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Desiderius Erasmus
Dutch philosopher, humanist and theologian
(1466-1536)



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Adagia (Adages) (1500; republished in later editions until 1536)

In regione caecorum rex est luscus.
In the country of the blind the one eyed man is king.
-- Adagia (first published 1500; later editions through to 1536)
Also in the same passage of the Adagia is a variant: Inter caecos regnat strabus (Among the blind, the squinter rules).
Another variant:
Scitum est inter caecos luscum regnare posse.
It is well known, that among the blind the one-eyed man is king.

The most disadvantageous peace is better than the most just war.
-- Adagia (1508)

A fronte praecipitium, a tergo lupi.
A precipice in front, wolves behind.
-- Adagia (1500)

Bis dat, qui cito dat.
He that gives quickly gives twice.
-- Adagia (1508)

Dulce bellum inexpertis.
War is sweet to those who have not tried it.
-- Adagia (1500). This quote comes originally from the Greek poet Pindar.

Festina lente.
Make haste slowly.
-- Adagia (1500). This quote comes originally from the Roman emperor Augustus (See Suetonius, Lives of the Caesars)

Encomium Moriae (The Praise of Folly) (1511)

For what is life but a play in which everyone acts a part until the curtain comes down?
-- The Praise of Folly (1511)

This type of man who is devoted to the study of wisdom is always most unlucky in everything, and particularly when it comes to procreating children; I imagine this is because Nature wants to ensure that the evils of wisdom shall not spread further throughout mankind.
-- The Praise of Folly (1511)

They [the theologians] will explain to you how Christ was formed in the Virgin's womb; how accident subsists in synaxis without domicile in place. The most ordinary of them can do this. Those more fully initiated explain further whether there is an instans in Divine generation; whether in Christ there is more than a single filiation; whether 'the Father hates the Son' is a possible proposition; whether God can become the substance of a woman, of an ass, of a pumpkin, or of the devil, and whether, if so, a pumpkin could preach a sermon, or work miracles, or be crucified. And they can discover a thousand other things to you besides these. They will make you understand notions, and instants, formalities, and quiddities, things which no eyes ever saw, unless they were eyes which could see in the dark what had no existence.
-- The Praise of Folly (1511), as quoted by James Anthony Froude, Life and Letters of Erasmus: Lectures Delivered at Oxford 1893-4 (1899)

Querela Pacis (1517)

If we must fight, why not go against the common enemy, the Turk? But wait. Is not the Turk also a man and a brother?
-- Querela Pacis (1517)

Let a king recall that to improve his realm is better than to increase his territory.
-- Querela Pacis (1517)

Colloquia (Colloquies) (1519)

No Man is wise at all Times, or is without his blind Side.
-- "The Alchymyst", in Colloquies (1519)


I believe firmly what I read in the holy Scriptures, and the Creed called the Apostles', and I don't trouble my head any farther: I leave the rest to be disputed and defined by the clergy, if they please; and if anything is in common use with Christians that is not repugnant to the holy Scriptures, I observe it for this reason, that I may not offend other people.
-- Commenting on the teachings of the English churchman John Colet, in: Colloquies (1519)

In Praise of Marriage (1519)

I have no patience with those who say that sexual excitement is shameful and that venereal stimuli have their origin not in nature, but in sin. Nothing is so far from the truth. As if marriage, whose function cannot be fulfilled without these incitements, did not rise above blame. In other living creatures, where do these incitements come from? From nature or from sin? From nature, of course. It must borne in mind that in the apetites of the body there is very little difference between man and other living creatures. Finally, we defile by our imagination what of its own nature is fair and holy. If we were willing to evaluate things not according to the opinion of the crowd, but according to nature itself, how is it less repulsive to eat, chew, digest, evacuate, and sleep after the fashion of dumb animals, than to enjoy lawful and permitted carnal relations?
-- In Praise of Marriage (1519)

Letters

I consider as lovers of books not those who keep their books hidden in their store-chests and never handle them, but those who, by nightly as well as daily use thumb them, batter them, wear them out, who fill out all the margins with annotations of many kinds, and who prefer the marks of a fault they have erased to a neat copy full of faults.
-- Letter to an unidentified friend (1489)

A constant element of enjoyment must be mingled with our studies, so that we think of learning as a game rather than a form of drudgery, for no activity can be continued for long if it does not to some extent afford pleasure to the participant.
-- Letter to Christian Northoff (1497)

You must acquire the best knowledge first, and without delay; it is the height of madness to learn what you will later have to unlearn.
-- Letter to Christian Northoff (1497)

Do not be guilty of possessing a library of learned books while lacking learning yourself.
-- Letter to Christian Northoff (1497)

Ad Graecas literas totum animum applicui; statimque, ut pecuniam acceptero, Graecos primum autores, deinde vestes emam.
I have turned my entire attention to Greek. The first thing I shall do, as soon as the money arrives, is to buy some Greek authors; after that, I shall buy clothes.
-- Letter to Jacob Batt (12 April 1500)

There are monasteries where there is no discipline, and which are worse than brothels ... There are others where religion is nothing but ritual; and these are worse than the first, for the Spirit of God is not in them, and they are inflated with self-righteousness. There are those, again, where the brethren are so sick of the imposture that they keep it up only to deceive the vulgar. The houses are rare indeed where the rule is seriously observed, and even in these few, if you look to the bottom, you will find small sincerity. But there is craft, and plenty of it — craft enough to impose on mature men, not to say innocent boys; and this is called profession. Suppose a house where all is as it ought to be, you have no security that it will continue so. A good superior may be followed by a fool or a tyrant, or an infected brother may introduce a moral plague. True, in extreme cases a monk may change his house, or even may change his order, but leave is rarely given. There is always a suspicion of something wrong, and on the least complaint such a person is sent back.
-- Letter to Lambertus Grunnius (August 1516), quoted in: Life and Letters of Erasmus : Lectures delivered at Oxford 1893-4 (1894), edited by James Anthony Froude

I wished to be a citizen of the world, not of a single city.
-- On his refusal to the suggestion that he be made a citizen of Zurich. In letter to Laurimus (1 February 1523)

Other Quotes

The world thought well of my schoolmaster guardian, because he was neither a liar, nor a scamp, nor a gambler; but he was coarse, avaricious, and ignorant; he knew nothing beyond the confused lessons which he taught to his classes. He imagined that in forcing a youth to become a monk he would be offering a sacrifice acceptable to God. He used to boast of the many victims which he devoted annually to Dominic and Francis and Benedict.
-- As quoted in Life and Letters of Erasmus: Lectures Delivered at Oxford 1893-4 (1899) by James Anthony Froude

I have a Catholic soul but a Lutheran stomach.
-- Replying to criticism of his failure to fast during Lent. Attributed.

It is an unscrupulous intellect that does not pay to antiquity its due reverence... There are many kinds of genius; each age has its different gifts.
-- Works of Hilary (1523), preface


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The selection of the above quotes and the writing of the accompanying notes was performed by the author David Paul Wagner.

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