Erasmus: Recent Critical Editions and Translations

By Rabil, Albert | Renaissance Quarterly, Spring 2001 | Go to article overview

Erasmus: Recent Critical Editions and Translations


Rabil, Albert, Renaissance Quarterly


Since the 1960s, a group of largely European scholars has been engaged in the publication of a critical edition of the works of Erasmus (the Amsterdam or ASD) and a group of largely British and North American scholars in the translation and annotation of Erasmus's corpus into English (the Toronto or CWE). Both projects have sought to produce definitive works of their kind. Each is based on the same principle of organization, a principle devised by Erasmus himself. He organized his works into nine orders: (1) literature and education, (2) adages, (3) letters, (4) moral questions, (5) religious instruction, (6) the New Testament with annotations, (7) paraphrases, (8) defenses, and (9) edited letters of Jerome and other fathers. Of the volumes before us two belong to order one (CWE 39-40), three to order two (ASD II.2, 7, 8), two to order five (CWE 69-70), two to order seven (ASD VII.6, CWE 63), and one to order eight (CWE 76).

The first volume of the ASD appeared in 1969, the first volume of the CWE in 1974. Initially, the two projects seemed to run on parallel tracks, having little to do with one another. The initial volumes to appear in the CWE were translations of Erasmus's letters, based on the critical edition of P. S. Allen and associates produced during the first half of the century (1906-1958); eleven of twenty-two projected volumes of letters appeared in translation between 1974 and 1994, though none has appeared since then (due largely, it seems, to the death of Sir Roger Mynors). The delay in translations of other texts by Erasmus (the first appeared in 1983) allowed for at least informal contact and cooperation between editors involved in the two projects. Indeed, in some cases the same editor was in charge of texts in the ASD and the CWE. Harry Vredeveld, for example, edited the poems of Erasmus for both.

We have before us a recent group of publications from each series, four from the ASD and six from the CWE. All these volumes represent largely the writings of the mature Erasmus, that is, they were composed after 1515 when he had come to be recognized as "prince of the humanists." The adages and the colloquies, both represented here, were largely (in the case of the adages) or wholly (in the case of the colloquies) the products of his middle and later life. So also were his expositions of scripture and his defenses. A few of his writings for spiritual edification come from his earlier years, but the great majority also are from the years of his maturity. Collectively, we have here a good introduction to the thought of Erasmus as it had developed by mid-life.

John Bateman has edited, in one of the volumes before us, the first volume of paraphrases to appear in the ASD (VII.6), paraphrases he had previously translated as editor of CWE 44 (1993). A comparison of his editing of the two publications reveals that although ASD VII.6 is slightly more heavily annotated, virtually all the notes were present in some form in CWE 44. The introductions in the ASD edition are a good deal fuller; in particular, they include a summary and analysis of the letters paraphrased. CWE 44 refers the reader to CWE 42, the first volume of paraphrases published in that series, where the paraphrases as Erasmus employed them are analyzed as a genre; it also looks forward to a future volume for which additional essays are planned. But the kind of introduction to each biblical letter present in the ASD edition is not likely to be repeated by any volume in the CWE. The complementary nature of the two editions of the paraphrases suggests a desirable kind of fusion and one that seems increasingl y to be taking place among the editors of the two series.

One of the earliest volumes published in the ASD was Erasmus's Colloquies (1972), even earlier translated into English (1965) in a volume of magisterial scholarship by Craig Thompson. The Colloquies reappear in CWE 39-40 in Thompson's translation, very lightly edited. …

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