The Abundance of Erasmus

Fred Sanders:

I had heard that Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466-1536) wrote a book showing hundreds of ways to say “thanks for your letter,” so I went and looked it up, just to see what one of the Renaissance’s prime movers was thinking when he did that.

The book in question –originally published as De duplici copia verborum ac rerum Commentarii duo, and available in English in volume 24 of  his Collected Works as Copia: Foundations of the Abundant Style (translated and annotated by Betty I. Knott)– is much more than a stunt. It’s a really helpful exercise in developing a style that is rich and full.

Generations of readers have known this: De Copia was used as a textbook for rhetoric and composition throughout northern Europe in  Erasmus’ lifetime. It was popular enough to be pirated, to give rise to summaries, to be circulated in the form of excerpts, and to spawn commentaries.