The Rare 1524 Paris “Praise of Folly”

Erasmus, Desiderius (ca. 1466-1536)

Moriae encomium D. Erasmi Roterodami cu[m] Gerardi Listrii trium linguarum periti commentariis. Praemittuntur Ludus L. Annei Senec[ae], de morte Claudii, cu[m] scholiis Beati Rhenani. Synesius Cyrenen[sis] de Laudibus caluitii. Adduntur Martini Dorpii theologi ad Erasmum epistola et Erasmi ad eandem responsio apologetica.

Paris: Jodocus Badius Ascensius, 1524


Quarto: 19.8 x 14.5 cm. CXX leaves. Collation: a-p8


Bound in contemporary limp vellum, lightly soiled. The contents are in very good condition with a few pencil annotations, light soiling to the title page, and occasional light dampstains. With Badius' device of his print shop, the “Praelum Ascensianum” showing printers working a press, on the title page. With large, attractive crible initials, and smaller, charming historiated initials. Passages in Greek. A fine, unsophisticated copy of this rare edition. From the personal library of Bob and Emily De Graaf.

The rare 1524 Parisian “Praise of Folly”, printed by Erasmus’ friend, the scholar-printer Badius Ascensius, who printed the fourth edition in 1512. This edition differs markedly from the 1512 edition and contains all of the supplementary texts found in the Froben editions, including the dedicatory letter to Thomas More, whose name Erasmus plays upon cleverly in the title of the work; and the letter to Martin Dorp in which Erasmus explains his motives for writing the “Moria”: “My aim in the ‘Folly’ was exactly the same as in my other works. Only the presentation was different.

“The ‘Praise of Folly’ is Erasmus’ most famous and controversial work… In Erasmus’ lifetime, the ‘Moria’ was condemned in 1527 by the theologians of Paris for its attacks on faith and morality and again in 1533 by the Franciscans, who found it full of heresies. The officials of the Sorbonne put it on the list of condemned books in 1542 and 1543, a list that was the basis of the Tridentine Index of 1564…

“The ‘Moria’ may start as a learned joke to amuse a fellow humanist [Thomas More] but it moves into sharp criticism of contemporary mores, and ends with a plea for a return to the Christianity of the Gospels… Erasmus writes in a Lucianic spirit of irreverent burlesque of the gods of classical mythology and light-hearted amusement at the irrationality of mankind. Folly argues that she is all that is natural, youthful, fecund, and happy, and that life would be intolerable if it were not ruled by civilized conventions, which necessitate a degree of humbug and illusion. By contrast, the Stoic ideal rational man is a ‘kind of marble statue of a man, devoid of sense and any sort of human feeling.’ She [then] shifts her viewpoint and lists the people who enjoy her benefits in so far as they try to preserve their illusions or are happy in their ignorance, self-deception, or self-love. She even adds superstitious piety to alchemy, gambling, and the nobility’s obsession with hunting and extravagant building…

“[Next] Erasmus starts to deliver a sharp and often bitter attack on all the victims of blind folly, those who are deaf to the voice of true religion and lacking the gentler Christian virtues, among whom are sycophants, self-seekers, money-makers, pedants, scholastics, lawyers, theologians, superstitious worshippers of images and relics, courtiers and kings, worldly monks, and irreligious pontiffs. This section culminates in a savage thrust at Pope Julius II, the bellicose pope. The keen wit and ingenuity of the satire can be highly entertaining, but there is no note of gaiety now. As Erasmus surveys the gulf between the Church and the ‘true philosophy of Christ’ he moves into the final section, where the alternative offered to barren scholasticism is the vision of reality taken from Plato, and folly in the sense used by Saint Paul, that of receptivity to the Christian message by the ‘fool in Christ.’ All irony is dropped, until the final short epilogue when Folly light-heartedly cuts short her ‘hotch-potch of words’; this is a direct and simply worded account of Erasmus’ personal belief, moving into an exposition of the Neoplatonist concept that the soul’s ascent to beatitude ends in ecstasy, a form of folly which is its supreme fulfillment.”(Betty Radice, CWE Vol. 27, pp. 78 ff.)

Vander Haeghen I, 123; Kossmann 979; Bibl. Belgica E 866; (Not in Bezzel, De Reuck, or BM STC French); Renouard, Badius II, 424; Adams E 397. Inventaire chronologique des editions Parisiennes du XVIe siecle III, no. 669; Renouard, Imprimeurs Parisiens du XVIe siècle II, no. 539