However people commonly talk about me--and I know perfectly well
what a bad name folly has, even among the biggest fools
--I'm the one,
the one and only, let me tell you, who have the power to bring joy both
to gods and to men; in proof of which, you can see for yourselves that
as soon as I stood up to speak in this crowded hall, all your faces lit up
with a sudden and quite unaccustomed hilarity, your brows cleared, and
you expanded in such smiles, chuckles, and applause that I suddenly felt
myself in the presence of so many
Homeric divinities well laced with
nectar, and nepenthe too
--whereas before you sat solemn and grum-faced
as if you had just been let out of Trophonius's cave.
But as it happens
when the sun first shows his radiant golden face over the land, or when
the fresh south wind wafts a breath of spring after a bitter winter so that
all things put on a new face and a fresh color, and youth itself seems to
return--so, when you laid eyes on me, you were quite transfigured
. And
thus what various mighty orators could hardly accomplish with their long
and laborious speechifying--that is, to dispel the gloomy shadows of the
soul--I brought about instantly just by my appearance.

Actually, I think what I am doing here is more decent than what the common
ruck of pundits and patricians do when, under cover of a certain perverse
mock-modesty, they hire some servile rhetorician or limber-tongued poet,
and bribe him literally to pour forth their praises, praises that are nothing
but flat-out lies. While the recipient of all this adulation spreads his borrowed
plumes and raises his crest aloft like a peacock, the barefaced orator
expatiates, comparing his good-for-nothing subject to some god or other,
and proposing him as
the absolute model of all the virtues, especially those
of which they both know he doesn't possess 'a single grain.'
Still, the speaker
doesn't hesitate to deck his crow in borrowed plumes,
to 'whitewash his
or finally to `puff up his gnat to the size of an elephant.' In any
case, I'm following the advice of that trite old proverb that says a man is
entitled to praise himself when there's nobody else to do it.

I know you won't suppose I made it up to show off my wit, as the common
herd of orators do--For, as you well know, after they've been sitting on a
speech for thirty years or so--and sometimes it's not even their own work--
they will tell you it's a mere trifle, tossed off in the last three days
, not
written down at all, just dictated. But I've always preferred just to say
'whatever pops into my head.' But now don't let anyone expect that,
like the common lot of speech-makers, I'm going to begin with a definition
and then go on to divide up my topic--that least of all. Either procedure
would be inappropriate; circumscribing a power whose genius extends
everywhere is as absurd as dividing up a force in whose service all the
orders of being agree together.
Besides, what's the point of setting
before you by verbal definition what can only be the copy or stiadow of
me, when you have me, in person, here present before you? I am, as you
can plainly see, that true and proper 'giver of divine gifts' whom the Latins
know as STULTITIA and the Greeks as MORIA

For in this respect too I've thought best to imitate the rhetoricians of our
day who consider themselves as good as gods if like horse-leeches they
can seem to have two tongues
; in their view it's a mighty accomplishment
to work a few Greek vocables into the texture of their Latinity, like chips
stuck in a mosaic, whether they're appropriate or not.Then if they still don't
have enough foreign terms,
they dig out of their moldy old manuscripts four
or five obsolete expressions with which to thicken the darkness of the
listener's mind
. If anybody understands, he's impressed with his own erudition;
those who don't understand are impressed even more. We fools have a
particular trick of liking best whatever comes to us from farthest away. But
if they are a little more pretentious than the rest
, they will smile wisely and
applaud, 'waggling their ears' in true asslike fashion
so that everybody else
can see that they understand. 'And so much for that.'

My father was not Chaos, nor Orcus, nor Saturn, nor Iapetos, nor
any one of that set of
obsolete and moth-eaten deities. Rather,
he was Plutus himself, god of riches,
who, in spite of what Hesiod
and Homer say, and in spite of Jove himself, was 'father of gods
and men.' At the mere nod of his head, all institutions both sacred
and profane are turned upside down--so it always was and is nowadays.
His decision controls wars, truces, conquests, projects, programs,
legal decisions, marriage contracts, political alliances, international
treaties, edicts, the arts, matters serious and silly--my breath is
giving out--in short, all the public and private business of mortal
men is under his control. Without his help the entire populace of
poetic divinities--or let me put it more strongly--
even those twelve
loftiest gods who live atop Olympus would either not exist at all or
would live in meager retirement and 'eat in the kitchen.
' If anyone
has Plutus for an enemy, not even Pallas Athene will be able to help
him; and, on the other hand, if Plutu ,s favors him, he can
tell Jove
himself, thunderbolt and all, to go hang
. I'm proud to be the child
of such a father. And he did not give birth to me out of his brain,
as Jupiter did with that sullen sourpuss Pallas, but begot me on Neotes
[Youth], the most beautiful of all the nymphs and the lustiest as well.
What's more,
they weren't cramped into the dreary bonds of matrimony,
such as produced that limping blacksmith, but in a manner more agreeable
by far, "entwined in ardent love,"
as our Homer likes to say. But don't
get the wrong impression, the Plutus who begot me was not that decrepit
person who appears in Aristophanes, half-blind and completely senile,'
but a young man
flushed with youth, and not just with youth but with
several draughts of nectar that he had drunk off at a recent banquet
of the gods, in goodly quantities and quite unmixed
. If you want to know
where I was born--since nowadays people think it's a major point in making
up your pedigree to know where you uttered your first infant mews and
squalls--well, I was not born on wandering Delos or rocked on the bosom
of the restless ocean nor yet raised in any hollow-resounding caves, but
rather I was born on the Fortunate Isles, where all things grow 'unsown
and uncultivated.' In that part of the world nobody works, grows old, or
or suffers from sickness;
the fields bear no day-lilies, mallows, leeks,
beans, or vulgar vegetables of that sort. But everywhere eyes and noses
are gratified with moly, heal-all, nepenthe, marjoram, ambrosia, lotus,
roses, violets, and hyacinths, as in the garden of Adonis
. And being born
amid these delights, I didn't enter life bawling and screaming, but from
the first smiled on my mother happily
      Neither do I have any reason to envy 'Jove himself,' who was
suckled by a goat,since I nursed at the breasts of two dainty nymphs,
Methe [Tipsy] the daughter of Bacchus, and Apaedia [Ninny] the child
of Pan.
You can see them here and now in the company of my other
companions and followers. But if you want to know the names of the
others, by heaven, you won't get them from me except in Greek. This
lady whom you recognize by her supercilious air is evidently Philautia
[Self-Love]. The one you see next to her, with laughing eyes and
clapping hands, is Kolakia [Flattery]. This one, with eyes half shut, who
seems about to doze off, is Lethe [Forgetfulness]
. The one leaning on
her elbows with her hands folded is called Misoponia [Lieabout]. This
one, wearing a rosy garland and drenched with perfumes, is known as
Hedone [Pleasure]. The one with restless eyes that roll every which
way is Anoia [Imbecility]. The girl with the fair complexion and the
voluptuous figure is called Tryphe [Fascination].
You can also see a
couple of male deities among the ladies, one of whom is called Comus
[Festivity], and the other Negretos Hypnos [Sound Sleep]. These then
are the members of my family, with whose faithful help I maintain
dominion over all things, and rule even emperors themselves.

For as somebody shrewdly remarked, this is the true quality of a god, to
bring joy to mortals; and as those persons are rightly included in the
assembly of the gods who showed men the uses of wine, grain, or some
other commodity of the sort,' why shouldn't I be decreed and designated
'Number One' among all the gods, since I alone confer all benefits on
all men?
    Just for starters, what could be sweeter or more precious than life
itself? And to whom does life owe its very beginnings, if not to me? It
isn't the spear of 'potent-fathered Pallas' or the aegis of Jove the
'cloud-compeller' that begets human beings or propagates the race. In
fact the father of gods and king of men whose nod makes all Olympus
must set aside his three-pronged lightning bolt and put off
that majestic expression with which he can terrify the other gods at
will, and, just like an actor, he must put on another character entirely
when he wants to do, what he never tires of doing, that is, 'make babies.'

Now the stoics consider themselves next thing in this world to deities.
But give me a triple or a quadruple stoic, or if you choose a
six-hundred-fold stoic, yet in this matter, just think if he won't
to shave off that beard which is his special badge of wisdom (though in
fact he shares it with a billygoat), lower his lofty expression, smooth
out his forehead, set aside his hard and fast dogmas, and talk a bit of
nonsense, verging even on madness.
In short, it's to me, to me I say,
that the wise man will have to have recourse if he wants to become a father.

And why shouldn't I speak to you even more openly, as my manner is?-Let me
ask you if the head or the face or the breast or the hands or the ear, all
of which are reputed the more seemly parts of the body, actually beget
either gods or men? Not as I see it;
it's that other part, so stupid and
even ridiculous that it can't be named without raising a snicker, that
propagates the human race. That is the sacred fount from which all things
draw their existence--from that more truly than from the quaternion of
Pythagoras, if you please.

But let them tell me, in God's name what part of life is not
gloomy, not sullen, not drab, not dull and dreary, unless you
a dash of pleasure, the condiment of folly? Convincing
authority for this view is to be found in Sophocles, a man
far above all praise, who wrote an elegant line in my honor:

"The happiest life is to know nothing at all."
But come now. let me look into the matter more closely.
First of all, who doesn't know that the earliest age of man
is by all odds the happiest, the most agreeable by a long shot
to everyone?
What is the quality in infants for which we kiss
them, coo over them, cuddle them
--as even an enemy would do at
that age--what is it
but the charm of foolishness, which prudent
nature purposely bestows
on the newborn so that by this pleasure,
as a sort of compensation, they may mollify the exasperations of
bringing them up and win the favor of their guardians?
After that
succeeds adolescence; how welcome it is to everyone, how warmly
accepted, how gladly encouraged, how liberally offered the helping
hand! And where does this youthful grace come from? Why, it comes
from no one but me, by whose special favor the young have so
little knowledge and by the same token are so ingratiating. But
when they have grown a little older, learned a little of the way
of the world, and started to acquire the disciplines of men,
me a liar if their bright and shining faces don't get duller, their
quick minds don't slow down, their wit doesn't grow cold, their
energy doesn't start to flag. The further they depart from me,
the less they really live, until they are overtaken by 'hateful
old age'
--hateful not only to others but to themselves as well.

I lead them to the fountain of my handmaid Lethe, which rises in
the Fortunate Isles though a little trickle of it gets diverted
to the underworld, and there
they drink long draughts of forgetfulness.
Before long their anxieties relax and they become like children
again. People say they are silly and inconsequent, and of course
they are: that's what second childhood means. Is first childhood
anything else than being silly and inconsequent? Isn't that the
most delightful part of infancy, not to know a single thing?

Who wouldn't shrink from a boy with grown-up wisdom, as if he
were some sort of freak? There's a common proverb, "I hate a
child who's wise beyond his years." 2 Just imagine doing busi-
ness with an old man who in addition to years of experience
had the sharp and vigorous mind of a youngster.
So, with my
help, this old man goes a bit soft in the head.

But now this dotard of mine is free from all the miseries and
anxieties by which a wise man is tormented. As a pot-companion
he can still be quite amusing. He doesn't feel the tedium of
life, which even for a man in his health can be almost unendur-
able. Sometimes he reverts to the state of the graybeard in
Plautus who knew only three letters, A*M*O; if he had any sense,
he would be wretched, but meanwhile, with my help, he lives hap-
pily, keeps his old friends, and occasionally cuts up as the life
of the party. You'll note that in Homer the speech of Nestor is
sweet as honey, while that of Achilles is bitter;4 and in the same
author the old men sitting by the wall are said to speak with 'li-
ly-sweet voices.'
On this one score alone old men have the better
of children, whose voices, though sweet, are often obliged to be
silent; and thus they lack the supreme pleasure of life, which is
chit-chat. Besides, old people enjoy the company of the young,
as the very young are drawn to the society of the old, 'like natu-
rally consorting with like!' For what is the difference between
apart from the fact that the elders have more wrinkles and
more birthdays? Otherwise, in their whitish hair, toothless gums,
frail bodies, love of milk, stammering, babbling, foolishness, for-
getfulness, thoughtlessness, and a host of other qualities, they
are quite alike.
The older men get, the more childish they become,
until, like veritable children, without any weariness of life or
fear of death, they depart this existence.

Now let anyone who cares compare these benefits of mine with the
metamorphoses worked by the other gods. What they do in a rage I
don't want even to think about; but at the height of their benevo-
lence they may turn a human being into a tree, a bird, a cricket,
or even a snake--as if one were not, in effect, killed by being
transformed into another creature entirely.6 But I restore the self-
same man to the best and happiest period of his life. So that if
men would refrain completely from any sort of commerce with wisdom,
but spend their time entirely in my company, they would never grow
old, but instead would live happily in the enjoyment of perpetual

Only look at those heavy, solemn fellows who've devoted themselves
to philosophic studies or to serious and difficult business--they
have started to grow old even before their youth,
their vital spir-
its and animal juices all dried up as a result of constant worry
and the pressure of painful, intensive cogitation. But my morons are
all plump, with sleek and glistening skins, like the 'hogs of Acarna-
as people say,7 'never feeling any of the sorrows of old age un-
less by chance they pick up some trouble by contagion from the wise.
So true it is, that into each life some rain must fall.

Add to this the popular saying very much to the point, that 'folly
is the one and only one thing that delays youth in her flight and
keeps sour old age at a distance.'
There's still another popular
saying about the Brabanters that while advancing years bring incre-
asing prudence to other men, the Brabanters as they grow older get
dumber.8 No other people bring so much joviality to their everyday
get-togethers, none are less troubled by the miseries of declining
Near neighbors to them, alike in temperament and close geogra-
phically, are my Hollanders--I call them mine because they are so
addicted to folly that they've made quite a name for themselves.
They're not in the least ashamed of it, and bandy it around freely
among themselves.

Mortals in their craze for perpetual youth run off every which way--
let them go!--in search of Medeas and Circes and Venuses and Auroras,
and that fabulous fountain to be found I can't imagine where.9 But
all the time, I'm the only person who can and does perform that mir-
acle. I alone possess that miraculous juice with which Aurora the
daughter of Memnon prolonged the youth of her ancestor Tithonus; I
am the same Venus by whose favor Phaon renewed his youth so he could
be loved so passionately by Sappho.1
Mine are the herbs, if there are
any, mine the enchantments, mine the bubbling waters which not only
renew lost youth but (better still) preserve it forever.
So if you a-
gree with this sentiment that nothing is better than youth, nothing
more detestable than old age, I think you will see how much you owe
me, since I preserve the one and delay or prevent the other.

But why do I talk only of mortal men?
Cast your eye across the heav-
ens, and you can call me foolish indeed if you find any one of the
gods who isn't ugly and despicable except so far as he is,made agree-
able by my influence.
Why, for example, is Bacchus always boyish and
curly-haired? No doubt because he is always frolic and tipsy, spend-
ing his whole life in parties, high-jinks, and games, and never ha-
ving a moment's truck with Pallas. He doesn't want to be thought wise;
in fact, he prefers that his worship take the form of games and jokes,
and he's not at all offended by the proverb that assigns him the epi-
thet of 'fool,' as in the saying
"Dumber than Morychus." For in olden
times the farmers gave that name to the statue of Bacchus sitting be-
fore his temple, when they had smeared it with fresh wine and new figs

in the course of their revels. And then what insults used to be heaped
on this god by the Old Comedy! Oh, an absurd god, they used to say; a-
bout the sort you'd expect to be born out of someone's thigh! 2 Well,
wouldn't you rather be silly and ridiculous like him, always joyful,
always young, always ready for a frolic or a feast--than like Jove with
his 'deep-laid plans' who terrifies everybody, or Pan who with his routs
and riots turns everything upside down,3 or
Vulcan always busy about
his fires and black with the smoke of his forge, or Pallas herself with
her Gorgon shield and terrible spear, 'always grimly glaring'?
4 Why is
Cupid always a little boy? Why indeed, except that he's a mischief-mak-
er who never does or says 'a single sensible thing?' Why does the love-
liness of Venus bring with it a perpetual springtime? No doubt about it,
because she is a close relation of mine, sharing with me the complexion
of our father and thus known to Homer as 'golden Aphrodite.'
she is always laughing and smiling, if we are to believe the poets or
the sculptors who follow in their footsteps. What deity did the Romans
worship more devotedly than Flora the giver of all sures? Actually, if
you look carefully into the behavior of the solemn 3 as reported by Ho-
mer and the other poets, you will find their lives to be full of foolish-
ness from beginning to end. No reason for me to tell tales about all the
others when you know perfectly well all the scandal-escapades of Jove
himself, the thunderer. Or take
Diana, heedless of the modesty fitting her
sex and devoted to hunting, who in her spare dies for love of Endymion:
Stories like these they ought to be hear-from Momus, and in fact they
used to hear them regularly from until lately
they got angry and threw
him along with Ate [Discord] n to earth because he interrupted the
bliss of the gods with his ill-timed truth-telling.
Nor did any mortal offer
shelter to this exile, least II anyone in the courts of princes, where
my follower Kolakia [Flat' reigns supreme; she and Momus would get a-
long together about as as a wolf and a lamb. And so, in the absence of
Momus, the gods I much more freely and carelessly, 'taking all things
lightly,' as Homer 6 now that they have no censor.
What an array of
japes they get from that blockhead Pan! Think of the thievish games
played by deceitful Mercury.7 Then they have Vulcan to 'act the buf-
foon' at the banquet of the gods and liven the feast with his ungainly
limp, his foolish quibbles, and his ridiculous stories. Or there is Sile-
nus, that dirty old man, who likes to do the 'belly-dance' while Poly-
phemus 'jangles his lyre' and a chorus-line of 'barefoot nymphs' caper a-
bout. Goatfoot satyrs perform their obscene frolics, and brainless Pan rai-
ses a general laugh with some limerick which the gods would rather hear
than the Muses themselves. Especially when they're liquored up with nect-
ar, they have no or discretion
. But why should I go on to describe what
the drunken gods do after their banquet?--things so stupid, by God, that
Folly herself, as I am, can hardly keep from laughing at them. Yet perhaps
at this point I'd better take counsel of Harpocrates [god of silence],
lest some snoopy god overhear me
telling about matters that weren't safe
even for Momus to mention.8

But now it's time that I follow Homer's example, and turn from the hea-
venly sphere to matters down here on earth, where we'll find nothing
either joyous or pleasant which doesn't owe a debt to me. And we'll no-
tice first how providentially nature, the mother and creator of the human
race, has arranged that men shall never be without a good seang of
For if, as the stoics define the matter, wisdom consists of be-
ing guided by reason, while folly is being moved by the emotions, Jupi-
ter, to prevent our life from being gloomy and sad, mixed into our compo-
sition far more feeling than reason. How much more? Well, I would say
about ten pounds of feeling to a half-ounce of reason. Besides, he cram-
ped the reason into one narrow corner of the head, but distributed the
feelings through all the rest of the body. Then he set up two furious
tyrants to war on solitary reason: anger, which occupies the fortress
of the breast, and therefore the very fountain of life, which is the
heart; and lust, which maintains its mighty empire further down, around
the area of the groin
. What reason can do against these twin powers, the
common life of man makes sufficiently clear; she does all she can, scolds
herself hoarse, and repeats all the platitudes of proper behavior. But
the passions just tell their so-called ruler to go hang, and bluster on
more offensively than ever until reason submits out of sheet exhaustion
and throws up her hands.

Since the male was born to be in charge of things, he has been given a
tiny scruple more of reason, which he consults as best he can; and when,
as has happened before, Jupiter came to me, I gave him some advice wor-
thy of myself
. I told him, that is, to join man with woman--a stupid animal
and a clumsy one, but funny and endearing--so that through constant
association her foolishness might temper and mollify his sullen male in-
or when Plato seems to make a question whether he should class
women among rational beings or with brutes, all he meant to say was that
their sex rejoices in unusual foolishness.
And if a woman wants to be
thought wise, that just shows that she's doubly stupid, as if one should
lead a bull, kicking and bellowing, into a beauty parlor.
It's the height
of idiocy for anyone to deny nature, assume an artificial virtue, and
throw one's talent out of its proper orbit. Just as, according to the
Greek proverb, 'a monkey is always a monkey even if dressed in purple,'
so a woman is always a woman, that is, foolish, whatever mask she puts on.
Still, I don't think that women as a class are so stupid that they would
be offended if I, who am a woman myself and Folly in person, attribute
folly to them.
For if they think the matter over, they are bound to feel
real gratitude because, thanks to folly, they are on so many scores better
off than men. First, they have the gift of beauty, which they rightly pre-
fer to anything else, by means of which they can exercise tyranny over
tyrants themselves. Where else do men get their ugly features, crusty skin,
and shaggy beard--incipient marks of senility--than from being infected
with prudence? Whereas the cheeks of women are always smooth, their voices
gentle, their skin soft,
as if they were blessed with eternal youth. What
else do they ask of life except to be as attractive to men as possible?
Isn't that the purpose of all their primping and makeup, their special
rinses, hairdos, creams, perfumes, all their arts of adorning, painting,
and arranging their faces, eyes, and skin? Now what counts more in att-
racting men than folly? What indulgence is there that men will not allow
to women, and what do they expect to get from it but pleasure? Women have
no other way of giving pleasure than through folly. Nobody will deny the
truth of this who recalls what nonsense a man talks to a woman, what fol-
lies he performs as soon as he seeks the pleasures of female society.

Here, then, you've seen the first and chief delight of life, the fountain
from which everything else flows. Some people think, to be sure--they are
chiefly old men who are more fond of wine-bibbing than skirt-chasing--that
the prime pleasure of life lies in drink.
Whether there can be a really
festive gathering without any women present, it's not for me to say. One
thing is for sure, without a dash of folly there'd be no fun in it at all
if there's nothing to raise a laugh, in the form of real or simulated
the revellers will send out to hire a 'comedian' or call for
some ridiculous buffoon who by cracking a few jokes and tickling a few
funnybones will lift the company out of their morose and dumpish silence.
What good does it do to load the belly with dainty pastries, rich desserts,
and rare liqueurs unless the eyes, the ears, yes; and the whole soul is
equally delighted with laughter, jokes, and witty remarks? But I am the
only deviser of these hors d'oeuvres
As for those other traditional banquet
amusements such as naming the king of the feast, dicing for drinks, sing-
ing comic songs, 'drinking round the table,' and acting out ridiculous
stories--those were not invented by the seven sages of Greece,' you can
be sure, but by me, for the benefit of the human race.
And it's the na-
ture of all such things that the more foolish they are, the more they
benefit human life, which without them would be so gloomy it wouldn't
deserve to be called living. But gloomy it is bound to be unless with
amusements of this sort you expel boredom, the first cousin of gloom.

Perhaps some people will dismiss this sort of pleasure, preferring in-
stead the love and companionship of friends, which they place before
all other things--declaring it indeed no less necessary to life than
air, fire, and water.
2 Besides, they say, friendship is so joyous that
anyone who would expel it from society might as well pull the sun out
of the sky; and it is so honorable, if that enters into the case, that
grave philosophers have not hesitated to number it among the prime
good things of life. But what if I show that in the makeup of this lof-
ty virtue I myself supply both the first and last ingredients? It's a
point that I'll make, not by logical syllogisms, dilemmas, and other
thorny devices of the dialectic, but by demonstrating it, as they say,
in the broad light of day, to the eye of common sense. Look here now,
when you condone your friend's vices, when you overlook them, blind
yourself to them, deceive yourself about them, even convince yourself
that his vices are virtues and worthy of admiration--isn't that the
next thing to folly?
When a man kisses his girlfriend on her mole, when
another is delighted with his mistress's misshapen nose, when a father
says his cross-eyed son has a lively expression--what, I ask you, is that
if not pure folly?
People may call it folly as much as they like, and
folly it is; but this one quality provides the tie that binds friends to-
gether I'm talking here about ordinary men, none of whom is born without
faults and the best of whom is simply the least bad.
But among those sto-
ics of godlike wisdom,
3 there is either no friendship at all, or a certain
sour and reluctant liking that they extend to very few
--I won't say to none
at all, since most men are silly on occasion, there's nobody who doesn't
have his weak point, and like dispositions are naturally drawn together

even if a certain mutual benevolence does grow up between these severe de-
votees of virtue, it can never be securely grounded or long lasting when
men are so morose of temper and sharp of sight that they study the vices
of their friends like eagles or the serpent of Epidaurus.4 Of course they
shut their eyes to their own vices, and never realize what a sack of faults
and follies is hanging from their own shoulders
. It's the nature of human
life that no individual can be found who's not subject to great vices and
faults. Add to that the great and many differences of age and interest, all
the mistakes, slips, and errors that men make, and all the common misunder-
standings of everyday existence--
how can you expect these Argus-eyed men to
be capable even for an hour of the pleasures of friendship, unless you add
to it what the Greeks used to call eueitheia, which can be translated either
as foolishness or as good-nature?
But, after all, isn't Cupid, creator and
begetter of all intimacy, so myopic that for him 'even ugliness looks beau-
5 Thus he plays on you humans so that each finds beauty in his own,
Darby sticks to Joan and Jack to his Jill. These things happen all the time,
and people laugh at them, but absurdities like these are what binds society
together in mutual pleasure.

What I've said about friendship applies even better to marriage, which is
nothing but the inseparable joining together of two lives. By the immortal
gods! how many divorces or catastrophes worse than divorce would take place
if the domestic adjustments of men and women weren't sustained and eased by
flattery, jokes, yielding dispositions, mutual misunderstandings, dissimula-
tions--all of them assistants to me.
Lord, how few marriages would ever come
off if the groom looked suspiciously into the various tricks his delicate
little flower, as she seems to him, his blushing virgin bride, had pulled
off before her marriager!
And how many fewer would hold together, once begun,
if the ignorance or tranquil, the marriage holds together.
The husband is
mocked, called cuckoo or cuckold or whatever, when he kisses away the tears
of his whorish little wife.
And how much happier he is in his errors than if
he ate his heart out with jealousy, and turned the whole comic performance
into a tragedy!

Briefly, no society, no association of people in this world can be happy or
last long without my help; no people would put up with their prince, no mas-
ter endure his servant, no maid stand her mistress, no teacher his pupil, no
friend his friend, no wife her husband, no landlord his tenant, no soldier
his drinking buddy, no lodger his fellow-lodger--unless they were mistaken,
both at the same time or turn and turn about, in each other.
Now they flat-
ter one another, now they wisely overlook failings, now they exchange blan-
dishments, foolish but sweeter than honey.

I suppose you think this is the most that can be said; but I have more. For
let me ask you if a man will love anyone else when he hates himself? Will he
ingratiate himself with another person if he's his own enemy? How can a per-
son who's severe and disagreeable to himself bring pleasure to another? No-
body, I expect, would say such a thing unless he were more foolish than Fol-
ly herself. But, leaving me out of it,
a man who despised himself would have
no tolerance of anyone else; he would stink in his own nostrils,
disdain his
own possessions, hate everything about him. For nature, more like a stepmother
in many matters than a true mother, has planted this evil in the minds of men,
especially men of some discrimination, that they are discontented with their
own possessions, but envy the possessions of others:
And through this cast of
mind all the talents, all the graces and accomplishments of life wither away
and perish. What good is beauty, pre-eminent gift of the immortal gods, if
tarnished by the breath of decay? What does youth amount to if corrupted by
the sour ferment of approaching old age?
In short, what proper style6 can
you maintain in any part of life, whether you act alone or with others (and
in life, as in art, one wants to perform even minor tasks in high style)--

what can you hope to accomplish, I ask, if my Philautia [Self-Love] is not
at hand, she who is closest of kin to me, and warmly seconds my every action?
'Face it, nothing is more foolish than to be pleased with yourself or to look
on yourself with admiration. Yet if you really dislike yourself, what can you
hope to do that is agreeable, gracious, not in bad taste? Take this savor out
of life, and at once the orator will freeze in the middle of his speechrmusic
with all its many effects will fail to please, the actor with all his gestures
will be booed from the stage, the poet and his muses will be laughed to scorn,
the painter will be dismissed with his pictures, the doctor will starve with
his box of pills in his hand.
Without self-love, instead of Nireus you will
resemble Thersites, instead of Phaon Nestor, and instead of Minerva a sow;
you will be
mute as a post instead of eloquent, and a lout instead of a man
of the world.
That's how necessary it is that everyone flatter himself and
gain a measure of esteem in his own eyes before he can expect to be com-
mended by others. Finally, since it's the highest peak of felicity to want to be
what you actually are, my Philautia [Self-Love] achieves that end in short or-
der, since by her ministrations nobody is dissatisfied with his appearance, his
intelligence, his family tree, his education, or his position in the world.
Because nobody regrets his nationality, an Irishman would never dream of

changing places with an Italian, a Thracian with an Athenian, or a Scythian
with a man from the Fortunate Isles. And oh, the singular dexterity of nature
that, with such a great variety of gifts to bestow, she made all equal!
she scanted her gifts a trifle, Philautia compensated with an extra helping of
but I've got things all backward here because really self-satisfact-
ion is the greatest gift of all.

Had I not better say straight out that no great project is undertaken without
my support, no great discoveries made in the arts of which I am not at the bot-
tom? For instance, isn't war the prototype of all honorable and heroic enterpris-
es? But what is more stupid than to start a conflictfor reasons uncertain at best,
from which both sides are bound to reap a harvest more of evil than of good? A-
bout those who perish, as about the Megarenses, there's 'nothing more to be said.

But when the armed ranks are drawn up on both sides and the trumpets bray,
what, I ask you, is then the value of those wise men who have worn themselves
out on their studies till they hardly have any life left in their chilly veins? Lusty
and thickthewed men are called for, with as much courage as may be, and as few
. An exception might be made for a soldier like Demosthenes, who followed
the precept of the poet Archilochus, and at the first sight of the enemy threw
down his shield and took to his heelsas pitiful a soldier as he was a farsighted
orator.9 But, they say, wise strategy is very important to the art of war. In a gen-
eral I don't doubt it is; but even in him it is military, not philosophical wisdom, and

in the ranks, war is the work of parasites, panders, pick-pockets, highway robbers,
plowboys, sots, beggars, and similar riffraff. It's no work for philosophers carrying
the lighted tapers of wisdom.

The career of Socrates shows clearly how little philosophers are worth in the com-
monbusiness of life. Though he was called wise by the oracle of Apolloand that wasn't
the wisest of its judgmentshe tried only once to bring up a matter of public busi
ness, and then he was hooted out of the assembly.' In fact, he wasn't altogether sil
ly, for he declined the epithet of "wise," saying it belonged only to god; and he also
said a sensible man should keep clear of public business. But he would have done bet
ter to warn anyone aspiring to be included in the human race to avoid wisdom altoge
ther. After all, what was it but his wisdom that led Socrates to drink the hemlock
when he was under accusation?
2 While he was philosophizing about clouds and abstracti
ons, measuring the foot of a flea and marvelling at the voice of a gnat, he failed
completely to study those matters that pertain to the common life of men
.3 But here
to help out this teacher under sentence of death comes his pupil Plato, a doughty
supporter, no doubt, who was so upset by the buzz of a crowd that he was hardly able
to pronounce the first half of his opening sentence.4 That reminds me of Theophras-
tus, who started a speech and abruptly fell silent, as if a wolf had glared at him. Isoc
rates was so faint of heart that he could barely speak above a whisper in public.
When Cicero started h. orations he was generally all of a tremble, like a timorous
schoolboy , Quintilian explains his weakness as natural to a conscious orator meas
uring the difficulty of his task;
5 but isn't that excuse actually an admission that
wisdom interferes with performance?
What would these men do in a battle to be fought
with cold steel if they're so frightened of a mock engagement with mere words?

After all this, Lord help us, we're bound to be served up with that famous saying of
Plato's that 'societies will be happy only if philosophers are kings or kings philoso
phers.' But if you look into the historians you will find beyond question that states
were never worse off than when the kingship fell to some philosophaster or book-
worm. I expect the example of the two Catos will prove the point: the first continually
vexed the smooth flow of state business with his idiot accusations, and the second,
while defending the liberties of the Roman people with all the wisdom in the world,
effectually subverted them
.7 You can add to them your Brutuses, Cassiuses, Gracchu
ses, and even Cicero himself, who did just as much damage to the Roman republic as
Demosthenes did to the Athenian.8 Marcus Aureliusif we concede he was a good em
peror, for I could challenge his title to that distinction, since he was burdensome
to his subjects and much hated just because he was such a philosopher9 even though
he was a good man himself, did more harm to the state through the son he left behind
than he did good through his administration. And this is the way of these learned
men, they are unlucky in general and particularly in their children. I think nature
arranges this on purpose, to keep the infection of wisdom from spreading too widely
through humankind. And so, as everyone knows, the son of Cicero was a degenerate,
and the children of Socrates resembled their mother more than their father,' as some
fellow delicately put the matter: the blunt of it is that they were fools.

If it were just in public business that your wise men were about as deft as 'an ass
with a lyre,' that would be tolerable; but they're not a tad better on any other of
life's occasions.
Bring a sage to a banquet and he'll either sit in gloomy silence or
confound the company by turning the occasion into a doctor's oral. Ask him to a dance,
and you'll get an idea of how a camel waltzes. Take him to the theater and his sour
puss will curdle everyone else's enjoyment, so that your learned Cato will be asked
to vacate the premises if he can't alter his contemptuous expression
.2 Let him drop in
on a friendly conversation; suddenly it's a case of the wolf in the fable.3 If some
thing is to be bought, or a contract is to be negotiated, or, in a word, if any of
those arrangements are to be made without which daily life would not go on,
find your wise man more like a wooden post than a human being.
So in fact he is com
pletely useless to himself, his family, or his country because he knows nothing of
everyday matters and exists on a completely different plane from that of common
opinion and popular customs. Naturally people dislike him;
his way of life and habit
of thinking are completely different from theirs. For what goes on among thecommon
people that isn't full of foolishness, contrived by fools for fools? If anyone wants
to stand apart from all this foolishness, let him imitate Timon, seek out a desert,
and there live alone revelling in his wisdom.4

But let me go back to a topic on which I barely started: what force do you suppose
brought into civil concord those primitive men, savage as their native rocks and fo
rests--what force if not mutual flattery?
The lyres of Amphion and Orpheus can sig
nify nothing else.' What impulse recalled the Roman plebeians, on the brink of mu
tiny, to their civic allegiance? Was it a philosophic discourse? Scarcely. Rather,
it was a ridiculous and puerile fable about the belly making its apology to the o
ther members of the body. Hardly any better was the tale told by Themistocles about
the fox and the hedgehog.6 What learned oration could have worked as well as the
silly story recited by Sertorius to the Spaniards about a fantastic white deer?
the equally ridiculous Spartan stories about trained and untrained puppies? or that
other one about pulling hairs from a horse's tail one strand at a time?7 I hardly
need mention Minos and Numa, both of whom reigned over their stupid subjects on
the strength of fabulous stories.8 It is trifles like this that stir to action that
great beast the people. What city ever accepted the laws devised by Plato and Aris-
totle, or undertook to guide itself by the precepts of Socrates?'On the other hand,
what impulse led the Decii to devote themselves to death? what force drew Quintus
Curtius into the abyss,9 unless it was thirst for glory, a most alluring siren, but
marvellously unpopular with the men of wisdom.
What sight could be more stupid, they
ask, than a candidate begging humbly for votes, flattering the dregs of the populace,
buying their favor with handouts, basking in the applause of those idiots, lapping
up their applause, and allowing himself to be carried like a dummy in parades before
the people, only to stand in the forum finally, a piece of brass?
1 The hero must put
up, as well, with special names and epithets, divine honors (often granted to very sorry
predecessors), and public ceremonies associating him, as part of the pantheon, with a
set of very scoundrelly tyrants indeed. These carryings-on are utterly ridiculous,
need more than one Democritus to laugh at them properly.
Who denies it? And yet from
these sources spring the deeds of mighty heroes, trumpeted to the heavens by the
literary works of innumerable scribblers. This same foolish desire of praise gave rise
to cities, held together empires, built legal and religious systems, erected political and
religious structures; in fact, human life as a whole is nothing but a kind of fool's game.

Now, to turn to the arts and sciences, what rouses men to invent and exploit such
extraordinary (as they suppose) exercises, if it isn't desire of reputation? They put
long hours and agonized efforts into the pursuit of fame--I can't imagine how they
conceive of it, but nothing could be more inane.
Now aren't these the most foolish of
mortal men? To be sure, you can enjoy, thanks to their folly, all the good things they
produce, and you don't even have to be as crazy as they are--which is the best thing
of all.

And now that I've established my titles to valor and industry, suppose I prove that
I am also the champion of prudence. Somebody is bound say that I might just as well
try to mix fire with water but I think I can do this too, if you'll favor me, as you've
done so far, with attentive ears and minds. To begin, if prudence rises from experience
of things, who is more likely to deserve the honor of this attribute, the wise man who
(partly from modesty and partly from fearfulness) never takes a chance, or the fool,
who is quite undeterred by modesty, which he lacks entirely, or by danger, which he ne
ver recognizes.
The man of learning hides behind the volumes of the ancients, and de
rives nothing from them but empty verbal formulas. The fool, approaching the problem
directly and ituring upon it boldly, acquires true prudence from his experience
, if
I not mistaken. Even blind Homer seems to have seen this, when he says, "once a
thing is done, a fool sees it."
3 Two obstacles chiefly prevent us from acquiring
knowledge of things: diffidence, which beclouds the mind, and fearfulness, which
prevents us from trying anything that looks hazardous. But how gloriously folly lib-
erates us from these two encumbrances! Few men realize how many different ben-
efits can come from not being ashamed or afraid of anything.

But if they prefer to limit prudence to good judgment, let me beg you to note
how far they are from the thing itself when they lay claim to the name. For
it's clear that all human affairs, like the Silenus-figures described by Alci-
biades,4 have two faces quite different from one another. So that what at first
glance (so to speak) appears death, is really, if you look under the surface,
life; on the contrary, what looks like life is really death. What seems beauti-
ful is really ugly; riches are poverty; the contemptible is glorious, the eru-
dite is ignorant, the strong feeble, the noble vulgar, the joyful melancholy,
the promising fatal, the friendly hostile, the healthy diseased--in short, if
you open up the Silenus, you will find everything the opposite of what the ex-
terior promised. If you find this notion a little abstract and philosophical,
take heart, I'll make it clear as day--'plain as a pikestaff,' to use the old
expression. It's generally admitted that a king is both wealthy and powerful.
But if he possesses none of the goods of the mind, if nothing gives him any
satisfaction, then he is poor indeed. And if his mind is afflicted with many
vices, then he is a most abject slave. I could multiply examples, but this one
instance will suffice. Well, ppmeone will ask, So what? What's the point? Let
me make my caseIf someone in a theater should try to strip the masks off the
actors in the middle of the play, and show the actors' actual faces, wouldn't
he be destroying the entire illusion, and wouldn't he deserve to be pitched
out of the theater by the entire audience as a troublesome lunatic? For what
he had revealed would be seen as a whole new order of things; the actor who
before had appeared a woman would now be seen as a man, the juvenile would be
revealed as a gaffer, the mighty king of a minute ago would be a mere milksop,
a god would shrink to a dwarf. In short, if you take away the illusions, you
ruin the whole fable.
It's the makeup and the scenery that catch the eyes of
the spectators. Now what else is the life of mortal men but a kind of fable
in which the actors appear on stage under the disguise of different masks? 5
Each plays his assigned part till the stage manager comes forth and takes them
off stage. Indeed, he often assigns one actor several roles, so the performer
who just now acted a king in purple majesty presently comes back a humble ser-
vant in rags. They are all but shadows of real persons, yet there's no other
way to put on the show.

But here some wise man might well drop out of the sky to confront the audience
and cry out that this nobleman whom everyone hails as lord and master is not
even a proper man because he is driven by his emotions like a beast, that he
is the lowest of slaves because subjected through his own choice to so many
and such shameful masters. Or again, suppose our lofty moralist takes after
someone grieving for the death of a parent and tells him to be merry because
now at last his beloved parent is starting to live in heaven, whereas on this
earth he had nothing to anticipate but death. Suppose he came up to a man very
proud of his ancestry, and called him a baseborn bastard because he was a
stranger to virtue, which is the only source of true nobility. And then sup-
pose he treated all other people the same way. What would he get by this be-
havior except to be considered by everyone a raving lunaticns wisdom out of
place is the height of the ridiculous, so prudence perversely misapplied is
the height of imprudence. The perverse man fails to adjust his actions to the
present state of things, he disdains the give-and-take of the intellectual
marketplace, he won't even acknowledge the common rule of the barroom, drink
up or get out--all of which amounts to demanding that the play should no long-
er be a play. On the other hand, the truly prudent man reflects that since he
is mortal himself, he shouldn't want to be wiser than befits a mortal, but
should cast his lot in with the rest of the human race and blunder along in
good company. But this, they say, is folly. I can hardly deny it, but let
them confess also that this is the way the play of life is staged.

But now, oh ye immortal gods, shall I bring up this new topic or leave it con-
cealed? Why be quiet, though, when the point is truer than true? Perhaps in
such a momentous matter I'd better call down the muses from Helicon,6 ladies
whom the poets commonly invoke on smaller occasions than this. Approach, then,
a little closer, ye daughters of Jove, while I show that there is no access
to that marvellous wisdom, the fortress of felicity as the wise themselves
call it, without taking folly for a guide.

And first of all, it's confessed on all sides that the emotions are the pro-
vince of folly. Indeed, this is the way we distinguish the wise man from the
fool, that the one is governed by his reason, the other by his emotions. Thus
the stoics banish all emotions from the wise man's life, as so many diseases.
Yet these emotions not only serve as guides for those who press toward the
gates of wisdom, they also act as spurs and incitements to the practice of
every virtue, and stimulate men to the performance of good deeds. No doubt
that double-dyed stoic Seneca strongly rejects this idea, denying that the
wise man is entitled to any emotion whatever;
7 but in so doing he doesn't
leave him a shred of humanity, converting him instead into some sort of new
god or demiurgos,
such as never existed or will exist anywhere on earth. Or
rather, to put it more accurately, what he produces is a marble statue of a
man, insensitive and without a trace of human feeling.

Well, if that's what they want, let them rejoice in their wise man, love him
without fear of any rivals, and carry him off to live in Plato's Republic or,
if they prefer, in the realm of abstract, ideas or in the gardens of Tanta-
8 Who, catching sight of such a man, would not stand aghast, and run away
from him as from a spook or a monster?--a man so hardened to all the feelings
of nature, so indifferent to love or pity, that he might as well be made of
flint or Parian marble.
Nothing escapes him, he never makes a mistake; as if
he were gifted with the eyes of Lynceus,
9 there's nothing he doesn't see, no-
thing about which his judgment isn't absolutely correct, nothing of which he's
ignorant. He's absolutely satisfied with himself, rich in himself, healthy
in mind and body without help, king over himself, absolutely free--in short,
completely self-sufficient and utterly complacent. He welcomes no friend,
and is nobody else's friend, he wouldn't hesitate to tell the gods themselves
to go hang, he despises and ridicules as madness whatever life has to offer.
And an animal of this sort is your man of ideal wisdom. I ask you, if it came
to a vote, what city would wish itself a magistrate of that ilk, what army
would impose on itself such a general? What woman would choose for herself a
husband of that sort, what host would want that sort of guest, what servant
would hire out to such a master or continue long in his service?
Who wouldn't
prefer any random fellow from the crowd of common fools, who being foolish
himself could give orders to other fools or take orders from them, who would
please his fellow-fools (that is, practically everyone)
, who would be loving
to his wife, a boon companion to his friends, a jolly good fellow in the ta-
vern, an entertaining dinnerguest--
in short, a man who thinks nothing human
alien to him?
1 But I confess this wise man has already become a bore; let's
turn the topic in some other direction.

Well, then, if someone could look down from a lofty point of vantage, as the
poets say Jove does, he would see the endless array of calamities that beset
human lif.
How painful and squalid is the act of birth, how troublesome the
process of education, what perils surround infancy, what labors are imposed
on young manhood, what weariness fills old age, how bitter is the approach
of death, what legions of diseases lie in wait, how many accidents threaten,
what troubles pile up--there's nothing that isn't dipped in gall. And I can't
even number all those evils that men inflict on one another, such as poverty,
imprisonment, shame, torture, treachery, libel, slander, litigation, and fraud.
But, it's obvious, I've just started to 'number the sands of the sea.'
crimes men have committed to deserve such punishment, or what angry god for-
ced them to be born into such misery, it's no part of my business to say here.
But if anyone thinks over the matter seriously, won't he be inclined to ap-
prove the example, wretched though it is, of the Milesian maidens?
Yet who
were those who most often shortened their own lives? Who but the near neigh-
bors and associates of wisdom?
Among whom, though I might dwell on Diogenes,
Xenocrates, Cato, Cassius, and Brutus, there was Chiron, who had immortality
in his grasp but preferred death.
3 You see, I don't doubt, what would happen
if all men were wise: we would need a fresh supply of clay and another potter
to replace Prometheus.

But I make such good use of human ignorance and imbecility, playing sometimes
on forgetfulness of evils and other times on hope of good, sprinkling in a bit
of pleasure here and there,
that I bring mankind some relief from their accumu-
lated woes. Indeed, they don't generally want to quit life even when the thread
of the Fates has run out, and life has all but left them. The less reason they
have for holding to existence, the more avidly they cling to it with blind ten-
acity. Thanks to my help you see everywhere
men as old as Nestor, in whom even
the appearance of a human being barely survives--babblers, mindless, toothless
wrecks, white-haired or bald entirely; or, let me put it in the better words of
Aristophanes,4 "slovenly, stooped, wrinkled, bald, toothless, impotent"--yet
they cling to life so fiercely, and try so hard to 'seem young,' that one old
codger will dye his last gray hairs, while another will stick a wig on his pate,
and still another will fill his gums with false teeth, borrowed perhaps from a
pig's jaw, and a fourth will languish for love of a girl, performing more amor-
ous antics than any young man you want to name. And then for an old dotard like
this, with one foot in the grave, to marry some tender young bud of a girl,
without a dowry of course, and destined quickly to become someone else's peach-
es and cream
--that's so common nowadays that it's almost considered the height
of pod form.

But it's even more macabre to think of the old women in the last stages of sen-
ility and so cadaverous that you'd think they'd been pulled out of the grave;
yet they never cease repeating "life is good," while they're constantly in heat,
or, as the Greeks put it, 'rutting like a goat'
5--hiring a young gigolo for
scads of money, smearing their faces with makeup, hovering over the mirror,
plucking hairs out of their crotch, showing off their withered and pendulous
breasts. They quaver out love-songs in the hope of rousing a lover's languish-
ing desire, they drink deep and try to join the company of younger women, they
scribble billets-doux. Everyone laughs at these idiocies, and considers them
ridiculous, as they are; but the old crones are delighted with themselves, they
float in an ocean of pleasure and swim up to the chin in honey. With blessings
from me, they are happy. People who find this spectacle just too ridiculous
ought to stop and ask themselves if it's better to live this sort of enjoyable
life with the aid of folly, or to 'look around for a beam,' as they say, 'from
which to hang oneself
. Indeed, they may draw popular contempt on themselves,
but that's nothing to my fools, who either don't recognize the disgrace or if
they do, easily disregard it. If a rock falls on your head,
that's definitely painful.
But shame, infamy, scorn, and ill words do harm only so far as they are felt; if
one isn't aware of them, they do no damage at all. "What matter if the whole
community hisses you, so long as you can applaud yourself?"6 And for that to
take place, just leave it to folly.

But I think I hear the philosophers raising objections. It's utter misery, they
say, to be in the clutches of folly, to be bewildered, to blunder, never to know
anything for sure. On the contrary, I say, that's what it is to be a man.
I don't
see why they should call that condition miserable into which we were born, in
which we were bred, in which we have grown up--which is the common fate of
every one of us. There's nothing miserable about what conforms with one's basic
unless someone wants to argue that man should be considered wretched
because he can't fly like the birds, gallop around like the quadrupeds, or threaten
his foes with horns like a bull. Such a fellow might equally well deplore the fate of
a thoroughbred horse because he has never learned grammar and doesn't eat pasty
pies, or think a bull must be wretched because he cuts such an ill figure as a
In fact, a horse ignorant of grammar is not wretched for that reason,
and no more is a foolish man automatically unhappy, because these conditions be-
long to their natures.

But the quibbleweavers have something else to say. A special talent for the
learned disciplines has been granted to man, so they say, in order that by using
them he may compensate for the deficiencies that nature has imposed on him. As
if this notion had the least face of truth, that nature, who lavished so many pains
on perfecting gnats, grasses, and flowers, nodded off to sleep while making man, so
the sciences would be needed to perfect him--the sciences, which Thoth, that de-
monic enemy of the human race, invented for man's ultimate destruction, and are
so far from serving human happiness that they actually hinder it.
That is the real
reason they were invented, as the ingenious king described by Plato argues con-
cerning the invention of letters.8
That is how the arts and sciences crept into hu-
man life, along with other banes of our existence; the same creators devised them
all--that is to say, the demons, sources of all evil, whose very name [daemones =
scientes] means "those who know."

In the golden age, simple men flourished, without all that armor-plate of the sci-
ences, under the leadership of nature and natural instincts alone. What need was
there of grammar when everyone spoke the same language, and nobody demanded any-
thing of speech except that one man should understand another? What was the use of
legal rhetoric when no brought suit against his neighbor? Why was special wisdom
required to draw up laws when men had not yet developed the bad habits from which,
it's generally admitted, the need for good laws arose.
Men were too religious in
those days to go poking with profane curiosity into the hidden aspects of nature,
such as the dimensions, motions, and influences of the stars or the occult causes
of phenomena;
they thought it wicked for mortal man to seek more knowledge than
befitted his destiny. The madness of asking what lay behind the highest heavens
never so much as entered their minds. But as the purity of the golden age faded
with time,9 first the arts were discovered (by evil geniuses, as I said). At first
there were not many of them, and those few were known to only a few pople. After-
wards, the superstitious Chaldeans added six hundred more, and
the idle ingenuity
of the Greeks contributed an overflow of purely verbal ingenuities, so that by now
study of a single grammar can provide a lifetime of torture.

Still, among these many different disciplines, those are most highly prized which
come closest to common sense, that is, to popular folly. Theologians starve, nat-
ural scientists are cold-shouldered, astrologers are ridiculed, and dialecticians
"The doctor of medicine alone is worth all the others put together."
And within this profession itself, the closer a man comes to an ignorant, arrogant,
inconsiderate quack, the more highly he will be esteemed even by princes seated in
lordly state. For medicine, especially as it is now practiced by most doctors, is
nothing but a branch of flattery, like rhetoric itself.

After doctors, next place must be given to shyster lawyers--indeed, I'm not sure
they shouldn't occupy the first position, since--setting my own opinion aside--the
philosophers have agreed in overwhelming numbers to ridicule their profession as
asinine. Yet,
asses though they are, great matters and small alike are settled by
the judgments of these men. By their means and for their benefit great fortunes
are amassed, while the theologian, having struggled through all his volumes of
divinity, dines on beans and wages war on bugs and black beetles.
Thus it appears
those arts are most blessed which have the closest affinity with stupidity, and
those people are happiest who have been able to avoid contact with the arts and
sciences altogether, simply following nature;s4` which never fails them except
when they try to reach beyond the proper bounds of their human nature. False faces
are odious to nature, and a man gets ahead much faster if he does without artifice.

For, look you, isn't it clear that among the other creatures those enjoy most hap-
piness who are most remote from formal learning and are instructed by no tutor other
than nature herself?
What community is more happy or more remarkable than that of
the bees? Though they don't seem even to have all the bodily senses, what has arch-
itecture discovered to equal their structures? What philosopher ever devised a bet-
ter republic than theirs?' On the other hand, the horse, whose bodily senses are
like those of humans and who has learned to live in close association with men, has
had to share in human misfortunes. The competitive spirit that makes him strain to
win races often leaves him broken-winded, and when he carries his rider into battle,
both often fall before the pikemen and bite the dust together.
I needn't detail the
other tortures, such as cruel bits and sharp spurs, the prison of the stable, the
whips, cudgels, hobbles, and saddles--in brief, all the apparatus of his slavery--
to which he submits when, following the men of war, he trudges off blindly to do bat-
tle with the enemy.
How much to be preferred is the life of flies and birds, who live
for the moment and are subject only to the laws of nature--so long, that is, as they
avoid the snares of men. When birds are shut up in cages and taught to imitate human
voices, it's amazing how far they degenerate from their natural brilliance:
clear ev-
idence that' what nature teaches is better for creatures of every sort than the con-
trived devices of art.

Let me recall to you that never-sufficiently-to-be-praised Pythagorean cock,4 who in
his own person had occupied many shapes, as of a philosopher, a man, a woman, a king,
a lowly subject, a fish, a horse, a frog, even I think a sponge--after which he con-
cluded that no animal was more wretched than man because all the others were content
with the limits imposed by nature, but only man tried to go beyond those limits.
same learned bird greatly preferred blockheads to learned and important men; and the
hog Gryllus was a great deal smarter than Ulysses, that man of many schemes, when he
preferred to grunt in a sty rather than take part with the hero in his numerous mis-
fortunes.5 Homer too, though the father of many fables, seems to have been much of
this mind because, while he calls mortal men 'wretched and miserable' and repeatedly
refers to Ulysses, his model of a wise man, as 'ill-fated,' he never applies such a
word to Paris, Ajax, or Achilles. Why so? Why plainly because the wily trickster ne-
ver acted without consulting Pallas, he knew too much for his own good, and removed
himself too far from nature's guidance.
So it is among all men, those are farthest
from felicity who strive most earnestly for wisdom, showing themselves double fools,
first as they are born men, and then because they have forgotten that basic condition,
and like the giants make war on nature with the machinery of their learning.' By con-
trast, those men seem least wretched who come closest to the condition and intelli-
gence of beasts, and never try to rise above their human status.

I'm going to make this clear, not with the enthymemes of the stoics, but by a plain
and obvious example. Tell me, by all the gods, is anyone happier than that class of
men whom we commonly call fools, idiots, morons, and simpletons--names, in my opinion,
of exquisite beauty? On the face of it, you may think what I am saying is eccentric
or even absurd, but I assure you it's absolutely true. In the first place, they are
free from the fear of death--not the least of evils, by heaven! They suffer no remorse
of conscience, they are not haunted by ghost stories or frightened by bogies and ban-
shees; they endure no agonies of fear over impending punishments, nor are they tanta-
lized with expectations of future rewards.
In short, they are exempt from a thousand
ills to which this life is subject. They know neither shame nor fear, neither hope,
nor hate, nor love. If they could approach a little closer to the condition of beasts,
they would even be incapable of sin, from what the theologians tell us.7 Think it over
some time, you ape of wisdom, add up the troubles that distress your mind night and
day, make a single heap out of all the discontents of your existence, and then you'll
have some idea of all the troubles from which I've liberated my fools. Add to this
that they are not only perpetually joyful themselves, playing, singing, and laughing,
but they are also a source of delight to others, spreading smiles, jokes, quips, and
giggles wherever they turn, as if they had been created by God expressly to enliven
the melancholy of human life.

And this is why, though other men cherish different feelings toward one another, ever-
yone feels the same possessive warmth toward my fools. People seek out their company,
feed them liberally, protect and embrace them,
rush to their aid if any evil befalls
them. They can say or do just what they like. Nobody tries to harm them, even wild
beasts refrain from attacking them as if aware on instinct of their innocence. They
are in fact sacred to the gods, and especially to me, and this is why everyone holds
them in the very highest esteem. Loftiest monarchs are so delighted with them that
without their presence some cannot eat a meal, undertake any business, or pass an idle
hour.8 Indeed, kings sometimes show a striking preference for these imbeciles of mine
before those grim men of wisdom--whom, neverthless, for appearance's sake, they are
obliged to patronize. And the reason for this preference is not hard to find, or very
The men of widom set before monarchs nothing but bad news; out of
confidence in their own wisdom, they don't hesitate to grate the tender ear with grit-
ty truths
. But my fools provide something that kings are always glad to get from any
quarter, in any form--that is, jokes, jollity, a good laugh, fun.

And notice also this other talent, far from contemptible, that is the special gift of
fools: they and they alone are always direct and truthful.
No doubt that saying of Al-
cibiades reported by Plato attributes truth to wine and boys,9 but all that praise
should really be directed to me, as Euripides bears witness in a famous proverb he
made about me, "The fool speaks out his folly," 1 Whatever a real fathead has in his
heart, he shows it in his face, and promptly pours it forth.
But wise men carry in
their mouths a double tongue (as the same Euripides has said), of which one speaks the
truth and the other what is expedient at the moment.2 The wise men can turn black to
white, blow hot and cold, and say one thing while thinking something entirely different.

Princes, though their state is doubtless happy in general, seem to me utterly wretched
in this respect, that there's nobody who will tell them the truth, and they are con-
strained to take flatterers for friends.

But, someone will say, princes hate to hear the truth, and that's why they avoid the
company of the wise, one of whom might be more outspoken than the others, and say
what's really right instead of what he thinks will please. That's how it actually is,
princes do hate the truth.
But a strange thing happens with my fools, that when they
speak truths, even unwelcome truths, they are received with uproarious laughter. In
fact, the very same words which, spoken by a wise man, would cost him his life are
accepted with incredible pleasure when spoken by a fooI. For truth has genuine pow-
er to please,
if not accompanied by anything offensive; and this gift god has granted
only to fools. For the same reason, or almost so, women delight in the company of
fools, the sex being naturally more inclined to pleasure and trifling. Then whatever
comes of their dallying in this way, even if it sometimes gets a little too serious, they
pass off as a joke and a game, women being naturally clever that way, especially in
covering up their own follies.

Let me return, then, to the felicity of the foolish, who, when they have completed
the term of their life in perfect pleasure, without any fear of death or even aware-
ness of it, depart for the Elysian fields, 3 there to entertain the pious, peaceful
souls of the dead with their japes.
And now compare if you will the lot of any wise
man you want to name with a fool of this description. Imagine that you oppose to him

some paragon of wisdom, a man who has devoted his entire youth and early manhood to
acquiring the arts and sciences, who has lost the best part of his existence in per-
petual study, pain, and anxiety, who has not enjoyed in all the rest of his life so
much as a scintilla of pleasure, always sparing, saving, sad, solemn, severe, and
strict on himself, morose and melancholy with others, afflicted with a pallid com-
plexion, a gaunt figure, a stooped posture, premature senility and white hairs,
parting life before his time. Though in fact what does it matter when a man of this
sort dies, since he can't properly be said ever to have lived? There's the portrait
of your wise man.

But now the 'chorus of stoic frogs' starts croaking at me again, saying that "no-
thing is more wretched than madness," and folly of the highest order is either mad-
ness or next thing to it. What else, they ask, is insanity but mental aberration?
But they have it all wrong, and with the help of the Muses I can rip up this syllo-
gism of theirs like the others. Their point seems, on the surface of things, well
taken. But just as Socrates taught in Plato's dialogue
4 that we should make two Ve-
nuses by cutting the one apart, and two Cupids by dividing the solitary figure, so
I think
it behooves these dialecticians to distinguish one madness from another, at
least if they want to pass for sane men themselves. For not all madness is a calamity,
otherwise Horace would hardly have written, "Does a welcome madness now come over
5 Nor would Plato have assigned the madness of poets, prophets, and lovers a
conspicuous place among the good things of life; nor would the priestess have refer-
red to the great undertaking of Aeneas as a sort of madness. In fact, madness takes
two different shapes, one which the fearful Furies call forth from the underworld
when, with snaky locks flying they stir the passions of men to warlike hatred or rouse
them to insatiable thirst for gold, to illicit and forbidden lust, to parricide, incest, sac-
rilege, and other such hateful actions. Again, they sometimes haunt the soul consci-
ous of its own guilt with ghastly apparitions and fiery premonitions of revengeBut
there's another sort of madness, far different from this, for which I am responsible,
and which is above all things to be desired. Itcomes about whenever some genial
aberration of the mind frees it from anxiety and worry while at the same time imbu-
ing it with the many fragrances of pleasure
. And this sort of mental error is what
Cicero, writing to Atticus, wishes for his friend as a special bounty of the gods, a
delusion that will relieve his distress over the evils of the age.7 Neither was that
Greek in Horace very far astray,
whose mania took the form of going to the theater
every day by himself, to laugh, applaud and cry "Bravo!" because he thought wonder-
ful plays were being performed, though in fact nobody was there at all.
In every other
respect, he was perfectly normal--`jovial with his friends, devoted to his wife, and
indulgent with his servants, to the point of overlooking an occasional bottle missing
from the cellar.' A course of medical treatments cured the man of his delusions, and
restored him to perfect health, but
he complained bitterly: "By God, you haven't help-
ed me, friends, you've destroyed me by taking away my greatest pleasure and rooting
out the folly that gave my life its richest savor." 8 And I think he was right, that they
were more in need than he of a dose of hellbore when they treated such a merry and
harmless folly as some sort of disease, to be expelled by medication.

As a matter of fact, I haven't yet decided whether every error of the senses or of the
mind ought to go by the name of madness. If a nearsighted man takes a mule for a donkey
or an uneducated man takes a snatch of doggerel for great poetry, neither will be thought
really crazy. But if someone is deceived, not so much in his senses as in his mind--pre-
ternaturally and permanently deluded--he may be thought close to madness. Thus a man
hearing an ass bray might think he was hearing a marvellous symphony, or a pauper from
a backwoods hamlet might fancy himself Croesus king of Lydia. But this sort of madness,
if (as generally happens) it involves an agreeable delusion, brings no little amusement
both to the person who experiences it and to those who can recognize the madman's folly
because their own happens to be of a different sort.
For this variety of insanity is more
widespread than the average man realizes. Sometimes one madman laughs at another,
and each gets pleasure from the other's absurdities; indeed, you will often find that
the one who is more crazy laughs harder than the one who is less so.

Still, if Folly may venture to judge, I think the more different ways a man runs mad,
the happier he is, provided he sticks with that variety of madness which is my specialty.
But that leaves a wide field. I hardly know whether anyone can be found in the entire
human race who is wise twenty-four hours a day, and who is not subject to madness in one
form or another. One sort of difference is clear. The man who, when he sees a pumpkin,
supposes it's a woman, will be called crazy because not many people take part in that
particular delusion of his. But when another man swears that his wife, whom he shares
with half the neighborhood, is more chaste than Penelope,' and so flatters himself to
the top of his bent, nobody calls him mad, because it's recognized as the common fate
of husbands. The same sort of idiocy afflicts those who prefer before everything else
the chase of wild beasts, and say they get indescribable delight from the blast of hunt-
ing horns and the howling of hounds.
I expect such people think even dog-turds smell
like cinnamon. But what pleasure is there in slaughtering animals, in whatever numbers?
Killing bulls and sheep is a job for common butchers, but cutting up a wild animal,
forsooth, is permitted only to a man of noble birth. Baring his head, on bended knee,
using a special knife (for it would be sacrilege to use any other), he makes the ritual
gestures, and then cuts off certain prescribed pieces in an exactly prescribed order.
Meanwhile a hushed circle stands around, watching the ceremony as if it were a brand-
new discovery, though they've seen it a hundred times before. If one of them happens to
be given a little scrap of meat, he feels himself exalted as by a new accession of no-
And so when they have finished dissecting and devouring the dead beast, what
have they accomplished except to degrade themselves into beasts while imagining that
they are living the life of kings? Very similar to these is the class of men who are de-
voured by an insatiable passion for building, remodeling round structures into square
ones and vice versa, knowing no limit or moderation, till they have reduced themselves
to the last stages of poverty, without a place to set a table or lay their heads. But what
of that? They have spent the intervening years in a dream of delight.

Beside these builders I think we can range those who strive by means of new, exotic
skills to alter the substance of things, and who ransack heaven and earth for a certain
fifth element, or quintessence.' These men are so besotted with the milk and honey of
hope that they spare neither labor nor expense but go to enormous pains to delude them-
selves, persisting in their happy delusions till, having spent all their money, they
can no longer afford to set up another furnace. Yet they don't cease to dream dreams,
but try as hard as they can to involve others in pursuit of the same glittering mirage.

And then when their last hope is gone, they have one fine phrase left--a great solace,
no doubt--that "in great enterprises to have tried hard is enough." 3 At last, they cry
out against the brevity of life as inadequate for the accomplishment of great projects.
As for dicers, I'm in grave doubt whether they should be admitted to our college. Still,
they provide a completely ridiculous spectacle, especially when we see some gamesters so
addicted that
no sooner do they hear the dice rattling than their hearts leap up and
start to pound. Then when they've been drawn in deeper and deeper by the hope of winning,
and have exhausted their resources, their ship finally goes smash on Dice-Box rock,
dangerous than the point of Malea.4 Even if they struggle dripping ashore in their bare
shirts, they would rather defraud anyone else but the man who took their money, lest
that give them the reputation of welshers. What a spectacle are those old, half-blind
players who have to peer through their glasses to see the dice!
And in the last stages,
when a well-deserved case of the gout has crippled their hands, they hire an assistant
to put the dice in the box for them. A comic spectacle indeed, if it weren't that the
game usually ends in a brutal brawl, and that concerns the Furies, not me.

Here's another lot of men who definitely belong to my sect, men who like to hear or tell
tall tales about miracles and other prodigious lies. They never weary of these fables as
long as something weird is involved, whether ghosts, demons, goblins, or vampires, and
they can tell you thousands of stories about apparitions of that sort. The more far-fetch-
ed the tales, the more eagerly they are accepted, and the more they tickle the ears of
the devotee. For they serve not only to pass the time but also to coin money, especially
when recited by pardoners and preachers.
24 Near neighbors of these are the folk who nou-
rish the comfortable if stupid illusion that if they have looked on some wooden image or
painting of Polyphemus-Christopher,
6 their lives will be safe that day; or that a man who
has recited a prayer to Saint Barbara in set form will return unscathed from battle; or
that if one repeats a prayer to Saint Erasmus on a particular day, lighting special can-
dles and using precise formulas, riches cannot fail to follow immediately. To go with
their new Hippolytus, they have lately found in Saint George another Hercules;
7 they de-
votedly worship his very horse, tricking it out with harness and studs and even offering
it gifts--while swearing by the rider's brazen helmet is an oath worthy of kings.

What's to be said of those who happily delude themselves with forged pardons for real sins,
measuring out time to be spent in purgatory as if on a chronometer, calculating the centu-
ries, years, months, days, and hours as if on a mathematical table,
so as not to make the
slightest error? Or of those who promise themselves, as a result of certain magic formulas
and prayers (dreamed up by a sanctimonious impostor and imparted out of mischief or for mo-
ney), nothing less than everything--wealth, honor, pleasure, abundance, unbroken good health,
long life, a green old age, and then a seat in Heaven itself right next to Christ's--but
that they don't want too soon, only when the pleasures of this life have been exhausted
(and they will hang onto them tooth and nail), only then will they be ready for the joys of
heaven to follow.

Here I think
I see some businessman or soldier or judge putting down one solitary coin out
of the great pile that he has successfully stolen, and expecting that that will atone for
the whole pestilent swamp of his life; all his perjuries, lusts, drunken brawls, murders,
deceits, treacheries, and double crossings will, he thinks, be redeemed as if by purchase,
and so thoroughly redeemed that he will now be entitled to embark on a new world of crime

as a new man: What can be more stupid or more comforting than the notion that reciting
seven verses of the psalms every day will admit one to the realm of ultimate felicity? I
think they are the verses that some joking devil, more talkative than intelligent,
Saint Bernard he knew about--though the saint foiled him in the end.9 These things are so
stupid that I myself am almost ashamed of them, yet they are accepted and approved, not
just by the uneducated, but even by the teachers of religion. And isn't it almost as bad
when different districts lay claim each to its own special deity, and divide saints up ac-
cording to function, assigning to each his own special observances and occasions? Thus one
is good for the toothache, another helps women in labor, still another restores stolen
goods, there's a special saint in case of shipwreck, another who watches over livestock,
and so forth--for to run over the whole list would take a long time. Some religious figur-
es serve a number of different functions, like the Virgin Mary, whom the common people rev-
erence almost more than her Son.

And what do men beg of their saints, except things pertaining to folly? Among all the vo-
tive offerings that you see covering the walls of churches right up to the ceiling, did you
ever see one put up to commemorate a close escape from folly or an unexpected access of
wisdom--even a tiny bit of it? One man escaped drowning, another was run through by his
enemy's sword, but survived. Still another, while his comrades were still fighting the battle, was
able by good luck to turn tail and boldly run away. Though already strung up on the gallows,
someone slipped safely from the noose through the favor of a saint friendly to thieves,
so was able to relieve numerous people of the heavy burden of their money. This fellow broke
out of jail and made his getaway; that one recovered from a fever, much to his doctor's sur-
prise; another one swallowed poison, but it purged him instead of killing him, leaving his
wife in despair at the failure of her plan and the loss of her money. Here's a man whose wa-
gon upset, but who drove his horses home unhurt; another survived when his house fell down
around him; another was caught in the act by an enraged husband, but got away.' Not one gives
thanks for an escape from folly. It's so agreeable to know nothing, that mortals pray for
anything else rather than release from folly. But why have I launched into this ocean of su-

              Not with a hundred tongues, as many mouths,
              And with a voice of brass could I begin
              To list the forms of folly and their names.2

For the whole life of Christians everywhere is infected with idiocies of this sort; yet priests
tolerate them without misgivings, and even encourage them, being well aware how much mo-
ney can be coined out of them., In this state of affairs, suppose some hateful wise man were
to get up and sing a counter-melody rather like the following, all of which is perfectly true:
"You won't die badly if you live well; your sins will be forgiven if, to your bit of money, you
add hatred of evildoers, tears of true repentance, vigils, prayers, fasts, and a complete
change in the pattern of your life.
Your favorite saint will bless your endeavors if you live
up to his example.0magine these words and a few others like them to be murmured by the
wise man, and you see at once how much peace of mind the human soul will be deprived of,
what dismay men will be thrown into.

In the same class of fools belong
those who during their lifetime made elaborate arrangements
for their funerals, going so far as to stipulate how many torches, how many mourners, how
many singers, and how many silent attendants they want in the procession--as if they expect-
ed their senses to come back to them, so that they could appreciate the spectacle--or as if
they imagined, the corpse blushing for shame if the burial were less than magnificent.
are as eager in the whole matter as if they had been appointed to public office and made re-
sponsible for providing a public banquet and circus games. I have to hurry on, but I can't
omit those who, though they differ not at all from the commonest drudge, yet flatter them-
selves with incredible complacency on an empty title of nobility. One man derives his family
tree from Aeneas, another from Brutus, still another from King Arthur and each has busts and
family portraits to prove the connection.4 They rattle off the names of their grandfathers
and great-grandfathers, and recite all the ancient titles, showing themselves to be no less
blockish than dumb statues and worse no doubt than the ones they show off. Yet thanks to my
lovely handmaid Philautia [Self-Love], they lead the happiest of lives.
And there is no lack
of fools, just as stupid, who look up to this breed of beast as if it were of divine origin.
But why should I talk of one class of men more than another, as if my girl Philautia did not
with her marvellous skill make everyone everywhere supremely content with himself? Though
he's uglier than an ape, this man clearly thinks himself as handsome as Nireus.5 Another suc-
ceeds in drawing three lines with a compass, and promptly fancies himself a Euclid; still a-
nother, whose musical talents are those of an 'ass with a lyre' and who 'sings worse than a
cock who's just finished treading his hen,' imagines himself another Hermogenes
.6 Still ano-
ther variety of madness, surely the most delightful of all, is that which leads some men to
credit themselves for whatever talent is displayed by any of their servants. Such was that
fellow described by Seneca, as happy as he was rich, who when he started an anecdote always
had servants nearby to supply him with proper names.7

Though so weak physically that he could scarcely be said to live, he wouldn't have hesitated
to get into a fist-fight because he could always summon up a pack of muscular servants. As
for artistic performers, what a spectacle they offer! since self-love is the special mark of
them all. You will sooner find one of them ready to surrender his patrimony than one who will
admit he is not at the pinnacle of his profession. This is especially true of actors, singers,
orators, and poets; the more ignorant one of them is, the better pleased he will be with him-
self, the more he will preen and show off.
And as like is attracted to like, the more incompe-
tent the performer, the more admirers he will attract, so that the worst art delights most
people--the greater part of mankind being, as I said before, given over to folly. If then the
incompetent man pleases himself best and gains the admiration of most people, why should he
bother with real skills which will cost him a lot to acquire, yield little, afflict him with
doubts and misgivings, and in the end please many fewer people?

And now I see that Philautia has attached herself not only to individuals, but to nations and
cities, sinking the roots of self-love in all these communities. That is why the British pride
themselves on their good looks, their good music, and their good food, among other things. The
Scots preen themselves on their noble descent and royal connections, as well as their skill at
the dialectic; the French brag about their genteel manners, though the Parisians, dismissing
the claims of everyone else, make a special point of their skill in theology. The Italians lay
claim to literary culture and eloquence
and on that basis flatter themselves that they alone
of all the human race are not barbarians. The Romans enjoy this folly most, lost as they are
in fantasies about the old Roman empire. The Venetians have a high opinion of their own nobil-
ity, the Greeks boast they they invented the arts, and besides they claim descent from the
vaunted heroes of antiquity; while the Turks and that whole horde of barbarians pride them-
selves on their religion and ridicule Christians as superstitious. The Jews are even more hap-
pily deluded between constant expectation of their Messiah and a tenacious hold on their Moses;
the Spaniards yield to none in military prowess, the Germans boast of their muscular frames
and their skill in magic.
And, not to go into all the details, I think you see how Philautia
breeds pleasure everywhere, in groups as well as in individuals, almost in the same degree as
her sister Flattery.

For in fact self-love is the same thing as flattery, only performed on yourself instead of
someone else.
Nowadays flattery has a bad name, but only among those who are more im-
pressed by the names of things than by the things themselves. People think flattery is the
enemy of good faith; how wrong this is they could learn from the examples even of the
brute beasts. For who fawns on his master more than a dog, and yet is more faithful? What
creature is more gentle than the squirrel, and more friendly to man? Perhaps you imagine
that savage lions, cruel tigers, or fierce leopards are somehow better disposed toward hu-
man beings. I concede there is a sort of unhealthy adulation, of which unscrupulous hypo-
crites make use to destroy their miserable victims. But this flattery of mine rises from a
gracious and candid mind;
it comes much closer to virtue than its opposite, which is a shar-
pness of disposition and what Horace calls a 'sullen, surly morosity.'
8 My flattery lifts de-
jected spirits, raises people out of the dumps, enlivens the languishing, animates the dull,
heartens the sick, placates the angry, brings lovers together, and keeps them together
. It at-
tracts young people to the study of literature, livens the existence of old folk, and under
the guise of praise it warns and instructs princes without any offence in the world. In
it causes every man to have a better and more sanguine opinion of himself, which is
in fact the chief component of happiness. What sight is more gratifying than a pair of
mules rubbing necks?
I need not emphasize that this flattery forms a major part of that
much admired art, eloquence; it's just as important to medicine, and supremely valuable for
the poet; in fact, it is the honey and spice of all human intercourse.

But, they say, to be deceived is to be miserable; not so, I answer, it is truly miserable
not to be deceived.
How wrong men are when they suppose that human happiness lies in things
themselves. It depends on opinion.
For such is the obscurity and variety of human affairs
that nothing can be certainly known, as my friends the Academics9 used to say, the least
insolent of all the philosophers.
Or if anything can be known, it rarely makes for the
cheerfulness of human life. For the mind of man has been so formed that it is much more
attracted to appearances than to realities.
Anyone who wants proof of that point can find
it by attending church sermons, where, if anything serious is proposed, the auditory all
sleep or yawn or give signs of distaste. But if the tub-thumper (beg pardon, I meant to
say elocutionist) begins some old wive's tale, as often happens, look how the members of
the congregation will open their eyes, sit up straight, and pay eager attention.
Also if
there is a particularly fabulous or romantic saint--you may imagine George, or Christo-
pher, or Barbara to belong to this class--you'll find that saint attracts more devotion
than Peter or Paul or Christ himself. But this is not the place for topics of this sort.

Now consider how little you pay for the increase in satisfaction wrought by self-love.
Substantial things are apt to cost a great deal, even the lightest of them, such as the
acquisition of grammar. But opinion is easily picked up, and it contributes just as much,
if not more, to happiness. Look, suppose a man is eating some rotten salt fish, so offen-
sive that his neighbor can't even stand the smell of it; but if to him it seems like am-
brosia, what, I ask you, does the other man's opinion matter in point of happiness?
if caviar makes a man sick to his stomach, what does it matter to him that it's supposed
to be a gourmet dish? Though a man has an outstandingly ugly wife, if her husband thinks
she's in a class with Venus, isn't that just as good as if she were really beautiful? Say
that a man sees a picture smeared over with red lead and mud, admires it, and persuades
himself that it is by Apelles or Zeuxis
1--wouldn't he be happier than another man who
paid a high price for the genuine article but perhaps enjoyed it less? I know a man of
my name
2 who gave his new bride some artificial gems, telling her--for he was a great
practical joker--that they were not only genuine stones, but extraordinarily, incalcula-
bly valuable. I ask you now, what difference did it make to the girl if her eyes were
delighted and her mind gratified by the glass? She kept her trifles, as if they were some
immense treasure, hidden near her person; the husband saved expense and was amused by
his wife's error; while she was no less devoted to him than if he'd given her real gemstones.

What do you think is the difference between those who lurk in Plato's cave admiring the
shadows and appearances of things' but never desiring the actual objects, and perfectly
pleased with what they have --and your jwise man who comes out of the cave to look at
the things themselves?
If Mycillus in Lucian's dialogue 4 had been allowed to continue
forever in that golden dream of his, there was no reason why he should have wished for
any other sort of pleasure.

Between delusion and reality, there's either no difference at all, or if there is a dif-
ference it's all in favor of the deluded fool. In the first place, his bliss costs him
practically nothing, only a bit of self-persuasion. And then he enjoys it in common with
many other fools--and nothing is truly enjoyable unless it's shared. Now everybody knows
how few men are wise, if in fact you can even find one. In the course of seven centuries
the Greeks were able to muster only seven sages, among whom, for sure, if you looked
them over closely, I doubt if you'd' find even half a wise man--no, by God, not even the
third part of one.

Among the many praises of Bacchus this is one of the first, that he lightens the trou-
bles of the mind, though only for the time being--for as soon as you've slept it off,
back they come, all your troubles in a rush, "riding six white horses," as they say. Now
how much more prompt, powerful, and permanent is my assistance since I freely fill the
mind with a continual intoxicating diet of delights, frolics, and caperings. Besides, I
don't refuse my presents to any mortal, unlike the other gods, who reserve their gifts
for a chosen few. You can't grow in just any vacant lot the rich and generous wine that
dispels gloom and dances attendance on bountiful hope:
Physical beauty, the gift of
Venus, is granted to very few, and eloquence, Mercury's gift, to even fewer.
Not many
people get rich with the help of Hercules; Homer's Jupiter doesn't bestow on many the
right to rule.' Very often the god of war favors neither combatant; many who approach
the tripod of Apollo depart from it in deepest gloom. The son of Saturn [ Jove] speaks
often in thunder, and Apollo showers down the arrows of pestilence; Neptune swallows up
more mariners than he preserves. As for the underworld gods, Pluto, Ate, Poena, Febris,
and evil spirits of that sort,
6 I don't consider them gods at all, but butchers. I,
Folly, am the only divinity who embrace all men equally and include them all within
the scope of my generosity. What's more, I don't demand offerings or sulk and insist
on special expiatory gifts if some ceremony has been overlooked. Neither do I throw
heaven and earth into an uproar if someone invites all the other gods to a celebration,
but leaves me out so I don't get even a sniff of the smoke of their sacrifices.
As for
those other gods, they are so peevish that one is better off neglecting than worship-
ping them. In the same way there are men so irritable and touchy that it's better not
to know them at all than to have them as friends.

But it's well known that nobody sacrifices to Folly, or has ever put up a temple to her;
and, as I said before, I'm a bit surprised at this ingratitude. I suppose, though, it's
a consequence of my good nature; and, at bottom, they are attentions that I don't really
Why should I care for a donative of incense or grain, a slaughtered goat or hog,
when all men already worship me in the way that theologians most approve of? Maybe I
ought to envy Diana because she is placated with human blood; but I consider myself to
be most devoutly worshipped when all men everywhere bind me to their souls, express me
in their manners, objectify me in their lives
--exactly as they do now. Even among Christ-
ians, such heartfelt devotion is uncommon. What a crowd of them can be seen lighting
candles to the Virgin Mary, and in broad daylight, when there's no need for them! Yet
how few of the same crowd try to imitate her in the chastity and modesty of her life,
in her love for celestial things! For that after all is true worship and by all odds
most welcome in heaven.
Besides, why should I want a special temple of my own when the
whole globe is a temple for me, and, if I'm not mistaken, a very beautiful one. I lack
for worshippers only where there are no men at all `And you needn't suppose I'm such a
fool that I want sculptured or painted images of myself; they would just get in the
way, as they always do when dull clods worship the figures instead of the divinities
themselves. And that leaves all us gods in the position of those who are pushed out of
their jobs by their substitutes. I consider that I have as many statues erected to me
as there are mortals bearing my image in their face--even if they would rather not.

And so there's no reason at all for me to envy the other gods if some of them are wor-
shipped with special zeal in special corners of the earth on special days. Let Apollo
have his shrine on Rhodes, Venus on Cyprus, Juno at Argos, Minerva at Athens, Jupiter
at Olympus, Neptune at Tarentum, Priapus at Lampsacus--bas long as I have the whole
world offering far greater sacrifices to me.

And if you think I'm saying this more out of brashness than regard for truth, just
look for a moment at the actual ways men live and see from that how much they owe me
and how much regard they have for me, the men of position no less than the rabble. But
to save space, I won't look over the lives of ordinary people; if I concentrate on the
more prominent, it will be easy to judge from them what the rest are like. Besides,
what would be the point of reminding you of the common herd, all of whom without any
controversy belong to my camp?
They riot in so many different forms of folly, and ev-
ery day bring forth so many new ones, that not even a thousand Democrituses would suf-
fice to laugh at them; and then you'd need one extra Democritus to laugh at the thou-
sand laughers.

It's absolutely incredible what a show the human race puts on for the gods, what new
japes and jokes they dream up every day. For the gods spend their sober morning hours
settling squabbles and listening to prayers. But when they're well liquored up with
nectar and unfit for serious business, then they adjourn to a convenient promontory
of heaven and sit there with faces bent downward to see what humans are up to
can't imagine a performance they would enjoy more. Lord almighty, what a theater is
this, what a wild storm of follies! I myself sometimes enjoy sitting down among the
poetic gods to watch. Here's a fellow dying for love of a pretty filly, and the less
she can stand him, the more desperately he adores her. Here's one who married a dowry,
not a wife; another who prostitutes his own wife; and a third so jealous he watches
over his lady like Argus with a hundred eyes.
Over there is a man in mourning, but,
good lord! look at the foolish things he says and does! hiring mummers like a troupe
of actors to put on a show of grief for him. There's another sobbing over the grave
of his mother-in-law.' Whatever food this next fellow can scrape together he stuffs
into his belly, but in a few minutes he'll be ravenous again. This man exists only
to sleep and loaf, and with that he's happy.
Some people are so busy minding every-
body else's business, they have no time for their own. There's a broker who fancies
himself rich on his client's money, but soon he'll go bankrupt. Another believes in
starving himself so that his heir can be rich. The dubious lure of a little gold en-
tices men to cross oceans one after the other, risking amid winds and waves a life
for which no amount of money can compensate them.
Others go off looking for loot in
a military campaign, when they could live quietly and comfortably at home. Some seek
out childless old men, hoping to pick up a painless inheritance; others make up to
rich old women for the same reason. It's a cause of particular delight to the watch-
ing gods when these schemers are betrayed by the very victims they had hoped to snare.

Businessmen are not only the most foolish of fools but the most sordid, since they
spend their whole life grubbing for money and resort to the meanest tricks to get it:
they lie, they perjure themselves, they steal, defraud, and mislead the public; and
then, as proof of what sterling fellows they are, they flaunt fat fingers covered
with gold rings. Nor do they lack an attendant band of flattering friars, who make
much of them and openly address them as 'Right Worthy,' obviously in the hope that
a little overflow from the sewer of ill-gotten gains will be diverted their way. O-
ver there you will find some practical Pythagoreans' who hold that all things should
be held in common, so whatever they find that isn't nailed down they blithely take
to themselves, as if it were their particular inheritance: Some are rich only in
their great expectations, live their lives in a rosy glow of pipe-dreams, and con-
sider that happiness enough. Others make a point of seeming rich to their neighbors
but live a meager, hungry life at home.
One man rushes headlong to spend every last
penny he possesses, another hoards his coppers like a miser. Here's a candidate for
public office who canvasses high and low for votes; his counterpart dozes by the
fireside. Many people occupy themselves with interminable litigation and carry their
battle from courtroom to courtroom, each party trying to best the other--to the
great profit of the judge, who puts off his decision indefinitely, and the collu-
sive lawyers, who urge the suit ever onwards. This man dreams of the revolution to
come, and that one cherishes a vast, vague project. The pilgrim departs for Jerusa-
lem, Rome, or Compostela,4 where he has no business being--meanwhile leaving his
wife and children to shift for themselves. In short,
if you could see the innumer-
able activities of men from a perch in the moon, as Menippus once did,' you would
think you were looking at a swarm of flies or gnats, all struggling, fighting, and
betraying one another, robbing, playing, lusting, birthing, sickening, and dying.
You'd never be able to believe what tumults and tragedies could be set in motion
by this puny homunculus who is destined to disappear so quickly. For again and a-
gain a war over some trifling occasion, or an epidemic of disease, will wipe out
the species by the thousands.

But here I'd outdo my own stupidity and would deserve all the ridicule of which
Democritus is capable if I tried to list all the shapes taken by popular foolish-
ness and insanity. Let me come closer to those men who maintain some pretence to
wisdom and try at least to grasp the golden bough, as men say
.6 Among these the
teachers of grammar are the most wretched of men, the most miserable, the most
forsaken of God--or so they would be unless I mitigated the awfulness of their
profession by dabbling them with the sweet dew of my madness. For they are sub-
ject not just to 'the five miseries' of the Greek epigram? but to six hundred
more, being penned up, grubby and half-starved in their classrooms--or 'beating-
mills,' should I say, or shambles--amid herds of boys, growing old at their la-
bors, deaf with the constant racket, and sick because of the constant stench and
Yet, thanks to my efforts, they consider themselves the happiest of men,
particularly when they can terrify their flock of trembling schoolboys with glow-
ering expressions and thunderous voices. Yet when they savage the wretched in-
fants with canings, floggings, and the strap, they are simply emulating the ass
of Cumae described by Aesop
.8 Meanwhile all this beastliness seems to them the
height of elegance, the stuffy classroom smells of wildflowers, and their own
miserable drudgery seems a royal kingdom,
such as they wouldn't exchange for
the supreme sway of Phalaris or Dionysus.9 But what raises them to the heights
of ecstasy is if they discover some new point of interpretation. What they
teach their students is utter gibberish, but they think their own critical dis-
cernment is far beyond that of the greatest grammarians,
like Palaemon or Don-
atus.' And, though I don't know by what flim-flam they do it, they are able to
persuade the mothers and fathers of their pupils that they themselves are just
as great as they make out. Another special delight they take is to dig out of
some moldy old manuscript some exotic fact, like the name of Anchises' mother,
or some completely obsolete word such as 'cuhyrde,"eperotesis,' or 'cuttlebung;'
sometimes one of them comes up with a fragment of old rock carved with a few
broken letters. And then, oh Lord, what elation, what cries of triumph, what
tributes of praise, as if Africa had been conquered or Babylon put to sack.

As for those frigid and clumsy verses they display everywhere (and some people
may even be found to admire them), the authors of them act as if Virgil's soul
had been infused into their breasts. But what they enjoy most of all is getting
together for a session of
reciprocal back-scratching and mutual admiration com-
bined with mutual malice. If one fellow blunders over a single syllable and
some sharper-eared fellow catches him, then, `oh thunder and lightning,' what
tragic declamations we get, what caterwaulings, word-wars, and bitter invect-
May I have the whole academic world about my ears if I exaggerate. I
once knew a certain 'polymath' who had studied Greek, Latin, mathematics,
philosophy, and medicine, and was 'skilled in all of them;' at sixty years
of age he set everything else aside, and spent more than twenty years tortur-
ing his mind with the problem of deciding (if he should be happy enough to
live so long) how the eight parts of speech should be distinguished.
3 Hither-
to, he felt, none of the Greek or Latin authors had made the matter sufficien-
tly clear; and it would practically be a cause for war if somebody made a con-
junction out of a word that really belonged among the adverb. Doubtless for
this reason, there are as many grammar books as there are grammarians, or even
more; for my friend Aldus4 alone has produced more than five of them, overlook-
ing none, however barbarically or badly written; but he corrects and prints
them all, keeping a jealous eye on everything that's done in this line, however
incompetent it may be--so fearful is he that someone else will grab the glory
and rob him of his many years of labor. Would you rather call this madness or
folly? Personally, I don't care, so long as you concede that I'm the animating
spirit and that an animal, otherwise the most miserable of all, can be raised
with my help to such a peak of felicity that he wouldn't change state with the
kings of Persia.

The poets owe less to my favor, though by their own admission they are of my
faction, for they are 'a tribe of free spirits' (as the proverb has it) who
devote themselves entirely to tickling the ears of fools with pretty nothings
and absurd stories.
And yet, strange to say, they devote all their time to
these things, promising themselves on the basis of them immortality and a
life equal to that of the gods; what's more, they promise the same gifts to
other people. 'Self-love and flattery' are the special cronies of the poetic
and I myself am worshipped by no other breed of men more devotedly or
faithfully. As for the rhetoricians, though they quibble a lot and pretend to
line up with the philosophers, there are many reasons to show that they belong
in my camp, and this above all, that among other frivolities, they have writ-
ten so much and so sharply on the art of cracking jokes. And that folly itself
is one of the classes of wit is declared by the man, whoever he was, who wrote
Ad Herennium on the art of eloquence; moreover, in the works of Quintilian,
who was one of the best to write on this topic, there's a chapter on laughter
that's even more long-winded than the Iliad.' Everyone concedes this point in
wit's favor that arguments which can't be refuted logically can often be eluded
with a jest
--though somebody may object that this is not really Folly's job to
raise a laugh with ridiculous sayings, especially when they're produced on pur-

Baked in the same oven are the halfwits who expect to achieve immortal fame by
writing books. The whole tribe of them are deeply in my debt, most obviously
those who blacken reams of paper with pure piffle. But there's not much to be
said, either, for those who write learned books for the judgment of a few other
learned men and expect to be studied even by Persius and Laelius.6 These emdites
seem to me more pitiable than happy, since they are assiduous self-torturers.
They change, they interline, they erase something and put it back in, they re-
write the whole thing, after rephrasing a passage they show it to their friends
and after all they closet up the manuscript for nine years7 but without ever
satisfying themselves--and this for an empty reward of praise from a mere hand-
ful of critic.
And this idle end they pursue despite vast expense of midnight
oil, frequent loss of sleep (of all things the most precious), and endless
waste of life's good things on unprofitable or insoluble riddles. Add to this
the loss of health, the crumbling away of good looks, bleared eyes or even
blindness, poverty, envious colleagues, rejection of pleasures, sudden senili-
ty, untimely death,
and anything else of the sort that you can think of. All
this grief they gladly accept as the price of having their work appreciated by
a couple of blear-eyed "experts." But a writer of my school cultivates a much
happier vein of craziness, since he takes no care over his work, but just
writes down whatever pops into his head or slips off his pen, even his dreams.
No waste of paper here!
He knows perfectly well that the sillier the nonsense
he puts down, the better it will appeal to a mass audience, who are almost all
fools and blockheads. What does it matter if three men of judgment--even sup-
posing they read his work in the first place--despise it? What weight will
their minority opinion carry in such an overwhelming crowd of admirers?

Smarter yet are those who adopt the writings of others as their own, easily
transforming another man's hard work to their own account and cheered with
the pleasant thought that even if they're ultimately convicted of plagiarism,
they will have been able to coin plenty of money in the meantime. It's really
a joy to watch these people preening themselves on their popularity when
they're pointed out in a crowd ("this is the famous writer")
or when their
works are displayed in the bookstores with three names on the title page,8
especially if they're exotic names like those used by conjurers. What are
they, in the name of God, but empty names? Taking into account the vastness
of the world, how few people will recognize the names of even the best-known
authors? and of that few, what a trifling number can be expected to like a
particular book, since even among the ignorant many different independent
tastes exist? Many authors write under pen-names which they invent or adapt
from books of the ancients; and then what does their fame amount to? One man
calls himself Telemachus, another is Stelenus or Laertes; here we have Poly-
crates, while there someone prefers Thrasymachus. They might just as well
sign their books Chameleon or Pumpkin, or else, like the philosophers, dis-
tinguish them as Alpha, Beta, and so forth.

Most enchanting of all is the spectacle when they start flattering one an-
other back and forth with epistles dedicatory, commendatory verses, and mu-
tual complimentary allusions. A fool puffs the work of other fools, an igno-
ramus cries up the accomplishments of other blockheads.
For one fellow his
friend is a better poet than Alcaeus; the friend says the first fellow out-
soars Callimachus.9 In the opinion of his friend B, A is far superior to
Cicero; A returns the favor, his friend B is more learned than Plato. Or
else two of them gang up against a third, by contrast with whom their repu-
tations are, or should be, far more brilliant. Thus literary wars arise, to
the great confusion of the vulgar, until finally both party leaders declare
themselves triumphant and march off the field to celebrate the victory. Wise
men laugh at all this play-acting, considering it, as it really is, the
height of the ridiculous. But meanwhile, with my help, the actors lead lives
of utmost complacency, and wouldn't change places with either of the Scipi-

The scholars have all sorts of fun deriding others and ridiculing their mad-
ness, but they themselves owe no small debt to me, and they can't deny it
without appearing altogether ungrateful.
The lawyers are just as well plea-
sed with themselves. Laborious as Sisyphus heaving aloft his boulder,2 they
are constantly stitching together six hundred different precedents to make
a single ruling, and couldn't care less which side they're engaged on.
Glosses must be written on glosses, opinions piled on opinions. Thus their
discipline appears the most difficult of all; and just because it's tedious,
they think it distinguished to the n'th degree. Near relatives of theirs
are the dialecticians and sophists, a race of men more noisy than crashing
Dodonian brass,' any one of whom could outshout twenty specially selected
women. They would be happier, though, if they were just babblers and not
quarrelsome as well; they will squabble interminably over a goat's hair and
in the end, by dint of all their bawling, lose track of the truth. Yet their
self-conceit keeps them happy; armed with three syllogisms,
they will chal-
lenge anyone to debate anything and thanks to their obstinacy bear it out,
even if Stentor were opposed to them.'

Come next the natural philosophers, long of beard and furry of gown, who
declare that they alone possess wisdom, the rest of mankind being capable
of nothing more than fleeting impressions. How agreeably they hallucinate
when they construct innumerable worlds, measuring sun, moon, stars, and
heavenly orbits as if with thumb and tape-ruler
Never at a loss to explain
thunder, wind, eclipses, and other incomprehensible events, and never even
hesitating over their explanations, they act as if they were in on all the
secrets of nature who created the universe, as if they came down to us bea-
ring the word direct from on high. Yet all the time nature derides both
them and their conjectures. For that nothing is settled among them is per-
fectly evident from the fact that they are always fighting with one another
over inexplicable phenomena.
Though they know nothing specific, they lay
claim to know everything in general. Not only are they ignorant of them-
selves, they cannot avoid falling into a ditch or stumbling over a rock
in the path (perhaps they are blear-eyed from study or just absent-mind-
ed); yet they claim to know all about abstract ideas, universals, sepa-
rate forms, primary matter, quiddities, and different modes of being--
objects so phantasmal I doubt if Lynceus himself could make them out.
They particularly set themselves above the profane mob when they bring
forth their triangles, circles, and such-like mathematical shapes, scrib-
bling one atop the other to make a labyrinth and then sprinkling letters
over them as if in battle-formations designed to submerge the plain man
in waves of confusion.
Some of this breed venture to make predictions by
consulting the stars; they promise more than magical miracles, and some-
times, when they are extra lucky, find people to believe them.

Perhaps I ought to pass over the theologians in silence and 'just not go
near that open sewer' or touch that stink-weed. They are a class of men
so arrogant and irritable that they're likely to attack me by squadrons
with their six hundred conclusions and force me into a recantation; then
if I refuse it, they'd promptly have me up for a `heretic.'4This is the
thunderbolt with which they terrify anyone who for some reason has got
in their black books.
No other people are less ready to acknowledge my
services to them; yet they're obliged to me on several important scores.

For they cocker up their own self-esteem, as if raising themselves to a
seventh heaven, and from that vantage look down on the rest of the human
race as so many dumb beasts crawling the ground--so lowly as to be almost
pitiful: Meanwhile, they protect themselves with a hedge full of academ-
ic definitions, logical argumentations, inferential corollaries, explicit
and implicit propositions; they blossom out with so many `subterfuges'
that the net of Vulcan couldn't hold them down; they devise so many sharp
distinctions for cutting through legal ligatures that a double-bladed axe
from Tenedos couldn't do better,7 they rattle off so many newly coined
words and bawl aloud in such prodigious voices that there's no standing
against them.
Besides, they can explain to their own satis-faction all
sorts of inexplicable matters, such as how the world was created and or-
dered; what channels carried original sin down to posterity; by what means,
in what measure, and how long the perfected Christ lay in the Virgin's
womb; and how accidents manage to subsist in the eucharist without a sub-

But these are old and tired questions. Here are some others, considered
worthy of distinguished and illuminate (as they're called) theologians,
sufficient to stir the blood if and when they encounter them. Whether di-
vine generation occurred at a particular point in time?
Whether several
filiations co-existed in Christ? Is it thinkable that God the Father
hated Christ? Could God assume the shape of a woman, of the devil, of
an ass, of a pumpkin, or a piece of flint? Suppose him transformed to a
pumpkin, how could he have preached, performed miracles, been crucified?

What act of consecration would Peter have performed if he had performed
it while Christ was hanging on the cross? Whether Christ while on the
cross, could properly be defined as a man? Whether, after the general
resurrection, it will be permissible to eat and drink? (Just in case it
isn't, they take aboard a good supply in the here and now.) These
worthless quibbles' are innumerable, and there are others subtler still,
involving instants of time, abstract conceptions, analogous relations,
formalities, quiddities, ecceities and things so vague that nobody could
possibly see them unless he could not only look through a solid wall
like Lynceus, but see behind it things that never existed.'

And then they have their favorite hard cases of conscience, paradoxes
indeed, compared with which the stoic paradoxes were lumpish and obvio-
us platitudes.' For example, they will maintain that it's less criminal
to cut a thousand throats than to take a stitch in the sole of a poor
man's shoe on Sunday. Or that it is better for the whole world to perish,
lock, stock, and barrel (as they say), than for one individual to tell
a little white lie on a trivial occasion.2 The various devices of our
schoolmen only render these subtlest of subtleties more subtle yet, so
you'd have a better chance of getting out of a labyrinth than out of all
the equivocations devised by the Realists, Nominalists, Thomists, Albert-
ists, Occamists, Scotists, and I can't give all their names but you have
the main ones. They all boast such mighty erudition and write such tor-
tured prose that I should think the apostles themselves must have had a
very different spirit if they were to discuss topics like these with our
new breed of theologians.
Paul could display faith; but when he said,
"Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not
seen," 3 that was a very un-academic definition. In I Corinthians 13, he
wrote a wonderful exhortation to charity, but he altogether failed to
divide charity into its component parts or define it in the proper dial-
ectical way. No doubt the apostles consecrated the host with proper piety,
but if you asked them about the terminus a quo [starting point] and the
terminus ad quem [destination], or asked them to discourse on transub-
stantiation with an explanation of how the same body can exist simultan-
eously in several places; if they were called on to distinguish between
Christ's bodily existence in heaven, on the cross, and in the sacrament;
or if they were put to define the exact moment when transubstantiation
occurs (since the prayer effecting it occupies a measurable period of
time), I very much doubt if they would have responded with all the sub-
tlety that our sons of Scotus display in laying out their questions and
picking them apart.' The apostles all knew the mother of Jesus, but which
of them could have equalled our theologians in deploying a demonstration
of the means by which she was protected, immaculate, from the sin of Adam?
Peter received the keys, and received them from one who would never have
bestowed them on an unworthy person, but I doubt if he ever understood--
for he never was distinguished for his subtlety--how a man can possess
the keys to knowledge without having knowledge itself.' The apostles bap-
tized far and wide, but never taught what are the formal, material, effi-
cient, and final causes of baptism; they never so much as mentioned its
double nature, delible and indelible. They worshipped indeed, but in the
spirit, following no other guide than the evangelist who wrote, "God is
a spirit, and they that worship him ought to do so in spirit and truth."
But it doesn't seem to have been revealed to them that they should wor-
ship an image scrawled on a wall in exactly the same way as Christ him-
self--so long as the image portrays him with two fingers extended, with
long hair, and with three rays in the halo on his head.
To gain a true
understanding of these fine points you have to have wasted thirty-six
years studying the physics and metaphysics of Aristotle and the Scotists.

The apostles constantly preached grace, but they never distinguished be-
tween actual grace and sanctifying grace.? They exhort us to good works,
but without discriminating between the work as such, the work of the wor-
ker, and the work worked. Again and again they incite us to charity but
never divide infused from acquired charity, or explain whether it is an
accident or a substance, a created or an uncreated thing.
They detest
sin, but I'll be blessed if they could define sin with truly scientific
precision, unless they had been enlightened by the wisdom of the Scotists.

You can't make me believe that Paul, who in point of erudition was proba-
bly about on a level with the other apostles, would have dismissed as
worthless all those questions, disputations, genealogies, and "word-squa-
bbles" (his very expression), if he had himself been expert in that sort
of logic-chopping--especially since the arguments of those days were crude
wrangles between uncouth bumpkins compared with the ultra-Chrysippean
subtleties of our magisterial contemporaries.'
Yet our doctors carry modesty
to the point of not condemning out of hand what the apostles wrote in
their untutored, unacademic dialect; no, they simply interpret it into
the form and sense that they prefer. This they do out of respect partly
for antiquity, partly for the apostolic name. Of course it would be un-
fair to expect academic correctness of the apostles, because they never
heard so much as a word on the matter from their master. But if the same
ineptitudes were to appear in Chrysostom, Basil, or Jerome,9 our scholars
would have no hesitation in writing them down, "not acceptable."

Indeed, the apostles did confute both pagan philosophers and Jews, who
are by nature the most stubborn of men, but they did so more by the exam-
ple of their lives and their miracles than by logical syllogisms; and they
dealt with men not one of whom was fit to follow intelligently even a sin-
gle one of the 'topics' propounded by Scotus.
Nowadays, what ethnic or he-
retic could hold out an instant against the concentrated, interwoven sub-
tleties of our theologians--unless he was so dull he didn't understand
them, so impudent that he simply hissed them down, or else so skilled in
the same tricks that he could fight on equal terms--like one necromancer
hurling curses at another, or one warrior with a magic sword fighting an-
other also with a magic sword. This is nothing but weaving and unweaving
the web of Penelope,' But I think Christians would be well advised if,
instead of building up all those cumbersome armies with which they've
been fighting indecisive wars for some time now, they sent against the
Turks and Saracens some of our most vociferous Scotists, our most pig-he-
aded Occamists, our most invincible Albertists. Then I think the world
would behold a most hilarious battle and a victory such as was never seen
before. Who is so cold-blooded that the clash of these mighty intellects
would not excite him? who so stupid as not to be stirred by these keen
sarcasms? who so piercing of visage as not to be overwhelmed by the smoke-
screens of verbiage?

Perhaps you think I'm saying all this by way of a joke, and that's not
surprising, since even among the theologians there are some better train-
ed in letters than others
who are nauseated by these theological ingenui-
ties, which they consider grotesque. They despise as a form of sacrilege
this talking with unclean mouths about the deepest mysteries of religion,
which we should adore, not explain; they reject as the worst form of im-
piety these disputes carried on with the profane cleverness of the pagans,
these arrogant definitions, and this befouling of theology's divine maj-
esty with such frigid, not to say dirty, words and sentiments. Meanwhile
the interpreters are mightily pleased with their own little circle; they
bask in each others' praises, so absorbed in these delicious cats'-cradles

of theirs that they can't spare so much as a moment to read over a book
of the gospels or look into an epistle of Paul's.
And even as they quib-
ble over their footnotes, they imagine they are supporting on the pillars
of their syllogisms a church which would otherwise collapse in an instant--
just as the poets say Atlas once held up the heavens on his shoulders.

Now imagine how much pleasure they get from shaping and reshaping the ho-
ly scripture at will,
as if it were made of wax, while they demand that
their own decrees shall be observed, as soon as a few schoolmen have sub-
scribed to them, more strictly than the laws of Solon,' and shall even be
placed above papal edicts. As censors of the whole world, they demand re-
traction of all ideas that don't exactly square with their explicit and
implicit conclusions. And then
they speak with the authority of an ora-
cle: this proposition is scandalousy, this needs a tad more reverence,
this reeks of heresy, this rings off key.'
So that now it's not baptism
or the gospel, not Peter, Paul, Jerome, or Augustine, not Thomas himself,
most Aristotelian of Aristotelians, can make a Christian; the one essen-
tial is that these learned bachelors give their consent. Who ever would
have thought, if these wise owls hadn't told us, that a man can't be a
Christian who thinks both these expressions, 'chamber pot, you stink,'
and 'the chamber pot stinks,' are acceptable? So too with the two ex-
pressions 'that the pot is boiling' and 'the pots are boiling'--it's of
the greatest importance to know that the first is less perfect than the
5 And who would have saved the church from the dark cave of such
grievous errors if our learned men had not publicly refuted them under
the seal of their great universities? And now don't you suppose that
these scholars have been enjoying themselves every bit of the time?

They are particularly in their element when describing hell down to the
last detail, as if they had spent many years in that part of the world.
They also like to invent new worlds, just as the fancy suits them, and
adding when they choose another one of their own, the largest and finest
of all, so the happy inhabitants won't lack space to take a stroll, ar-
range a picnic, or play a game of ball.
With these freaks and thousands
of others their heads are stuffed so full and packed so tight that I ex-
pect Jove's brain was just as cramped when he was about to give birth
to Pallas and had to borrow the use of Vulcan's axe to get her out.6 So
don't be surprised if at public disputations you see the heads of the
scholars swathed in bands; it's necessary, or their brains would pop out.

I often get a good laugh myself at the way they think the more eminent
they are as theologians, the more coarsely and crudely they are entitled
to speak. Mostly they mumble so only another mumbler can understand them,
and then they swank about their 'acumen,' which is high understanding,
far beyond the grasp of the vulgar. They even say it doesn't agree with
the dignity of sacred letters that they should be subject to laws made
by grammarians. Oh, wonderful privilege of the theologians, that they a-
lone are entitled to speak incorrectly--though in fact it's a trait they
share with a good many cobblers. They actually consider themselves near
neighbors to the gods
when they are addressed, as in a religious formula,
with the title "Magistri Nostri"--it is a phrase that they think conceals
some lofty, secret allusion, like the Jewish tetragrammaton.7 And so they
say it is wicked to write MAGISTER NOSTER except in capital letters, and
if anyone presumes to invert the order of things by saying "Nosier Magis-
ter," he is judged to have destroyed at a stroke all the majesty of the
theologian's title.

Next to them in bliss come those who are popularly called "men of religi-
on" and "monks." Both names are completely false, since most of them avoid
religion as much as they can, and wherever you go you can't help running
into these men who've 'withdrawn' from the world.
8 I simply can't imagine
what would be more wretched than their condition, unless I helped them out
in all sorts of ways. For everyone loathes them so much that simply for
one of them to show his face is considered bad luck; yet they flatter them-
selves gloriously. First, they think it a main point of piety to be igno-
rant of good letters, preferably not to be able to read at all.
Then when
like donkeys in church they bray out their psalms (memorized indeed, but
not understood) they can imagine they are ravishing the ears of the saints
with infinite delight. A good many of them make an excellent living out of
their beggars' rags, bellowing for bread from door to door, and shoving
into inns, carriages, and boats to the great prejudice of other beggars.
And thus these delightful fellows represent themselves to us as apostles--
by virtue of their filth, stupidity, grossness, and impudence, forsooth!

What can be funnier than their habit of doing everything by the book, as
if following mathematical rules that it would be a sin to break? So many
knots are required in the shoelace, a cloak can have only so many colors
and must be of a certain material, the girdle must also be of a certain
material and so many straws wide, the cowl can be cut only one way and ca-
pable of holding only so many pecks, the hair must be trimmed to the length
of so many fingers, sleep is permitted for only so many hours.
This rigid
equality, imposed on people so very different in body and mind, is most un-
equal in its effects, as who can help seeing? And yet by these tricks they
succeed in feeling superior not only to ordinary laymen but to one another--
so that these men dedicated to apostolic charity will make frightful scenes
over a habit worn with the wrong girdle or a bit too dark in color. Some you
can find so severely religious that they use only rough Cilician cloth for
their outer robe, though the undergarment is of fine Milesian wool; a vari-
ation of this trick is to wear linen on the outside, wool inside.' Still others
reject mere contact with money as if it were a most contagious poison,
though they are less scrupulous about wine-bibbing or intimate relations
with women.

Finally, they all try as hard as possible not to agree with each other in
their way of life; they are far less interested in resembling Christ than
in differing among themselves. Thus they take special delight in their var-
ious names, some calling themselves "Cordeliers" but then subdividing their
order into "Coletans," "Friars Minor," "Minims," and "Bullists." Again we
have the "Benedictines" and the "Bernardines," the "Brigetines" and the
"Augustinians," the "Williamites" and the "Jacobites"-- as if it was their
last concern to be known as Christians.

The greater number of them insist so vehemently on their own ceremonies
and petty traditions that
they think a single heaven will hardly be ade-
quate reward for such outstanding merit
--never imagining that Christ, des-
pising all these observances, will judge by his own standard, which is that
of charity.
One monk will point to his paunch, distended by eating every
conceivable variety of fish; another will pour forth psalms by the bushel.
Another will number up his myriads of fasts, and account for his bursting
belly by the fact that he eats only one meal at midday. Another points to
his huge pile of ceremonies performed, so many they couldn't be laden on
seven naval transports. Another brags that for sixty years he has never
touched money except with fingers protected by two pairs of gloves. Still
another wears a cowl so dirty and slimy that no sailor would let it touch
his body. Another boasts that for more than half a century he has led the
life of a sponge, always fixed to the same spot; his neighbor claims cre-
dit for a voice hoarsened by constant singing; another for a lethargy con-
tracted during years of solitude; and still another for a tongue atrophied
during years of silence. But Christ, interrupting their boasts (which o-
therwise would never end), will ask, "Where did this new race of Jews come
from? I recognize no law but my own, and about it I hear nothing whatever.
Long ago, speaking openly and using no intricate parables, I promised that
my father's kingdom would be granted, not to cowls, prayers, or fasts, but
to works of faith and charity.
Nor do I recognize those who make too much
of their own merits and want to seem more sanctified than me; let them go
live in the heavens of Abraxa or, if they want, get a new heaven built for
them outside mine by the men whose foolish traditions they have preferred
before my commandments." When they hear these words, and see sailors and
coachmen preferred before them, with what expressions do you suppose they
will stare at each other? But meanwhile they cherish their own comfortable
illusions, not without help from me.

Even though they have no political power, nobody dares to scorn the monks,
least of all the mendicants, because they hold the keys of everyone's secret
life under the seal of the confessional, as they call it. Revealing such secrets
they consider very wrong, unless when they're drunk, and want to please
the company with spicy stories;
then they sketch the outlines of the tale,
but allusively, leaving out all the names. But if anyone stirs up these hor-
nets, then they defend themselves in public sermons, alluding indirectly and
subtly to their enemy, so that only a complete dummy will fail to get the po-
int. And there'll be no end to their yapping till you stop their mouths with
a bone.

Tell me, now, what comic actor or street-corner charlatan would you rather
watch in action than these fellows making their sermons? Though they can't
avoid ridiculous blunders, they try to imitate everything the old rhetorici-
ans have handed down on the art of discourse. Good lord, how they gesticu-
late, how they change pitch, how they crow and strut and fling themselves
wildly about, putting on special expressions from time to time,
and getting
everything mixed up in their outcries. And this art of oratory they hand
down as a secret tradition from brother to brother; though I'm not permit-
ted to know what it is,4 still I can make a guess.

First they make an invocation, a trick borrowed from the poets. Then if
their theme is going to be charity, the exordium will be all about the ri-
ver Nile in Egypt; or if the theme is to be the mystery of the cross, they
will find a happy starting place in Bel the dragon of Babylon; if it's to
be about fasting, they will begin with the twelve signs of the zodiac, and
if they're going to preach on faith, they talk a good long time on the
squaring of the circle. 5 I myself once heard a distinguished fool--beg
pardon, I meant to say "doctor"--who in a much publicized sermon that was
to explain the mystery of the Holy Trinity tried to show that his approach
was not the conventional one, but fit for the most theological ears in his
audience. His new approach was to begin with letters, syllables, and sen-
tences and so work up to the agreement of subject with verb and adjective
with noun. Meanwhile everyone was amazed, and some people whispered to one
another that phrase from Horace, "What does all this stink amount to?"6 But
finally he worked around to his main idea, that he could show an emblem of
the Trinity so clearly indicated in the rules of grammar that no geometri-
cian could demonstrate it better by drawing a diagram. And over this one
sermon our 'ultra-theologian' had sweated eight whole months, so that today
he's stone-blind, the discern-ment of his eyesight having been sacrificed
to the sharpness of his wit. But the man does not regret his blindness,
and thinks his glory was cheaply purchased at such a price. I've also
heard of another man fully eighty years old who was so much a theologian
that you'd have thought him Scotus incarnate. To clarify the mystery of
the name JESU he demonstrated with marvellous subtlety that whatever can
be expressed on this subject lies hidden in the letters themselves. For
the fact that the word can be declined in three and only three different
cases is a manifest symbol of the Holy Trinity. Then because the first form
Jesus ends in s, the second Jesum in m, and the third Jesu in u, this deep
observation must be understood to enclose an 'ineffable' mystery, for the
three letters indicate Christ is the sum, the middle, and the ultimate.
Then within this mystery, he found one even more abstruse, involving the
mathematics. Dividing the word Jesus in two equal parts leaves the letter
s in the middle. Now that letter in Hebrew is pronounced Shin, which is
not far from the word that the Scots use for peccatum, that is, sin; and
this is a plain demonstration that Jesus takes away the sins of the world.
This novel exordium left the audience open-mouthed in admiration, especia-
lly the theologians who were nearly petrified with astonishment, as Niobe
was with grief.? As for me, I nearly suffered the same fate, from splitting
my sides, as befell that rascally figwood Priapus when he spied on the se-
cret rites of Canidia and Sagana.8 And no wonder; for when did Demosthenes
in Greek or Cicero in Latin ever dream up any such complicated roundabout?

They considered any prefatory remarks faulty that wandered away from the
main point. Not even a swineherd, with nothing but nature to instruct him,
would ever start a speech that way. But the preachers all think their pre-
amble, as they call it, is a great piece of rhetoric when it has nothing
to do with the rest of the argument because it leaves the listener amazed
and muttering to himself, "Now where's he going from here?" 9

After the exordium, they offer by way of a narration, a perfunctory inter-
pretation of a gospel passage, but hastily and as if incidentally, though
in fact that should be the main order of their business. Then finally, put-
ting on a whole new face, they propose some question of theology `never
heard of before on earth or in heaven,' and this they take for an occasion
to show off the higher reaches of their art. This is where
they attain the
peak of theological pomposity, battering our ears with majestic titles and
citing Distinguished Doctors, Subtle Doctors, Supersubtle Doctors, Seraphic
Doctors, Divine Doctors, and Irrefutable Doctors. Then they scatter over
the unlearned audience their syllogistic majors and minors, their conclusi-
ons, corollaries, ridiculous hypotheses, and hair-splitting distinctions.
The fifth act of the comedy comes next, and for that they've reserved their
best fireworks. Here they dredge up some stupid and inane story out of The
Mirror of History or The Deeds of the Romans,' and proceed to interpret it
allegorically, tropologically, and anagogically. And this is how they assem-
ble their Chimera, a monster such as Horace never imagined when he wrote,
"Stick on a human head," etc.

But they've heard, I don't know where, that in its first stages a speech
should be soothing and easy on the ears; at the beginning, then, they speak
so softly that they can't hear themselves
--as if there were any point in say-
ing what nobody can undertand. But they've also heard somewhere that exclam-
ations are just the thing for stirring up the emotions, so after mumbling a-
long for a while they suddenly break out in a wild clamor, though there's ab-
solutely no occasion for it. You would swear the man needed a dose of hell-
bore 3 for bellowing like that without any reason. Besides, since they've
been told that a speech ought to warm up gradually, they limp painfully
through the first part, break out in a wild clamor even though they're in
the dullest part of their subject, and then fall silent so abruptly you'd
think they were out of breath. Finally, they've learned from the rhetorici-
ans that it's a good idea to indulge a little humor now and then, so
try to mix a few jokes in with their talk; `Lord help us all,' how graceful-
ly they do it, and how apropos--you'd say it was a clear case of 'an ass
with a lyre.' From time to time, they give a little satirical nip, too, but
they take care to tickle rather than wound.
And in fact they never flatter
more than when they pretend to be 'speaking most sharply.' In short, the
whole performance is such that you'd swear the preachers must have studied
with street-corner charlatans,
who are better performers, indeed, but follow
the same procedures so closely that it's obvious one group must have learned
its rhetorical tricks from the other.

And yet these preachers find that, thanks to my assistance, their audiences
imagine that they're hearing a modern Demosthenes or a Cicero. Shopkeepers
and women are the hearers they like best, and they try hardest to please them,
because the former if stroked the right way may be coaxed into untying their
moneybags, and the ladies, among many other reasons for liking the clergy,
know they can always find there an understanding ear in which to pour out
their grievances against their husbands.

You see now, I guess, how much men of the cloth owe to me, since with their
petty little ceremonies, their trifling formulas, and loud mouths, they can
wield a practical tyranny over the laity, and pass themselves off as actual
Saint Pauls or Saint Anthonys.4 But I'm happy to be rid of these shoddy play-
actors, who are as good at taking my gifts without showing gratitude as they
are at putting up a show of piety for the public.
For now I'd like to say some-
thing about princes and courtiers who, like the free and liberal-minded men
they are, seek my favors quite openly and unabashedly. These noblemen, if they
have just half an ounce of good heart, must surely lead the most wretched
lives in the world, and the most to be avoided. For what man would ever dream
of trying to seize royal power by perjury or parricide if he reflected what a
heavy burden falls on the shoulders of anyone who assumes the part of a true
prince? If he wants to guide the ship of state, he must think continually of
the public welfare, not his own; indeed, he can consider nothing but the pub-
lic good. He must not depart by a finger's breadth from the laws he has desi-
gned and promulgated;
he must see to the integrity of all his officers and
magistrates. His own life is exposed to public scrutiny; thus, if his manners
are virtuous, he can be a star to steer by, and of the utmost benefit in all
human affairs--or if on the contrary, he is like a deadly comet, he can bring
total destruction in his wake.' Other men's vices are not so obvious, nor are
they so far-reaching in their effects. A prince stands on such an eminence
that if something turns him ever so slightly from the path of honesty, a mor-
al pestilence spreads through thousands of his subjects. Then because a ru-
ler's position brings with it many things to distract him from virtue, such
as pleasure, leisure, flattery, and luxury, he must be vigilant and keen to
avoid disgracing his office.
Finally, passing over all the plots, jealousies,
and other perils that threaten, he is subject to the judgment of that one true
King who will exact retribution for his least failing, and the more strictly,
the greater has been his authority. If a prince would reflect on these and sim-
ilar matters--and he would if he were wise--I doubt if he would enjoy either
his evening dinner or a good night's sleep.

But now, thanks to my bounty, princes dismiss all these problems and send them
to Jericho;6 they look out for their own sweet selves and won't even admit any-
one to their presence who can't keep the conversation light, and far away from
disagreeable subjects. They suppose they're performing all the duties of a prince
if they ride regularly to hounds, keep a stable full of fine horses, sell govern-
ment offices for their own profit, and think every day of a new way to squeeze
money out of the citizens and funnel it into the royal treasury. But these tricks
are always performed under cover of precedent, so that even if the proceedings
are iniquitous, they can at least make a pretence of equity;
and they're always
accompanied by a few words of flattery, to keep on the good side of public opin-

Picture to yourself a man, like quite a few existing nowadays, who is ignorant of
the law, almost an open enemy of the public good, concerned only with his own pri-
vate advantage, a hater of liberty, learning, and truth, thinking of nothing less
than the welfare of his country, but judging everything by his own pleasures, his
own profit.
Now hang a golden chain on his neck to symbolize the linkage of all
the virtues, and set on his head a crown studded with gems to remind him that he
should excel everyone else in heroic qualities. Put a scepter in his hand to sym-
bolize justice and a heart free from corruption, and give him a purple robe to
show his outstanding devotion to the welfare of his country. If a prince were to
compare these symbols with his actual behavior, I think he might be ashamed of
his trappings,
and fear lest some satiric commtator might turn all his fine appa-
rel into a ridiculous joke.

Courtiers are another story. Though generally they're the most meeching, slavish,
stupid, abject creatures conceivable, they fancy themselves the most distinguished
of men. In one respect, they take the prize for modesty, because they content them-
selves with the gold, gems, purple robes, and other insignia of virtue while relin-
quishing to others all concern for the virtues themselves.
One thing makes them per-
fectly happy, if they can address the king as 'Sire,' if they can speak three words
of greeting to him, and then fill out the rest of their speech with formulas like
'Serene Majesty,' Your Lordship,' and 'Your Imperial Highness.' The rest of their
talent is just barefaced flattery.
And these are the proper skills of a noble cour-
tier. But if you look more closely at their way of life, you'll find they are no-
thing but Phaeacians, or Penelope's suitors--you know the rest of the poem,7 which
Echo can give you better than I. They sleep till noon, when some miserable, merce-
nary little priest comes to their bedside and runs through mass for them almost be-
fore they're awake. Next to breakfast, which is hardly finished before it's lunch-
time. Then on to dicing, draughts, betting, comedians, fools, drabs, games, and
dirty stories, with a goodie to nibble on every so often between these activities.
Dinner time now, followed by drinks, more than one, you can be sure. And in this
way, without a moment's boredom, hours, days, months, years, and ages glide away.

I myself get thoroughly sick of them, and take off, when I see them 'putting on
the dog,' their ladies preening themselves on their long trains as if that made
them superior beings, the men elbowing one another out of the way so they can be
seen standing next to the prince, or when they string heavy gold chains around
their necks, as if trying to show off their muscles at the same time as their mo-

For a long time now, this courtly manner of life has been eagerly imitated by the
loftiest Popes, Cardinals, and Bishops, some of whom have even surpassed their or-
But does anyone think what the priest's linen vestment means by its snow-
white color, that it is the sign of a spotless life? Or what is the meaning of that
two-horned mitre, with each point rising to a tight knot, if not to indicate abso-
lute knowledge of the Old and New Testaments?
Or why his hands are covered with
gloves, if not to keep them clean of all contact with human affairs, and free to
administer the sacraments? Why does he carry a crozier, if not to take vigilant
care of the flock entrusted to him? Why the cross carried before him if not to sig-
nify victory over all human appetites? If any one of the clergy were to reflect on
these and many other similar matters, I ask you, wouldn't he live a pretty sorry
and wretched life? But now they're perfectly content, as long as they've stuffed
As for watching over the flock, they either let Christ take care of
that chore or put it off on curates and the 'Brethren,' as they call them. They
never even think of the meaning of their title 'Bishop,' which means "overseer,"
and implies work, caring, taking pains. Yet when it comes to raking in the reve-
nues, they're sharp-sighted enough; no 'careless oversight' there.

Likewise the Cardinals, if they reflected that they are successors to the Apost-
les, and that the same things are required of them as of their predecessors, might
consider that they are not masters but administrators of spiritual gifts, for which
an exact accounting will have to be rendered. They might even philosophize for a
moment over their vestments, and ask themselves a few questions. For example: what
is the meaning of this white outer garment, if not supreme, spotless innocence of
Why the purple beneath, if not to show an ardent love of God? And again that
capacious cloak spreading out to envelop not only the Most Reverend Father but his
mule as well--and sufficient to cover even a camel--does it not signify universal
charity, extending to every person every-where, in the form of teaching, exhorting,
correcting, admonishing, pacifying quarrels, resisting wicked princes, and freely
expending for the benefit of the Christian community not only his money but his
And why do they need money at all if they stand in the place of the Apost-
les, who were all poor men? If they thought over these matters, as I say, they
wouldn't be so ambitious for the post, might even resign it--or at least live
lives as strenuous and devoted as those of the original Apostles.

And the Popes themselves, vicars of Christ, if they tried to imitate his life--his
poverty, his toil, his teaching, his suffering on the cross, his contempt of life--
if they ever thought of the name Tope,' which means Father, or their title `Your
Holiness,' what soul on earth would be more downcast? Who would purchase that posi-
tion at the expense of all his belongings, or would defend it, once bought, with
sword, poison, and violence of every sort? Think how many comforts would be lost
to them if they ever admitted a gleam of reason! Reason, did I say? Rather, just a
grain of the salt Christ spoke of.8
Off they would go, all those riches, honors,
powers, triumphs, appointments, dispensations, special levies and indulgences; away
with the troops of horses, mules, flunkies, and all the pleasures that go with them!
(You'll note what a marketplace, what a harvest, what an ocean of pleasures I've
crammed into a few words.) Instead of which, wisdom would bring wakeful nights,
long fasts, tears, prayers, sermons, hours of study, sighs,
and a thousand other
griefs of that sort. And let's not forget the other circumstances,
all those scrib-
es, copyists, notaries, advocates, prosecutors, and secretaries, all those mule-
drivers, stable hands, money-changers, pimps,
and--I almost added something gentl-
er, but I'm afraid it would grate on certain ears.' In short, this whole gang of
people which battens on the Holy See--sorry, I meant to say, "which distinguishes
would be reduced to want. What a crime! abominable and inhuman; and to make
it worse, the highest princes of the church and true lights of the world would be
reduced to taking up scrip and staff.

But as things stand now, whatever work may be called for in the church is passed
along to Peter and Paul, who have ample free time; if there's any splendor or ple-
asure being given out, that our church leaders are willing to take on. And so it
happens that, thanks to my efforts, no class of men live more comfortably or with
less trouble. They think they've amply fulfilled Christ's commandments if they
play the part of bishop with mystical and almost theatrical pomp, with formulas
of Your Beatitude, Your Reverence, and Your Holiness, salted with some blessings
and anathemas.
Performing miracles is, for them, old-fashioned and obsolete, not
at all in tune with modern times; teaching the people is hard work, prayer is bo-
ring, tears are weak and womanish, poverty is degrading, and meekness is disgrace-
ful, quite unworthy of one who barely admits even the greatest kings to kiss his
2 Death is a most unattractive prospect, and the idea of dying on a cross is
quite out of the question.

All that's left to them in the way of weapons are those good words and fair spee-
ches described by Paul' (and of those things they are sufficiently generous)--a-
long with
interdicts, suspensions, warnings many times repeated, anathemas, fear-
ful images, and that horrifying thunderbolt with which, by a mere nod of the head,
they dispatch the souls of mortal men to the depths of Tartarus.
4 It's a weapon
that the most holy fathers in God and vicars of Christ on earth launch at no one
more fiercely than at those who, instigated by the Devil, try to whittle away the
patrimony of Peter to a mere morsel. This patrimony, though the Evangelist says,
"We have left all and followed you," is understood to include farm-lands, taxes,
tithes, and judicial privileges. Ablaze with Christian zeal, they fight with fire
and sword to defend these belongings, at no small expense of Christian blood--and
all the time they declare that this is the apostolic way to defend the church, the
bride of Christ, by putting to flight her enemies, as they call them. As if, indeed,
there were any enemies of the church more pernicious than impious popes, who by
their silence allow Christ to be forgotten, lock him up behind their moneymaking
laws, contaminate his teachings with their interpretations, and murder him with
their atrocious manner of life.

Moreover, though the Christian church was founded, confirmed, and spread by the
blood of sacrifice,6 they try to get their own way with the sword, just as if
Christ had perished completely, who protects his own people in his own way. War
is such a monstrous pursuit that it's proper only for beasts, not men; so crazy
that even the poets suppose Furies bring it upon us; so infectious that it spreads
moral corruption far and near; so unjust that it's most effectively waged by the
most cruel of thieves; so impious that it is utterly detestable to Christ. Yet,
setting everything else aside, church leaders devote themselves to war and war a-
Here you see doddering old men who display the audacity of youth, indiffe-
rent to expense, undaunted by difficulties, and not caring a rap if laws, relig-
ion, and all the decencies of human society are turned upside down by their pas-
sions.3, Nor is there any shortage of learned flatterers to call this midday mad-
ness by the names of zeal, piety, and fighting spirit--having contrived a formula
by which a man can draw a yard of cold steel and plunge it into his brother's guts
while still preserving that supreme charity which, by Christ's own precepts, every
Christian should maintain toward his neighbor.

I still can't decide whether certain bishops in Germany have taken example from the
popes or given it, when they act plainly and simply as secular lords, doing without
ecclesiastical dress, benedictions, and other ceremonies of the sort, to the extent
that they consider it cowardly and unworthy of a bishop to die anywhere but on the
battlefield. Naturally, the lower priests are ashamed to fall below the standard set
by their superior, so, behold, off they go like good soldiers to fight for their
tithes, using swords, spears, rocks, and all manner of military gear. Meanwhile,
the more sharp-witted among them rummage through ancient documents for precedents
to terrify the poor people and extort from them even more tithes.
8 Yet all the while
they deliberately ignore the many passages in those documents emphasizing the duties
that the clergy owe the people in return. They never reflect on what their tonsure
means, that a priest should be free from all the desires of this world and reflect
only on heavenly matters. But these fine fellows feel they've performed all their
priestly functions when they've mumbled over their office one way or another--though,
Lord knows, I'd be amazed if any god either heard or understood such prayers, which
they themselves neither hear nor understand, even when they're bawling them aloud.
But priests have this in common with laymen, that they're all alert to glean every
grain of money that's due them; on that point, not one of them is ignorant of the
law. Of course if there's a job to be done, that they prudently pass on to the next
fellow, and so down the line. Just as lay princes delegate parts of their administr-
ative power to assistants who pass it around from one to the other, so they put off
onto common people the exercise of piety. The people push it back
on those whom they
call 'ecclesiastics,' just as if the church were none of their concern--as if, in
fact, the vows made at their baptism were null and void. Then the priests who call
themselves 'secular,' as if they'd devoted themselves to the world, rather than
Christ, push the burden toward the canons regular; the canons regular9 put it on the
monks; the less strict monks put it on the more strict, everybody lays it on the men-
dicants, and the mendicants shunt it off to the Carthusians, where indeed some piety
lies hidden, but so deeply buried that it's hardly ever visible. In the same way
those popes who are busiest getting in the money harvest delegate their properly ap-
ostolic labors to the bishops, the bishops to the priests, the priests to their vic-
ars, the vicars to the mendicant friars, who finally pass the job along to those who
will be shearing the sheep.'

But it's no part of my present business to arraign the lives of popes and priests,
lest I seem to be composing a satire rather than an encomium; and I don't want any-
one to suppose I'm casting blame on good princes when I praise bad ones.' I raised
the whole matter only in passing, to make clear that no mortal can possibly live ha-
ppily unless he is initiated into my rites and enjoys my favor.

How could it be otherwise when even Nemesis the glory of Rhamnus,3 who controls the
fortunes of human beings, has always agreed warmly with me in hostility to the wise,
while granting all her favors to fools, even in their sleep? You doubtless recall that
Timotheus whose very name means 'favored by God,' and the proverb applied to him, "E-
ven in sleep his net catches fish for him."4 There's another that goes "The owl flies
by night." Quite different are the sayings applied to the wise man: he is said to be
"born on the fourth day," or else "has got Sejanus's horse," or else he "has found the
lost gold of Toulouse." But I won't 'proverbialize' any more, or you'll think I've been
pillaging the notebooks of my friend Erasmus.

To get back to the point: fortune favors the dimwits and the brash, the People who are
fond of saying "the die is cast."
But wisdom makes men weak and timid, and that's why
you'll generally find wise men living in the smoky corners of the world, neglected, re-
jected, and despised, in poverty and hunger, while fools are rolling in money, governing
the state, and, in a word, flourishing like weeds.
If anyone thinks it's a good life to
be on intimate terms with princes and move in the gaudy, glittering circles of the court,
nothing can be of less value to him than wisdom, because nothing is more offensive
to the great. Suppose you want to make a pile of money, how will wisdom help you do
that? The wise man will shrink from perjury, blush if caught in a lie, and worry himself
sick over the scruples thought up by moralists regarding theft and usury. How can a-
nyone make money that way? Again, if he aspires to honors and wealth through a ca-
reer in the church, any donkey or ox will reach the goal sooner than a wise man. If
it's pleasure you're after, well, girls (who are the best part of that game) adore fools
and avoid a wise man with as much loathing as if he were a scorpion.
In fact, every-
one who wants a little fun in life will shut his doors on the wise man and sooner let
in any other creature whatever. Wherever you turn, then, among popes, princes, jud-
ges, magistrates, friends, enemies, from the top of the ladder to the bottom, every-
thing is to be had for ready cash; and since the wise man despises money, it gener-
ally takes care to keep away from him.

But though there's no end or limit to my praises, still an oration has to find an
ending somewhere, it's a necessity. And so I will conclude, but not without a few
words to show that many important authors have spread my fame abroad, in deeds as
well as words. I wouldn't want anyone to suppose I'm alone in thinking well of my-
self, and I wouldn't want some knavish lawyer to complain that I brought in no sup-
porting witnesses. So I'll cite my authorities just as they do theirs, that is,
'completely off the point.'

To begin, then, everyone knows the proverb that tells us, "Where the thing itself
can't be had, a good imitation is best." And in line with this, schoolboys learn
the lesson early that "playing the fool can sometimes be the height of wisdom." 6
You can see for yourselves what a good thing folly must be when the mere illusion
of it wins such praises from men of learning. Even more direct is that plump, sleek
hog of Epicurus's herd
7 who urges us to "mingle folly with our serious counsel,"
though he's not so smart when he qualifies it, "just for a while." Likewise else-
where, "It's pleasant to play the fool now and then," he says; and in another pas-
sage, "I'd rather seem silly and worthless than smart and crabby."
Besides, in Ho-
mer's poem, Telemachus, whom the poet praises to the skies, is sometimes described
as 'childish,' and the tragic poets freely apply that word to boys and young men to
indicate a promising disposition. Anyhow, what is the subject of that revered poem
the Iliad if not 'the squabbles of foolish kings and their foolish subjects'?
8 What
could be more explicit than Cicero's words in my praise: "Everything is full of fol-
ly"; and who can't see that if a thing is good in the first place, the more widely
it's distributed, the better?

But perhaps pagan writers like these carry little weight with Christian readers, so
if you like I'll find support for my praises in the Holy Scriptures, or, as scholars
like to say, I'll ground my demonstration on that foundation. And first I must excuse
myself to the theologians and beg pardon for trespassing on their territory. And
since it's a hard job I'm undertaking, and calling on the Muses to come down again
would probably be presumptuous--since it's a long trip from Mount Helicon, especially
when the subject isn't really in their line--perhaps I'd better act the part of the
theologian, and to help me along my thorny path invoke the spirit of Scotus, which
is more prickly than any hedgehog or porcupine. So let him leave his beloved Sor-
bonne and live for a while in my breast, after which he can go where he will, 'to
Tophet' for all I care.9 I only wish I could put on a fresh face for this part, and
dress up in a theologian's robe. But if I played the part too well, I'm afraid some-
one might charge me with theft, as if I'd been secretly going through the desks of
our 'Master Doctors,' just because I know so much theology. But it's not to worry;
I've been associating long and intimately with theo-logians, and it's only natural
that I've picked up their jargon. Even that rascally figwood god Priapus collected
and remembered some Greek words just from listening to his master read aloud. And af-
ter some time in the society of men, Lucian's cock learned to speak quite acceptably.'

But now, if the coast is clear, let's get down to the matter. In his first chapter
Ecclesiastes wrote, "The number of fools is infinite,"2 and in making the number in-
finite doesn't he seem to include the entire human race except for a few poor speci-
mens on whom I doubt if anyone ever laid eyes? Jeremiah makes the same point even
more directly in his tenth chapter when he writes: "Every man is rendered foolish by
his own wisdom." To God alone he attributes wisdom, leaving folly to mankind at large.
And again, a little earlier, he says, "Man should not glory in his wisdom." And why
shouldn't he glory in his wisdom, most excellent Jeremiah? For this simple reason, he
would answer, that he has no wisdom to glory in. But let me come back to Ecclesiastes.
When he cries, "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity," what do you suppose he meant, if
not, as I was saying before, that human life is a puppet show containing nothing but
folly? Thus he confirms that celebrated vote cast by Cicero in my favor, and which
I've already quoted, to the effect that "The world is full of fools." So too with that
wise man Ecclesiasticus, who said "The fool changes like the moon, the wise man endures
unchanged like the sun";4 what can he have meant, if not that the entire human race is
foolish, but the word "wise" belongs to God alone? By "moon" we understand human nature,
by "sun" the source of all light, God. The idea is confirmed when Christ in the Gospel
says no one is to be called good" except God alone.' Thus, if anyone who is not wise is
foolish, and if, as the Stoics claim, whoever is wise must also be good, then it neces-
sarily follows that the entire human race must be given over to foolishness
. Again, Solo-
mon in his fifteenth chapter says,
"Folly is joy to him that is destitute of wisdom,"6
thereby making abundantly clear that without folly there is no joy in life. In the same
vein is that other text, "He who increases knowledge increases grief, and in much un-
derstanding is much vexation."' And the same thing is said quite explicitly by the Pre-
acher in his seventh chapter, "The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but
the heart of the fool is in the house of mirth." That makes it clear that he thought
mere knowledge of wisdom insufficient without knowledge of me as well
And if you don't
believe me, here are his very words, as written in his first chapter: "I gave my mind
to know wisdom and to madness and folly."' In this passage you must particularly note
that folly is given the highest praise because she is placed last in the sentence. Ec-
clesiastes wrote it, and you know that the ecclesiastical ordering always places the
person of highest dignity in last place
following in this respect at least the precept
of the evangelist. In addition, Ecclesiasticus, whoever he was, makes the superiority
of folly to wisdom abundantly clear in his forty-fourth chapter,' though I'm not going
to cite his words unless you help me compose my 'preliminary induction' by answering
my questions as meekly as Socrates' interloculetors do in the dialogues of Plato. Well,
then, which is it better to conceal things rare and precious, or those which are common
and cheap? What, no answer? Even if you play dumb, there's a Greek proverb to answer
for you, "The waterjug is left on the doorstep." (Just in case someone is lacking in
respect for these words of wisdom, they come to us from Aristotle, the god of our the-
ological masters.) But are any of you foolish enough to leave gold and jewels in the
open street? Not you, I'm sure. You hide them away in the innermost chambers of your
house, you put them in the secret compartments of your strong box, while you leave
trash lying out in the open. So if the precious thing is hidden away ess valuable
thing is left out, isn't it obvious that wisdom, which we're forbidden to hide away,
must be less valuable than folly, which we're advised to conceal? Here it is in the
very words of Ecclelesiastes: "Better the man who conceals his folly than the one who
conceals his wisdom."2

Now consider this: the scriptures attribute to the foolish a candid and generous mind,
while the wise man thinks himself superior to everyone else. That at least is the way
I interpret what Ecclesiastes wrote in his tenth chapter: "When he that is a fool
walketh by the way, his wisdom faileth him, and he saith to everyone that he is a
fool." 3 Now don't you think that a mark of exceptional candor, to think everyone your
equal, and instead of puffing yourself up, to share your merits with everybody else?
And so even King Solomon the Great was not ashamed of this epithet when he said in
his thirtieth chapter, "I am the most foolish of men." Even Paul, the teacher of the
gentiles, was not ashamed to call himself a fool when writing to the Corinthians. "I
speak as a fool," he says; I am more"--as if it were a disgrace to be outdone in stu-

But now I hear an outcry from certain Greeklings,6 eager to put down all the modern
theologians by throwing dust in their eyes--that is, a smokescreen of annotations.

The second place in this gang, if not the first belongs to my friend Erasmus, whom I
mention from time to time by way of compliment. A really foolish allusion, people
will say, and worthy of Folly herself! The apostle actually meant something different
from what you suppose. For he didn't use these words in order to be thought more fool-
ish than others;
but when he asked, "Are they servants and answered himself, "So am
I," then, having equated himself with the other apostles, he added by way of correct-
ion, "and even more so," feeling that he was not just the equal of the others but in
some degree their superior. And though he meant this as the real truth, yet to keep
his words from seeming too arrogant or offensive, he added a little cover phrase a-
bout folly. "I speak as a fool"Has if to say, it's the special privilege of fools to
speak the truth without giving offense.

But what Paul really meant when he wrote these words, I leave to the arguments of
scholars. For my part,
I prefer to follow the most pompous, fat, thick, and popular
, in whose company most of the learned would rather go astray, 'by Jove,'
than be in the right with those triple-tongued newcomers.? Not one of them considers
these Greeklings any better than a flock of grackles, especially since
a certain glo-
rified theologian (whose name I carefully suppress lest the grackles descend on him
with that Greek saying about 'an ass with a lyrels has expounded this passage with a
full panoply of theological rigmarole.
Starting with the text "I speak as a fool: I
am more," he gives the whole passage a new twist (which, without the full force of
the dialectic would have been quite impossible); I will present it in his own words,
not only formal but material. "I speak as a fool" is now understood to say, "If you
thought me a fool before for equating myself with the pselido-Apostles, you'll think
me even more foolish now for placing myself above them." To be sure, a little later
he seems to forget this reading entirely, and relapses into another interpretation.

But why should I exercise myself so much over a single example. when it's the ack-
nowledged privilege of theologians to stretch the heavens--that is, the Holy Scrip-
tures--as wide as a tanner stretches a piece of leather? Even in Saint Paul, some
words arc conscripted to do battle for the Holy Scriptures which in their original
context do no such thing--at least that's the opinion of 'five-languaged' Saint Je-
rome.' When Paul once happened on an altar in Athens, he twisted the inscription on
it into an argument for the Christian faith by leaving out all the words on it that
didn't serve his purpose,
and fastening on just two, ignoto deo, to the unknown god
1--and even those he changed. For the complete inscription read, "To the Gods of
Asia, Europe, and Africa, to the Unknown and Foreign Gods." I expect it's this ex-
ample that our modern 'sons of theology' follow when they pick out four or five
words from different passages--distorting them, if necessary--and apply them to
their purposes, even if the passages that come before or after are on an entirely
different topic, or directly contradict what they say. And all this they carry off
with such confident assurance that pettifogging lawyers frequently express envy of
the theologians.

Is there anything they can't do, now that the great man--I almost let slip his
name, but that Greek proverb stuck in my throat--has twisted the words of Luke
into a doctrine about as compatible with the thought of Christ as fire is with wa-
ter? For when the Final peril threatened, and the disciples gathered around their
teacher, ready to defend him 'fighting shoulder to shoulder,' Christ deliberately
set out to persuade his disciples not to rely on defences of this sort. So he ask-
ed them whether they had lacked anything when he sent them forth without provis-
ions for their journey--without shoes to protect them from rocks or thorns, with-
out a well-stocked pack to keep them from hunger. When they said they had lacked
for nothing, he went on. "But no," he said, "whoever has a purse should take it,
and likewise his pack; and he that bath no sword, let him sell his garment and
buy one."2 Since the whole teaching of Christ inculcates nothing but gentleness,
tolerance, and readiness to give up one's own life, how can anyone misunderstand
what is meant by this passage? Namely, that
the disciples should be disarmed even
further, that they should not just do without shoes and pack, but should throw
their cloaks on the pile in order to begin preaching the gospel naked and unen-
cumbered, taking along nothing but a sword--not the sword wielded by highwaymen
and murderers, but the sword of the spirit, which pierces to the recesses of the
heart, cutting off all worldly attachments, leaving nothing in the breast but

But note, if you please, how that celebrated theologian twists the passage out of
shape. He reads the sword as defense against persecution, the pack as a plentiful
supply of provisions, just as if Christ had completely changed his previous posi-
tion, and was now recanting instructions which seemed to send forth his spokesmen
'in not very regal style.' Perhaps the interpreter thinks he had actually forgot-
ten what he said before, that they would be blessed when afflicted with insults,
scorns, and torments, that he forbade them to resist evil because the meek, not
the fierce, shall be blessed; perhaps he forgot that he had previously compared
them to sparrows and lilies
.3, But now, forsooth, he doesn't want them to set off
without a sword, he actually tells them to sell their garments to get swords, as
if they'd be better off going naked than swordless. In addition, he thinks the
word "sword" includes everything that can serve to repel force, and likewise
"pack" includes all the necessities of life. And thus this interpreter of the
divine word mobilizes the apostles to preach the crucified. Christ in an array
bristling with lances, slings, siege-machines and heavy artillery.He also loads
them down with trunks, suitcases, and bundles lest somethingthey might haev to
leave the inn without proper breakfast. He isn't even disturbed that the sword
which Christ urgently ordered to be bought, he shortly thereafter ordered to be
4 nor is there any record that the apostles used swords and shields to
fight the gentiles, as they certainly would have done if Christ had meant what
this fellow says he did.

There's another of these fellows whose name I withhold out of respect, though
he's well thought of; discussing the tents mentioned by Habbakuk when he says
"the curtains of the land of Midian did tremble," he fancies an allusion to the
flayed skin of Saint Bartholomew.' The other day I attended a theological dis-
putation, as I very often do.
When someone asked about the scriptural authority
for burning heretics rather than refuting them logically, a certain fierce old
man, whose arrogance alone identified him as a theologian, answered angrily
that Saint Paul had made the rule when he said, "A man that is a heretic, after
the first and second warning, reject (devita)." And when he kept shouting these
words over and over, till people started to wonder what ailed the man, he final-
ly explained that the heretic should be removed from life (de vita)
.6 Some peo-
ple laughed at him, but there were a few who thought the argument thoroughly
theological. Then when disagreement persisted, an 'ultimate authority,' as they
say, a supreme arbiter, undertook to cut the knot. "Here's the truth of the mat-
ter," he said. "It is written, 'You shall not suffer an evildoer to live,'7 every
heretic is an evildoer, therefore, etc." Everyone was amazed at the man's
mighty intellect, and stampeded to line up behind his judgment. And it never
occurred to anyone that the rule applies only to sorcerers, magicians, and for-
tunetellers, who in Hebrew are called mekaschephim. Otherwise, we should be
obliged to inflict the death penalty on fornicaters and drunkards.

But it's foolish for me to multiply examples when there are so many of them
that they couldn't all fit into the volumes of Chrysippus and Didymus. 8 I on-
ly want you to be aware that our saintly scholars are pardoned for these slips,
and some of the same allowances should be made for me, who am only a 'bumbler
in theology,' if some of my allusions are a bit off the point. Now I return to
Paul. "You suffer fools gladly," he says, speaking of himself; and he goes on,
"yet as a fool receive me"; and again, "I speak not after the Lord, but as it
were foolishly."' And elsewhere, "We are fools for Christ's sake."1 This is
high praise for folly from a high authority. And what if the same authority
openly praises folly as a valuable and necessary quality of mind? "If any man
among you seems to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may
be wise."
2 And in Luke, Jesus called the two disciples who joined him on the
road "fools." I don't suppose that should be con-sidered surprising, since
Saint Paul attributes a measure of foolishness even to God himself: "the fool-
ishness of God is wiser than men" he says.' and Origen in his commentary makes
clear that this folly of God's cannot be explained as simply the opinion of
men, as is possible with that other passage, "The preaching of the cross is
to them that perish, foolishness."' But why should I worry all these texts
when Christ himself in the mystic psalms directly says to the Father "O God,
thou knowest my foolishness"?

Indeed, it is no accident that fools are most pleasing to God; and I think
this is the reason, that just as princes suspect and dislike men who think
too much--as Caesar suspected Brutus and Cassius but had no fear of drunken
Anthony; or as Nero mistrusted Seneca and Dionysus Plato--so they are well
pleased with men of dull and simple wits. And in the same way,' Christ al-
ways scorns and condemns those opinion-mongers who put all their trust in
their own wisdom. Paul bears witness to this idea in no uncertain words
when he says, "God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound
the wise," and "God chose to preserve the world through foolishness,"
since by wisdom it could not be preserved.6 God himself speaks to the same
effect through his prophet: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and bring
to nothing the understanding of the prudent." 7 And again, Christ gives
thanks that the mystery of salvation has been hidden from the wise but
revealed to little children, that is, fools: (For the Greek word for child in-
epiosi means foolish and is used to contrast with wise [sophos .)
too are all those pass-ages in the Gospels where Christ attacks scribes,
pharisees, and doctors of the law, while carefully reserving his favor for
the unlearned populace. What else is meant by that phrase, "Woe to you,
Scribes and Pharisees" 8 but "woe to you, men of wisdom"? But he seems
to have taken the greatest delight in children, women, and simple fishermen;
even among brute beasts, those that pleased him best were least like the
crafty fox. Thus he preferred to ride a donkey, though if he had wanted to
he could safely have mounted a lion. His holy spirit descended in the form
of a dove, not an eagle or hawk. Throughout Scripture there's frequent
mention of deer, young mules, and lambs. Consider too that he uses the
term "sheep" to describe those who are destined to immortal life. No ani-
mal is more stupid, as is plain from Aristotle's phrase, "dumb as a sheep,"
which he says was derived from the imbecility of the beast, and is often
used to insult stupid and blockish minds. And this is the flock of which
Christ declared himself the shepherd; indeed, he delighted in the title of
"lamb," as when John hailed him with the words "Behold the lamb of God,"
a term repeatedly used in the Apocalypse.

All these witnesses point to a single conclusion, that all men are fools,
even the pious ones'. Christ himself, though he was the wisdom of the Fa-
2 took on the foolishness of humanity in order to relieve the folly
of mortals, just as he became sin in order to redeem sinners. Nor did he
choose to redeem them in any other way but through the folly of the cross
and through ignorant, sottish disciples.
His lesson to them was nothing
but folly and avoidance of wisdom, as when he set before them such exam-
ples as children, lilies, mustard-seeds, and sparrows--senseless creatures
all, devoid of intelligence, and leading their lives under the promptings
of nature, artless and carefree.
Then he told them not to be concerned
what they would say before magistrates, and forbade them to care about
times and seasons
3--what did he mean by that, except that they shouldn't
rely on their own prudence but be wholly dependent on him? In the same
way, God, the maker of the whole world, prohibited the eating of the tree
of knowledge, as if knowledge was poisonous to happiness. Likewise Paul
directly opposes knowledge as pernicious because it puffs man up; and I
think Saint Bernard was following in the apostle's footsteps when he in-
terpreted the mountain on which Lucifer set his throne as the hill of

Perhaps I shouldn't omit the argument that folly seems to be pleasing to
the higher powers because it is accepted as an excuse for errors, whereas
the knowing man receives no pardon. This is why, even when they have sin-
ned knowingly, men use ignorance as their excuse. If I remember rightly,
that is how Aaron in the book of Numbers begs pardon for his sister: "A-
las, my lord, I beseech thee, lay not the sin upon us wherein we have done
foolishly."' So too Saul begged forgiveness of David, "Behold, I have play-
ed the fool and have erred exceedingly," and David in turn placates the
Lord by saying, "I beseech thee, 0 Lord, take away the iniquity of thy ser-
vant; for I have done very foolishly"6--implying that he would receive no
pardon unless he pleaded ignorance and foolishness. Even more cogent is
the example of Christ on the cross when he prayed for his enemies: "Father,
forgive them"--he made no other excuse for them than their ignorance--"
for they know not what they do."7 In the same vein, Paul writing to Timothy
says, "I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly, in unbelief." 8 What
does he mean by "I did it ignorantly," if not, 'I did it out of foolishness,
not in malice'? And what is the force of "because" if not that he wouldn't
have obtained mercy if he hadn't pleaded the excuse of folly? The mystic
psalmist, whom I forgot to mention in his proper place, also strengthens
my case when he writes, "Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my
9 You see the two excuses he makes, namely youth (on whom
I'm a constant attendant) and stupidities, which are put in the plural to make
us understand the full force of folly.

And now to sum up (lest I go on with these citations to infinity), the en-
tire Christian religion seems to bear a certain natural affinity to folly,
and to relate far less clearly to wisdom. If you want evidence of this, con-
sider first that
children, old folk, women, and simpletons are, of all peo-
ple, most attracted to the services of our holy religion and are always
found in closest proximity to the altar--drawn there solely by their nat-
oral instincts.
Then you see that the first founders of this religion were
great admirers of simplicity and equally bitter enemies of learning. Finally,
you see that
no fools are more distracted than those whose ardent zeal for
Christian piety has wholly eaten them up. They discard their belongings,
swallow insults, put up with trickery, treat friends and enemies alike, a-
void pleasure, and subsist on fasts, vigils, tears, toils, and humiliations. They
shun life, seek death, and seem completely numb to all human feeling as
if their souls existed somewhere else, not in their bodies.
What other name
can we give this condition than "insanity"? We shouldn't be surprised, eith-
er, if the apostles were thought to be drunk on new wine, or if Paul seemed
insane to his judge Festus.

But now that I've 'got on my high horse' I want to take the next step, and
argue that the happiness after which Christians strive so passionately is
nothing but a certain kind of folly amounting to madness. Don't startle at
the words, but look at the realities. First of all,
Christians come close to
agreeing with the Platonists that the mind is buried deep in the body and
bound to it by chains so thick and heavy that they prevent it from seeing
and enjoying things as they really are. Next, Plato defines philosophy as a
'meditation on death' because it leads the mind away from visible, bodily
things, just as death does.
2 And so, as long as the mind makes use of the
body's organs, it is called 'sane'; but when, breaking these bodily shackles,
it tries to achieve its own liberty, as if meditating flight from a prison,
then people call it 'insane.'
. If this happens as a result of sickness or
some bodily defect, then everyone unhesitatingly agrees in calling it 'mad-
ness.' And yet we see men in such dire straits predict the future and speak
in tongues they were never taught--thus giving clear evidence of some divine
presence. And I don't doubt that this happens because the mind at this junc-
ture is a little freer of the contamination of the body,
and now starts to
resume its native powers. For the same reason I think something similar hap-
pens to people hovering in the shades of death, so that they utter astounding
things, as if they were inspired.

Now if such a thing should happen as a result of the pursuit of piety, it
might not be madness of exactly the same sort, but it would be so close that
most men would consider it madness pure and simple, especially since the num-
ber of really earnest devotees is so small compared with the grand total of
the human race. Thus
the majority find themselves in the position of those
described in Plato's myth of the cave, who are chained up in darkness, know-
ing only the shadows of things.
3 But then one man escaped and came back to
tell them that he had seen things as they really are, and that they were much
mistaken in thinking nothing existed but those paltry shadows.
The man who
has achieved understanding pities his comrades who are in the grip of such a
fundamental error; he deplores their insanity. But they in turn ridicule him
as a raving lunatic, and throw him out. Just so, the run of common men keep
their eyes fixed on corporeal things, and think that is all that properly
exists. But pious persons, on the other hand, judge more poorly of things
the closer they approach to the corporeal, and devote themselves entirely to
the contemplation of things invisible; in that contemplation they are absorb-
ed. The common man gives first place in his thoughts to money, next to bodily
comforts, and last place to things of the mind, which he doesn't generally be-
lieve in anyway, because he can't see them with his eyes. Quite otherwise,
pious devote themselves entirely to apprehending God who is purity itself; af-
ter him, and yet as part of him, they concern themselves with the soul; as for
pampering the body, they neglect it completely, and they scorn wealth, deliber-
ately avoiding it as so much garbage. And if they are forced to deal with such
worldly matters, they do so reluctantly and with distaste, having as if they
did not have, possessing as if they did not possess.'

Even in small matters, they take quite different lines. First, though all the
senses have some relation to the body, yet some are more gross than others,
as touch, hearing, sight, smell, and taste, while others are more remote from
the body, as memory, intellect, will. Wherever the spirit directs its energies,
there it becomes strong. And since pious men direct their minds to those mat-
ters that are most remote from the gross senses, those senses in them become
torpid and atrophied. In common men, the lower senses are highly developed, the
higher ones hardly at all. This is the reason behind those stories we've heard
of godly men who drank oil by mistake for wine.

Then consider the affections of the soul. Some men have more traffic with impul-
ses of the sluggish body, such as sexual passion, hunger, and desire for sleep,
as well as wrath, pride, and envy; the pious wage ceaseless war on these impulses,
while the common people can't imagine life without them.
Then there are certain
intermediate affections which could be called natural, such as honoring one's
father, loving one's children, feeling affection for one's kinfolk and friends.
Ordinary people approve such feelings completely; but the pious try to root out
even them, except so far as they can be harmonized with the highest part of the
mind. Thus one loves one's father not simply as a father (for what did he beget
except the body, and even that we owe to God the father, as well) but as a good
man through whom shines the image of that loftiest mind which they call 'the
highest good,'
and apart from which they teach that nothing is to be loved or de-

By this same rule they measure all the other occasions of life, so that in every
case what is visible, if not altogether to be despised, is always subordinated to
those things that cannot be seen. Even in the sacraments and offices of piety,
they say, bodily and spiritual elements can be distinguished.
Thus in fasting they
aren't much impressed by mere abstinence from food and drink--which common
folk suppose is all that fasting amounts to--unless one also reduces the passions,
admitting less anger than usual, and less pride, so that the spirit, shaking off
the weight of the body, may succeed in tasting and relishing the joys of heaven.

Similarly, in receiving the Eucharist, though the ceremonies accompanying not to
be scorned, yet by themselves they are not very valuable and may even be harmful
if a spiritual element is not also present, namely that which is represented by
the visible signs. In the Eucharist is represented the death of Christ, which men
should reenact by mastering, destroying, and (as it were) laying in the grave the
passions of the body, so they may rise again to a new life, made one with him and
with each other. This is what the pious man does, these are his thoughts. But the
ordinary person thinks the service consists of nothing but standing by the altar,
as close as possible, listening to the mumbling of certain formulas, and gaping at
the least details of the ceremony.
I cite these two actions only by way of example,
for in every part of his life the pious man shrinks as far as he can from the con-
cerns of the body, and allows himself to be lifted' to the realm of eternal, invis-
ible, and spiritual things. Thus the difference between these two groups on practi-
cally every topic is so profound that each thinks the other quite mad. As a matter
of fact, I think that expression is better applied to the pious than to the ordinary
people. This will be clearer if in a few words I make evident, as I promised to do,
that the ultimate reward for which they strive is nothing but a kind of madness.

First, then, you should consider that Plato had some premonition of this idea when
he wrote that "the madness of lovers is the height of felicity."
6 For one who loves
passionately no longer lives in himself but in the object of his love, so that the
farther he departs from himself and the closer he comes to the love-object, the more
joyful he is. Now when the soul prepares to leave the body and no longer exercises
perfect command over its organs, that state you would call madness, and rightly so.
Otherwise, what would be the sense of those common expressions, 'he is beside him-
self,' 'he has come to,' and 'he is himself again'? Moreover, the more profound the
love, the greater is the madness, and the happier. What then is that future life in
heaven for which pious minds yearn so ardently? At that point
the spirit, stronger
and at last victorious, will absorb the body, and this it will do more easily in part
because now it will be in its own kingdom, and in part because in its former life it
had been purging and refining the body in preparation for this transformation. Now
the spirit will be mingled with the highest mind of all, which is far greater than
its infinitude of parts, so that the whole man will be outside himself, will be utter-
ly happy at being outside himself, and will receive unspeakable bliss from that high-
est good which attracts everything to itself.

Now this felicity can be perfect only when the soul has re-entered its former body
and both are received into immortality, yet since the life of the pious is nothing
but a meditation on that future life and, as it were, a shadow of it, they sometimes
are able to experience a certain savor and relish of the life to come. Though it's
only the tiniest drop from that fountain of eternal bliss, yet it far surpasses all
the pleasures of the body, even if all the delights of all mortal men were rolled
into one ball.
So far do spiritual things surpass things of the body, things invisi-
ble to mortal sight the things that can be seen. This is what the Prophet promised:
"Eye has not seen nor ear heard nor have entered into the heart of man the things
that God has prepared for them that love him."
7 And this is the part of Folly which
shall not be taken away from her by the transformation of life, but brought to per-
fection. Those who are lucky enough to know this experience, and it happens to very
few, undergo something very similar to madness. Their talk is incoherent and not
like the ordinary speech of men; they make meaningless sounds and their faces con-
tinually change expression. One minute they rejoice, the next they are dejected,
now they weep and now they laugh, then they sigh; in short, they are completely and
truly beside themselves. When they come to, they say they do not know where they
have been, whether in the body or out of it, awake or asleep. They cannot tell what
they heard, saw, said, or did, except through a mist, as in a dream. All they know
is that
they were supremely happy while they were out of their minds; and they re-
gret their return to reason because their one desire is to be continually mad with
this sort of insanity. And yet this is just the tiniest taste of the bliss to come.

But I've long since forgotten myself and 'overstepped my boundaries.' If you think
I've been too cheeky or long-winded, remember you've been listening to Folly and a
woman. You might also keep in mind the Greek proverb, "Even a foolish man sometimes
says something to the point"--though you may not think this applies to women.
see you expect an epilogue, but you're out of your minds if you suppose I still re-
member what I said after spouting such a jumble of words. The old saying was, "I hate
a drinking companion with a memory," and here's a new one to go with it, "I hate an
audience that won't forget." And so I'll say Goodbye. Clap your hands, live well,
and drink deep, most illustrious disciples of Folly.

Folly Speaks:

Praise of Folly


by Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam