Folly of the Scholars

Still working with Erasmus’ Praise of Folly….

As a scholar-in-training myself, I appreciate Folly’s mockery of the scholar:

For that they know nothing, even this is a sufficient argument, that they don’t agree among themselves and are so incomprehensible touching every particular. These, though they have not the least degree of knowledge, profess yet that they have mastered all; nay, though they neither know themselves, nor perceive a ditch or block that lies in their way, for that perhaps most of them are half blind, or their wits a wool-gathering, yet give out that they have discovered…things so thin and bodiless that I believe even Lynceus himself was not able to perceive them.

The scholar is a man who “beat[s] his brains about true knowledge, which first will cost him dear, and next render him the more troublesome and less confident, and lastly, please only a few.” Such ones are, says Folly,

ever tormenting themselves; adding, changing, putting in, blotting out, revising, reprinting, showing it to friends, and nine years in correcting, yet never fully satisfied; at so great a rate do they purchase this vain reward, to wit, praise, and that too of a very few, with so many watchings, so much sweat, so much vexation and loss of sleep, the most precious of all things. Add to this the waste of health, spoil of complexion, weakness of eyes or rather blindness, poverty, envy, abstinence from pleasure, over-hasty old age, untimely death, and the like…

Pursuing endless subtleties of knowledge, the scholars show themselves to be idiots:

And with these and a thousand the like fopperies their heads are so full stuffed and stretched that I believe Jupiter’s brain was not near so big when, being in labor with Pallas, he was beholding to the midwifery of Vulcan’s axe. And therefore you must not wonder if in their public disputes they are so bound about the head, lest otherwise perhaps their brains might leap out. Nay, I have sometimes laughed myself to see them tower in their own opinion when they speak most barbarously; and when they humh and hawh so pitifully that none but one of their own tribe can understand them, they call it heights which the vulgar can’t reach…


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