Because some of English extant translations of In Praise of Folly are from the 18th, 19, and 20th centuries, I’ve endeavored to present a version with the American reader in mind. Although Erasmus’ cunning, wit, and sharp criticism are timeless, he wrote in Latin. While Latin is a dead language and fixed, American English transforms itself with each passing year so that meanings change. Erasmus deserves not only to be read, but also to be ...
Because some of English extant translations of In Praise of Folly are from the 18th, 19, and 20th centuries, I’ve endeavored to present a version with the American reader in mind. Although Erasmus’ cunning, wit, and sharp criticism are timeless, he wrote in Latin. While Latin is a dead language and fixed, American English transforms itself with each passing year so that meanings change. Erasmus deserves not only to be read, but also to be understood.
Folly —Erasmus' mouthpiece— praises herself endlessly, arguing that life would be dull, colorless, and plain boring without her. In her work she is aided by her assistants: Self Love, Flattery, Oblivion, and Pleasure, whom she believes promote friendship and tolerance within society.
Folly praises foolishness, levity, humor, nonsense, and even madness, finding Biblical support in favor of her beliefs. Her entire speech is and endless invective which sets foolishness against authority and pseudo wisdom. Even as she ends her meditations she manages to be sarcastic :
“I perceive now, that, for a concluding treat, you expect a formal epilogue, and the summing up of all in a brief recitation; but I will assure you, you are grossly mistaken if you suppose that after such a hodge-podge medley of speech I should be able to recollect anything I have delivered.”
Desiderius Erasmus (1466 – 1536), known as Erasmus of Rotterdam, or simply Erasmus, was a Dutch Renaissance humanist, Catholic priest, social critic, teacher, and theologian. Erasmus was a classical scholar who wrote in a pure Latin style.
He was the illegitimate son of a physician’s daughter by a man who afterwards turned monk.. On his parents’ death Erasmus’ guardians insisted on his entering a monastery, spending six years in the Augustinian college of Stein near Gouda. It was certainly this personal experience of the ways of the monks that made Erasmus their relentless enemy.
After taking priest’s orders Erasmus went to Paris, where he studied at the College Montaigu until 1498; he earned his living by teaching. Among his pupils was Lord Mountjoy, on whose invitation probably Erasmus made his first visit to England in 1498, living at Oxford.
In 1500 he returned to France, and for the next six years lived mainly in Paris. To this period belong his Adagia and Enchiridion Militis Christiani. In 1506 he made a short visit to England, carried out a long-desired journey to Italy, and at Padua acted as tutor to Alexander, Archbishop of St. Andrews, natural son of James IV of Scotland.
The accession of Henry VIII, and the invitation of Lord Mountjoy, induced Erasmus once more to make England his home. In his satire, Encomium Moriae, or The Praise of Folly (1509), we have him in his happiest vein, as the man of letters and the critic of kings and churchmen.
Erasmus resided chiefly at Cambridge, where he acted as Margaret professor of Divinity and professor of Greek. After 1514 he lived alternatively in Basel and England, and from 1517 to 1521 at Louvain. In 1519 appeared the first edition of his Colloquia, usually regarded as his masterpiece. During these years he published his annotated New Testament, virtually the first Greek text, a book on St. Jerome.
By 1521, under relentless attack by the Lutherans, he left Louvain for Freiburg and Basel. A man of strong convictions could not avoid continuous controversies and attacks from Ulrich von Hutten, Luther, and the Sorbonne. If that wasn’t enough, his Ciceroniansus soon brought him new adversaries: those humanists, namely, who set style above matter. Yet during his last years Erasmus enjoyed great fame and consideration. He died July 12, 1536.