|4 Jul 2004 @ 19:33, by Tom Bombadil|
In Praise of Folly
by Desiderius Erasmus
An oration, of feigned matter, spoken by Folly
in her own person
Why have I appeared today in this unaccustomed garb? Well, you shall hear the reason if you have no objection to lending me your ears—no, not the ones you use for preachers of sermons, but the ears you usually prick up for mountebanks, clowns and fools, the sort of ears that once upon a time our friend Midas listened with to Pan.
But was there any need to tell you even as much as that, as if I didn't make it perfectly clear who I am from the look on my face, as they say? Anyone who argued that I was Minerva or Wisdom could easily be convinced of his mistake simply by the sight of me, even if I never spoke a word, though speech is the least deceptive mirror of the mind. I've no use for cosmetics, my face doesn't pretend to be anything different from my innermost feelings. I am myself wherever I am, and no one can pretend I'm not—especially those who lay special claim to be called the personification of Wisdom, even though they strut about like 'apes in purple' and 'asses in lion-skins'. However hard they try to keep up the illusion, their ears stick up and betray the Midas in them...
Yet in general I think I show a good deal more discretion than the general run of gentry and scholars, whose distorted sense of modesty leads them to make a practice of bribing some sycophantic speaker or babbling poet hired for a fee so that they can listen to him praising their merits, purely fictitious though these are. The bashful listener spreads his tailfeathers like a peacock and carries his head high, while the brazen flatterer rates this worthless individual with the gods and sets him up as the perfect model of all the virtues—though the man himself knows he is nowhere near that; 'infinity doubled' would not be too far away. Thus the wretched crow is decked out in borrowed plumage, the 'Ethiopian washed white', an 'elephant created out of a gnat'.
The Ship of Fools, Hieronymus [Van Aeken] Bosch (c. 1450-1516)
If you also want to know my birthplace, forasmuch as nowadays that is looked upon as a main point of nobility, I wasn't born on wandering DeIos, nor out of the waves of the sea, nor 'in hollow caves', but on the very Islands of the Blest... Two charming nymphs fed me at their breasts, Drunkenness, daughter of Bacchus, and Ignorance, daughter of Pan. You see them both here along with the rest of my attendants followers, but if you want to know all their names, you'll have to hear them from me in Greek. This one you see with her eyebrows raised is, of course, Philautia, Self-love. The one clapping her hands with laughter in her eyes is Kolakia, Flattery. The sleepy one who looks only half-awake is Lethe, Forgetfulness, and this one leaning on her elbow with her hands folded is Misaponia, Idleness... And, as to the two gods that you see with them, the one is Komos, Intemperance, the other Ecgretos hypnos, Dead Sleep. This, then, is the household which serves me loyally in bringing the whole world under my sway, so that even great rulers have to bow to my rule.
- Original Text (Latin)
- Translation by John Wilson (1688)
- Translation by Betty Radice (1971), which comes with some excellent footnotes
More on Erasmus:
The History Guide