Praise of Folly, by Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam, ★★★★★
Erasmus of Rotterdam wrote his , and the book was first printed in 1511.
How can I review this half a millennia old book? This book is almost 500 years old. I cannot wrap my head around the fact that we are able to read a book such as this. From Wikipedia:
Inspired by Italian humanist Faustino Perisauli’s De Triumpho Stultitiae, it is a satirical attack on superstitions and other traditions of European society as well as on the western Church.
Erasmus revised and extended the work, which he originally wrote in the space of a week while sojourning with Sir Thomas More at More’s estate in Bucklersbury.
Erasmus and Thomas More were both Roman Catholics. It’s possible that by saying that, I’ve already lost many of you. If I tell you that Thomas More, whose first wife Jane died in 1511 also, and who had these children, Margaret, Elizabeth, Cicely, and John, insisted upon giving his daughters the same classical education as his son, a highly unusual attitude at the time, maybe I win some of you back (although this review is of a book by Erasmus).
Incidentally, Dorothy Sayers mentioned that about Thomas More in one of the two short essays in this book, Are Women Human? She also wished to study classic languages, and she did.
Therein lies the problem, before I read the book (and sometimes after), I like to know a little about it, and about its author, and more than not, I find reasons to not read a book than to do so. And in most instances, I’m missing something that could be of so much benefit and enjoyment to me as a reader, something that could enhance my reading life.
Huge classics, and old books, are sometimes buried in so much commentary, so many reviews, so much literary talk around them, that it’s hard to know what to think about them before reading them. Wikipedia and Amazon blurbs of books, are so antiseptic, they are like the leaflets we get in our medicines, with lots of possible contraindications, and recommended dosage.
Ultimately, taking an aspirin is a unique experience that has some commonalities, but unique indeed. How much more personal and unique would you say reading a book is? -and yes, there’s commonalities too.
Those blurbs or those biographical details on the very human and very faulty authors, are not good clues, I contend, to pick a book, or to discard a book. As a pastime, sometimes I read about a book after having read the book, specially when I have nobody in person to discuss it. And yet sometimes what we read about an author makes us want to read her books. But I won’t advice to keep this as the major reason for reading a book, neither the myriads of comments you may hear about books without, at least, placing those comments in context.
We all have different ways of forging our path as readers. Mine is a mix of what best reading friends are reading and recommend, serendipity, search for the unusual, book club suggestions, and sometimes I go for something I know that never fails (a title by Galdós, master of the Spanish language), etc. And I’ve discovered that many times, those polemic and controversial books, those books highly acclaimed or highly criticized, are books I come to love, or they make a mark on me.
If you are a curious reader, who likes in particular the appeal of books outside the XIX, XX, and XXI centuries, The Praise of Folly is a perfect read. That, or any of Moliere’s plays, which are short, charming, full of humor, and very edifying. (All these books are in the public domain, I always find them in Spanish -they have been widely translated as well-, and I usually feed them to my Kindle. These books can usually be found in printed copy in English at our libraries, or at used book stores, and online stores for next to nothing.)
Moliere lived from 1622 to 1673. I’ve read his Tartuffe, and I’m reading The Miser. And, as I went to youtube trying to find one of those Spanish old productions of this play I used to watch when I was young, I thought I’d better search for an English one, and, surprise surprise, there’s a new theater play coming on March 1st,
Wouldn’t you love to go to the heart of theater, London, and watch this play?
And I have not reviewed Praise of Folly yet! I give it five stars because Erasmus manages to make us think and his writing is humorous, sincere, intelligent, and very straightforward. There’s many references to mythology, but the meaning in his book can be deducted while reading it. The book is written as if Folly was talking. She is satirically telling us why it’s better for such and such people to be one of her followers. In her speech, she denounces the hypocrisy of many, and through her humor, she uncovers deep truths at the root of our conduct.
Many quotes could be shared, I picked a few to whet your appetite for Erasmus’ book,
Everyone knows that by far the happiest and universally enjoyable age of man is the first. What is there about babies which makes us hug and kiss and fondle them, so that even an enemy would give them help at that age?
If you look at history you’ll find that no state has been so plagued by its rulers as when power has fallen into the hands of some dabbler in philosophy or literary addict.
If a person were to try stripping the disguises from actors while they play a scene upon stage, showing to the audience their real looks and the faces they were born with, would not such a one spoil the whole play ? And would not the spectators think he deserved to be driven out of the theatre with brickbats, as a drunken disturber ?… Now what else is the whole life of mortals but a sort of comedy, in which the various actors, disguised by various costumes and masks, walk on and play each one his part, until the manager waves them off the stage ? Moreover, this manager frequently bids the same actor to go back in a different costume, so that he who has but lately played the king in scarlet now acts the flunkey in patched clothes. Thus all things are presented by shadows.