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Erasmus on Women

Erasmus on Women

edited by Erika Rummel
Copyright Date: 1996
Pages: 251
  • Book Info
    Erasmus on Women
    Book Description:

    Erasmus on Womenoffers selections from Erasmus' manuals on marriage and widowhood, his rhetorical treatises, and theColloquies.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7456-1
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Abbreviations
    (pp. vii-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-14)

    Although the texts in this collection are by a single author, they offer a kaleidoscope of views current in the Renaissance. Erasmusʹ comments on women range from ad hoc remarks in his letters to lengthy treatises on marriage and widowhood, from lively dialogues with a mixed cast of virgins and mothers, housewives and harlots, to a funeral oration for a matriarch. Because Erasmus appropriates a variety of voices, the texts offer a mixture of traditional and progressive thought. Among the traditional ideas is Erasmusʹ praise for women as care-givers, their validation through service to God and society, in prayer and...


    • 1. The World: A Corrupting Influence?
      (pp. 15-22)

      This selection fromThe Institution of Marriagecontains Erasmusʹ most coherent statement on the upbringing of daughters. He wrote a number of systematic works on education, but addressed himself primarily to the schooling of boys. Among the tracts dealing with this subject areDe pueris instituendis(On education for boys),De civilitate morum puerilium(On good manners), andDe ratione studii(On the method of study). Although the Latin wordpueri,which appears in the titles of two of the treatises, can mean both ʹboysʹ and ʹchildren,ʹ the contents clearly applies to boys, and the examples and anecdotal material mention...

    • 2. The Cloister: A Safe Haven?
      (pp. 23-38)

      The tract from which this selection is taken appeared in 1521. Erasmus tells us that he published the work to oblige his friends and his Basel publisher, Johann Froben. He himself considered the piece immature, and in the preface informed the reader that it did not represent his own views but was written on commission. The first eleven chapters of the work are an endorsement of monasticism; the twelfth, which was added at a later date, is a volte-face. It is critical of monastic institutions and warns young people not to make vows rashly. In ancient times monasteries were solitary...

    • 3. Marriage: The Solution?
      (pp. 39-78)

      This dialogue was added to theColloquiesin 1523. (On the publication history of theColloquiessee above 25.) LikeThe Girl with No Interest in Marriageit questions the superiority of celibacy to marriage and was criticized by Erasmusʹ detractors, not only for its recommendation of marriage but also for the suitorʹs perceived freedom of language. Erasmus denies that there is anything indecent in the young manʹs words. ʹWould that all suitors were such as I picture here, and marriages contracted with no other conversations!ʹ He notes that the young woman refuses the suitor a kiss. ʹBut what donʹt...

  6. WIVES

    • 1. The Institution of Marriage
      (pp. 79-130)

      The Institution of Marriagewas published in Basel in 1526. It was dedicated to Catherine of Aragon, queen of England, soon to be divorced by her husband, Henry VIII. With unforeseeable irony Erasmus refers to her ʹmost sacred and fortunate marriageʹ as exemplary (Allen, Ep 1727:18–19). Erasmusʹ treatise on marriage is a detailed and painstaking examination of the institution. It includes a wealth of citations from classical, biblical, patristic, and medieval legal sources. In sharp contrast to the painfully realistic depiction in theColloquiesof a relationship gone sour (see 131), we find here the portrayal of the ideal...

    • 2. Marriage: A Counselling Session
      (pp. 131-144)

      This dialogue was first printed in the 1523 edition of theColloquies(for the publication history of this work see 25).Marriagewas one of the most popular colloquies and was soon translated into all major vernacular languages. The first English version was published anonymously in 1557 under the titleA Merry Dialogue Declaring the Properties of Shrewd Shrews and Honest Wives. It may have inspired ShakespeareʹsTaming of the Shrew. Echoes of the Erasmian dialogue can also be found in the popular SpanishColoquios matrimonialesby Pedro de Luxan.

      The translation is by Craig Thompson.

      Eulalia Greetings, Xanthippe! Iʹve...

    • 3. A Marriage in Name Only
      (pp. 145-155)

      This dialogue, subtitled ʹAn Unequal Marriage,ʹ was first printed in the 1529 edition of theColloquies(for the publication history of that work see above 25). It elaborates on remarks inThe Institution of Marriagethat stress the importance of the physical health and compatibility of the marriage partners (see above 88–9). It was commonly believed that syphilis was imported into Europe from America by Columbusʹ sailors. This theory is disputed today, but there is no doubt that the disease spread rapidly in the first half of the sixteenth century. Its symptoms and treatment are discussed in many books....

    • 4. The New Mother
      (pp. 156-173)

      This dialogue was first printed in the 1526 edition of theColloquies(on the publication history see above 25). It draws heavily on classical sources. Nearly everything the young mother is told by her visitor can be found in the tractOn the Education of Childrenascribed to the Greek essayist Plutarch, and in theAttic Nightsof the Roman writer Aulus Gellius. The discussion of the nature of the soul is borrowed from Aristotleʹs treatiseOn the Soul.

      The translation is by Craig Thompson.

      Eutrapelus Greetings, my dear Fabulla.

      Fabulla Greetings in plenty to you too, Eutrapelus. But what...

    • 5. The Well-Read Matron: The Abbot and the Learned Lady
      (pp. 174-179)

      This dialogue was first printed in the 1524 edition of theColloquies(for the publication history see above 25). It contains the familiar Erasmian criticism of monasticism. The abbot depicted here has only worldly interests. He has neither the vocation nor the training necessary to provide the spiritual leadership and the pastoral responsibilities his position entails. Erasmus pays tribute here to the learned women of his age, although one suspects that the heroine, Magdalia, is introduced for shock value rather than as an exemplary character.

      The translation is by Craig Thompson.

      Antronius What furnishings do I see here?

      Magdalia Elegant,...

    • 6. The Activist: The Council of Women
      (pp. 180-186)

      This dialogue was first printed in the 1529 edition of theColloquies(for the publication history see above 25). It was likely inspired by an episode in Aelius Lampridiusʹ history of the reign of Heliogabalus (which Erasmus edited in 1518). Heliogabalus (218–222) established a womenʹs senate over which his mother presided. It dealt with matters of deportment. Heliogabalusʹ institution is also mentioned in ErasmusʹThe Tongue(1525). As a literary motif the womenʹs senate goes back to the Greek playwright Aristophanes (c445–c380 B.C.).

      The translation is by Craig Thompson.

      Cornelia Your full and prompt attendance at this meeting...


    • 1. From The Christian Widow
      (pp. 187-229)

      This treatise was published in 1529. It addresses Mary of Hungary, the sister of Emperor Charles V. Maryʹs husband, Louis of Hungary, to whom she had been betrothed at the age of ten, had died in 1526 at Mohacz in a battle against the invading Turks. The crown of Hungary passed to Maryʹs brother, Ferdinand; she herself vowed not to become a pawn of Habsburg marriage politics again. She did, however, serve the dynastic interest as regent of the Netherlands, which she governed faithfully on Charlesʹ behalf. It was her court preacher, Johann Henckel, a friend and admirer of Erasmus,...

    • 2. Berta Heyen: An Obituary for a Christian Widow
      (pp. 230-242)

      This funeral oration for a benefactress was written by Erasmus around 1489. The name ʹHeyenʹ is frequent among the magistrates of the city of Gouda in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Berta Heyen was the widow of Baert Jan Heyenzoon. She lived in comfortable circumstances and used her wealth for charitable purposes. The oration is addressed to her two surviving daughters, Augustinian nuns resident in Gouda. The composition remained in manuscript and was published only posthumously in ErasmusʹOpera omnia(Leiden 1701).

      The translation is by Brad Inwood (cf CWE 29 18–28).

      It has been a long time, my...

  8. Chronology of Erasmusʹ Life
    (pp. 243-244)
  9. Further Reading
    (pp. 245-246)
  10. Index
    (pp. 247-251)