Erasmus of Rotterdam: With a Selection from the Letters of Erasmus

By Erasmus; J. Huizinga | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IX
THE PRAISE OF FOLLY

Moriae Encomium, The Praise of Folly: 1509, as a work of art -- Folly, the motor of all life: Indispensable, salutary, cause and support of states and of heroism -- Folly keeps the world going -- Vital energy incorporated with folly -- Lack of folly makes unfit for life -- Need of self-complacency -- Humbug beats truth -- Knowledge a plague -- Satire of all secular and ecclesiastical vocations -- Two themes throughout the work -- The highest folly: Ecstasy -- The Moria to be taken as a gay jest -- Confusion of fools and lunatics -- Erasmus treats his Moria slightingly -- Its value

WHILE he rode over the mountain passes,1 Erasmus's restless spirit, now unfettered for some days by set tasks, occupied itself with everything he had studied and read in the last few years, and with everything he had seen. What ambition, what self-deception, what pride and conceit filled the world! He thought of Thomas More, whom he was now to see again-- that most witty and wise of all his friends, with that curious name Moros, the Greek word for a fool, which so ill became his personality. Anticipating the gay jests which More's conversation promised, there grew in his mind that masterpiece of humour and wise irony, Moriae Encomium, the Praise of Folly. The world as the scene of universal folly; folly as the indispensable element making life and society possible and all this put into the mouth of Stultitia--Folly--itself (true antitype of Minerva), who in a panegyric on her own power and usefulness, praises herself. As to form it is a Declamatio, such as he had translated from the Greek of Libanius. As to the spirit, a revival of Lucian, whose Gallus, translated by him three years before, may have suggested the theme. It must have been in the incomparably lucid moments of that brilliant intellect. All the particulars of classic reading which the year before he worked up in the new edition of the Adagia were still at his

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1
That he conceived the work in the Alps follows from the fact that he tells us explicitly that it happened while riding, whereas, after passing through Switzerland, he travelled by boat. A. 1, IV216.62.

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