Praise of Folly (Penguin Classics)

by Desiderius Erasmus

Other authorsA. H. T. Levi (Editor), Betty Radice (Translator)
Paper Book, 1971




Penguin Classics (1971), Edition: 13th printing, 288 pages


Erasmus of Rotterdam (c. 1466-1536) is one of the greatest figures of the Renaissance humanist movement, which abandoned medieval pieties in favour of a rich new vision of the individual's potential. Praise of Folly, written to amuse his friend Sir Thomas More, is Erasmus's best-known work. Its dazzling mixture of fantasy and satire is narrated by a personification of Folly, dressed as a jester, who celebrates youth, pleasure, drunkenness and sexual desire, and goes on to lambast human pretensions, foibles and frailties, to mock theologians and monks and to praise the 'folly' of simple Christian piety. Erasmus's wit, wordplay and wisdom made the book an instant success, but it also attracted what may have been sales-boosting criticism. The Letter to Maarten van Dorp, which is a defence of his ideas and methods, is also included.… (more)




0140442405 / 9780140442403


½ (110 ratings; 3.7)

User reviews

LibraryThing member stillatim
In general, I like to think that there is progress in the arts- that geniuses of a later age are likely to be broader and more engaging than geniuses of an earlier age because they have the example of earlier men and women from which to learn. Lately I've been having a hard time holding onto this
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belief; that I've finally got around to reading Praise of Folly has made it harder still. Erasmus combines a mildly annoying love of classical literature with an amazing ability to wield irony and social satire. Where are the men and women with this ability today, I ask? Maybe they're all off writing 'deep,' 'profound' novels about the terrifying depths of the human condition or some sh*t.

On the other hand, PoF has also given me a way to hold onto my knee-jerk modernist/progressive tendencies, because while novelists today are forced, by economics, MFA programs and low expectations, to write guff, Erasmus' audience was Thomas More. The problem, I now see, is not that literature isn't progressing; it's that the readership of literature is regressing. Conveniently, since I teach literature, this gives me a full heart and clear eyes: *I* must *force* the world's readers to advance so that they can once again/for the first time read books this hilariously coruscating and intelligent. To the barricades, Komrad!

In that spirit, I recommend this book to anyone who wants to get better at being a person; just trying to keep track of what Erasmus 'really' means (so Erasmus writes foolishly about the foolishness of St Paul, who advises foolishness...) will raise your intelligence; if you succeed, you're a better woman than I.

As for this edition- I think the annotator makes a bit too much of the 'difficulties' involved in distinguishing between Folly's 'unironic' praise of simple Chrisianity, and her ironic praise of intricate theology. The difference is quite clear: the former *know* that and how they are foolish, and in so doing become genuinely wise; the latter don't know how stupid they're being, and so for all their knowledge, are truly fools. Also, what sort of a world do we live in that needs to annotate Folly's hatred of merchants with "For Erasmus the greed and self-interest of merchants was socially counter-productive." For *everyone* except a few nutbag Randians the greed and self-interest of merchants is socially counter-productive. Mercantile activity might not be bad in itself; greedy and self-interested mercantile activity not only harms people, but, (horror of horrors!!!) distorts the market.


"Nothing is so trivial as treating serious subjects in a trivial manner; and similarly, nothing is more entertaining than treating trivialities in such a way as to make it clear that you are doing anything but trifle with them." (6-7)

"The old man loves his old woman as the boy loves his girl. This happens everywhere and meets with smiles, but nevertheless it's the sort of absurdity which is the binding force in society." (34)

"What was it which recalled the Roman mob to harmony in teh state when it was plotting violence - a philosopher's speech? Not a bit of it. It was a silly, childish fable made up about hte belly and other parts of the body." (40)

"It's a true sign of prudence... to be willing to overlook things along with the rest of the world." (45)

"What's the harm in the whole audience hissing you if you clap yourself?" (49)

"Among all the votive offerings you see covering the walls of certain churches... have you ever seen one put up for an escape from folly or for the slightest gain in wisdom?" (65)

"The saint will protect you if you try to imitate his life." (66)

"They're quite wrong if they think man's happiness depends on actual facts; it depends on his opinions... real facts often take a lot of trouble to acquire... an opinion, on the other hand, is very easily formed, and it is equally conducive to happiness, or even more so." (70-1)

"The funniest thing of all is when there's an exchange of compliments and appreciation, a mutual back-scratching." (79)

"They insist that it detracts from the grandeur of sacred writing if they're obliged to obey the rules of grammar. It seems a most peculiar prerogative of theologians, to be the only people permitted to speak ungrammatically; however, they share this privilege with a lot of working men." (95)

"Picture the prince, such as some of them are today: a man ignorant of the law, well nigh an enemy to his people's advantage while intent on his personal convenience, a dedicated voluptuary, a hater of learning, freedom and truth, without a thought for the interest of his country, and measuring everything in terms of his own profit and desires." (105)

"As the wise man despises money, it takes good care to keep out of his way." (114)

"I'm a man who despises no one but himself and wants nothing so much as to be at peace with the world." (162)
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LibraryThing member AJBraithwaite
An interesting insight into the mind of an extremely thoughtful, well-educated man of the early sixteenth century. I enjoyed his digs at the superstitions and corruption of the church of his day, and his distinction between a person of piety and a religious person (the latter attracting his scorn).
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His views on the morals and intelligence of women leave rather a lot to be desired, but overall it was a fascinating read.
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LibraryThing member Unreachableshelf
I read this for the first time as an assignment back in my college days. I pulled my copy off of the shelf yesterday and discovered I was glad that I kept it. It's a funny and surprisingly fast read, and I love Folly's voice.
LibraryThing member Velmeran
I found this book to be very difficult to read and understand. I have no doubts that Erasmus was brilliant and that I missed his best jokes and allusions, but it needs far more context to read, and the footnotes were not that helpful.
LibraryThing member jonfaith
And what is all this life but a kind of comedy, wherein men walk up and down in one another's disguises and act their respective parts, till the property-man brings them back to the attiring house. And yet he often orders a different dress, and makes him that came but just now off in the robes of a
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king put on the rags of a beggar.

4.173 stars

Before popping a sleeping pill and chugging a Sam Adams I read most of this as our plane headed east across the Atlantic. Donald Trump and John Whittingdale serve to this text's centrality. I awoke and finished the book on foreign shores with an eye to the hegemonic (possibly the GCHQ?) and a love for our all so human failings. This is a must for all lovers of Rabelais and Burton. The musing does become a bit edged towards theology, but overall it is a delightful skewering of our arrogance, our biological exceptionalism, our humble fate as f*ckw*ts.
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