At the time, the humanist was visiting Italy – the country that gave birth to humanism – to attain a degree at the university in Turin and to arrange for Manuzio to publish his Adagia, a collection of proverbs and maxims from classical antiquity. Shortly before leaving Italy, Erasmus wrote to Manuzio about how the Italian boys distracted him from his work. This was not the first time Erasmus, whom our university is named after, lyrically expressed his passion and sorrow on account of the young men close to him.

“I wish that you, if possible, would care for me as much as I for you. And that you were tormented by love for me, just as I am constantly tortured by my desire for you.” This quote comes from one of the letters Erasmus wrote to Servaas Rogier as a very young man, having just joined the monastery in Stein, near Gouda, as a novice. Erasmus felt lonely and unhappy in this monastery. Servaas was a novice like himself and, like Erasmus, Servaas was looking for ways to study and write independently within the monastery’s walls. The letters are typical of Erasmus, who liked to play with words and imagery and was not afraid of hyperbole. They can also be read as a young monk’s plea for love and affection.

Jos Exler brieven van Erasmus werkkamer – Ronald van den Heerik

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“How I wish I could share my life with you. You cannot half imagine how the desire to be with you – and you alone – torments me, I tell you.” These are words from a letter Erasmus wrote to Willem Hermans in December 1498. In 1492, Erasmus was ordained to the priesthood in Stein, after which he travelled to the university in Paris to study. He met Willem in Stein and continued to send him melancholy letters from Paris. “I have dismissed from memory all other loves as vulgar; only you have remained in my heart.” Properly interpreting letters from this period is no easy task, in part because they tend to be written in an evasive and opaque style, but what I once again perceive in the text is a permanent need for love and affection.

Erasmus was born the illegitimate child of a priest and his housekeeper. With no loving family to grow up in, he had to look out for himself from an early age. After leaving Italy, Erasmus crossed the Alps on horseback and made his way to England, to the London home of his friend Thomas More. There, he would write In Praise of Folly, which he dedicated to More. The two shared a great love of literature and humour, although their lives were very different. Thomas shared his home with his wife and children, three daughters and a son. The More family – where everything revolved around studying and the daughters were educated in the humanities – approached Erasmus’ own ideal. Erasmus developed a particularly close bond with the oldest daughter, Margaret.

Five centuries ago, at Christmas 1523, Erasmus was all by himself in Basel, where he intended to spend the last years of his life. On the 25th of December that year, he wrote a letter to Margaret, who was married to William Roper and had just given birth to her first child (who was named after her father, Thomas). As a gift, Erasmus also sent a book of hymns he had written about the infant Jesus and the Holy Family. Erasmus wrote that he hoped that Christ would be ‘the true Apollo’ for baby Thomas. It was rather odd of Erasmus to conflate Christ with a deity from antiquity; Apollo was not only a symbol of reason but was also known for his relationships with handsome men. Erasmus felt that everyone should have the love they desired. It is a lovely sentiment, especially in the dark winter month of December.


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Erasmus University was born at Feyenoord Stadium

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