The Praise of Folly

One of the things I like about being a student is that I have access to a seemingly unlimited amount of classical texts, and every once in a while I’ll stumble across a gem of a quote that really catches my attention. Very rarely, however, do I find the quote applicable to baseball. I was skimming through one of my course readers and found this quote from Desiderius ErasmusThe Praise of Folly:

(Scientists) feel that they are the only men with any wisdom, and all other men float about as shadows. How senilely they daydream, while they construct their countless worlds and shoot the distance to the sun, the moon, the stars, and spheres, as with a thumb and line. They postulate causes for lightning, winds, eclipses, and other inexplicable things, never hesitating for a moment, as if they had exclusive knowledge about the secrets of nature, designer of elements, or as if they visited us directly from the council of the gods. Yet all this time nature is heartily laughing at them and their conjectures. It is a sufficient argument just proving that they have good intelligence for nothing. They can never explain why they disagree with each other on every subject. In summation, knowing nothing in general they profess to know everything in particular. They are ignorant even to themselves, and at times they do not see the ditch or stone lying across their path, because many of them are daydreamers and are absent-minded. Yet they proclaim that they perceive ideas, universals, forms without matter, primary substances, quiddities, entities, and things so tenuous that I’m afraid that Lynceus could not see them himself. The common people are especially disdained when they bring out their triangles, quadrangles, circles, and mathematical figures of the like. They place one on top of the other and arrange them into a maze. Then they deploy some letters precisely, as if in a battle formation, and finally they reverse them. And all of this is done only to confuse those who are ignorant of their field. These scientists do not like those who predict the future from the stars, and promise even more fantastic miracles. And these fortunate men find people who believe them. (142-3)

The entire piece is satire, of course. In this passage, one could easily replace the word “scientist” with “saberist,” and we would have a near perfect match with the anti-saberist crowd. Call me a nerd if you like, but I think it’s pretty cool when something written in 1509 can still be applied just as well today.

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Comments

  1. Kahuna Tuna said...

    Wisdom from a classical text:

    Of making many books there is no end, and much study is wearisome to the flesh. — Ecclesiastes 12:12

    Three major leaguers — one of long ago, two of recent years — have been named for Desiderius Erasmus.

  2. Kahuna Tuna said...

    One last comment on this topic and then I’ll stop.

    Hispanic cultures in the Western Hemisphere have a very strong tradition of naming children for saints.  Many of the saints’ names are also the names of figures who lived in classical Greece and Rome.  Four MLB examples that occur to me right off the top of my head are Arquímedez Pozo (Archimedes), Porfirio Altamirano (Porphyry), Tony Pérez (Atanasio — Athanasius), and Diomedes Olivo.

    Many Hispanic first names (and some last names) come from the names of popes — e.g., Sixtus (Lezcano), Linus (Urdaneta), Felix (José), Marcellinus (López), Sylvester (Campusano), Damasus (García, Marte), Celestine (middle name of José López), Sergius (Santos), Adrián (González), Tony Eusebio, Tomás Silverio, and so on.  Since many popes were canonized by their successors, this is a tributary of the broader tradition of naming children for saints.

    Erasmus’s Catholic parents named him for two saints.  Erasmus, bishop of Formiae, was martyred during the persecution of Diocletian in the late third century.  (The Web site abcgallery.com notes that St. Erasmus was a “member of the so called Fourteen Holy Helpers, a group of 14 saints, whose collective cult grew up in the first quarter of the 15th century.”)  There are several saints named Desiderius, of whom at least two, the bishop of Langres and the bishop of Vienne, were martyred for their faith.

  3. Josh said...

    Wait until you’ve read through Aristotle, it’s amazing that the second main philosopher (after Plato) basically gets everything right.

  4. JT Jordan said...

    Kahuna, that’s pretty darn cool.  I never would’ve guessed that there would be players (past or present) named after Erasmus!  I love random little factoids like that.

    And Josh, I’m very much looking forward to reading Aristotle.  Classical texts are fascinating (unless you come across a dry essay of course).

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