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By the Waters of Babylon

by Stephen Vincent Benét

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How are aphorisms used in "By The Waters Of Babylon"?

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The main message of "By the Waters of Babylon" is that science, knowledge and religion should be kept separate and not mixed.

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An aphorism is " a brief, pithy, usually concise statement or observation of a doctrine, principle, truth, or sentiment." In "By the Waters of Babylon" they are used mainly by John's father to reinforce the beliefs of his culture and to foreshadow the possible consequences of John's discoveries. For example, at the beginning of the story, John is told "a priest must know many secrets". This statement helps to keep John's interest in learning alive and leads to his discovery of the "Place of the Gods." However, his father also warns John that his dreams "may eat you up", a foreshadowing of John's discovery and eagerness to share his knowledge of the "gods" with his people. John believes the people in "the place of the gods "ate knowledge too fast" but he can prevent that. He does not seem to heed his father's warning that "Truth is a hard deer to hunt. If you eat too much truth at once, you may die of the truth."

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