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Twenty-fourth Annual Margaret Mann Phillips Lecture: Erasmus’ Contribution to Rhetoric and Rhetoric in Erasmus’ Writing

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image of Erasmus Studies

This paper claims that Erasmus was the most important and influential theorist of rhetoric in the Renaissance and that Erasmus’ thinking is heavily influenced by rhetoric. After showing that Erasmus wrote the most successful rhetoric textbooks of the sixteenth century and that he ontinued to compose and revise rhetoric books from the 1490s right up to his death in 1536, the paper argues that rhetorical ideas condition Erasmus’ way of thinking and arguing about editing, commentary, and religious teaching. Then the paper analyses in more detail Erasmus’ contribution as a theorist of rhetoric in the areas of: rhetoric and reading, the audience, adaptation of the three genres of classical rhetoric, invention, proverbs, descriptions, comparisons, style, imitation, emotion, and decorum. Finally the paper argues that Erasmus the writer made use of his rhetorical theories but also went beyond the prescriptions of the textbook, discussing the Adages and the Praise of Folly. Erasmus develops the deeply playful originality of his work from the rhetorical principles of declamation, topical invention, irony, ethos, and decorum.


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