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Erasmus: Recent Critical Editions and Translations.

Since the 1960s, a group of largely European scholars has been engaged in the publication of a critical edition of the works of Erasmus (the Amsterdam or ASD) and a group of largely British and North American scholars in the translation and annotation of Erasmus's corpus into English (the Toronto or CWE). Both projects have sought to produce definitive works of their kind. Each is based on the same principle of organization, a principle devised by Erasmus himself. He organized his works into nine orders: (1) literature and education, (2) adages, (3) letters, (4) moral questions, (5) religious instruction, (6) the New Testament with annotations, (7) paraphrases, (8) defenses, and (9) edited letters of Jerome and other fathers. Of the volumes before us two belong to order one (CWE 39-40), three to order two (ASD II.2, 7, 8), two to order five (CWE 69-70), two to order seven (ASD VII.6, CWE 63), and one to order eight (CWE 76).

The first volume of the ASD appeared in 1969, the first volume of the CWE in 1974. Initially, the two projects seemed to run on parallel tracks, having little to do with one another. The initial volumes to appear in the CWE were translations of Erasmus's letters, based on the critical edition of P. S. Allen and associates produced during the first half of the century (1906-1958); eleven of twenty-two projected volumes of letters appeared in translation between 1974 and 1994, though none has appeared since then (due largely, it seems, to the death of Sir Roger Mynors). The delay in translations of other texts by Erasmus (the first appeared in 1983) allowed for at least informal contact and cooperation between editors involved in the two projects. Indeed, in some cases the same editor was in charge of texts in the ASD and the CWE. Harry Vredeveld, for example, edited the poems of Erasmus for both.

We have before us a recent group of publications from each series, four from the ASD and six from the CWE. All these volumes represent largely the writings of the mature Erasmus, that is, they were composed after 1515 when he had come to be recognized as "prince of the humanists." The adages and the colloquies, both represented here, were largely (in the case of the adages) or wholly (in the case of the colloquies) the products of his middle and later life. So also were his expositions of scripture and his defenses. A few of his writings for spiritual edification come from his earlier years, but the great majority also are from the years of his maturity. Collectively, we have here a good introduction to the thought of Erasmus as it had developed by mid-life.

John Bateman has edited, in one of the volumes before us, the first volume of paraphrases to appear in the ASD (VII.6), paraphrases he had previously translated as editor of CWE 44 (1993). A comparison of his editing of the two publications reveals that although ASD VII.6 is slightly more heavily annotated, virtually all the notes were present in some form in CWE 44. The introductions in the ASD edition are a good deal fuller; in particular, they include a summary and analysis of the letters paraphrased. CWE 44 refers the reader to CWE 42, the first volume of paraphrases published in that series, where the paraphrases as Erasmus employed them are analyzed as a genre; it also looks forward to a future volume for which additional essays are planned. But the kind of introduction to each biblical letter present in the ASD edition is not likely to be repeated by any volume in the CWE. The complementary nature of the two editions of the paraphrases suggests a desirable kind of fusion and one that seems increasingl y to be taking place among the editors of the two series.

One of the earliest volumes published in the ASD was Erasmus's Colloquies (1972), even earlier translated into English (1965) in a volume of magisterial scholarship by Craig Thompson. The Colloquies reappear in CWE 39-40 in Thompson's translation, very lightly edited. His introductions to each colloquy have also been retained in essence, though often expanded. Early brief dialogues written between 1518 and 1522 (when the first material related to the future colloquies appeared), placed by Thompson in an appendix, have been incorporated into the body of the present edition, so that all colloquy material is in chronological order. By far the most significant change in the CWE edition over the 1965 one (as well as over the ASD critical edition of 1972) is the notes on each colloquy, which largely account for the fact that the CWE edition is twice the size of the earlier translation and critical edition. Completed by the editorial board of the CWE after Thompson's death, the work stands as a tribute to a scholar for whom Erasmus's colloquies were the love of his intellectual life.

The ASD projects eight volumes on Erasmus's Adagiorum Chiliades (1508 ff), three of which are under review here; a ninth volume will include an edition of the Adagiorum Collectanea (1500) -- which the CWE will not publish separately -- in addition to a general introduction and index to the whole. So we are here in medias res, even more so since the volumes are not in order (ASD II.2. 7, 8). The first of these (II.2) has already appeared in English as CWE 32 (1989) and is cited as a source in ASD II.2--appropriately, since Sir Roger Mynors identified the changes in the various editions Erasmus published, as well as citations of and allusions to classical sources. The notes in the ASD edition are more dense, though not for all that more helpful than those supplied by Sir Roger; however, they make this edition a good deal longer than its English counterpart. The other two volumes, however (ASD II.7, 8), anticipate the CWE, which has been on hold since the publication of CWE 34 (again, due to the death of Mynors) ; presumably, CWE editors of the final two volumes of adages will be able to make use of ASD II.7-8, perhaps even basing their translation on it rather than on the Leclerc edition (1703-1706). Introductions in these volumes (one in French, one in English) are brief, as in the case of ASD II.2 (introduction in German), anticipating the ninth volume. The notes in all ASD volumes are in the same language as that of the introduction. The volumes are of uniform high quality. They each contain indices of Latin adages and Greek adages, as well as full names of authors and texts cited in abbreviated form in the notes. An additional advantage in these critical editions is that the changes made during Erasmus's lifetime are clearly marked within the text itself, and not, as in the CWE, in endnotes. With the publication of the adages both in a critical edition and in a critically edited English translation, we come closest to Erasmus as teacher of his own and future generations in the knowledge and citation of classical sources.

The four remaining CWE volumes under review all share the virtue of placing notes at the bottom of the page rather than at the end of the text. (The two volumes on the colloquies place them at the end of each colloquy, which is a good compromise, given the nature of that text.) The policy of the University of Toronto Press in this regard has been erratic. Two volumes of the educational writings, for example, place notes at the bottom of each page, two others place them at the end of the second volume (making it necessary to use two volumes at once in order to consult text and notes simultaneously). The published volumes of paraphrases of the New Testament all contain notes at the end, though the one published volume of annotations keeps the notes close to the text. All the volumes would be more reader friendly if the notes were close to the texts to which they refer, rather than far removed.

CWE volumes 63, 69, and 70 have an exegetical, spiritual, and pastoral orientation. CWE 63 is the first of three volumes of Erasmus's paraphrases, commentaries, sermons (all three designations are used by him) on eleven psalms written between 1515 and 1535: 1,2,3,4,85,22,28,33,38,38,14 -- in order of composition. They represent his only expositions of Old Testament texts. The volume under review contains his expositions of Psalms 1-4, though the sixty-page introduction covers all the psalms on which Erasmus commented. The exposition of Psalm 1 was his very first on a biblical text, predating by a few months his New Testament annotations. One of the interesting issues that emerges from these expositions is Erasmus's attitude toward the Jews. Dominic Baker-Smith provides a nuanced interpretation of Erasmus's attitude (xlix--lv) -- one of a number of cases in these volumes that reveal the complexity of Erasmus's views, whatever the subject. A second issue is peace within the church in the wake of the Reformatio n. (The later commentaries in the psalm series especially address that issue and had some impact for a few years during the later 1530s.) The index of biblical references at the end of the volume attests to Erasmus's close relation to the Scriptures. The volume runners cite the Leclerc edition and ASD, V.2; thus the ASD has had a visible impact on the production of this OWE edition.

CWE 69 and 70 represent two of five volumes devoted to Erasmus's spiritual and pastoral works. ASD V.1 contains many of the texts included in the two OWE volumes, and the translations are keyed to that edition in those cases. In other cases translators have consulted ASD editors and viewed forthcoming texts in manuscript form. Ten of the twenty texts chosen by the CWE editors to be included in this section of Erasmus's corpus are in CWE 69. Many of these are prayers, several directed to the Virgin Mary. Surprisingly (as John O'Malley, the editor, writes), in 1503 Erasmus supported the idea of the immaculate conception of Mary and never wavered; however, in other respects he modified his views of Mary from youth to older age, especially the degree to which she should be regarded as having a central role in salvation. Certainly the most important text in OWE 69 (and comprising half the volume) is The Institution of Christian Matrimony, in which, following the recent humanist tradition (which O'Malley outlines, xxvi--xxx), Erasmus compares marriage favorably to celibacy and virginity, a position at variance with Christian theologians from Augustine until the publication of this treatise in 1526, and one that fueled the hostility of conservative theologians inclined to be hostile on other grounds. One can also find material of interest here in evaluating Erasmus's view of women generally -- the extent to which he accepted the common prejudices of his day and at the same time transcended them. The initial text in OWE 70 is Erasmus's argument, in a debate with John Colet in the early 1500s, that Jesus was fearful of his own death rather than fearful only for the way others would be affected by it. He cut his theological teeth on this essay and was pleased with it. The last of the five essays in this volume, "Preparing for Death" (1533), was also the most popular and was reprinted many times. Thomas More may well have read it in his prison cell.

CWE 69-70 reveal Erasmus the theologian, as does CWE 76, though the latter belongs to a different order, defenses. The most famous defense Erasmus ever wrote was A Discussion of Free Will, published in 1524 against views held by Martin Luther and drawing from Luther a response On the Bondage of the Will (1525). To the latter Erasmus responded, point by point, in his Hyperaspistes 1(1526), published in CWE 76, and Hyperaspistes II(1527), published in OWE 77 ("Hyperaspisres" means defender, champion, or shieldbearer). Neither of these texts was ever reprinted or, until now, translated, suggesting that Erasmus's responses were altogether too much of a good thing. In both cases, the editors of these volumes have had access to a typescript prepared by Cornelis Augustijn for the ASD edition prior to his recent death; the typescript for Hyperaspistes II was made from a manuscript -- now in the Royal Library in Copenhagen -- in Erasmus's own hand. The editor of CWE 76-77, Charles Trinkaus, an eminent Renaissance sch olar who died shortly after these two volumes were completed, has written a long and thorough account (95 pages) of the history of the relations between Erasmus and Luther and of the debate between them. He writes freshly and without reference to the debates of translators and interpreters whose works have often been weapons in a partisan struggle. Indeed, Erasmus has found so many champions during the past sixty years largely because these partisan struggles are receding in an age learning to find a new norm in embracing diversity of all kinds, a norm that places an entirely new set of demands on religious as on political consciousness.

While Erasmus was a man of his century as much as any other contemporary, he also transcended it in ways that reach across time, enabling us to find in him a person of continuing interest. The six CWE volumes in this group give the English reader a good introduction to Erasmus the humanist teacher, full of irony and humor, as well as to the theologian, devout and nuanced. Both as humanist and as theologian he sought reform in the behavior of individuals and in the structures of education, church, and marriage that molded individuals, reform that would enable traditional structures and values to be instruments of renewal. He was, in the largest sense of the word, a "civic humanist," a model of the engaged scholar many admire but few follow.

Erasmi Opera Omnia, II.2: Adagiorum chilias I, centuriae VI-X[Adagia 501--1000] Ed. M. L. van Poll-van de Lisdonk and M. Cytowska. Amsterdam and New York: Elsevier, 1998. 546 pp. $258. ISBN: 0-444-82974-1.

Erasmi Opera Omnia, II.7: Adagiorum chilias IV, centuriae I-V[Adagia 3001-3500]. Ed. R. Hoven and C. Lauvergnat-Gagniere. Amsterdam and New York: Elsevier, 1999. ix + 338 pp. $215.50. ISBN: 0-444-82834-6.

Erasmi Opera Omnia, II.8: Adagiorum chilias IV, centuriae VI-X; chilias V, Centuriae I-II [Adagia 3501-4151]. Ed. Ari Wesseling. Amsterdam and New York: Elsevier, 1997. 378 pp. $215.50. ISBN: 0-444-82150-3.

Erasmi Opera Omnia, VII. 6: Paraphrasis in Epistolam Pauli Apostoli ad Hebraeos, In Epistolam Jacob, In Duas Epistolas Petri, in Treis Epistolas Canonicas Joannis. Ed. John J. Bateman. Amsterdam and New York: Elsevier, 1997. 330 pp. $203.25. ISBN: 0-444-82395-6.

The Collected Works of Erasmus, 39 & 40: Colloquies. Ed. Craig R. Thompson. Toronto and London: University of Toronto Press, 1997. xlix and xiv + 1227 pp. $250. ISBN: 0-8020-5819-1.

The Collected Works of Erasmus, 63: Exposition of the Psalms. Ed. Dominic Baker-Smith. Toronto and London: University of Toronto Press, 1998. lxxii + 305 pp. $100. ISBN: 0-8020-4308-9.

The Collected Works of Erasmus, 69: Spiritualia and Pastoralia. Eds. John W. O'Malley and Louis A. Perraud. Toronto and London: University of Toronto Press, 1999. xxxi + 456 pp. $125. ISBN: 0-8020-4382-8.

The Collected Works of Erasmus, 70: Spiritualia and Pastoralia. Ed. John W. O'Malley. Toronto and London: University of Toronto Press, 1998. xxxi + 465 pp. $125. ISBN: 0-8020-4309-7.

The Collected Works of Erasmus, 76: Controversies. Ed. Charles Trinkaus. Trans. Peter Macardle and Clarence H. Miller. Annot. Peter Macardle, Clarence H. Miller, and Charles Trinkaus. Toronto and London: University of Toronto Press, 1999. cvi + 331 pp. $125. ISBN: 0-8020-4317-8.
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Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Date:Mar 22, 2001
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