Monday, February 04, 2008

Erasmus Quotation

Earlier this morning, the esteemed Harvard historian and author Owen Gingerich posed a question to Ex-Libris regarding the origin of the classic biblio-quote "When I get a little money, I buy books; and, if any is left, I buy food and clothes." The quotation is all over the Internet, attributed to Desiderius Erasmus. Professor Gingerich requested the original source of the quotation, having tried the standard "quotationaries" without any luck.

Since this is one of my favorite quotes (ahem, not that it's apt at all), I figured I'd do a little digging and see what I could come up with. Naturally, I found the answer hiding in the archives of Ex-Libris itself. Back in 2000, bookseller Fred Schreiber sussed out the original quotation, which appeared in a letter from Erasmus to Jacob Batt dated 12 April 1500: "Ad Graecas literas totum animum applicui; statimque ut pecuniam accepero, Graecos primum autores, deinde vestes emam" (I have turned my entire attention to Greek. The first thing I shall do, as soon as I receive the money, is to buy Greek authors; after that, I shall buy clothes).

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