?

Log in

No account? Create an account

Tue, Oct. 3rd, 2000, 05:27 pm
Erasmus:::Praise of Folly

The book Praise of Folly is a letter by Erasmus, a 15th sentury monk to Sir Thomas More. It is narrated by "Dame Folly", the incarnation of folly and foolishness.

I think most of us will appreciate the conclusion which is arrived at at the end of this passage. ; )

   The nature of insanity is surely twofold. One kind is sent from hell by the vengeful furies whenever they let loose their snakes and assail the hearts of men with lust for war, insatiable thirst for gold, the disgrace of forbidden love, parricide, incest, sacriledge, or some other sort of evil, or when they pursue the guilty, conscience-stricken soul with their avenging spirits and flaming brands of terror. The other is quite different, desirable above everything and is known to come from me. It occurs whenever some happy mental aberration frees the soul from its anxious cares and at the same time restores it by the addition of manifold delights. This is the sort of delusion Cicero longs for as a great gift of the gods in a letter to Atticus, for it would have the power to free him of awareness of his great trouble. Horace's Argive too was on to the right thing. His insanity was only sufficient to keep him sitting whole days alone in the theater, laughing and clapping and enjoying himself because he believed marvellous plays were being acted on the stage, when in fact there was nothing at all. In his duties in life he behaved well:

Pleasant to his friends
Kind to his wife, a man who could forgive
His slaves, and at a bottle's broken seal
Not mad with rage.


When his relatives intervened and gave him remedies to cure him, and he was wholly restored to his senses, he protested like this to his friends:

'My friends,' he said,
'This is not saving; it's killing me to snatch
My pleasure, take by force what I enjoyed-
My mind's delusion.'


He was quite right too. They were deluded themselves and more in need of hellebore than he was for thinking that such a pleasurable and happy form of insanity was an evil to be dispelled by potions.
   But I've not yet made up my mind whether every vagary or mental aberration should be given the name of insanity. A purblind man who takes a donkey for a mule or one who praises an ill-written poem as an excellent one certainly won't be thought insane. But someone who is wrong in his mental judgement as well as in his perception, especially if this is continuous and goes beyond accepted practice, will surely be put down as a borderline case. Take, for example, a man who hears a donkey bray and thinks he hears a marvellous symphony, or some wretched humbly born pauper who imagines he's Croesus, king of Lydia. But often enough this kind of insanity is pleasurable and affords considerable enjoyment both to those who suffer from it and those who witness it but aren't mad in the same way, for in this form it is far more widespread than the common man believes. One madman laughs at another, and each provides entertainment for the other; and you'll often see the madder one laughing the louder at the one who's not so mad. In Folly's opinion then, the more variety there is in a man's madness the happier he is, so long as he sticks to the form of insanity which is my own preserve; and which indeed is so widespread that I doubt if a single individual could be found from the whole of mankind who is wise every hour of his life and doesn't suffer from some sort of insanity.