The Praise of Folly and Other Writings – Norton Critical Editions
On October 15, 2009 At 6:30 am
Responses : No Comments
This Norton Critical Edition provides a wide selection of Erasmus's writings, translated from the Latin into fresh, modern English. Besides the celebrated Praise of Folly, Robert M. Adams has included the political "Complaint of Peace," the brutal antipapal satire "Julius Excluded from Heaven," two versions of Erasmus's important preface to the Latin translation of the New Testament, and a selection both serious and comic of his Colloquies and his letters. Adams has made these selections to emphasize the humane, rather than the doctrinaire, side of the first and arguably greatest humanist.
Critical commentary is provided in essays by H. R. Trevor-Roper, R. S. Allen, J. Huizinga, Mikhail Bakhtin, Paul Oskar Kristeller, and Robert M. Adams.
Also included are a Chronology of Erasmus's life and a Selected Bibliography. .
User Ratings and Reviews
5 Stars What a fascinating man!
I stumbled upon Erasmus while reading Durant's Reformation volume of the Story of Civilization, and later while reading Johnson's History of Christianity. Both authors were rightly impressed with the great influence he had on the Christian world prior to and during the time of the reformation. I had previously known that Luther and Calvin were the major players in the reformation but hadn't realized that so many characters prepared for it and also tried to temper the violent outcomes. Erasmus stood out for me as an intriguing person that I wanted to learn more about. As a result, I purchased this book to get a sample of his writings.
This book of just over 300 pages contains as its major work "The Praise of Folly". This satirical gem has Folly incarnated as a type of a classical goddess discussing the virtues of folly and using various classical and everyday examples to justify why folly is such a good thing. Fortunately, the compiler has footnotes to explain the classical references to those not familiar with most of them; this helped me a lot.
There follows the brilliant anti-war piece entitled "The Compliant of Peace", where peace is embodied and complains of how he is abused and neglected. Then follows two forewords to his groundbreaking Latin translation of the Greek New Testament, explaining why he did this. I hadn't realized how intense the opposition was. After that we have the hilarious "Julius Excluded from Heaven"; an imagined conversation between Pope Julius and St. Peter at heavens gate. I can see why it was initially published anonymously.
The next section includes four of his Colloquies; very well written and bringing out some good points. Three letters are also included including one defending his Praise of Folly, another describing his travels, and another to a high ranking Bishop. The final section includes six essays of varying interest discussing Erasmus.
I loved Erasmus' writing style and though the compilation a very good introduction to his writing. Adam's translation was very clear. I highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to learn more of Erasmus and sample his writing.
5 Stars Intelligent, Insightful, Witty
Erasmus conveys in his writings a deeply principled, heartfelt faith leavened with genuinely funny and often cutting wit. He is a great Rationalist while admitting the workings of the irrational and mystical. His attacks on the excesses of the Church are exactly that, attacks on the excesses but not the Church itself. There is a profound integrity that never slips into a self-righteousness. HIs letter to Martin Dorp is an excellent example. The Praise of Folly is a gem, but is only an introduction to the riches in the other selections. If your are interested in issues of religious faith, church history, theology or the early Renaissance, this is a must read.
3 Stars Thin on secondary materials
The other reviewers have praised Erasmus, and, well, duh. Anyone still in print after 500 years probably had some profound and interesting things to say.
But I suspect most people looking at this edition will be doing so in the hope it will contain the variety of secondary materials commonly found in the usually excellent Norton Critical Editions. In that respect I was disappointed with this volume. It does an excellent job of selecting from Erasmus's works, but a poor one, in my opinion, of including secondary literature.
I like what is there, I just want more.
5 Stars Amazing book by and amazing writer.
Erasmus knew the heart of man. His writings in the 16th Century AD are completely relevant to today. If only our leaders read Erasmus he could have told them what folly any war is.
4 Stars Renascence Man
Robert Adams' translation is great and helps feature Erasmus wit and wisdom with modern usage, with plenty of footnote explanation of period literature. Erasmus' satirical writing is amusing and insightful of the political and social thinking of his time. Amazing to read how little has changed intellectually over 500 years.