How contemporary this sounds, and yet it is a five-hundred year old classic. Erasmus reaching down the centuries by speaking lightly in the voice of a woman and, what is more, a woman self-styled as the goddess of folly. He manages to imbue her with such witty wisdom that she throws off all sombre arguments against her existence and its beneficence for humankind.

Here she homes in the value of ‘self-love’ to free us of complexes about attributes over which we have little control. It is almost a manifesto for simply being yourself.

‘The chief element of happiness is this: to want to be what you are.  And the short cut that my dear Self-love offers to achievement of this is that no one should be defensive about their appearance, their personality, their ancestry, their home, their upbringing, their nationality.’

This slim and timeless work deserves a wider audience, still resonating humanely and humorously with the human condition and casting a laughing light on pointless pretension and general all round daftness.


Source: Desiderius Erasmus (1469-1536), Praise of Folly, trans. Roger Clarke (Richmond: Oneworld Classics, 2008 (1511)), p. 28

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