Erasmus' Adagia and More's Utopia
In memoriam Margaret Mann Phillips
MONTAIGNE REMARKED IN HIS ESSAY On Repentance that if he had met Erasmus he would have expected him to speak in proverbs. He was thinking most probably of the collection Erasmus had gathered from the ancient classics and had published in numerous editions, the Adagia, or, more descriptively, the Adagiorum chiliades, "thousands of adages," containing not only the proverbs themselves, but also essays, long and short, explaining the proverbs, recounting their literary sources, and enunciating themes dear to the heart of Erasmus. 1 Indeed, it can be called at least in part a book of essays, and although they are of a different character and tone from Montaigne's, there is some kinship perhaps in the genre.
I am going to translate here one of the shorter adage-essays and comment on it. My purpose is to call attention to a significant theme in the reform humanism Erasmus represented. I am struck by the affinity between this theme and that great masterpiece of the Renaissance, Thomas More Utopia, and I want particularly to discuss the character and significance of their relationship.
The Adagia saw many editions and revisions during Erasmus' lifetime. First published in Paris in 1500 at the outset of his career, it was greatly expanded in 1508 and published in Venice by the famous printer Aldus Manutius with whom Erasmus was working at that time. The next important edi-