In Praise of Folly

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from The Praise of Folly)
Jump to navigation Jump to search
In Praise of Folly
L'Eloge de la Folie - composé en forme déclamation (1728) (14782268725).jpg
Cover of a 1728 French edition, L'Éloge de la Folie
AuthorDesiderius Erasmus
Original titleMoriae encomium
TranslatorThomas Chaloner
White Kennett
James Copner
John Wilson
Harry Carter
Betty Radice
Genreessay, theology
PublisherGilles de Gourmont
Publication date
1511, revised many times up to 1532
Published in English
Media typePrint: hardback
LC ClassPA8514 .E5
Preceded byHandbook of a Christian Knight 
Followed byCopia: Foundations of the Abundant Style 
Original text
Moriae encomium at Latin Wikisource
TranslationIn Praise of Folly at Wikisource
Erasmus in 1523, by Hans Holbein

In Praise of Folly, also translated as The Praise of Folly (Latin: Stultitiae Laus or Moriae Encomium), is an essay written in Latin in 1509 by Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam and first printed in June 1511. Inspired by previous works of the Italian humanist Faustino Perisauli [it] De Triumpho Stultitiae, it is a satirical attack on superstitions, other traditions of European society and on the Latin Church.[1]

Erasmus revised and extended his work, which was originally written in the space of a week while sojourning with Sir Thomas More at More's house in Bucklersbury in the City of London.[2] The title Moriae Encomium had a punning second meaning as In Praise of More. In Praise of Folly is considered one of the most notable works of the Renaissance and played an important role in the beginnings of the Protestant Reformation.[3]


In Praise of Folly begins with a satirical learned encomium, in which Folly praises herself, in the manner of the Greek satirist Lucian (2nd century AD), whose work Erasmus and Sir Thomas More had recently translated into Latin; it then takes a darker tone in a series of orations, as Folly praises self-deception and madness and moves to a satirical examination of pious but superstitious abuses of Catholic doctrine and corrupt practices in parts of the Roman Catholic Church—to which Erasmus was ever faithful—and the folly of pedants. Erasmus had recently returned disappointed from Rome, where he had turned down offers of advancement in the curia, and Folly increasingly takes on Erasmus' own chastising voice. The essay ends with a straightforward statement of Christian ideal: "No Man is wise at all Times, or is without his blind Side."

Hans Holbein's witty marginal drawing of Folly (1515), in the first edition, a copy owned by Erasmus himself (Kupferstichkabinett, Basel)

Erasmus was a good friend of More, with whom he shared a taste for dry humor and other intellectual pursuits. The title Moriae Encomium could also be read as meaning "In praise of More". The double or triple meanings go on throughout the text.

The essay is filled with classical allusions delivered in a style typical of the learned humanists of the Renaissance. Folly parades as a goddess, offspring of Plutus, the god of wealth and a nymph, Youth. She was nursed by two other nymphs, Inebriation and Ignorance. Her faithful companions include Philautia (self-love), Kolakia (flattery), Lethe (forgetfulness), Misoponia (laziness), Hedone (pleasure), Anoia (dementia), Tryphe (wantonness), and two gods, Komos (intemperance) and Nigretos Hypnos (heavy sleep). Folly praises herself endlessly, arguing that life would be dull and distasteful without her. Of earthly existence, Folly pompously states, "you'll find nothing frolic or fortunate that it owes not to me."


Moriae Encomium was hugely popular, to Erasmus' astonishment and sometimes his dismay. Even Erasmus' close friends had been initially skeptical and warned him of possible dangers to himself from thus attacking the established religion. Even Pope Leo X and Cardinal Cisneros are said to have found it amusing.[4] Before Erasmus' death it had already passed into numerous editions and had been translated into Czech, French, and German. An English edition soon followed. It influenced the teaching of rhetoric during the later sixteenth century, and the art of adoxography or praise of worthless subjects became a popular exercise in Elizabethan grammar schools.[5] A copy of the Basel edition of 1515/16 was illustrated with pen and ink drawings by Hans Holbein the Younger.[6] These are the most famous illustrations of In Praise of Folly.

Its role in the beginnings of the Protestant Reformation[3] stems from its criticism of the practices of the Church and its political allies.[7]


  1. ^ Zweig, Stefan (1934). Erasmus And The Right To Heresy. pp. 51–52. Retrieved November 22, 2020.
  2. ^ Bucklersbury was "A short street leading from the junction of Cheapside and Poultry to Walbrook. It barely exists today." source with map.
  3. ^ a b Janin, Hunt (2008). The University in Medieval Life, 1179–1499. McFarland. p. 160. ISBN 9780786452019. "Although Erasmus himself would have denied it vehemently, later reformers found that In Praise of Folly had helped prepare the way for the Protestant Reformation."
  4. ^ Collett, Stephen (1823). Relics of literature. Ludgate Hill, London: Thomas Boys.
  5. ^ McDonald, Charles O. (1966). The Rhetoric of Tragedy: form in Stuart drama. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.
  6. ^ Wolf, Norbert (2004). Hans Holbein the Younger, 1497/98–1543: the German Raphael. Cologne: Taschen. p. 11. ISBN 3822831670.
  7. ^ Von Dehsen, Christian D.; Scott L. Harris, eds. (1999). Philosophers and Religious Leaders; Volume 2 of Lives and legacies. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 62. ISBN 9781573561525.

External links[edit]