- Adages IV iii 1 to V ii 51
Erasmus began publishing adages in 1500 in a volume of 818 proverbs with comments of a few lines each; published in Paris, it was titled Adagia Collectanea. In 1508, he published a greatly expanded edition of 3,260 proverbs, many more drawn from Greek authors, with much longer comments. This volume was titled Adagiorum Chiliades and was published by the Aldine Press in Venice. There were eight subsequent editions of the Adagiorum Chiliades, the last of which was published just before Erasmus's death in 1536, and contained 4,251 adages. In each new edition, previous adages were often augmented and new ones added. With the publication of volume 36 of the Collected Works of Erasmus (CWE), we now have available in a critically edited, English translation, all the adages in their augmented form.
Around 600 of the adages included in the present volume are new: that is, they do not appear in any form in editions of the adages prior to 1533. The earlier sections feature more Greek authors, while the later sections draw more from those who wrote in Latin. The volume is organized chiefly by author rather than by subject. A number of adages drawn from Plato and Aristotle, or, from among the Latin authors, Cicero and Plautus, are grouped together, indicating Erasmus's method of reading and compiling these additions. Only one is more than a paragraph long, and relatively few mention scripture or patristic writers. There is little evidence in these additions that Erasmus, old and increasingly sick, is ensconced between contending religious parties in Basel.
But one thing these new adages reveal: if Erasmus the reformer and polemicist was worn out, the educator continued to function. The adages were important in keeping classical learning alive among those who could read Latin. Erasmus felt that such learning was increasingly embattled in his later years. The only one of his [End Page 1247] longer essays included in this volume, "Not even an ox would be lost" (IV.v.1, 128-40), was written in 1526 and reflects Erasmus's more introspective mood as he grew older. The idea behind the adage is that no ox would die if a good neighbor were present. Kings are not good neighbors when they seek to enlarge their lands rather than taking care of what they have (the basic argument for Erasmus's "pacifism"). Additionally, those who enter colleges or monasteries housing vicious or superstitious souls are bound to encounter bad neighbors. He expresses regret that he himself did so, and is grateful for having secured Archbishop Warham in England as a friend, wishing only that he had done so sooner. Erasmus was concerned that the classics were being forgotten in favor of more recent writers (Averroes is mentioned). Critics of classical learning considered Hebrew and Greek dangerous because Luther knew them, and whenever young men, known to have read Virgil or Lucian, spoke in lascivious ways, classical literature was impugned. Erasmus fashioned a rhetorical rejoinder: if the idea is to do away with everything that can lend itself to infamous conduct, why not do away with enforced celibacy? Rulers should nurture the study of classical languages and literatures, and those who study theology, philosophy, medicine, and jurisprudence should be nurtured by them. The volume before us, however, does not end on such a forceful note but concludes abruptly. In at least one sense this is appropriate: for Erasmus the adages were always a work in progress.
This volume, like those before it, is put together with exquisite attention to detail, both in the translation and the notes. All that is missing to complete the project is CWE 30, an introduction to the adages and their development, including an index to the six volumes now translated. But readers can enjoy the adages themselves in all their fullness, much labor having been conveniently...