Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Initio stultitiae

I am no longer just thinking about Erasmus, which is to say that I have just completed (or re-completed, depending how you look at it) the Moriae Encomium, sive Laus Stultitiae, the little trifle that now sounds so imposing in its combined Greek/Latin title.

I read it first in college, and have read it numerous times since, in various English translations.  It is not easy to come by, I have found, in Latin, but I did finally come across a Latin text in a used version, volume II of a larger set, with a parallel German translation, that I have been eking my way through for a few months now.

And there is a dilemma in this.  I have only more recently appreciated the extent to which a polished Latinity was important to Erasmus.  But in a work such as this, a work intended to be light, to make one laugh (and occasionally feel somewhat ashamed), a work which Erasmus himself was rather horrified to learn was becoming his best-known and best-loved piece--how does one like me, whose Latin is such that I can only plod and slog, slowly and with maximum concentration, read this praise of stupidity without feeling myself a butte of the joke?

And I think "stupidity" is a good rendering of "stultitia."  "Folly" is an English word with a great deal of dignity.  I am proud to acknowledge "follies;"  I am pretty much humiliated when shown to be stupid. 

But stupidity is very much a consequence of our limitedness.  I like to say that everyone, however learned, however expert, however polished, however erudite, is stupid about something. 

But Erasmus goes further,delighting to show the questionable advantage of our learning when stupidity makes us so much happier.  I don't of couse buy it; Erasmus obviously doesn't.  He's an ironist--but irony's bite come in the nagging suspicion that what one asserts ironically may well be to some extent true literally.   

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