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Overview

About the Author:
The second illegitimate son of a priest and of a doctor's daughter, Erasmus was born in Rotterdam around 1467. His parents died while he was young, and he had little choice but to join a monastery, where ultimately his literary talent was revealed. His first trip to England was momentous: he met several leading scholars and churchmen, notably the theologians John Colet and Thomas More, who became his life-long friends and who influenced his work.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"There is no more joyous and delightful bit of forensic jugglery than Desiderius Erasmus's The Praise of Folly and a debt of gratitude is owed Professor Hoyt Hopewell Hudson for translating the old Latin of 1511 into lively, vivid, contemporary English, at once lucid and free. . . . Like all great minds Erasmus has the faculty of being perennially contemporary, and The Praise of Folly is a gay, witty revelation of the subtleties and intricacies of the scholarly mind of the Renaissance."--Edward Larocque Tinker, New York Times

"The scholarship and grace of Hudson's translation and introduction assure that the book will be accepted as the standard English version."--Modern Language Quarterly

"[Hudson] has spared no pains to provide whatever might increase the general reader's appreciation and enjoyment of this world-famous, perennially humane satire."--John Archer Gee, Journal of English and Germanic Philology

"Erasmus's Praise of Folly is certainly one of the most characteristic and delightful pieces of Renaissance literature and has rightly enjoyed a wide popularity. . . . This handsome volume will certainly please the student as well as the general reader."--Journal of Philosophy

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780879758851
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books
  • Publication date: 5/28/1994
  • Series: Great Minds Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 188
  • Product dimensions: 5.38 (w) x 8.48 (h) x 0.51 (d)

Meet the Author

Anthony Grafton is the Henry Putnam University Professor of History at Princeton University.

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Read an Excerpt

The Praise of Folly


By Desiderius Erasmus, Hoyt Hopewell Hudson

PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS

Copyright © 1969 Princeton University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4008-6608-3



CHAPTER 1

Stultitia loquitur:


HOWEVER MORTAL FOLK MAY COMMONLY SPEAK of me (for I am not ignorant how ill the name of Folly sounds, even to the greatest fools), I am she—the only she, I may say —whose divine influence makes gods and men rejoice. One great and sufficient proof of this is that the instant I stepped up to speak to this crowded assembly, all faces at once brightened with a fresh and unwonted cheerfulness, all of you suddenly unbent your brows, and with frolic and affectionate smiles you applauded; so that as I look upon all present about me, you seem flushed with nectar, like gods in Homer, not without some nepenthe, also; whereas a moment ago you were sitting moody and depressed, as if you had come out of the cave of Trophonius. Just as it commonly happens, when the sun first shows his splendid golden face to the earth or when, after a bitter winter, young spring breathes mild west winds, that a new face comes over everything, new color and a sort of youthfulness appear; so at the mere sight of me, you straightway take on another aspect. And thus what great orators elsewhere can hardly bring about in a long, carefully planned speech, I have done in a moment, with nothing but my looks.

As to why I appear today in this unaccustomed garb, you shall now hear, if only you will not begrudge lending your ears to my discourse—not those ears, to be sure, which you carry to sermons, but those which you are accustomed to prick up for mountebanks in the marketplace, for clowns and jesters, the ears which, in the old days, our friend Midas inclined to the god Pan. It is my pleasure for a little while to play the rhetorician before you, yet not one of the tribe of those who nowadays cram certain pedantic trifles into the heads of schoolboys, and teach a more than womanish obstinacy in disputing; no, I emulate those ancients who, to avoid the unpopular name of philosophers, preferred to be called Sophists. Their study was to celebrate in eulogies the virtues of gods and of heroic men. Such a eulogy, therefore, you shall hear, but not of Hercules or Solon; rather of my own self—to wit, Folly.

[2] Nor do I have any use for those wiseacres who preach that it is most foolish and insolent for a person to praise himself. Yet let it be as foolish as they would have it, if only they will grant that it is proper: and what is more suitable than that Folly herself should be the trumpeter of her praises? "She is her own flute-player." Who, indeed, could portray me better than can I myself? Unless it could so happen that I am better known to some one else than I am to myself. On the whole, however, I deem that what I am doing is much more decent than what a host of our best people, and scholars even, do continually. With a certain perverse modesty they are wont to convey instructions to some sycophantic speaker or prattling poet whom they have engaged at a fee; and then they hear back from him their praises, that is to say, some pure fiction. The blushing listener, meanwhile, spreads his plumes like a peacock, and bridles, while the brazen adulator searches among the gods to find a parallel for this good-for-nothing, and proposes him as the complete exemplar of all virtues—from which the man himself knows that he is farther away than twice infinity. Thus the flatterer adorns a crow with other birds' feathers, washes the Ethiopian white, and, in sum, makes an elephant out of a gnat. Lastly, I follow the familiar proverb of the folk, to the effect that he rightly praises himself who never meets anyone else who will praise him. Here, by the way, I wonder at the ingratitude, or perhaps the negligence, of men: although all of them studiously cherish me and freely acknowledge my benefits, not a one has emerged so far in all the ages to celebrate the praises of Folly in a grateful oration. In the meantime, there has been no lack of those who at great expense of lamp-oil and of sleep have extolled, in elegant eulogies, Busiruses, Phalarises, quartan fevers, flies, baldness, and pests of that sort.

And now you shall hear from me an extemporaneous speech, unlabored, but so much the truer for all that. I should not want you to think it is made to show off my wit, as is done by the common run of orators. They, as you know so well, when they bring out a speech they have been working on for thirty whole years, and sometimes not their own at all, will swear it was written in three days, for pastime, or even that they merely dictated it. For my part, it has always been most satisfactory to speak "whatever pops into my head."

[3] And let no one expect that, after the manner of these ordinary orators, I shall expound myself by definition, much less divide myself. For it is equally unlucky to circumscribe with a limit her whose nature extends so universally or to dissect her in whose worship every order of being is at one. Anyway, what end would be served in setting forth by definition a sketch and, as it were, a shadow of me, when you, present here, with your own eyes perceive me in your presence? I am as you see me, that true disposer of good things whom the Latins call Stultitia and the Greeks [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII].

Still, what need was there to tell you this, as if in my very face and front, so to speak, I do not sufficiently announce who I am? As if anyone who was claiming that I am Minerva or the Spirit of Wisdom could not immediately be refuted by one good look, even if I were not speaking—though speech is the least deceptive mirror of the mind. I have no use for cosmetics. I do not feign one thing in my face while I hold something else in my heart. I am in all points so like myself that even those who specially arrogate to themselves the part and name of wise men cannot conceal me, though they walk about "like apes in scarlet or asses in lion-skins." Let them carry it as cunningly as you could ask, the protruding ears will somewhere betray the Midas. An ungrateful class of men that, so help me! Although they are wholly of my party, in public they are so ashamed of my name that they toss it up at others as a great reproach! Wherefore, since in fact they are [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], "most foolish," and yet are eager to seem wise men and veritable Thaleses, shall we not with entire justice dub them [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], "foolosophers"? It has seemed well, you note, to imitate the rhetoricians of our time, who believe themselves absolutely to be gods if they can show themselves bilingual (like a horse-leech), and account it a famous feat if they can weave a few Greekish words, like inlay work, ever and anon into their Latin orations, even if at the moment there is no place for them. Then if they want exotic touches, they dig four or five obsolete words out of decaying manuscripts, by which they spread darkness over the reader; with the idea, I warrant you, that those who understand will be vastly pleased with themselves, and those who do not understand will admire the more—and all the more the less they understand. The fact is that there is a rather elegant species of enjoyment among our sect, to fall into special love with what is specially imported. Some who are a little more ambitious laugh and applaud, and, by example of the ass, shake their ears, so that in the eyes of the rest they will seem to comprehend: "Quite so, quite so." Now I go back to my outline.

[4] You have my name, gentlemen ... gentlemen ... what shall I add by way of an epithet? What but "most foolish"? For by what more honorable style could the Goddess of Folly address her devotees? But since it is not known to very many from what stock I have sprung, I shall now attempt, with the Muses' kind help, to set this forth. Not Chaos, or Orcus, or Saturn, or Iapetus, or any other of that old-fashioned and musty set of gods, was my father at all. It was Plutus, who only, in spite of Hesiod, Homer, and Jove himself to boot, is "the father of gods and men." At a single nod of Plutus, as of old so nowadays, all things sacred and profane are turned topsy-turvy. At his pleasure, all war, peace, empires, plans, judgments, assemblies, marriages, treaties, pacts, laws, arts, sports, weighty matters (my breath is giving out)—in short, all public and private affairs of mortal men, are governed. Without his help all that population of deities of the poets' making—nay, I speak very boldly, even those top gods—either would not exist at all or would be "diners at home," keeping house very meagrely. To the person who rouses Plutus's anger Pallas herself cannot bring help enough; on the other hand, whoever possesses his favor can bid great Jove and his thunder go hang themselves. "I glory to have such a father." And he did not procreate me out of his head, as Jupiter did that austere and homely Pallas; but rather out of Youth, the loveliest nymph of all, and the jolliest as well. Nor did he do this confined in the irksome marriage-bond—the way that blacksmith was born lame!—but indeed he did it in a much pleasanter manner, "mingled in love," as our father Homer puts it. Yet, make no mistake, it was not the Plutus of Aristophanes, already decrepit and weak in the eyes, that engendered me, but the same god healthy and as yet heated by his youth; nor by youth only, but also by nectar, which he had chanced to drink rather copiously and rather straight at a banquet of the gods.

If you are also wanting to know the place of my nativity (seeing that in these days it is accounted a prime point of nobility, in what place you uttered your first cries), I was not brought forth in floating Delos, or on the foaming sea, or "in hollow caverns," but right in the Fortunate Isles, where all things grow "without ploughing or planting." In those islands is no drudgery or old age, nor is there any sickness. In the fields one never sees a daffodil, mallow, leek, bean, or any of such kind of trash; but one's eyes and nose are enchanted at the same time by moly, panacea, nepenthes, sweet marjoram, ambrosia, lotus, rose, violet, hyacinth, and the gardens of Adonis. And being born among these delights, I did not enter upon life with weeping, but right off I laughed sweetly at my mother. Nor indeed do I envy great Jupiter his nurse, a she-goat, since two charming nymphs nourished me at their breasts—Drunkenness, offspring of Bacchus, and Ignorance, Pan's daughter.

These two you see here in the company of my other attendants and followers. If you wish to know all their names, you will not hear them from me, so help me, except in Greek. This one whom you observe here, with the eyebrows haughtily raised, is Philautia. She with the smiling eyes, so to speak, whom you see clapping her hands, is named Kolakia. The one who is half asleep, and like a drowsy person, is called Lethe. She that leans on her elbows, with her hands folded, is Misoponia. Hedone is the one wearing the rosy WFeath and smelling of perfumes. The lady with the uncertain eyes rolling here and there is called Anoia; and she with the glistening skin and body in good point is Tryphe. You see also two male gods among the girls, one of whom they call Comus, the other Negretos Hypnos. These, I say, are my household servants, with whose faithful help I bring every sort of thing under my rule, maintaining my empire even over emperors.

[5] You have learned of my family, upbringing, and companions. Now, that it may not look as if I have usurped the name of goddess for myself without good grounds, please give closest attention while I tell how many advantages I bestow on both gods and men, and how broadly my power is displayed. For if, as some one has judiciously observed, this only is to be a god, to help men, and if deservedly they have been admitted to the rank of gods who have shown to mortals the use of wine, or grain, or any other such commodity, why am not I of right named and venerated as the ITLαITL of all gods, who single-handed bestow all things on all men?

In the first place, what can be dearer or more precious than life? And the beginning and first principle of life is owed to whom else but me? Not the spear of "potent-fathered" Pallas, not the shield of "cloud-compelling" Jove, procreates the children of men or multiplies their race. Even he, the father of gods and king of men, who shakes all heaven by a nod, is obliged to lay aside his three-pronged thunder and that Titanic aspect by which, when he pleases, he scares all the gods, and assume another character in the slavish manner of an actor, if he wishes to do what he never refrains from doing, that is to say, to beget children. Now the Stoics believe that they are next-door neighbors to gods. But give me a triple Stoic, or a quadruple one, or, if you will, a Stoic multiplied by six hundred; if for this purpose he will not put off his beard, the ensign of wisdom (though displayed also by goats), yet he will certainly lay by his gravity, smooth his brow, renounce his rock-bound principles, and for a few minutes toy and talk nonsense. In fine, the wise man must send for me, I repeat, if he ever wishes to become a father. And why not speak to you still more frankly, as is my fashion? I beg to inquire whether the head, whether the face, the breast, the hand, or the ear—all of them accounted honorable members—generates gods and men? I judge not; nay, rather that foolish, even silly, part which cannot be named without laughter, is the propagator of the human race. This is at last that sacred spring from which all things derive existence, more truly than from the elemental tetrad of Pythagoras.

Now tell me, what man, by heaven, could wish to stick his head into the halter of marriage if, as your wiseacres have the habit of doing, he first weighed with himself the inconveniences of wedded life? Or what woman would ever admit her husband to her person, if she had heard or thought about the dangerous pains of childbirth and the irksomeness of bringing up a child? But since you owe your existence to the marriage-bed, and marriage is owing to Anoia, a servant of mine, you can see how vastly indebted you are to me! Then, too, would a woman who has gone through all this, wish to make a second venture, if the power and influence of my Lethe did not attend her? And in spite of what Lucretius claims, Venus herself would not deny that without the addition of my presence her strength would be enfeebled and ineffectual. So it is that from this brisk and silly little game of mine come forth the haughty philosophers (to whose places those who are vulgarly called monks have now succeeded), and kings in their scarlet, pious priests, and triply most holy popes; also, finally; that assembly of the gods of the poets, so numerous that Olympus, spacious as it is, can hardly accommodate the crowd.

[6] But let it be accounted a little thing that the seed-plot and source of existence are mine, if I do not show that whatever is profitable in any life is also of my giving. For what about it? Can life be called life at all if you take away pleasure? ... You applaud! I knew that none of you is so wise—or rather so foolish—no, I prefer to say so wise—as to err on that point. Even the famous Stoics do not really scorn pleasure, but they studiously dissemble and attack it in public with a thousand reproaches, only to the end that, with other people scared off, they may enjoy it more liberally. But let them tell me, by Jove, what part of life is not sad, unpleasant, graceless, fiat, and burdensome, unless you have pleasure added to it, that is, a seasoning of folly? As proof of this, there is extant that lovely tribute to me by Sophocles, who can never be sufficiently praised, "To know nothing affords the happiest life"; and he would be authority enough, but come, I will open the whole matter, step by step.

First of all, who does not know that the earliest period of a man's life is by far the happiest for him and by far the most pleasant for all about him? What is it in children, that we should kiss them the way we do, and cuddle them, and fondle them—so that even an enemy would give aid to one of that age—except this enchantment of folly, which prudent nature carefully bestows on the newly born; so that by this pleasure, as a sort of prepayment, they win the favor of their nurses and parents and make these forget the pains of bringing them up. After this comes adolescence. How welcome it is in every home! How well everyone wishes it! How studiously does everyone promote it, how officiously they lend it the helping hand! But, I ask, whence comes this grace of youth? Whence but from me, by whose favor the young know so little—and how lightly worn is that little! And presently when lads grown larger begin, through experience and discipline, to have some smack of manhood, I am a liar if by the same token the brightness of their beauty does not fade, their quickness diminish, their wit lose its edge, their vigor slacken. The farther one gets from me, then, the less and less he lives, until molesta senectus (that is, irksome old age) arrives, hateful to others, to be sure, but also and more so to itself.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Praise of Folly by Desiderius Erasmus, Hoyt Hopewell Hudson. Copyright © 1969 Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Introduction ix
Bibliography and Abbreviations xxvii
A Note on the Text, the Footnotes, and Erasmus' Revisions xxxiii
Erasmus' Prefatory Letter to Thomas More 1
The Praise of Folly 7
Erasmus' Letter to Martin Dorp (1514) 139
An Afterword to the Praise of Folly 175
Index 189
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Introduction

The Praise of Folly, written in 1509 and revised for publication in 1511, is the most enduring and popular work of one of the greatest Renaissance humanists, Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam. Immensely popular in its own day, the work is a witty and often biting satire that offers an ironic appreciation of human vice and frivolity. The Praise of Folly, however, is not only an entertaining indictment of social mores, but also a moving declaration of Erasmus' Christian idealism, the philosophy of Christ. Although it is a product of the sixteenth century, The Praise of Folly remains to this day an insightful and relevant work of moral philosophy and social criticism.

Erasmus was born in an age of profound transformation and was a key figure in that period. His life spanned the Renaissance and Reformation, and his numerous writings provide important commentary on both movements. The greatest humanist of his day, Erasmus edited works of classical and Christian writers and prepared an important Greek edition of the New Testament. His literary works not only reflected the contemporary emphasis on elegant style but also indicted the church and its ministers. For this reason Erasmus was thought to have laid the egg that hatched Martin Luther. Many of the Protestant Reformers had first been followers of Erasmus, but he remained loyal to the church and rejected the ideas of Luther. Criticized by contemporary Catholics and Lutherans and some modern commentators for his actions during the Reformation, Erasmus nonetheless offered an alternative to the sectarian tumult that rocked his age and remains one of its most important representatives.

The secondillegitimate son of a priest and of a doctor's daughter, Erasmus was born in Rotterdam around 1467. His parents died while Erasmus was young, and he and his brother were placed under the guardianship of their schoolmaster. His early years were spent at Deventer, a school associated with the devotio moderna, a religious movement best known through The Imitation of Christ by Thomas á Kempis. After the death of his parents Erasmus had little choice but to join a monastery, where he began to reveal his literary talent. He also was given the opportunity to attend university; and although he found the lectures less than stimulating he advanced far enough to take on students of his own.

One of his students invited him to England, a momentous event in Erasmus' life. His first trip to England introduced him to several leading scholars and churchmen, notably the theologian John Colet and novelist Thomas More, who became his life-long friends. Erasmus' experience in England reinforced his own inclinations toward learning, inspired by Colet's exposition of Scripture. This would bear fruit when he returned to the Continent. Settling in the university town of Louvain, Erasmus published the Enchiridion militis Christiani (Handbook of the Christian Soldier). This work provides a prelude to the core values of The Praise of Folly and Erasmus' Christian philosophy, which encouraged a moral piety that rejected the excesses that had crept into contemporary religious practices. In the previous year he had published the first edition of the Adages, a collection of Greek and Latin proverbs that signaled his deep interest in ancient letters and helped establish his reputation as a humanist scholar.

His fame growing, Erasmus rarely settled in one place, and his travels brought him into contact with many of the leading figures of his age. By the second decade of the sixteenth century, Erasmus' circle included leaders of church and state, and he himself was made a councilor of the emperor. He was offered an important position in the church by the pope, but he preferred not to hold any one position. Instead he sought the liberty to pursue the study of humane letters. A master of elegant Latin style and a student of the Greek language, Erasmus edited works of leading Latin and Greek authors, including Seneca, Lucian, and others. As his Novum Testamentum, his translation of the New Testament into Greek with accompanying Latin translation and commentary, indicates, his pursuit of letters was intended to improve and reform Christian belief and practice. Erasmus's studies introduced him to a wide range of authors and literary styles that laid the foundation for his most famous work.

In 1509, returning to England from a stay in Rome, Erasmus wrote The Praise of Folly or Moriae encomium, in honor of his friend Thomas More. The title is a play on the Greek word for praise, moriae, and the name of his friend More, who, Erasmus informs us, is far from a representative of folly. In fact, the book was dedicated to More, out of friendship and in recognition of the translations of Lucian he did with Erasmus. The work itself, Erasmus tells us, was written in only a week's time, and in 1522 Erasmus added a good bit of material to the original version. The original draft of the Folly was done while its author waited for the arrival of his books from Rome; he informs us though that even had they arrived he would have not been able to use them because a kidney illness prevented him from any serious study. The encomium was written merely to pass the time, its author tells us, but once begun Erasmus was encouraged by his friends to complete the work.

The book was an immense and immediate success despite Erasmus's comment that it was a mere trifle that he had not intended to publish. Among those who praised it were Pope Leo X and the humanists Jakob Wimpheling and Ulrich von Hutten, and its influence on European literature can be seen in the works of Rabelais, among others. The first edition of the book, written in Latin, was printed in Paris in June 1511. It was printed in Strasbourg in August of that year and again in 1512. There were further printings of the work in Paris and Antwerp in 1512. In 1515, a learned commentary was added to the edition printed in Basel, and the artist Hans Holbein the younger added illustrations that have appeared in numerous versions. There were some forty editions of the work published before Erasmus' death in 1536. The Praise of Folly was translated into French and German in 1520, into Italian in 1539, and into English in 1549. The work continued to be published after Erasmus' death and was well received by Enlightenment writers and by many in our own time, but despite its widespread popularity the work was not without its critics. Indeed, the conservative theologians at Louvain condemned it, and the critique of Martin Dorp prompted Erasmus to write a defense of his work. During the Reformation, the work was condemned by several popes and was placed on the index of forbidden books. Luther and a number of his followers also denounced the work for its alleged impiety.

Both widely popular and rather controversial in its day, The Praise of Folly was in many ways representative of its age. It was not the only critique of contemporary religion and society, preceded as it was by Sebastian Brant's Ship of Fools, and Erasmus' contemporaries clearly appreciated satire as the popularity of the anonymous Julius Excluded from Heaven, long attributed to Erasmus, and the work of von Hutton demonstrate. More than that, The Praise of Folly shares many of the basic values of the Renaissance. Erasmus undertook the intensive study of Greek and Latin so that he could master the rhetorical and stylistic elegance expected of literary works of the day. Wisdom, it was thought, could best be conveyed through elegant literary style and language. And so The Praise of Folly, in ironic fashion, sought to speak wisely, and in the process it revealed the broad range of Erasmus' knowledge of classical literature. Like his contemporaries, Erasmus spread references to the writings of ancient Greek and Roman authors liberally throughout his encomium, and the book is shaped by the Neoplatonism so fashionable among circles of Renaissance humanists in Florence and elsewhere. There are direct references to or echoes of the works of such authors as Homer, Plato, Cicero, Virgil, and Seneca, among many others in The Praise of Folly, providing it with the wisdom of the ages and the authority of the ancients so important to contemporaries. The most important of the ancient authors for the writing of The Praise of Folly was the playwright Lucian, whose works, now mostly lost, provided the inspiration and model for Erasmus. But Erasmus, like Boccaccio perhaps, also drew from the vernacular and included a small number of Dutch proverbs in the eulogy given by the main character, the goddess Folly.

As the narrator, Folly offers a paradoxical and ironic encomium of herself and her followers, which, Erasmus notes in his prefatory letter, is much in the tradition of ancient letters. In her introductory remarks, Folly asserts that all creatures, mortal and immortal, are beholden to her and that without her life would lack joy and even a beginning. She boasts that she is the daughter of Plutus, the god of riches, who fathered her while he was young and hot-blooded, and that her nursemaids were the daughters of Bacchus, Drunkenness, and Pan, Ignorance. The oration that follows Folly's introduction of herself and her purpose, in which the paradoxical and satiric tone of the work is set, is divided into three sections in which she indulges first in the lighthearted praise of many human weaknesses and then proceeds along more biting lines. The second section, in which the voice of Erasmus appears at times most clearly, is a much harsher satire that condemns the more serious problems of the day. The social critiques of the middle part of the work thus prepared the way for the final section in which the narrator praises the folly of Jesus. The Praise of Folly, like the other works of Erasmus, was intended to promote a reformed Christian life.

The first major section of The Praise of Folly, which is the lightest and most humorous section of the work, lays the foundation for the ultimate conclusion, which is the praise of the folly of Christ. In passages that are timeless in their relevance, Folly extols the petty faults and the vanity of humankind. She praises elderly men and women who continue to act young, applying hair dyes and cosmetics in order to entice the attentions of the opposite sex. Not only elderly but all women are the followers of Folly because without the goddess what woman would endure the suffering of childbirth? Gamblers and fools belong to her, and, in a clear parody of himself, Erasmus has Folly claim scholars and wise men as her followers. Although the satire in this section is delivered in an almost comic fashion, its ironic praise of folly is clearly intended to honor wisdom and draw attention to the higher truths to follow.

The Praise of Folly then takes on a darker and bitterer tone, and Folly "praises" some of the most serious problems of the age. In this section, Folly, in a voice that is nearly that of Erasmus, turns her attention to the theologians, priests, and monks, who have so corrupted the church and brought it to the point of crisis. Folly "praises" the superstitious practices of many Christians, who indulge in the excesses of the saints' cults and other ritualized practices. She attacks indulgences and related abuses and emphasizes the importance of an internalized faith that is the cornerstone of his philosophy of Christ. She attacks the theologians in a long section in which she compares them with Paul and Peter and the other apostles. Unlike the theologians, the apostles were unlearned and were unskilled in the methods of dialectic and reason. The apostles lived a life of faith rooted in the teachings of Christ, whereas the theologians pay little attention to the Bible or the teachings of grace in favor of scholastic argument and the teachings of Aristotle and other theologians. And, in perhaps the harshest tones of the work, Folly denounces the violence and bloodshed caused by contemporary bishops and, especially, Pope Julius II, the "warrior pope." How, she wonders, can any Christian priest or layperson follow the true faith when the church's leaders live like courtiers and princes and indulge in ceremony and warfare?

Folly, aware of her harsh tone, makes light of her commentary on contemporary vice and once again assumes an ironic voice in the final section of the encomium. It is in this section, whose way was prepared by the first two, that the message of The Praise of Folly is revealed. She now praises the folly of the apostle Paul and, most important, that of Jesus. Citing passages from the Scriptures, the narrator points out the folly of Jesus, a fool who assumed the flesh to save the folly of humankind. The teachings of Christ, so distorted by the theologians and repudiated by the actions of the church hierarchy, are so clearly out of fashion with the practices of society and the customs praised earlier in Folly's oration. But, as the paradox established by Erasmus throughout the work implies, folly here is true wisdom. The simple life of faith advocated by Jesus and the apostles' ignorance and lack of guile praised as folly is the true path to salvation. The ways of Christ and the apostles that Folly mocks are, in the ironic tone of the work, what Erasmus is truly praising. The purpose of the Moriae encomium is both the praise of the simple Christian life, which is based on the Gospels and devoid of the superstitious practices that had crept in over the centuries, and the praise of learning in support of the Christian faith.

It is this simple message, reinforced in Folly's farewell to conclude the encomium, that retains its force to this day. A witty and elegant satire, The Praise of Folly calls on its readers to live the moral life in the face of the foolishness of everyday life. Behind its humorous façade, The Praise of Folly extols the simple moral life compiled in the Christian scriptures. Its message was lost in the generation following its publication when Europe was immersed in the turmoil of the Reformation and the wars of religion, but this message stands at the core of all of Erasmus' works. The Praise of Folly was possibly Erasmus' greatest contribution to his contemporaries, and Folly's ironic praise of the true path to wisdom remains an important lesson for us today.

Michael Frassetto is the religion editor at Encyclopaedia Britannica. He holds a Ph.D. in history from the University of Delaware, and he has taught at several colleges and written extensively on European religious and cultural history.
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