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Fragments of a Colossus

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Reflections on Erasmus’ Theory of the Apophthegm

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This article investigates the ways in which Erasmus’ theorizing of the apophthegm interacts with his practices of compilation, paraphrasing, and commentary in the Apophthegmata. Putting key passages from the dedicatory epistle to William of Cleves in dialogue with the commentary on and marginalia to several apophthegms reveals the tension between Erasmus’ theory of the apophthegm and his practice of collecting and elucidating classical fragments. Far from offering his reader condensed biographies of illustrious men, as Plutarch had claimed to do in the preface to his Regum et imperatorum apophthegmata, Erasmus the editor and paraphraser opens up a space where the modern writer struggles for ownership over the words of the past.

Affiliations: 1: West Georgia University


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