Even though there are no registers of baptism to confirm his birthplace, Langereis is convinced: Erasmus was a Rotterdammer. “We do not have the ultimate source but in my book, I present documents provided by Erasmus’ father, Gerard, who describes himself in those documents as a Rotterdammer.”
This Gerard ensured that Erasmus grew up among books, which was very unusual for that time. “Erasmus’ father earned a living in Italy copying books. He then returned to the Netherlands with a stack of these books which his son Erasmus read.”
After completing the Latin school in Deventer, where he intensively studied Latin and Greek, the inquisitive Erasmus was keen to continue his studies of classical languages. Langereis: “Erasmus’ greatest work must definitely be that he was the first to study and publish the Bible in the original Greek.”
The book portrays a host of friendships. Also during the time Erasmus spent in the monastery, a difficult period during which he felt locked up. “It’s interesting to read the letters written by Erasmus, the young monk. From the moment that he entered the monastery against his will, he set himself up as the teacher of a group of young monks he met there.”
In the monastery, Erasmus was ordained a priest, an office he retained for the rest of his life, but which was not without problems. “He writes in his letters to friends about the loneliness associated with such an existence.” However, Erasmus was absolutely no prude. “In letters, he writes openly about the feelings of lust that a priest can experience,” says Langereis.
Erasmus sees his task as educating modern readers. “He feels that readers should be more intellectual.” This is also reflected in his interpretation of the Bible. “Erasmus is a religious man, but he realises that the earthly text of the Bible are only human words. Nevertheless, the message remains the same.”