Erasmus on Women by Erika RummelErasmus on Women by Erika Rummel

Erasmus on Women

EditorErika Rummel

Paperback | June 18, 1996

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In his writings Erasmus was more interested in arguing than in settling a case. However the equivocation we find in his writings is more than a literary game or a technical expedient. It is the corollary of his scepticism. One can hardly expect unequivocal statements on complex issues such as the role of women in society from a man who holds that `human affairs take so many shapes that definite answers cannot be provided for them all.' But as Erika Rummel demonstrates, the difficulties of interpreting Erasmus' texts do not invalidate their use as sources of social history; they only prevent us from ascribing the views expressed specifically to Erasmus. What emerges from the text is a composite picture of women's role in society, reflecting a spectrum of views held in Erasmus' time rather than a coherent set of views advocated by him personally.

Erasmus on Women offers selections from Erasmus' manuals on marriage and widowhood, his rhetorical treatises, and the Colloquies. The texts deal with the courtship, marriage, child-rearing, and widowhood. Selections treating particular topics, such as prostitution, scholarship, and activism, are placed within the context in which they are discussed by Erasmus.

Erasmus' dialogues present a lively cast of virgins and mothers, housewives and harlots, shrews and activists. The fifteen texts and excerpts offered here represent a mixture of traditional and progressive thought. Along the traditional lines, he commends women for their role as caregivers and for their service to God and society. In contrast, he holds progressive views (by the standards of his time) on the education of women and breaks with tradition by challenging the idea that celibacy is superior to the married state.

Erasmus' views were radical for his time and frequently involved him in controversy. Lavishly praised by some, his writings were bitterly denounced by others. Yet the wide dissemination of his writings makes him an important commentator and influence on the social thought of the sixteenth century.

Erika Rummel is a professor emerita in the Department of History at Wilfrid Laurier University.
Title:Erasmus on WomenFormat:PaperbackDimensions:251 pages, 9 × 6.02 × 0.77 inPublished:June 18, 1996Publisher:University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0802078087

ISBN - 13:9780802078087

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From Our Editors

Although the texts in this collection are by a single author, they offer a kaleidoscope of views current in the Renaissance. Erasmus' comments on women range from ad hoc remarks in his letters to lengthy treatises on marriage and widowhood, from lively dialogues with a mixed cast of virgins and mothers, housewives and harlots, to a funeral oration for a matriarch. Because Erasmus appropriates a variety of voices, the texts offer a mixture of traditional and progressive thought.