Sententiae are brief moral sayings, such as proverbs
A proverb is a simple and concrete saying popularly known and repeated, which expresses a truth, based on common sense or the practical experience of humanity. They are often metaphorical. A proverb that describes a basic rule of conduct may also be known as a maxim...

, adages
An adage is a short but memorable saying which holds some important fact of experience that is considered true by many people, or that has gained some credibility through its long use....

, aphorisms
An aphorism is an original thought, spoken or written in a laconic and memorable form.The term was first used in the Aphorisms of Hippocrates...

, maxims, or apophthegms taken from ancient or popular or other sources, often quoted without context. A sententia (singular), also called a "sentence," is a kind of rhetorical proof. That is, if, in the midst of your presentation or conversation you say an old proverb or well-known quotation or especially witty or apt turn of phrase, you may be able to gain more easily the assent of your listener, who will hear a kind of non-logical, but agreed-upon "truth" in what you are saying. The use of sententiae is explained by Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

 (Rhetoric 2.21 [1394a19ff], where he discusses the gnomê, or sententious maxim, as a form of enthymeme
An enthymeme , in its modern sense, is an informally stated syllogism with an unstated assumption that must be true for the premises to lead to the conclusion. In an enthymeme, part of the argument is missing because it is assumed...

) and Quintilian
Marcus Fabius Quintilianus was a Roman rhetorician from Hispania, widely referred to in medieval schools of rhetoric and in Renaissance writing...

 (Institutes of Oratory, 8.5) amongst other classical authorities. Heavily influenced by humanist
Humanism is an approach in study, philosophy, world view or practice that focuses on human values and concerns. In philosophy and social science, humanism is a perspective which affirms some notion of human nature, and is contrasted with anti-humanism....

 educational practices that encouraged the harvesting and use of commonplaces, or short quotable passages, early modern English writers were especially attracted to sententiae. The technique of sententious speech is exemplified by Polonius' famous speech to Laertes in Hamlet
The Tragical History of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, or more simply Hamlet, is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written between 1599 and 1601...

(Act 1, scene 3). Sometimes in Elizabethan and Jacobean drama the sententious lines appear at the end of scenes in rhymed couplets (for instance, John Webster
John Webster
John Webster was an English Jacobean dramatist best known for his tragedies The White Devil and The Duchess of Malfi, which are often regarded as masterpieces of the early 17th-century English stage. He was a contemporary of William Shakespeare.- Biography :Webster's life is obscure, and the dates...

's Duchess of Malfi). In some early modern dramatic texts and other writings, sententiae are often flagged by marginal notes or special marks (see G.K. Hunter, "The Marking of Sententiæ in Elizabethan Printed Plays, Poems, and Romances," The Library 5th series 6 (1951): 171-188).
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