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‘Clouds on a wall’: The Mirror of Speech in the Adagiorum Chiliades and the Moriae encomium

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This article examines the topos of speech as the mirror of the mind (oratio speculum animi) in the Adagiorum Chiliades and the Moriae encomium. It has been argued that Erasmus uses this metaphor to express the idea that the ingenium of the speaker or writer emerges fully in language, which supposedly offers a transparent representation of a hidden essence. A topographical reading of the mirror image in the Chiliades, however, reveals that issues of illusion and obscurity unsettle the notion that speech offers clear access to an invisible interior. A close analysis of adages dealing with this theme shows, instead, that the reader or listener must piece together the pectus (mind, heart) of the speaker/writer from enigmatic clues left in language. Erasmus’s obsessive engagement with the theme of versatility in the Chiliades further complicates the mirror metaphor, for it juxtaposes the ambiguous ideal of adaptability to circumstances with the idea that speech provides access to a singular essence. Folly’s ironic citation of the mirror commonplace in the Moriae encomium shows to what extent language can suggest multiple essences, or even the absence of a fixed identity.

Affiliations: 1: Assistant Professor of French, Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, University of West Georgia, Carrollton, GA 30118, USA


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