Hard for me not to crush on Erasmus: cosmopolitan, pacifist, menippean. Learned in ancient writings, interested in allegiance to neither reformation nor counter-reformation, but rather in democratization of Scripture through vernacular translation simultaneous to the construction of critical editions of Scripture in original langiages. Not however to be approached casually--he expects the reader to get the jokes and keep up with him. Some minimal knowledge of the ancient literatures and philosophies is necessary--the Norton is as usual inconsistent--it is cautious to footnote the plot of The Odyssey
but is unable to muster even the slightest explanation of Timon.
Text here is The Praise of Folly
, supplemented by The Complaint of Peace
, a bunch of dialogues (satirical and doctrinal), letters, and appended modern essays. Supplementals enhance value of principal text. Modern essays are a mixed bag; standout is Bakhtin, naturally, whereas the editor's essay, while informative, is politically philistine. Principal text augmented also by period graphics, including great cover by Holbein. As with all Norton Criticals, sufficient merely for an undergraduate course or faking one's way through cocktail party chatter with true experts on the subject (provided there's enough to drink).
Very much a classic, required reading for all educated persons, The Praise of Folly
is saturated with several layers of irony, so it's hard to know exactly what it's doing. Certainly a joke on St. Thomas More, as it is very much a mock encomium, and Greek title is Morias Enkomium
. Text takes on everyone: the crazed, the aged, power, poverty, law & lawyers, medicine, war, and so on. Could be read as part of the long rightwing tradition of jeremiad that alternately despairs and rages when all that is solid melts into air--but I personally think that E is too sophisticated for all that.
Go read now lest ye remain benighted.