5 Lessons From Erasmus' "Praise Of Folly"

In Praise of Folly by Erasmus

Desiderius Erasmus wrote In Praise of Folly in 1509 as a Christian satire that pokes fun at everyone, especially ridiculing those who take life too seriously.

In the book, Erasmus presents Folly (idiocy or foolishness) as a god who dishes out admonitions, criticisms, and other observations of humans. Most of the lessons in the book are timeless and would benefit most of us today. Here are a few I've found:

Folly claims she loves children because they take nothing seriously, hence, the weight of this world does not stick to them. She observes that most people want to play with children because their joy is infectious.

Folly dismisses philosophers and priests with stern faces and other superficial layers which cover up who they really are. According to Folly, all these trappings contribute to personal suffering and, in the long run, take humans far away from joy.

Folly says she is essential to long-last friendships because she is the reason some people are able to overlook occasional slights. She explains that fools, by nature, find it difficult to hold on to grudges because it interferes with their happiness.

Folly says wisdom is a buzzkill at parties because no one can really have fun without allowing themselves to be silly and forgetful. Also, women are more fools than men, which is why festivities are much fun with them around. Folly believes the ability to let go and enjoy the moment is what makes women possess more common sense than men and hence, better off in terms of quality of life.

Folly believes that at the centre of many words is a lack of confidence. She thinks people's desire to find the 'truth' in everything points to some sort of anxiety about life and a lack of direction. Folly declares that fools do not take on such burdens as they love themselves fully.

In Praise of Folly sold lots of copies and was translated into many languages. Its popularity astounded Erasmus so much that he partly regretted its publication. Pope Leo X found the book amusing, but his successor was not happy with it and thus banned the book for many years.

In Praise of Folly is one of the few books from the 1500s that still enjoys modest popularity today. It is a work in a long tradition of religious satire that seeks to entertain, chastise, and educate - a rarity, by today's standards.


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