Desiderius Gerhard Erasmus – select quotes



In the kingdom of the blind the one-eyed man is king. [In regione caecorum rex est luscus.]
~ in Adagia

Luther was guilty of two crimes–he struck the Pope in his crown, and the monks in their belly.
~ in Colloquies

For what is life but a play in which everyone acts a part until the curtain comes down?
~ in The Praise of Folly

This type of man who is devoted to the study of wisdom is always most unlucky in everything, and particularly when it comes to procreating children; I imagine this is because Nature wants to ensure that the evils of wisdom shall not spread further throughout mankind.
~ in The Praise of Folly

A nail is driven out by another nail, habit is overcome by habit. [Clavus clavo pellitur, consuetudo consuetudine vincitur.]
~ in Diluculum

It is the worst of madness to learn what has to be unlearnt. [Extremae est dementiae discere dediscenda.]
~ in De ratione studii

Do not be guilty of possessing a library of learned books while lacking learning yourself.
~ in a letter to Christian Northoff

Indeed, a constant element of enjoyment must be mingled with our studies, so that we think of learning as a game rather than a form of drudgery.
~ in a letter to Christian Northoff

I have no patience with those who say that sexual excitement is shameful and that venereal stimuli have their origin not in nature, but in sin. Nothing is so far from the truth. As if marriage, whose function cannot be fulfilled without these incitements, did not rise above blame. In other living creatures, where do these incitements come from? From nature or from sin? From nature, of course. It must borne in mind that in the apetites of the body there is very little difference between man and other living creatures. Finally, we defile by our imagination what of its own nature is fair and holy. If we were willing to evaluate things not according to the opinion of the crowd, but according to nature itself, how is it less repulsive to eat, chew, digest, evacuate, and sleep after the fashion of dumb animals, than to enjoy lawful and permitted carnal relations?
~ in De Conscribendis Epistolas

When I get a little money, I buy books; and if any is left, I buy food and clothes. My luggage is my library. My home is where my books are.

The desire to write grows with writing.

Fortune favors the audacious.

A good portion of speaking will consist in knowing how to lie.

Apothegms are, in history, the same as the pearls in the sand, or the gold in the mine.

As a looking-glass, if it is a true one, faithfully represents the face of him that looks in it, so a wife ought to fashion herself to the affection of her husband, not to be cheerful when he is sad, nor sad when he is cheerful.

By a Carpenter mankind was made, and only by that Carpenter can mankind be remade.

By burning Luther’s books you may rid your bookshelves of him, but you will not rid men’s minds of him.

Charity resembleth fire, which inflameth all things it toucheth.

Concealed talent brings no reputation.

Don’t give your advice before you are called upon.

Every definition is dangerous.

Give light, and the darkness will disappear of itself.

Great abundance of riches cannot be gathered and kept by any man without sin.

Great eagerness in the pursuit of wealth, pleasure, or honor, cannot exist without sin.

He who allows oppression shares the crime.

Heaven grant that the burden you carry may have as easy an exit as it had an entrance.
~ Prayer for a pregnant woman]

I am a lover of liberty. I cannot and will not serve parties.

I consider as lovers of books not those who keep their books hidden in their store-chests and never handle them, but those who, by nightly as well as daily use thumb them, batter them, wear them out, who fill out all the margins with annotations of many kinds, and who prefer the marks of a fault they have erased to a neat copy full of faults.

I doubt if a single individual could be found from the whole of mankind free from some form of insanity. The only difference is one of degree. A man who sees a gourd and takes it for his wife is called insane because this happens to very few people.

I have no patience with the stupidity of the average teacher of grammar who wastes precious years in hammering rules into children’s heads. For it is not by learning rules that we acquire the powers of speaking a language, but by daily intercourse with those accustomed to express themselves with exactness and refinement and by copious reading of the best authors.

It is an unscrupulous intellect that does not pay to antiquity its due reverence.

It is the chiefest point of happiness that a man is willing to be what he is.

It is the friendship of books that has made me perfectly happy.

It’s the generally accepted privilege of theologians to stretch the heavens, that is the Scriptures, like tanners with a hide.

Man is to man either a god or a wolf.

Man’s mind is so formed that it is far more susceptible to falsehood than to truth.

Nature, more of a stepmother than a mother in several ways, has sown a seed of evil in the hearts of mortals, especially in the more thoughtful men, which makes them dissatisfied with their own lot and envious of anothers.

Nothing is as peevish and pedantic as men’s judgments of one another.

Now I believe I can hear the philosophers protesting that it can only be misery to live in folly, illusion, deception and ignorance, but it isn’t -it’s human.

Nowadays the rage for possession has got to such a pitch that there is nothing in the realm of nature, whether sacred or profane, out of which profit cannot be squeezed.

Of two evils choose the least. [E duobus malis minimum eligendum.]

Prevention is better than cure.

Reflection is a flower of the mind, giving out wholesome fragrance; but revelry is the same flower, when rank and running to seed.

The entire world is my temple, and a very fine one too, if I’m not mistaken, and I’ll never lack priests to serve it as long as there are men.

The more ignorant, reckless and thoughtless a doctor is, the higher his reputation soars even amongst powerful princes.

The most disadvantageous peace is better than the most just war.

The nearer people approach old age the closer they return to a semblance of childhood, until the time comes for them to depart this life, again like children, neither tired of living nor aware of death.

There are some people who live in a dream world, and there are some who face reality; and then there are those who turn one into the other.

There is nothing I congratulate myself on more heartily than on never having joined a sect.

Time takes away the grief of men.

To know nothing is the happiest life.

What is popularly called fame is nothing but an empty name and a legacy from paganism.

Whether a party can have much success without a woman present I must ask others to decide, but one thing is certain, no party is any fun unless seasoned with folly.

Your library is your paradise.


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