Sunday, September 07, 2014


Better to Learn Late

Erasmus, letter 149 (to Antony of Bergen; March 16?, 1501; tr. Francis Morgan Nichols):
For I have by a lucky chance got some Greek works, which I am stealthily transcribing night and day. It may be asked why I am so pleased with the example of Cato the Censor, as to be learning Greek at my age. I answer, Reverend Father, that if I had had this mind when a boy, or rather if the times had been more favourable to me, I should have been the happiest man in the world. As it is, I am determined that it is better to learn late than to be without the knowledge which it is of the utmost importance to possess. We had a taste of this learning a long time ago, but it was only with the tip of the tongue, as they say; and having lately dipped deeper into it, we see, what we have often read in the most weighty authors, that Latin erudition, however ample, is crippled and imperfect without Greek. We have in Latin at best some small streams and turbid pools, while they have the clearest springs and rivers flowing with gold.
The Latin, from Opus Epistolarum Des. Erasmi Roterodami, ed. P.S. Allen, tom. I: 1484-1514 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1906; rpt. 1992), p. 352:
Nam Graeca quaedam forte fortuna sum nactus, in quibus furtim transcribendis et pernox sum et perdius. Roget quis, quid ita me Catonis censorii delectet exemplum vt hoc aetatis libeat Graecari. Si quidem puero mihi, pater optime, aut haec mens fuisset, aut non defuissent potius mihi témpora, longe felicissimus essem. Nunc ita statuo, satius esse vel serius discere quam nescire quae cum primis oportet tenere. Delibauimus et olim has literas, sed summis duntaxat (vti aiunt) labiis; at nuper paulo altius ingressi, videmus id quod saepenumero apud grauissimos autores legimus, Latinam eruditionem, quamuis impendiosam, citra Graecismum mancam esse ac dimidiatam. Apud nos enim riuuli vix quidam sunt et lacunulae lutulentae; apud illos fontes purissimi et flumina aurum voluentia.


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