Desiderius Erasmus (1466–1536) was the most important literary figure of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century. The first truly international author of the Renaissance, his influence upon his immediate contemporaries and following generations can hardly be overestimated. He was the arbiter of letters of his day, the first name in classical scholarship, the finest biblical scholar, the best satirist, and first, or nearly first in a score of other fields of intellectual endeavor. He was also a remarkable personality, perhaps the only important man in Europe who was able to keep his head through the incredible ferment of ideas and beliefs that permeated the age; he never yielded to extremes. He was the great stabilizer of his day.

This present work, written by one of America’s foremost historians, is the standard English-language work on Erasmus. Extremely readable and fluent, it is also very thorough and very profound in its insights. It makes use of every known source of information on Erasmus to accomplish its threefold purpose: to present the known facts of Erasmus’s life, to exhibit his literary genius, and to examine his intricate relations with the important figures of the Reformation and the Renaissance. It makes clear his almost unbelievable virtuosity in letters, analyzes his subtle personality, and explains how this unassuming, quiet, modest man really controlled the ideological destiny of Europe for decades.

For many years the study of Erasmus has been somewhat neglected, since we were still too close to the controversies and biases that had come down to us from his time. Now, however, it is being recognized more and more surely that he was a remarkable example in both achievements and orientation, and that our present culture owes much more to him than we had admitted. No student of philosophy, literature, European history, history of religions, theology, or of cultural history can afford to be without this book.

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