Desiderius Erasmus (c.1467-1536) was a great Dutch humanist, philosopher, and scholar. He was born in Rotterdam. Under the pressure of his guardians, he became an Augustinian monk, but thanks to the protection of the bishop of Cambrai was allowed to leave the cloister and travel extensively in Europe. He came more than once to England, where he was welcomed by the great scholars of the day, Thomas More, John Colet, and William Grocyn, and was induced by St John Fisher to lecture at Cambridge on Greek from 1511 to 1514. He was a friend and patron of Hans Holbein, whom he introduced to More, and by whom he was painted several times.
His first published work was the Adagia in 1500. This collection of Greek and Latin proverbs from the classics proved quite popular and was revised and added to many times by the author. Then he wrote Encomium Moriae (The Praise of Folly in 1511, a satire written at the suggestion of More, principally directed against theologians and church dignitaries). In 1512 he published De Utraque Verborum ac Rerum Copia (Copia: Foundations of the Abundant Style). It is a rhetoric textbook and here he instructed on how to embellish, amplify and give variety to speech and writing. Erasmus was also the first to publish the New Testament in Greek (1519). He never, however, wrote anything in the vernacular- all of his publications were in Greek or Latin. His other famous works include Enchiridion Militis Christiani (1503, a manual of simple piety according to the teaching of Jesus Christ, which was translated perhaps by William Tyndale into English, and also into other languages); Institutio Christiani Principis (Education of a Christian Prince); the vivid and entertaining Colloquia and letters furnishing autobiographical details and pictures of contemporary life, which were drawn upon by Charles Reade in The Cloister and the Hearth and by Walter Scott in Anne of Geierstein.
His many editions and translations of the Bible, early Christian authors, and the classics revolutionized European literary culture. Erasmus prepared the way for the Reformation, and at first sympathized with the movement. However, he refused to intervene either for or against Martin Luther at the time of the Diet of Worms, although invoked by both sides. He urged moderation, distanced himself from Luther’s violence and extreme conclusions, and at a later stage (1524, in his tract on Free Will’) entered into controversy with him. The standard edition of the letters of Erasmus (11 vols, 1906-47) was edited by P. S. and H. M. Allen.
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