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Praise of Folly (1511)

Few books make you chuckle as often as Erasmus’s Moriae Encomion or Praise of Folly. Unsparingly, Erasmus criticizes the world around him. People are not made for wisdom. They love fairy tales. The more absurd something is, the more people admire it. In short, humanity is being scolded. The representatives of the Church in particular are in the thick of it.

But is all of it meant to be taken seriously? After all, it is Lady Folly, not Erasmus, who is delivering the criticisms. Satire with a false bottom then?

Praise of Folly was first printed in 1511. The book immediately became a bestseller. Erasmus would not have anticipated such a popular success. He wrote it in 1509 more or less to pass the time he had to spend in bed due to illness, and of course he wrote it in Latin—the scholar’s, not the common man’s, language. Praise of Folly has been translated many times in many languages: in Dutch, English, French, German, Russian, Spanish, Portugese, Greek, Hebrew, Esperanto, and so on.

 

ASD (Opera Omnia, Amsterdam 1969-)

The publication of Erasmus's Opera Omnia is a long-term KNAW project dating back to an initiative in Rotterdam in 1960. Unlike the old editions of Basel (1538-1540) and Leiden (1703-1706), the new edition shows the changes that Erasmus made to his works over the years. The new edition provides a "purified" or "critical" Latin text (no translation). Moreover, every text has an introduction and a commentary in French, German or English. The aim is to complete the Erasmus project in around 2015.

Erasmus Writings List alphabetical.pdf
Erasmus Writings List chronological.pdf

The project is carried out under the auspices of the Union Académique Internationale (UAI) and the Conseil international pour l'édition des oeuvres complètes d'Erasme. There is close collaboration with the Canadian project "Collected Works of Erasmus" (CWE, see below) to provide an English translation with a commentary on Erasmus's letters and writings.

Like the Basel edition (Froben, 1538–1540) and the Leiden edition (Van der Aa, 1703–1706), the Amsterdam edition has been subdivided into nine "ordines" or categories according to Erasmus's own wishes. Each "ordo" contains a specific literary or thematic category within Erasmus's oeuvre:

  1. Works furthering language arts
  2. Adages
  3. Correspondence
  4. Works furthering moral education
  5. Works promoting piety
  6. Annotated edition of the New Testament
  7. Paraphrases on the New Testament
  8. Editions and translations of patristic works
  9. Apologiae

 

CWE (Collected Works of Erasmus)

The predilection of the CRRS for Erasmiana in all of its manifestations – early editions of Erasmus and his contemporaries, studies, lectures – is easy to detect. But there’s an ideal use for all of this: since the 1970s the University of Toronto Press has been publishing an edition of Erasmus’s complete correspondence and other major writings. The Collected Works of Erasmus (CWE), under the general editorship of Professor James K. McConica, President of the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, has produced over 60 volumes so far, and the final total will be 89, including Contemporaries of Erasmus, a three-volume biographical register of those mentioned in Erasmus’s writings. The CWE is the largest translation project ever undertaken by a Canadian press. It is a bit incredible that such a massive task was ever begun, and that it is still active in a time when scholars are so pressed to demonstrate immediate practical results and the applicability of their research.

The idea originated back in the summer of 1968, when Ron Schoeffel of the University of Toronto Press decided that he'd like to read Erasmus’s letters but couldn’t find an English edition in the card catalogue of the library. He thought that there must be some mistake. There wasn’t. The letters of one of the greatest humanist thinkers and most important figures of the Renaissance and Reformation were only available in Latin, and just a few of his other writings existed in English. Back at the Press, Schoeffel consulted with the Managing Editor, Francess Halpenny, and with other colleagues and scholars about the possibility of having the Press produce and publish a translation of Erasmus’s writings. Bold plans were fashionable and also manageable in those days; by the end of 1968 the CWE was launched, with an estimated 40 volumes planned – not merely Erasmus’s letters but also his other major writings – translated, annotated, outfitted with extensive scholarly apparatus, and carefully situated in the cultural, theological, grammatical, political, philosophical, and bibliographical context of his time. Since then, the final count has increased to 89 volumes and it will take another twenty or so years before the work is completed and all the volumes are published.

It hasn’t always been easy going. Although the CWE began with the assurance of ongoing grant funding, that ended in 1998 when the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada decided to shift its emphasis in the awarding of grants. But the University of Toronto Press has continued to support both the research and publication costs of the edition, and with occasional financial assistance from individuals and institutions and the invaluable support of the scholarly community at large, the project has not only survived but flourished. The Collected Works of Erasmus has been called ‘one of the great megaprojects in the history of Canadian publishing’ (Ottawa Citizen), and ‘a magnificent achievement, one of the scholarly triumphs of our time’ (Lisa Jardine, Common Knowledge).

Kim Yates, Assistant to the Director

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