( England and Holland: In Desiderius Erasmus Encomium Moriae: 1509)
Charles M. Kovich
Every great literary and cultural theme has a thousand roots sinking deep into the fertile soil of the past so that it may bloom into present ripeness. So it is with the notion of "folly" as expressed by Desiderius Erasmus in his great work of the Renaissance, which seems at first blush to have Folly praise foolishness itself in a solipsistic monologue, as base and undignified as such praise may seem. These roots extend back to the classical period of Greece and Rome, as would be expected in the Renaissance, which thought of itself as a time of "rebirth" of classical models and standards.
Several arguments may be offered from classical rhetoric for the presentation of Folly's foolish self-praise. (The classical notion of nugas agere, "to play the fool," was well known and was used by Cicero.) Classical writers including Cicero recognized the forensic forcefulness of antonomasia (name calling, both positive and negative). In his Rhetoric Aristotle describes the categories of this device -- praise and blame for both the noble and base -- while Plutarch demonstrates its practice, praising noble Greeks and Romans. Likewise, many classical writers praised "things without honor," a tradition handed down through the medieval period to the Renaissance of Erasmus. The laudationes covered a wide range of material; they spanned rivers and mountains, climbing from the concrete objects for praise to the realm of the arts and the abstract virtues. Polycrates, for example, praised mice and pebbles; many in the classical world expressed praise for the "base" Helen of Troy. This effortless rhetorical method of gaining an audience's attention was a valuable device handed down from