We just finished reading the Praise of Folly by Erasmus. We chose the book because the author was quoted from it in Carlos Fuentes’ introduction to our edition of Don Quixote:

The reality of things depends solely on opinion. Everything in life is so diverse, so opposed, so obscure, that we cannot be assured of any truth.

The first sentence of the quote is what intrigued us, because we have spent a good deal of time exploring the dichotomies between reality and fantasy, or truth and fiction. And it turns out that much of what Erasmus has to say about Folly speaks directly to Don Quixote.

To start with, everyone accepts the truth of the well-known saying “Where fact is lacking, fiction is best”, and so children are properly taught from the start the line “To play the fool in season is the height of wisdom”. You can see now for yourselves what a great blessing Folly is….

We have read the first four chapters of the classic Tobias Smollett translation. We must ask ourselves, Is Don Quixote truly mad?

So eager and intangled was our Hidalgo in this kind of history, that he would often read from morning to night, and from night to morning again, without interruption; till at last, the moisture of his brain being quite exhausted with indefatigable watching and study, he fairly lost his wits: all that he had read of quarrels, enchantments, battles, challenges, wounds, tortures, amorous complaints, and other improbable conceits, took full possession of his fancy; and he believed all those romantic exploits so implicitly, that in his opinion, the holy scripture was not more true.

Granting the assumption that the holy scripture is true, we see Don Quixote interpreting his world precisely as Erasmus described. Early on there is a perfect example of how this works: Don Quixote approaches an inn, which he fancies a castle, expecting his arrival to be announced by a trumpet. Just then a local swine-herd

chanced to blow his horn, in order to collect his scattered subjects: immediately the knight’s expectation was fulfilled, and concluding that now the dwarf had given the signal of his approach, he rode towards the inn with infinite satisfaction.

Wonderful! Pure folly, which Erasmus tells us is the key to happiness. How much brighter would be the life of Aldonza Lorenco if she imagined herself, as does Don Quixote, the princess Dulcinea del Toboso? Who is mad, those who fail to find beauty at every turn, or the man who adorns himself and his concerns with music, romance, and expression? Folly is Don Quixote’s salvation. Indeed, when we imagine things to be what we want them to be, we can live with nothing less than infinite satisfaction.

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