by: Geoff Ficke

The Simple Wisdom We Learn from Studying Ancient Greek Rhetorical Form Chiasmus

The ancient Greeks perfected and gifted to us the unique rhetorical form known as chiasmus. Simply stated, chiasmus is a figure of speech in which two phrases are inverted to display a parallelism. There are many examples of this device that have become famous and have entered everyday usage. One of my favorites is attributed to Ben Franklin, America’s first great Entrepreneur, Innovator and a Founding Father of the country; “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”.

There is inherent in almost every chiasmus a certain elegantly simple truth or logic. Franklin, in just nine short words, lays down a marker that should be utilized throughout a productive life. He advises us to lay a foundation. Have a plan. Do the research. Have a Marketing Strategy. Prepare for, and consider all options.

Another famous chiasmus is attributed to Anonymous; no one knows for sure who first said, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going”. This term is repeatedly spoken and applies to every area of life. We hear it in sports, at work, when confronted with any difficult task or challenge. It is almost too pithy, but is so incredibly true.

I often refer to a listing of chiasmus phrases I have collected throughout my life, especially as they relate to motivation and positive thinking. These little sayings are lyrical, sometimes whimsical, but always offer a better way to look at and dissect life’s problems, whether personal, social or business related.

President Dwight Eisenhower, in a speech to the 1958 Republican Convention famously stated, “It is not the size of the dog in the fight, it is size of the fight in the dog”. Who would argue with such clearly stated logic? David slew Goliath using only a tiny sling shot. The United States Olympic hockey team beat the mighty Soviet Union in 1980 in one of the greatest sports upsets of all time. Newcomer Hyundai is taking huge auto market share from much more established, larger competitors. Courage, competitiveness and vision can overcome great odds and disadvantages.

For centuries little Holland was the greatest commercial colossus in the world. How did such a tiny country, possessing almost no natural resources come to create such a vast trading empire? As described in each of the chiasmus quoted above, the Dutch had a plan, were creative and courageous, and they did not dawdle. They simply outworked, out planned and out hustled countries that enjoyed more natural wealth and assets, larger populations and possessed greater military prowess. The Dutch model is exemplary.

The little grains of wisdom that are so elegantly framed in chiasmus phrases are more relevant than ever today. We live in a time of change and speedier creative destruction that is roiling life for many people. And yet, this rapid evolution of the global commercial market is creating fresh, new, more exciting opportunities for more people than at any time in history.

Ben Franklin advised us that it is imprudent to go through life without a plan. Anonymous knew that tough times would always be a challenge and we have to adapt. President Eisenhower counseled wisely that one should never quit, no matter the odds being faced. Use the logic and guidance provided by chiasmus sayings to add a little light to what can sometimes seem a dark, lonely path.

Author's Bio: 

Geoff Ficke has been a serial entrepreneur for almost 50 years. As a small boy, earning his spending money doing odd jobs in the neighborhood, he learned the value of selling himself, offering service and value for money.

After putting himself through the University of Kentucky (B.A. Broadcast Journalism, 1969) and serving in the United States Marine Corp, Mr. Ficke commenced a career in the cosmetic industry. After rising to National Sales Manager for Vidal Sassoon Hair Care at age 28, he then launched a number of ventures, including Rubigo Cosmetics, Parfums Pierre Wulff Paris, Le Bain Couture and Fashion Fragrance.

Geoff Ficke and his consulting firm, Duquesa Marketing, ( has assisted businesses large and small, domestic and international, entrepreneurs, inventors and students in new product development, capital formation, licensing, marketing, sales and business plans and successful implementation of his customized strategies. He is a Senior Fellow at the Page Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, Business School, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio.