Erasmus of Rotterdam was the greatest of the Renaissance humanists. Praise of Folly, first published in 1511, is both his best-known work and the best introduction to his thought.
Although Erasmus claimed it was written in a week to amuse Sir Thomas More, the dazzling display of playful paradoxes and learned high spirits cannot disguise a far deeper purpose. Folly starts by criticizing everything her creator held dear, and celebrating youth, pleasure, drunkenness and the dizzying sexual desires that created us all. Later sections examine human pretensions, foibles and frailties, mock theologians and monks, and praise the 'folly' of simple Christian piety. Erasmus's wit, wisdom, and mastery of tone made the book an instant but controversial success.