Erasmus' educational and literary works

An overriding aim common to all of Erasmus’ colossal published output was to promote education. His bold assertion that ‘to be a school master is an office second in importance to a King’, was in part motivated by his firm belief that everyone should have a sufficient grasp of Latin to be able to understand the sacred scriptures. It also reflects a view that was widely shared by humanists, of education as a source of hope for a saner, more harmonious world.

Such concerns are reflected in a whole series of publications produced towards the beginning of Erasmus’ career that, taken together, amount to a programme for education. Indeed, educational treatises represent a key component of Erasmus’ output that received wide use in English grammar schools of the 16th century. A key

objective for Erasmus was to promote eloquence in Latin together with a literary style informed by real examples from ancient literature which, he believed, constituted the ultimate source of good style.

As one might expect, Erasmus’ literary work was littered with classical allusions, and couched in a style designed to recall ancient models. Erasmus could also be controversial as a critic of, for example, scholars, princes, and, in particular, the Church. Indeed, his personal motto ‘Cedo nulli’ (I yield to no one) was utterly appropriate. His most famous satire, Moriae Encomium (In praise of folly) spares no one: from princes to schoolmasters, from lawyers to monks, from philosophers and theologians to poets and grammarians like Erasmus himself.

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