Friday, 16 November 2007

In Praise of Folly

W hen the From Hell movie became a reality I treated myself to a couple of rare books. One is a facsimile of the Encomium Moriae (In Praise of Folly) of Erasmus of Rotterdam, a limited edition of 750 copies made in 1931 (mine is 546). It is of course a reproduction of the copy of the 1515 edition preserved in Basel in which the 18 year old Hans Holbein, later royal portrait painter to Henry VIII, was put to work by his scool master in filling the margins with tiny facetious drawings. The original text is a great work of humour, though I wouldn't recommend it to dim folks who imagine that humour must make the effort to come to them rather than the other way around, and can be found in translation (from the Latin) around the net. This one is perhaps a little too American in its phraseology, "I don't think much of those wiseacres..." but there are others.

It starts off with a satirical learned encomium after the manner of the Greek satirist Lucian, whose work Erasmus and Sir Thomas More had recently translated into Latin, a piece of virtuoso foolery; it then takes a darker tone in a series of orations, as Folly praises self-deception and madness and moves to a satirical examination of pious but superstitious abuses of Catholic doctrine and corrupt practices in parts of the Roman Catholic Church--to which Erasmus was ever faithful--and the folly of pedants (including Erasmus himself)...(wikipedia)
In Victorian times there was an edition of the book for which woodcuts were made after the Holbein marginals, but these have always looked ugly to my eyes. here are a couple of scans from the facsimile:
Folly mounts the pulpit.

In my favourite illustration from the book, his guy has been distracted by a pretty lady and steps in an old woman vendor's basket of bread loaves:

(note. step carefully. Wikipedia wrongly attributes the marginal illustrations to Holbein the Elder instead of the Younger)

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Blogger spacedlaw said...

Lucian is great fun.
And so is Erasmus (although my teachers in high school went out of their way to make it seem boring, the nincompoops).

17 November 2007 at 03:30:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Nick Mullins said...

"I teated myself to a couple of rare books"

I realize this is a typo, but I want to start using this verb. And I like the image of curling up to an old book and suckling from it.

-Nick Mullins

17 November 2007 at 20:18:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

thanks for pointing it out. it's fixed. continue teating yourself nevertheless. As will I.

17 November 2007 at 20:49:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Jack Ruttan said...

But congrats for keeping your Holbeins straight!

18 November 2007 at 12:38:00 GMT-5  

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