Erasmus Birthday Lecture 2015

Erasmus’ personae between Rhetoric and Dialectics

in Erasmus Studies
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Erasmus’ famous elusiveness can be linked to a marked preference for media and genres that allowed for a persona, a mask, behind which the ‘real’ Erasmus could disappear at will. This article seeks to identify the literary, rhetorical and above all dialectical patterns Erasmus made use of in order to separate man and argument and to distance speaker and enunciation. This does not only refer to Erasmus’ familiarity with satirical and rhetorical devices, but also to his ingenious emulation of debating techniques that were common practice among the schoolmen he attacked so fervently. Erasmus’ famous ambiguity and eel-like quality is, at least in some high-profile cases, owed to his ambition of establishing declamation as an equivalent to scholastic controversial formats. Some of his most famous texts are testimony to the attempt of constructing a debating arena in print.

Erasmus Birthday Lecture 2015

Erasmus’ personae between Rhetoric and Dialectics

in Erasmus Studies



  • 3

    L. JardineErasmus Man of Letters. The Construction of Charisma in Print (Princeton: Princeton University Press1993) 3–26. C. Galle Hodie nullus—cras maximus. Berühmtwerden und Berühmtsein im frühen 16. Jahrhundert am Beispiel des Erasmus von Rotterdam (Münster: Aschendorff 2013) speaks less of a deliberate strategy than of Erasmus’ fame as an emergent phenomenon.

  • 6

    See the photograph in L. SchmittDer Siegelring des Erasmus von Rotterdam. Auf den Spuren eines Rätsels der Renaissancezeit (Basel: Historisches Museum2009) 26.

  • 7

    JardineErasmus Man of Letters 52.

  • 8

    S.K. Scher“Introduction,” in The Currency of Fame. Portrait Medals of the Renaissanceed. S.K. Scher (New York: Thames and Hudson in Association with the Frick Collection1994) 13–30here 15.

  • 10

    SchmittSiegelring24–25. See also E. Panofsky “Erasmus and the Visual Arts” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 32 (1969): 200–227 esp. 217 f.; N. van der Blom “Erasmus en Terminus” Hermeneus 28 (1957): 153–158 esp. 157; A.M. Koldeweij “Erasmus naar het leven” in Erasmus. De actualiteit van zijn denken ed. G.Th. Jensma et al. (Zutphen: Walburg Pers 1986) 137–180 esp. 168–176.

  • 12

    Ep. 1907lines 54–56 Allen; Ep. 2018. See B. Fransen “Erasmo Término y la muerte. Letras e imágenes en diálogo” in Erasmo en España. La recepción del humanismo en el primer renacimiento español Exhibition catalogue (Salamanca: Sociedad Estatal para la Acción Cultural Exterior 2002) 41–47 here 44. Fransen quotes responses by Luis de Carvajal and Paul Volz.

  • 13

    See e.g. J.K. McConica“The Riddle of ‘Terminus’,” Erasmus in English 2 (1971): 2–7here 3. Bart Fransen argues that Erasmus may have been inspired by Augustine who in De civitate Dei (VII 7) had established a connection between Terminus and Death see Fransen “Erasmo Término y la muerte” 46.

  • 14

    Ep. 2018line 64 Allen.

  • 16

    E. Wind“Aenigma Termini,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 1 (1937): 66–69here 68.

  • 17

    See H. Belting“Persona. Die Masken des Selbst und das Gesicht,” in Wir sind MaskeExhibition catalogue ed. S. Ferino-Pagden (Milano: Silvana2009) 29–37here 31. On persona as a social rôle in the Roman Republic see M. Fuhrmann “Persona ein römischer Rollenbegriff” in M. Fuhrmann Brechungen. Wirkungsgeschichtliche Studien zur antik-europäischen Bildungstradition (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta 1982) 21–46.

  • 27

    See S.F. BonnerRoman Declamation in the Late Republic and Early Empire (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press1969) 51–70; D.A. Russell Greek Declamation (Cambridge etc.: Cambridge University Press 1983) 87–105; W.M. Bloomer “Roman Declamation: The Elder Seneca and Quintilian” in A Companion to Roman Rhetoric ed. W. Dominik and J. Hall (Malden MA etc.: Blackwell 2007) 296–306.

  • 34

    J. ClichtovePropugnaculum ecclesiae aduersus Lutheranos (Cologne: Hittorpius1526) ch. 34. M. van der Poel “For Freedom of Opinion” 8 rates Clichtove’s assessment of declamation as “misunderstandings” but Clichtove actually demonstrates a solid grasp of the genre’s historical implications.

  • 38

    D. Erasmus of RotterdamDilutio eorum quae Iodocus Clithoveus scripsit adversus declamationem Des. Erasmi Roterodami suasoriam matrimonii (1532), ed. É.V. Telle (Paris: Vrin1968) 82. CWE 83:129.

  • 41

    ErasmusDilutio95. CWE 83:143.

  • 43

    ErasmusDilutio93. CWE 83:140.

  • 44

    M. Martin McLaughlinIntellectual Freedom and its Limitations in the University of Paris in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries (New York: Arno Press1977) 67. A.E. Larsen The School of Heretics: Academic Condemnation at the University of Oxford 1277–1409 (Leiden/Boston: Brill 2011) 10. A. Traninger “Disputative non assertive posita. Zur Pragmatik von Disputationsthesen” in Religiöser Nonkonformismus und frühneuzeitliche Gelehrtenkultur ed. F. Vollhardt (Berlin: de Gruyter 2014) 319–339.

  • 45

    See A. Traninger“Libertas philosophandi,” in Neue Diskurse der Gelehrsamkeit in der frühen Neuzeited. Herbert Jaumann and Gideon Stiening (Berlin: de Gruyter2016) 269–318.


  • View in gallery
    Figure 1

    Cast bronze medal of Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam, by Quentin Metsys (about 1462–1530)© The Trustees of the British Museum


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