‘In Praise of Folly': Advice for 2014 or Any Year

Early 17th-century illustration for Erasmus' 'In Praise of Folly'


Early 17th-century illustration for Erasmus’ ‘In Praise of Folly’

Excerpt from Erasmus’ ‘In Praise of Folly’ (translated by John Wilson)

Spoken by Folly in her own Person

Do but observe our grim philosophers that are perpetually beating their brains on knotty subjects, and for the most part you’ll find them grown old before they are scarcely young. And whence is it, but that their continual and restless thoughts insensibly prey upon their spirits and dry up their radical moisture? Whereas, on the contrary, my fat fools are as plump and round as a Westphalian hog, and never sensible of old age, unless perhaps, as sometimes it rarely happens, they come to be infected with wisdom; so hard a thing it is for a man to be happy in all things. And to this purpose is that no small testimony of the proverb, that says, “Folly is the only thing that keeps youth at a stay and old age afar off;” as it is verified in the Brabanters, of whom there goes this common saying, “That age, which is wont to render other men wiser, makes them the greater fools.” And yet there is scarce any nation of a more jocund converse, or that is less sensible of the misery of old age, than they are. […]

Let the foolish world then be packing and seek out Medeas, Circes, Venuses, Auroras, and I know not what other fountains of restoring youth. I am sure I am the only person that both can, and have, made it good. ‘Tis I alone that have that wonderful juice with which Memnon’s daughter prolonged the youth of her grandfather Tithon. I am that Venus by whose favor Phaon became so young again that Sappho fell in love with him. Mine are those herbs, if yet there be any such, mine those charms, and mine that fountain that not only restores departed youth but, which is more desirable, preserves it perpetual. And if you all subscribe to this opinion, that nothing is better than youth or more execrable than age, I conceive you cannot but see how much you are indebted to me, that have retained so great a good and shut out so great an evil.

Big thanks to Gerard Bellaart, who sent the illustration.

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