Here’s another one of those classics which is rife with entire paragraphs in Greek and Latin. This one is enjoyable because it is a mediaeval satire, aimed at anything and everything. Nothing is sacrosanct to Desiderius Erasmus, a fifteenth century Dutchman who takes potshots at everything in sight. His stroke of genius lies in the fact that every critique is uttered by Folly, and thus obviously meant to show the layman what not to do. How many were fooled by this, it is hard to tell, but at any rate Erasmus didn’t suffer any major ecclesiastical punishments.
Folly is alive and targets many things with her mordant tongue: scholars, doctors, lawyers, theologians. Isn’t it folly for one to be wise, for then one is assailed by the worries of the world. Many a sage has spent a sleepless night worrying about matters he can influence not one whit, while the sot in the tavern down the street is blissfully unaware of anything in his torpor. And what about languages, look at the wise fool who wastes his precious time learning Latin and Greek, when simple Dutch would suffice. How about the Christian mania for rushing into labours and taking on guilt for the sake of obeying some dictum, while the irreligious person, full of folly, feels no such compunction. Erasmus drives the point home with example after example and you can do little but chuckle at his nerve.
As an aside, this book would have been half its length if not for the footnotes. Erasmus, fully aware of irony, was actually a classical scholar the likes of which are not seen today, and almost all his allusions have to be explained by copious footnotes. Referencing minor characters in the Aeneid, or obscure events in the Iliad, he cloaks himself in knowledge against the inevitable backlash he knew would follow. Knowing that it is harder to deride someone who is more knowledgeable than you and pre-empting that line of attack may just have been the smartest thing Erasmus ever did.