Erasmus's 'Praise of Folly' in first Spanish translation discovered  15 February 2012

On display in the treasure chambres of the Portuguese Synagogue

This manuscript from the Ets Haim Library - Livraria Montezinos at the Portuguese Synagogue has recently been identified as the earliest, and previously unknown, Spanish translation of Erasmus's Praise of Folly, originally published in Latin in 1511. The discovery was made by Dutch Hispanist Prof. dr. Harm de Boer and his Spanish colleague Dr. Jorge Ledo.

What makes this find so exceptional is that The Praise of Folly (Moriae encomium) and other works by Erasmus were placed on the Spanish Inquisition's index of banned books in 1559. Not until 1842, when the Inquisition was finally abolished, did the first Spanish translation appear
in print.

Erasmus's ideas were received with great enthusiasm in the Spain of Charles V but became tainted by association after Luther broke with the Catholic Church in 1517. There has been much speculation about the existence of early Spanish translations of The Praise of Folly, which are said to have left their mark on the well-known picaresque novel Lazarillo de Tormes (1554) and Cervantes's Don Quijote de la Mancha (1605). But no hard evidence was
ever available until now.

The discovery of this manuscript in Ets Haim is especially significant because of the historical background of the Portuguese Jewish Community. This Sephardic community was founded in the Netherlands by Jews from Spain and Portugal's persecuted 'New Christian' minority (converted Jews and their descendants). Although Erasmus had little sympathy for Jews, his views on simplicity and inner piety were very influential among the New Christians.

As yet, it remains unclear how the manuscript found its way to the library. The text is written on paper in a characteristic seventeenth-century Iberian hand and bound in a simple vellum quarto. However, its linguistic features seem to suggest that it is based on a sixteenth-century text, which must be assumed to have been lost.

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