Collected Works of Erasmus: Vol. 31, Adages Ii1 to Iv100


493 pages
Contains Bibliography
ISBN 0-8020-2373-8




Translated by Margaret Mann Phillips
Reviewed by Richard C. Smith

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


This translation by Margaret Mann Phillips, Honorary Lecturer at University College, London, of the first five hundred adages of the sixteenth century scholar, Erasmus, is part of an outstanding series designed to make the principal writings of Erasmus available in English. An understanding of the size of this project may be obtained by noting that it will require seven more volumes plus an introductory volume to complete publication of the Adages alone, much less the rest of Erasmus’s voluminous correspondence and extensive scholarly works. Further, the works are not only translated but include the notes of modern scholars; in this case, the annotator is R.A.B. Mynors of Oxford, who is also a member of the Editorial Board for the total project.

Besides the proverbial sayings themselves (given in both Latin and English, and very often in Greek) and Erasmus’s comments regarding their meaning, Erasmus wrote a short but very interesting introduction to the total Adagia (or Adages) on the nature of proverbs. In this introduction he makes clear why he spent so much time on proverbs since they formed such an essential part of not only Western literature and oratory of his day but also formed a major link between classical culture and Christian theology. For a Christian scholar such as Erasmus, linking Christianity and classical culture was, of course, one of the most important tasks of scholarship. Through the Adagia, therefore, he hoped to bring to his readers the best moral thought of the past in the context of Christian interpretation. The result was a work which grew from 818 adages in 1500 to a total of 4,151 in the final edition of 1536 (the first part of which is the text for this book).

Though most modern scholars no longer spend much time relating Euripides and Isaiah or Moses and Homer, this work furnishes an interesting treasury from the period when such insights might be directed toward the governments of the day to evaluate their actions (as in the comments on Iiii1 “One ought to be born a king or a fool”) as well as proving useful to the individual student of literature or budding orator. One can also find information on such varied topics as the precepts of Pythagoras and the battle arrangements of the Roman army as well as the old Roman adage, “Bad women marry in May.”

Though perhaps too expensive for the average reader, this handsome volume should certainly be on the shelves of all major libraries.


Erasmus, Desiderius, “Collected Works of Erasmus: Vol. 31, Adages Ii1 to Iv100,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 20, 2024,