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Five centuries have passed since, in 1511, Moriae Encomium — or Praise of Folly — was first published. In this bestseller, Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466–1536) famously satirized contemporary European society and many of its representatives. Since people do not change essentially, this book is surprisingly modern. In 2011, its fifth centennial was celebrated in various ways.

Few books make you chuckle as often as Erasmus’s 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 Mrs. 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.

Erasmus dedicated this book to his friend, the English intellectual and politican Thomas More. Playfully, as Erasmus himself writes, for his friend by no means wore the mark of folly. The original Latin title of the book, Moriae encomium, is meant to hint at Thomas's last name. It might well be translated as Praise of More. A very learned allusion, since this Latin is actually Greek written in the Latin alphabet. The learned More certainly appreciated it.