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Erasmus (1466-1536) of Rotterdam, Netherlands, is called “The Prince of the Humanists.” His most famous quote is, “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”


Erasmus, by Holbein, the Prince of Humanist Philosophers

Quotes from Erasmus – Sources, Net, Goodreads, Wikiquote

Lines preceded with ( ~ ) are my “re-translations” of Erasmus’ quotes. Enjoy!?

~ Give some light, and the darkness will vanish.

~ When I get extra money I buy books; and if any is left I buy clothes.

~ In the land of the blind a one-eyed man is a leader.

~ Women, I can live with them, I can live without them, but I much prefer living with them.

~ Some people live in a dream world, and some face reality; and some turn one into the other.

~ No one suspects a talent that is concealed.

~ A concealed talent brings no rewards.

~ A new habit can drive out an old habit, as a nail can drive out another nail.

~ He who permits oppression permits crimes.

~ Prevention is better than cure, and usually easier.

~ Prevention of a problem requires forethought.

~ If you ponder what you want to do or what you hope will happen, you aren’t doing it, and it isn’t happening.

~ The desire to write grows with writing, and the desire to wrong grows with wronging.

~ Happiness is when a man is eager to be what he is, and is getting what he wants.

~ Your library is your paradise when it is filled with your books.

~ Fortune favors the audacious, so be positively audacious.

~ Nothing is as peevish and pedantic as men’s judgments of one another, except for woman’s. Women are the ultimate choosers.

~ All men are dissatisfied with their own lot and envious of others.

~ Fools are without number, and without letters too.

~ Sanity versus insanity is a question of degree.

~ Don’t give your advice before you are called upon, and avoid being called upon.

~ We are all in debt to antiquity, but we can only repay it to the future.

~ It is miserable to live in folly, illusion, deception and ignorance, but it’s living.

~ Human affairs are so various and obscure that nothing can be stated clearly.

~ Our minds are far more susceptible to falsehood than to truth.

~ No party is any fun without plenty of non-sense.

~ Speaking well is similar to lying well.

~ Even in the best of times, suspect problems and prepare for the worst.

~ To seek fame is to seek the approval of fools.


“I consider as lovers of books not those who keep their books hidden in their store-chests and never handle them, but those who, by nightly as well as daily use thumb them, batter them, wear them out, who fill out all the margins with annotations of many kinds, and who prefer the marks of a fault they have erased to a neat copy full of faults.”

“The most disadvantageous peace is better than the most just war.”

“Just as nothing is more foolish than misplaced wisdom, so too, nothing is more imprudent than perverse prudence. And surely it is perverse not to adapt yourself to the prevailing circumstances, to refuse ‘to do as the Romans do,’ to ignore the party-goer’s maxim ‘take a drink or take your leave,’ to insist that the play should not be a play. True prudence, on the other hand, recognizes human limitations and does not strive to leap beyond them; it is willing to run with the herd, to overlook faults tolerantly or to share them in a friendly spirit. But, they say, that is exactly what we mean by folly. (I will hardly deny it — as long as they will reciprocate by admitting that this is exactly what it means to perform the play of life.)”

“Almost all Christians being wretchedly enslaved to blindness and ignorance, which the priests are so far from preventing or removing, that they blacken the darkness, and promote the delusion: wisely foreseeing that the people (like cows, which never give down their milk so well as when they are gently stroked), would part with less if they knew more…”

“It is wiser to treat men and things as though we held this world the common fatherland of all.”

“But I am well aware of the excuse which men, ever ingenious in devising mischief to themselves as well as others, offer in extenuation of their conduct in going to war. They allege, that they are compelled to it; that they are dragged against their will to war. I answer them, deal fairly; pull off the mask; throw away all false colours; consult your own heart, and you will find that anger, ambition, and folly are the compulsory force that has dragged you to war, and not any necessity; unless indeed you call the insatiable cravings of a covetous mind, necessity” ` The Complaint of Peace”


A constant element of enjoyment must be mingled with our studies, so that we think of learning as a game rather than a form of drudgery, for no activity can be continued for long if it does not to some extent afford pleasure to the participant.

You must acquire the best knowledge first, and without delay; it is the height of madness to learn what you will later have to unlearn.

This type of man who is devoted to the study of wisdom is always most unlucky in everything, and particularly when it comes to procreating children; I imagine this is because Nature wants to ensure that the evils of wisdom shall not spread further throughout mankind.

I am a lover of liberty. I will not and I cannot serve a party.

If we were willing to evaluate things not according to the opinion of the crowd, but according to nature itself, how is it less repulsive to eat, chew, digest, evacuate, and sleep after the fashion of dumb animals, than to enjoy lawful and permitted carnal relations?

I am a citizen of the world, known to all and to all a stranger.


I had some fun with this post, and rewrote the first batch of short quotes. I did these modifications using the same general strategy I applied to the pictures. All of the pictures of the philosophers in the series named “Philosophers Squared” have been modified, to clean up the imperfections introduced by time. Sometimes this meant re-nosing old statues, sometimes removing vast numbers of paint shrinking lines of crazing, usually adjusting the contrast, and always it meant squaring the image down to a crisp portrait. Previously in this series I have left the previous translators’ translations as intact as possible, but then a few days ago started clarifying them to what seemed to be what the original philosopher would have said, had he spoken today’s English as I do.

With today’s short quotes I was trying to clean them up, and it became difficult to know reasonably well what Erasmus had intended, so I expanded my translations into what I wanted. Without doubt translators fix their works to their own biases so where is the limit? Ultimately there is no limit to correcting the author’s original manuscript handed to the printer, and even that probably had corrections in the galley proofs by the author himself. So, following the path of Alfred E. Neuman, I stopped worrying, and as did Captain Kirk did, and set out where no man had gone before, and gasp, I rewrote a philosopher to my whim.

In doing this post I was a little surprised at how mild and un-philosophical Erasmus seemed. He projects an aura of good sense and not an attempt to promote a coherent philosophized world view, and yet he succeeds in doing just that. To the modern eye he seems like a typical kind and considerate college professor. Perhaps he is the original model for the modern Humanist professor.

I was struck by Erasmus’ advice, You must acquire the best knowledge first, and without delay; it is the height of madness to learn what you will later have to unlearn.” because of its similarity to Proverbs 4:7, First get wisdom and then with all thy getting get understanding.” Both of these are good advice, and are intended to fill the reader with the goal of filling his head with good and useful information for his future use. I like the idea of getting wisdom first, before the knowledge, because without some basic wisdom it is impossible to know what good knowledge consists of. Alternatively, we can turn to a trusted old dude for advice, but choosing that person requires some wisdom. This selection of a source of wisdom is like so many other philosophical questions that dissolve into turtles standing on turtles all the way down.

Of the many quotes I rewrote at the top of this post preceded by ( ~ ) I liked my rewrite ~In the land of the blind even a one-eyed man is a leader. It is usually translated as king, but in a land with many blind people, like the olden days when nearly everyone got smallpox and a third who did went blind, there is only one king and many visioned leaders, so I liked the generalization of the statement better. Most of Erasmus’ statements seemed more like good advice aimed at a young man than an abstracted philosophy. So I struggle on:

I accept what is offered and proceed with optimistic enthusiasm.