"Desiderius Erasmus Questions for Alfred J. Drake's English 242: World Literature 400-1600 CE, Spring 2009 at Chapman University"



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Of Interest: Biblioteca Italiana | Renaissance Backgrounds

Assigned: Desiderius Erasmus. In Praise of Folly (2490-2517).

From In Praise of Folly

1. On 2494-97, Folly describes her birth and makes a number of strong claims. What does she say about her birth and early upbringing? Moreover, how does she immediately begin to undermine the graver forms of philosophy (especially Stoicism)?

2. On 2497-2500, Folly insists that emotion lies at the base of wisdom and just about all kinds of human activity. How does she back up that assertion? Next, she says that people simply can't get by without illusions. What are some of the illusions she mentions, and why can't people live without them?

3. On 2501-04, Folly discusses the advantages of being unschooled as opposed to being a learned humanist "wiseman." What are those advantages? What error or errors underlie the thinking of those who advocate humanistic education too enthusiastically? Does this mean that Erasmus rejects learning, or should we interpret his argument otherwise? Explain.

4. On 2505-09, how does Folly distinguish between two kinds of "madness"? Why is the one harmful while the other (Folly's favorite) is beneficial? What individuals and groups does she include as participants in the beneficial kind? How does Folly handle the sensitive issue of religion in this context?

5. On 2509-13, Folly discusses the sway of selflove and flattery in human affairs -- what effects do these things have on the way people live their lives and on how they perceive themselves and others? Towards the end of this section, on what justification does Folly assert her superiority over other gods and goddesses?

6. On 2514-17, Folly returns for her conclusion to the connection she has made between madness and religion, but this time with greater concentration: how does she justify her dominion over human life in expressly Christian terms? To what extent does the conclusion undermine Folly's long praise of herself?

7. General question: Erasmus' In Praise of Folly has a modern ring in its irreverent treatment of human pretensions to reasonableness and godlike intellectual capacity. Erasmus, although he's certainly not irreligious or nihilistic, precedes C19-20 authors such as Dostoyevsky, Nietzsche, and Freud in his willingness to expose the delusory nature of people's most deeply held beliefs. How do you see the balance in modern life between reason and passion, sanity and folly, cooperation and aggression? In sum, are you optimistic or pessimistic about humanity's future?

Edition: Lawall, Sarah, ed. The Norton Anthology of World Literature. 2nd edition. Volumes 1ABC. New York: Norton, 2002. ISBN A = 0-393-97755-2, B = 0-393-97756-0, C = 0-393-97757-9.