Editions of Erasmus's Adagia

This exhibit highlights a selection of the many editions of the Adagia (Adages) by Erasmus Desiderius that are housed in the Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies' (CRRS) collection. Erasmus Desiderius of Rotterdam was a Dutch Humanist and an important figure both for the humanist Reniassance and for the Protestant and Counter-Catholic Reformation periods during the sixteenth century.

Erasmus’s Adagia (Adages) is a collection of 4151 Greek and Latin  proverbs, each accompanied by a commentary explaining its history and possible uses. It was a key text of the humanist era and is still valuable today for a diverse community of scholars. 

The editions selected for this exhibit are predominately in Latin, except for where Greek is required for particular proverbs. They range in publicaiton year from 1510 to 1591, and represent a wide variety of formats, each with their unique paratextual materials which offer us clues as to the book's intended audience. 

The Adages were well received. "In the early sixteenth century, when good Latin sytle had a social importance and could actually get you a job, the Adages becames a best-seller and received accolades from many readers" (Barker, ix).

Erasmus first published the text sometime in his early thirties in the form of a 152 page book called Adagirorum collectanea or Collection of Adages (see 1510b for CRRS's Strassburg edition). Other writings of Erasmus reveal that he had noticed a need for such a collection of proverbs much earlier, and had taken to compiling lists of proverbs into a notebook. In later editions Erasmus adds additional notes and citations, continually revising and updating his work. Newer editions came to fruition after he travelled to Italy, making a connection with the famous humanist printer, Aldus Manutius. Manutius was responsible for the newer edition called, Adagirorum chiliades (Thousands of Adages), first published in 1508 (See examples here of later editions printed by Paolo Manutius in 1578 and 1591). There continue to be many other editions printed of this text, which speak to its popularity. Some are condensed, others expanded with an astonishing mulitiplicity of paratexual materials. 

The richness of the CRRS's collection the Adages serve as a focal point for researchers at the University of Toronto and around the world. They offer a glimpse into an important historical epoch and continue to delight by giving readers in depth background to a host of proverbs, many of which are still commonly used today. 


Works Cited

Desiderius, Erasmus. The Adages of Erasmus. Edited by William Barker, University of Toronto Press, 2001.


Digitization and curation of this exhibit was arranged by Samantha Bellinger. Samantha is a Master's of Information Candidate here at the University of Toronto where she studies Library and Information Science collaboratively with Book History and Print Culture (BHPC). She is the 2016/17 BHPC Fellow at Massey College where she is actively engaged in bibliography and hands on printing techniques. She holds a B.A. Honours from the University of Toronto and was the recipient of the Corbet Assistantship at the Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies in her undergraduate. She is thrilled to be learning the skills involved in digitizing rare books and special collections.

Editions of Erasmus's Adagia