The Adages of Erasmus


405 pages
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-7740-4
DDC 878'.0402




Edited by Selected by William Barker
Reviewed by Daniel M. Kolos

Daniel M. Kolos is president of Benben Books, a company publishing
scholarly works.


The Adages of Erasmus was a bestseller in 1500 when it first appeared as
a modest, 152-page book. Erasmus spent the next 36 years revising and
expanding his initial offering until it numbered 4161 proverbs. He
plumbed the entire extant repertoire of classical literature as well as
all the countries he had visited in his lifetime, including England,
France, Germany, and Italy. Like Webster’s Dictionary, The Adages
continued to be edited and revised even after Erasmus’ death.

Recommended for “specialists or amateurs of the history of
language,” The Adages is not intended to be read from cover to cover
at one sitting. Reading the book is a journey of discovery. Proverbs
many of us would have dismissed as clichés come across with precise
provenance and sometimes ample and fascinating explanation in Erasmus’
own witty prose.

Erasmus eventually categorized his initially unnumbered adages:
Liberalitas, Tenacitas, Profusio, Rapaciatas, etc. His own introduction
offers useful hints, such as the many functions of proverbs (e.g., as a
means of persuasion, decorative value, or as an aid to understanding
literature). Barker’s introduction includes a fascinating history of
Erasmus’ struggle to write, enlarge, and publish his various editions.


Erasmus, Desiderius., “The Adages of Erasmus,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 20, 2024,