Book Review: In Praise of Folly by Erasmus (Three Stars)


Book Review: In Praise of Folly by Erasmus

Three Stars

“So here, though Folly speaker be, and argument which it guides the tongue, wisdom’s the lecture meant.”

Published in 1510, Folly is an essay on the social practices of the day (1510) formed as an argument in her own defense by Folly personified. In the tradition of Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy and leads to Gulliver’s Travels and Candide.

“There is another sort of madness that proceeds from Folly; so far from being any way injurious or distasteful, and this happens when bye a harmless mistake in the judgement of things the mind is freed from those cares which otherwise gratingly afflict it.”

Written before the invention of the printing press, it raises the question: who could afford to copy such doggerel? Perhaps its ridicule of Catholic Church practices contributed to the soon-to-launch reformation, and therefore assured its huge popularity (then).

“Our father Adam [was] forewarned that the taste of knowledge would be the bane of all happiness.”

Fog of allusions to ancient mythology, classic literature and Scripture. Lots of digression and word play. Showing off? Bored? Repetitive. Supposedly Erasmus was surprised and a bit bemused by its popularity.

“An ape will be an ape, though clothed in purple.”

A short book, but hardly worth the effort, except perhaps to note that people haven’t changed much.

“To know nothing is the sweetest life.” Sophocles