Collected Works of Erasmus: Volume 6, The Correspondence of Erasmus, Letters 842 to 992, 1518 to 1519


448 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-5500-1




Translated by R.A.B. Mynors and D.F.S. Thomson
Reviewed by Richard C. Smith

Richard C. Smith is a professor in the Classics Department of the
University of Alberta.


This volume of the collected works of the sixteenth century scholar Erasmus includes 152 of the translated letters sent by and to him during the period 1518 to 1519 and an excellent historical preface by the annotator, Peter Bietenholz, who is professor of history at the University of Saskatchewan as well as a member of the Editorial Board and the Executive Committee which have the responsibility for the publication of all of Erasmus’s works in translation. The translation was the joint effort of Professor R.A.B. Mynors of Oxford University, a member of the Editorial Board of the project, and Professor D.F.S. Thomson of the University of Toronto, whose efforts were, unfortunately, not acknowledged by Professor Bietenholz in the preface. A map of the places referred to in the letters adds greatly to the usefulness of this handsome publication. An excellent set of illustrations of people, places, and manuscripts of the time is also provided.

Though this is only the sixth volume of a total of 22 that will be devoted to Erasmus’s correspondence, it includes letters of great interest not only because of their vivid depiction of conditions of the time but also since it was just before this period (October 31, 1517) that Luther’s Ninety-five Theses appeared. We thus have in these letters the initial reaction to the beginning of the Reformation in the actual words of Luther, Erasmus, and others; the volume includes letters from and to many of the other outstanding men of the period such as the Elector Frederick of Saxony (Luther’s major princely supporter) and Henry VIII of England (who, to Erasmus’s disappointment, did not support Erasmus’s hopes of emigrating to England).

From the viewpoint of the history of religion, the most important letters are those to, from, and relating to Martin Luther and the letters defending Erasmus’s revised New Testament in Greek, which also appeared during this time. One of the most interesting in personal terms, however, is letter 867 to Beatus Rhenanus in 1518, describing the terrible conditions suffered by travelers of the time and the abysmal state of medical knowledge during the period. (Erasmus was so disgusted by the repeated false diagnoses of bubonic plague that he gave up seeing physicians altogether for a time and promptly recovered on a diet of “minced chicken and a bottle of Beaune.”)

As a source for this important period of world history, this book is invaluable, but it is equally useful as an insight into the mind of one of the world’s great scholars during one of most outstanding periods of his cancer.


Erasmus, Desiderius, “Collected Works of Erasmus: Volume 6, The Correspondence of Erasmus, Letters 842 to 992, 1518 to 1519,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 20, 2024,