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  • 361
  • Date :
  • 10/25/2003

Desiderius Erasmus

Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus (alsoDesiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam)
 (October 27, probably1466 -July 12,1536) was aDutchhumanist andtheologian.

He was born Geert Geertsen inRotterdam, theNetherlands. He (mistakenly) believed that the rootGeert derived frombegeren (to desire) and translated this into bothLatin andGreek. Information as to his family and early life comes mainly from vague references in his writings. He was well cared for by his parents till their early death, and then given the best education open to a young man of his day in a series of monastic or semi-monastic schools. He was admitted to thepriesthood and tookmonastic vows at about the age of twenty-five, but he never seems to have worked as a priest, and monasticism was one of the chief objects of his attack in his lifelong assault upon the evils of the Church.

He went on to study at the University ofParis, then the chief seat of scholastic learning, but already under the influence of the revived classical culture ofItaly. Erasmus chose to lead the life of an independent scholar, independent of country, of academic ties, of religious allegiance and anything else that might interfere with his freedom of intellect and literary expression. The chief centres of his activity were Paris,Louvain, England, and Basel; yet he never belonged firmly in any one of these. His time in England was fruitful in the making of lifelong friendships with the leaders of English thought in the stirring days of KingHenry VIII:John Colet,Thomas More,Thomas Linacre, andWilliam Grocyn. At theUniversity of Cambridge, he was Lady Margaret professor of divinity, and had the option of spending the rest of his life as an English professor. He stayed atQueens' College, Cambridge and may have been an alumnus.

He was offered many positions of honour and profit throughout the academic world, but declined them all, preferring the uncertain, but as it proved sufficient rewards of independent literary activity. From1506 to1509 he was in Italy. He spent part of the time at the publishing house ofAldus Manutius at Venice, but apart from this he had less active association with Italian scholars than might have been expected.

His residence at Louvain exposed Erasmus to much petty criticism, from those hostile to the principles of literary and religious progress to which he was devoting his life. He represented this lack of sympathy as persecution, and sought refuge inBasel, where under the shelter of Swiss hospitality he could express himself freely and where he was surrounded by devoted friends. Here he was associated for many years with the great publisher Froben, and to him came the multitude of his admirers from all quarters of Europe.

He published a critical edition of the GreekNew Testament in1516 - Novum Instrumentum omne, diligenter ab Erasmo Rot. Recognitum et Emendatum. The edition included a Latin translation and annotations. He dedicated it toPope Leo X. The work used recently rediscovered additional manuscripts. In the second edition the more familiar termTestamentum was used instead of Instrumentum. This edition was used by the translators of theKing James Version of the Bible. The text later became known as thetextus receptus. Erasmus did three other editions - 1522, 1527 and 1535.
HisPraise of Folly was dedicated to his friendSir Thomas More.
In 1536 he wroteDe puritate ecclesiae christianae in which he tried to reconcile the different parties.
The great portraitistHans Holbein the Younger made a profile half-length portrait in 1523, andAlbrecht Duerer made an engraving of Erasmus in 1526. Erasmus died inBasel,Switzerland.

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