Friday, September 27, 2013


Erasmus on Cicero

Erasmus, letter 499 to Johannes Ulattenus (1523; tr. Conyers Middleton):
When I was a boy, I was fonder of Seneca than of Cicero, and till I was twenty years old could not bear to spend any time in reading him; while all the other writers of antiquity generally pleased me. Whether my judgment be improved by age, I know not; but am certain, that Cicero never pleased me so much when I was fond of those juvenile studies as he does now when I am grown old; not only for the divine felicity of his style, but the sanctity of his heart and morals: in short, he has inspired my soul, and made me feel myself a better man. I make no scruple, therefore, to exhort our youth to spend their hours in reading and getting his books by heart, rather than in the vexatious squabbles and peevish controversies with which the world abounds. For my own part, though I am now in the decline of life, yet as soon as I have finished what I have in hand, I shall think it no reproach to me to seek a reconciliation with my Cicero, and renew an old acquaintance with him, which for many years has been unhappily intermitted.
The Latin, from Desiderii Erasmi Roterodami Epistolae, Pars Posterior (Leiden: Vander, 1706), cols. 1881-1882:
Mihi puero minus arridebat Cicero, quam Seneca: jamque natus eram annos viginti, priusquam ferrem diutinam ejus lectionem, cum caeteri pene omnes placerent. An aetatis progressu profecerim, nescio, certe nunquam mihi magis placuit Cicero, tum quum adamarem illa studia, quam nunc placuit seni: non tantum ob divinam quandam orationis felicitatem, verum etiam ob pectoris eruditi sanctimoniam. Profecto meum afflavit animum, meque mihi reddidit meliorem. Itaque non dubitem hortari juventutem, ut in hujus libris evolvendis atque etiam ediscendis bonas horas collocent potius, quam in rixosis ac pugnacibus libellis, quibus nunc undique scatent omnia. Me vero, tametsi jam vergente aetate, nec pudebit, nec pigebit, simulatque extricaro me ab his quae sunt in manibus, cum meo Cicerone redire in gratiam, pristinamque familiaritatem, nimium multis annis intermissam, renovare menses aliquot.

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