Desiderius Erasmus’ (1466?–1536) birth and early childhood in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, are somewhat obscure. It is generally believed that his father was Roger Gerard of Gouda. His mother was the widowed daughter of a physician. His parents were never married as Gerard was probably already in orders when Erasmus was born. From age nine to nineteen, Erasmus was at St. Lebuin School in Deventer under the tutelage of the Brethren of the Common Life. This and his later friendship with John Colet and Thomas More influenced his theology and his writings. He is considered the foremost Christian humanist of the Renaissance. Erasmus is best known for writing a new edition of The New Testament and also for The Praise of Folly and The Complaint of Peace.
The following is an excerpt from The Praise of Folly.
I have no use for the so-called wise persons who say that it is absolutely stupid and insolent for a person to praise himself. Let them say it is foolish if they wish, but let them admit that it is proper; for what is more suitable than that Folly be the trumpeter of her own praises and “blow her own horn.” Who can better describe me than myself? Unless by chance someone knows me better than I do myself.
Besides, I do not think I am doing anything more shameless than that which many of our best citizens and scholars are continually doing. With a certain perverse modesty, they employ for a fee flattering speakers or vaunting poets from whose lips they listen to their own praises, which are nothing but pure lies. The blushing listener shows his feathers and spreads his plumes like a peacock while the brazen flatter compares this good-for-nothing to the gods and proposes him as a paragon of all virtues. He himself knows, of course, that he is twice infinitely away from being such a person.
My eulogy will be extemporaneous and simple, and for that very reason it will be so much the more true. I would not want you to think that is was composed to show forth my genius as is the case with the common run of orators. For they, as you know, work on a speech as much as thirty years, if it is theirs at all, and then swear they wrote it in three day or even that they dictated it.
On my part, however, I have always found it more agreeable simply to state what is on the tip of my tongue. Also, let no one expect me to explain by definition or even less by division as is the custom of common rhetoricians. For it is inauspicious to put limits on her whose influence is so widely spread, or to divide her whom all of nature has united in worshipping. Besides, what point is there for me to make a shadowy sketch of myself when you can all see me with your own eyes? I am as you see me, that true bestower of all good things.
I hope you enjoyed reading this writing excerpt from a favorite author. I’m curious what you think of Erasmus. What about you? What do you think about Erasmus’ essay on folly?