
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Great robbers always resemble honest folk. Fellows who have rascally faces have only one course to take, and that is to remain honest; otherwise, they would be arrested off-hand.

Jules Verne (1828-1905) French novelist, poet, playwright
Around the World in Eighty Days, ch. 6 (1873)
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Added on 23-Sep-16 | Last updated 23-Sep-16
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As with most things in life, Lady Maccon preferred the civilized exterior to the dark underbelly (with the exception of pork products, of course).

Gail Carriger (b. 1976) American archaeologist, author [pen name of Tofa Borregaard]
Heartless (2011)
Added on 15-Sep-16 | Last updated 15-Sep-16
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Are all men in disguise except those crying?

Abse - all men in disguise - wist_info quote

Daniel "Dannie" Abse (1923-2014) Welsh poet
“Encounter at a greyhound bus station” (1986)
Added on 19-Aug-16 | Last updated 19-Aug-16
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A cheerful, easy countenance and behavior are very useful: they make fools think you a good-natured man, and they make designing men think you an undesigning one.

Lord Chesterfield (1694-1773) English statesman, wit [Philip Dormer Stanhope]
Letter to his son (15 Jan 1753)
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Added on 5-Aug-16 | Last updated 5-Aug-16
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We know so little about each other. We lie mostly submerged, like ice floes, with our visible social selves projecting only cool and white.

McEwan - cool and white - wist_info quote

Ian McEwan (b. 1948) English novelist and screenwriter
Amsterdam (1998)
Added on 26-Jul-16 | Last updated 26-Jul-16
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Since unhappiness excites interest, many, in order to render themselves interesting, feign unhappiness.

Joseph Roux (1834-1886) French Catholic priest
Meditations of a Parish Priest: Thoughts, ch. 5, #24 (1886)
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Added on 2-May-16 | Last updated 2-May-16
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Many men and many women enjoy popular esteem, not because they are known, but because they are not.

Nicolas Chamfort (1741-1794) French writer, epigrammist (b. Nicolas-Sébastien Roch)
(Attributed)
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Attributed in Maturin M. Ballou, Notable Thoughts About Women, #3144 (1882).
Added on 27-Apr-16 | Last updated 27-Apr-16
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Always behave as if nothing had happened, no matter what has happened.

Arnold Bennett (1867-1931) English writer, novelist, journalist
Denry the Audacious, ch. 10 “His Infamy” (1911)
Added on 29-Mar-16 | Last updated 29-Mar-16
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The methods now being used to merchandise the political candidate as though he were a deodorant positively guarantee the electorate against ever hearing the truth about anything.

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) English novelist, essayist and critic
Brave New World Revisited (1958)
Added on 25-Mar-16 | Last updated 18-Mar-16
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I don’t mind hidden depths but I insist that there be a surface.

James Nicoll (b. 1961) Canadian reviewer, editor
LiveJournal post (17 Aug 2005)
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Added on 22-Feb-16 | Last updated 22-Feb-16
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In short, we can judge by nothing but Appearances, and they are very apt to deceive us. Some put on a gay chearful Outside, and appear to the World perfectly at Ease, tho’ even then, some inward Sting, some secret Pain imbitters all their Joys, and makes the Balance even: Others appear continually dejected and full of Sorrow; but even Grief itself is sometimes pleasant, and Tears are not always without their Sweetness: Besides, Some take a Satisfaction in being thought unhappy, (as others take a Pride in being thought humble,) these will paint their Misfortunes to others in the strongest Colours, and leave no Means unus’d to make you think them thoroughly miserable; so great a Pleasure it is to them to be pitied; Others retain the Form and outside Shew of Sorrow, long after the Thing itself, with its Cause, is remov’d from the Mind; it is a Habit they have acquir’d and cannot leave.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) American statesman, scientist, philosopher
“A Dissertation on Liberty and Necessity” (1725)
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Added on 11-Aug-15 | Last updated 11-Aug-15
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Polished brass will pass upon more people than rough gold.

Lord Chesterfield (1694-1773) English statesman, wit [Philip Dormer Stanhope]
Letter to his son (6 Mar 1747)
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Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.

The Bible (14th C BC - 2nd C AD) Christian sacred scripture
1 Peter 3:3-4 [NIV]

Alt. trans.:

  • "Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price." [KJV]
  • "You should not use outward aids to make yourselves beautiful, such as the way you fix your hair, or the jewelry you put on, or the dresses you wear. Instead, your beauty should consist of your true inner self, the ageless beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of the greatest value in God's sight." [TEV]
  • "Do not adorn yourselves outwardly by braiding your hair, and by wearing gold ornaments or fine clothing; rather, let your adornment be the inner self with the lasting beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in God’s sight." [NRSV]
Added on 24-Dec-14 | Last updated 24-Dec-14
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Beauty is only skin-deep.

Thomas Adams (1583–1653) English Calvinist clergyman and preacher
The Blacke Devill or the Apostate (1615)
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The wacky thing about those bad guys is that you can’t count on them to be obvious. They forget to wax their mustaches and goatees, leave their horns at home, send their black hats to the dry cleaners. They’re funny like that.

Jim Butcher (b. 1971) American author
White Night (2007)
Added on 25-Nov-14 | Last updated 25-Nov-14
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If I try to be like him, who will be like me?

Other Authors and Sources
Yiddish proverb
Added on 21-Nov-14 | Last updated 21-Nov-14
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Never believe in a meritocracy in which no one is funny-looking.

Teresa Nielsen Hayden (b. 1956) American editor, writer, essayist
Making Light, “Commonplaces”
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Whatever may be the success of my stories, I shall be resolute in preserving my incognito, having observed that a nom de plume secures all the advantages without the disagreeables of reputation.

George Eliot (1819-1880) English novelist [pseud. of Mary Ann Evans]
Letter to William Blackwood (4 Feb 1857)
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Almost every man wastes part of his life in attempts to display qualities which he does not possess, and to gain applause which he cannot keep.

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) English writer, lexicographer, critic
The Rambler (7 Jan 1752)
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All that glisters is not gold;
Often have you heard that told.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
The Merchant of Venice, Act 2, sc. 7 (1596-98)

Usually modernized as "All that glistens is not gold."
Added on 1-Aug-14 | Last updated 1-Aug-14
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No one shows himself as he is, but wears his mask and plays his part. Indeed, the whole of our social arrangements may be likened to a perpetual comedy; and this is why a man who is worth anything finds society so insipid, while a blockhead is quite at home in it.

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) German philosopher
Studies in Pessimism (1851)
Added on 25-Jul-14 | Last updated 25-Jul-14
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Take nothing on its looks; take everything on evidence. There’s no better rule.

Charles Dickens (1812-1870) English writer and social critic
Great Expectations, ch 40 (1861)
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Thousands upon thousands are yearly brought into a state of real poverty by their great anxiety not to be thought poor.

William Cobbett (1763-1835) English politician, agriculturist, journalist, pamphleteer
Advice to Young Men and (Incidentally) to Young Women, Letter 2, #58 (1829)
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Moral indignation is jealousy with a halo.

H.G. Wells (1866-1946) British writer [Herbert George Wells]
The Wife of Sir Isaac Harman, 9.2 (1914)
Added on 21-Sep-11 | Last updated 6-Jan-20
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We may also observe that a great many people do many things that seem to be inspired more by a spirit of ostentation than by heart-felt kindness; for such people are not really generous but are rather influenced by a sort of ambition to make a show of being open-handed. Such a pose is nearer akin to hypocrisy than to generosity or moral goodness.

[Videre etiam licet plerosque non tam natura liberales quam quadam gloria ductos, ut benefici videantur, facere multa, quae proficisci ab ostentatione magis quam a voluntate videantur. Talis autem sinulatio vanitati est coniunctior quam aut liberalitati aut honestati.]

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC) Roman orator, statesman, philosopher
De Officiis [On Duties; On Moral Duty; The Offices], Book 1, ch. 14 / sec. 44 (44 BC) [tr. Miller (1913)]
    (Source)

Original Latin. Alt. trans.:
  • "One may also observe in a great many people, that they take a sort of pride in being counted magnificent, and give very plentifully, not from any generous principle in their natures, but only to appear great in the eye of the world; so that all their bounty is resolved into nothing but mere outside and pretense, and is nearer of kin to vanity and folly, than it is to either liberality or honesty." [tr. Cockman (1699)]
  • "Besides we may observe, that most men, not so much from a liberal disposition, as led by some show of apparent beneficence, do acts of kindness, which seem to flow more from ostentation than from the heart. This conduct is more allied to vanity than to liberality or honour." [tr. McCartney (1798)]
  • "For it is easy to observe, that most of them are not so much by nature generous, as they are misled by a kind of pride to do a great many things in order that they may seem to be generous; which things seem to spring not so much from good will as from ostentation. Now such a simulation is more nearly allied to duplicity than to generosity or virtue." [tr. Edmonds (1865)]
  • "We can see, also, that a large number of persons, less from a liberal nature than for the reputation of generosity, do many things that evidently proceed from ostentation rather than from good will." [tr. Peabody (1883)]
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The chief difference between free capitalism and State socialism seems to be this: that under the former a man pursues his own advantage openly, frankly, and honestly, whereas under the latter he does so hypocritically and under false pretences.

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) American writer and journalist [Henry Lewis Mencken]
Minority Report: H.L. Mencken’s Notebooks, #397 (1956)
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Look at a man in the midst of doubt and danger, and you will lean in his hour of adversity what he really is. It is then that true utterances are wrung from the recesses of his breast. The mask is torn off; the reality remains.

Lucretius (c. 100-c. 55 BC) Roman poet [Titus Luretius Carus]
De Rerum Natura [On the Nature of Things], I. 55 [tr. Latham (1951)]
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You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.

Plato (c.428-347 BC) Greek philosopher
The Republic
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A tyrant must put on the appearance of uncommon devotion to religion. Subjects are less apprehensive of illegal treatment from a ruler whom they consider god-fearing and pious. On the other hand, they do less easily move against him, believing that he has the gods on his side.

Aristotle (384-322 BC) Greek philosopher
Politics [Πολιτικά], Book 5, ch. 11 / 1314b.39

Alt. trans.:

  • "Also he should appear to be particularly earnest in the service of the Gods; for if men think that a ruler is religious and has a reverence for the Gods, they are less afraid of suffering injustice at his hands, and they are less disposed to conspire against him, because they believe him to have the very Gods fighting on his side. At the same time his religion must not be thought foolish." [tr. Jowett (1885)]

  • "And, moreover, always to seem particularly attentive to the worship of the gods; for from persons of such a character men entertain less fears of suffering anything illegal while they suppose that he who governs them is religious and reverences the gods; and they will be less inclined to raise insinuations against such a one, as being peculiarly under their protection: but this must be so done as to give no occasion for any suspicion of hypocrisy." [tr. Ellis (1912)]

  • "And further he must be seen always to be exceptionally zealous as regards religious observances (for people are less afraid of suffering any illegal treatment from men of this sort, if they think that their ruler has religious scruples and pays regard to the gods, and also they plot against him less, thinking that he has even the gods as allies), though he should not display a foolish religiosity." [tr. Rackham (1932)]

  • "Further, he must always show himself to be seriously attentive to the things pertaining to the gods. For men are less afraid fo being treated in some respect contrary to the law by such persons, if they consider the ruler a god-fearing sort who takes thought for the gods, and they are less ready to conspire against him as one who has the gods too as allies. In showing himself of this sort, however, he must avoid silliness." [tr. Lord (1984)]
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All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts ….

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
As You Like It, Act 2, sc. 6, l. 139 [Jaques] (1599)
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SELF-RESPECT: The secure feeling that no one, as yet, is suspicious.

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) American writer and journalist [Henry Lewis Mencken]
A Book of Burlesques, ch. 11 (1920)
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