The Praise of Folly

Folly as Wisdom's Jacket

The Silenus box is a "case carved like an ugly Silenus" that can be "opened to reveal beautiful, precious objects" (Erasmus 43, footnote). This box appears in Erasmus' The Praise of Folly as a metaphor for the central claim in the novel, which is that that which appears to be Folly (ugly) externally, is wise (precious) within. Erasmus reveals this dichotomy on three levels: in the image of the box itself, in his genuine praise of Folly, and in the structure of the novel as a whole.

Erasmus, using the female voice of Folly, introduces his reader to the image of the Silenus box early in the text, thereby allowing his reader to carry the image with her for the rest of her time reading (and see its metaphoric nature when appropriate). Folly makes the introduction, saying, "All human affairs... have two aspects quite different from each other." She then goes on to explain that this means, according to Plato, that things that "appear 'at first blush'... to be death, will, if you examine [them] more closely, turn out to be life... in brief, you will find everything suddenly reversed if you open the Silenus" (43). In more direct terms, something which on its surface seems one way (the...

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